Title

John Stuart Mill's philosophy of history.

Date of Award

5-1-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

School

Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Letters

Abstract

This dissertation will examine John Stuart Mill's philosophy of history. Though Mill has been the subject of an imposing volume of scholarship, his philosophy of history has received scant attention, despite his numerous reflections on historical method and the role of history in the development of a science of society, and his lifelong concern with the matter of historical progress. My investigation will encompass a broad range of his output, including occasional writings and reviews, as well as his most important works. This inquiry will divide into three parts: the role of history in Mill's break from the Benthamite radicals; his effort to define a methodology for the study of society modelled on the natural sciences; and his speculations about the course of history. I will argue that Mill's efforts to develop a coherent philosophy of history foundered on the problem of reconciling the scientific aspirations inherited from the Enlightenment with his belief in a malleable human nature and the primacy of intellectual development in driving historical progress. This conflict was implicit--but left unresolved--in his paired essays on "Coleridge" and "Bentham," but its source was an irreconcilable vision of the individual as driven by deterministic psychological laws and as also capable of freely choosing a life of"self-culture." This dichotomy was reflected in his philosophy of history, as Mill retained the materialistic stadial theory proposed during the Scottish Enlightenment, and an idealistic and Comtean vision of history as a progressive unfolding of human intellectual achievement. Though Mill claimed the preeminence of the intellect in facilitating advances in living conditions, he believed that the culmination of that development in his own Age of Commerce was undermining individual accomplishment--indeed, individuality itself--in an oppressive mass culture with no higher goal than the acquisition of ever-greater wealth. Mindful of the culturally stationary states of Asia, Mill envisioned the end of history as the consequence of intellectual stagnation and social conformity. To prevent that outcome, he advocated for the cessation of economic growth in a supra-subsistence stationary state in which the pursuit of higher moral and intellectual aspirations could be rejuvenated.