IAS Target

James Mill


James Mill (6 April 1773 – 23 June 1836) was a Scottish historian, economist, political theorist, and philosopher. He is counted among the founders of the Ricardian school of economics. His son, John Stuart Mill, was also a noted philosopher of liberalism, utilitarianism and the civilizing mission of the British Empire. Mill became acquainted with Jeremy Bentham, who founded Utilitarianism, in 1808. James Mill wrote the monumental work History of British India. He was the first writer to divide Indian history into three parts: Hindu, Muslim and British, a classification which has proved surpassingly influential in the field of Indian historical studies, but which is seen in recent decades as being deeply problematic.

James Mill early life

James Mill, the son of James Milne, a shoemaker and small farmer. He entered the University of Edinburgh, where he distinguished himself as a Greek scholar. His eldest son, John Stuart Mill, was born in 1806 was also noted philosopher. From 1831 to 1833, Mill was largely occupied in the defence of the East India Company, during the controversy attending the renewal of its charter, he being in virtue of his office the spokesman of the court of directors.

James Mill's Political view

His contribution in education, freedom of the press, and prison discipline and Mill undertook to write various articles on politics, law, and education. Mill thought that a representative democracy based on wide suffrage is a necessary element of good government. And this statement of the Mill helped for passage of the first Reform Bill by Parliament in 1832. Mill harshly criticized the British administration of India and helped completely reform the system of government in the colony. Mill favour absolute equality of men, as promulgated by the French Revolution.

Some observation of Mill:
  • The chief problem of political reformers is to limit the increase of population, on the assumption that capital does not naturally increase at the same rate as population;
  • The value of a thing depends entirely on the quantity of labour put into it;
  • What is now known as the “unearned increment” of land is a proper object for taxation.

James mill and religion

The London Review, founded by Sir William Molesworth in 1834, Mill wrote a notable article entitled "The Church and its Reform", which was much too sceptical for the time, and injured the Review. Mill, himself was an atheist.

Moral philosophy of James Mill

Intellectual happiness is greater than sensuous happiness Mill emphasised on qualitative utilitarianism Moral end means greatest happiness for the greatest number of people

Difference between Quantitative and Qualitative Utilitarianism

  • Qualitative Utilitarian
    It argue that mental pleasures and pains are different in kind and superior in quality to purely physical ones. Qualitative utilitarians must consider both quality and quantity.
  • Quantitative Utilitarian
    It argue that mental pleasures and pains differ from physical ones only in terms of quantity. Jeremy Bentham advocated a quantitative hedonism in order to assess the moral worth of an action- it being good as far as it promoted pleasure, and bad as far as it promoted pain. The right action is one that maximise pleasure and minimise pain. He developed a hedonic calculus with which to assess actions, consisting of the following variables:
    • intensity,
    • duration,
    • certainty,
how soon the pleasure will occur, how likely the action is to be followed by sensations of the same kind, purity and how many people will be affected.

J. S. Mill, Bentham's godson and strongly influenced by him in his ethical thought, took issue with some of the consequences of such a calculus. For example, its egalitarian nature meant that no particular pleasure was worth more than another. This meant that the pleasure a flower-seller received from her weekly bottle of gin would count for the same as the pleasure a visit to the opera by an opera-lover. Mill disagreed with this assessment and developed an alternative of qualitative hedonism by which there are higher and lower pleasure:
  • The higher being those of the intellect
  • The lower being those of the body.

His argument that:
  • 'it is better to be a human being dissatisfied, than a pig satisfied;
  • better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied'
claims that we should place a higher importance on 'higher' pleasures, even if they are more difficult to attain. Thus we should value the pleasure of a visit to the opera, which is intellectually demanding, over the pleasure from a bottle of gin, which is mere bodily pleasure. While both quantitative and qualitative hedonism advocate the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain, then, the latter makes a distinction between kinds of pleasure that the former does not, which will affect which actions are considered right.