In the chronology of the early modern philosophers, John Stuart Mill comes towards the end of the period. Although, in his contributions in the area of philosophy and other areas, including economics, can be found some of the most important starting points for ideas we hold dear today. He has been called the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century, and built on the ideas of predecessors including Hume, Locke, and Berkeley. While Locke developed the ideas of these men, as well as the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, he also deepened their arguments to a degree wherein they took on a new significance. Perhaps even more importantly, Mill was able to articulate the theories posited by these men, and his expansions, so that a wider audience more easily digested them.
John Stuart Mill was born in Pentonville, a suburb of London, in 1806. He was the eldest son of James Mill, who would go on to publish a book on the history of India, guaranteeing his success with the East India Company, the most important company in Britain in his day. James Mill was dedicated to philosophy and its expansion, and in particular the utilitarian ideas of his friend Jeremy Bentham. It was the elder Mill's goal that young John should one day be the pre-eminent philosopher of his day, and his childhood was formulated around that outcome. To this end, John was sheltered from other children and tutored by his father, who taught him Greek and Latin as a toddler, resulting in Mill reading most of the classic works in these languages by the age of fourteen.
At the age of fifteen, John Stuart Mill began the program that would shape him as a philosopher, and was introduced to a rigorous study of Jeremy Bentham's theories of legal evidence. He was deeply affected by these ideas, and a lifelong desire to better the interests of humans all over the world took root. He would also later take the theories of Bentham and transform them from scattered ideas into a comprehensive manuscript.
When he was twenty years old, John Stuart Mill suffered a bout of depression that, although it did not stunt his intellectual activities, left him feeling emotionally crippled. Mill concluded that his father's dedication to his development as a philosopher might have been too rigorous, resulting in the stagnation of emotions natural to a young man of his age. He credits the poetry of Wordsworth for allowing him to escape from underneath this cloud and develop a reasonable capacity for emotions once again.
Exposure to the poetry of Wordsworth and contemporaries such as Coleridge undoubtedly sharpened the social burden that John Stuart Mill had begun to feel while editing Bentham's legal theories. It started to become apparent to everyone at this point in his life that Mill had a comprehension of the failure of existing social constructs to properly address the needs of all, or at least the majority of the population, and that many people were being left far behind. Much of his philosophical work after this period was dedicated to re-constructing ways of thinking that left wide cracks for so many.
At the forefront of the oppressed, as John Stuart Mill saw them, were women. In one of his most famous works, an essay entitled The Subjection of Women, was one of the strongest defences of women of his time, and left him completely at odds with the ideas of his father. In the essay, he argued for rights, suffrage, and education for women (although he did believe that women would choose family over career).
One of the most notable facts about the life of John Stuart Mill is that he refused to attend University at Oxford or Cambridge. His refusal was due to the fact that these institutions were under the rule of the Anglican Church, which Mill referred to as the "white devil".
Instead of gaining an education at the upper levels, as so many notable philosophers did, Mill followed in his father's footsteps and joined the East India Company. He would work with the organization until 1858. At this time, his wife and lifelong friend passed away after just seven years of marriage, perhaps stunting his desire to live abroad.
After leaving the Company, Mill took a place in government, although his radical views alienated him somewhat from his constituents, and he was not re-elected to another term. Four years later, in 1873, Mill died, leaving behind him a legacy of standing on a solid philosophical basis for the rights of the oppressed.