In transcribing the following essay from The Reader, an interesting, unfortunately short-lived intellectual magazine of the 1860s, I have used the Hathi Digital Library Trust web version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. The full-text version is generally accurate, and the one common OCR error here takes the form of turning the letter “e” as “o.” I corrected the scanning errors, and for ease of reading I have added a paragraph break between paragraphs four and five. If you come upon any errors I have missed, please do not hesitate to let the editors of this site know. — George P. Landow

Utilitarianism. By John Stuart Mill. Reprinted from Fraser's Magazine. (Parker, Son, and Bourn.)

First Principles. By Herbert Spencer, Author of "Social Statics." "The Principles of Psychology," "Essays, Scientific, Political, and Speculative," "Education," &c, (Williams and Morgate.)

Decorated initial M

uch as universal sentiment places that man among human beings who fulfils the notion involved in the name "the Poet," when it is pronounced with the due emphasis on the definite article, it may be doubted whether "the Philosopher" — that is, the systematic thinker or reasoner on those ultimate questions which are of deepest, most general, and most enduring interest to the race — is not entitled to at least co-equal eminence. Not only is the world ruled by speculation; not only is it to the speculative conclusions or suggestions entertained in abstract quiet by the philosophic minds of any age that men may look most surely for promonitions of what is about to be in the real world of fact and strife; but it is also true that the best common measure of worth for all the different kinds of intellectual exercise known — that of the poet and that of the scholar, as well as that of the thinker, especially so-called — consists in strict regard to the amount of purely speculative capacity that may be manifested. Were Homer's implied philosophy not great, he would not be the great bard of antiquity; had Shakespeare been less splendid as a thinker, by so much would he have been less admirable as a poet. By no means does this do away the difference habitually recognised between one mode of mind and another, one way of intellectual activity and another. Although the amount of speculative faculty present is the best common test of total intellectual worth in all alike, the poetic mode or cast of genius is distinguishable from that which is more expressly, exclusively, perseveringly, and systematically noetic. This latter cast of mind — the genius of the philosopher or pure reason — is, in its higher degrees, quite as rare as the higher degrees of the poetic intellect. The orator, according to Cicero, was the rarest of human beings. Possibly, there is no form of mind that is not rare enough, if only a consummate specimen of it will be accepted. Taking a somewhat lower standard of oratory, however, than Cicero had in view, one may certainly say that, in Britain of the present day, we are much more amply supplied in the article of orators than in that of philosophers. One might immolate to-morrow with great satisfaction a hundred tolerable orators, and some scores of tolerable versifiers into the bargain, if, out of their aggregate ashes, one could collect the elements of a real additional British thinker.

By the unanimous assent of at least a large portion of the educated British public, Mr. John Stuart Mill is the most important systematic British thinker of our time — facile princeps among our not very numerous British philosophers. The growth of this opinion has been gradual; but it is now an established tenet. Mr. Buckle is reported as having gone even farther — as having been in the habit of speaking of Mr. Mill, as, "of all living men, possessing the greatest mind in the world." Wherever one goes among our thoughtful younger men in England — say, our men under forty — it is Mill's name, Mill's authority, Mill's ideas, that one now hears quoted. Many are absolutely devoted to him — profess themselves his disciples and followers; all refer to him and cite him with respect. The influence of Mr. Mill has to a great extent superseded other recent intellectual influences, emanating from particular persons, the action of which he has himself felt and witnessed. It is less vehement, extensive, and intense than one or two recent influences that could be named; but, after its calmer fashion, it is working widely — partly as an impulse to new modes of thinking, partly with a disintegrating effect on the results of prior influences. We have heard this fact of the superseding of recent intellectual domination, by that of Mr. Mill somewhat irreverently expressed by the assertion that the age we are now living in may be called the John-Millennium. It is the spirit of Mill, the philosophy of Mill, at all events, that is in the ascendant among those minds — under a particular age, and not exceptionally regulated by some foreign allegiance or some peculiar force of older recollection or existing home-connexion — that are now leading the instruction of the public in most of our fresher literature of criticism and speculation, and discussing, as brisker and younger men discuss, our public questions. The solo approach to an under-tono of fixed conviction or reverent sentiment discernible in tho Saturday Review — the solo evidence of a collective belief or worship belonging to that periodical, as distinct from the fine and strong matter of argument which individual writers sometimes put forth in it — will be found to consist in a uniform respect for Mr. John Stuart Mill, and an incessant reference, more or less latent, to his writings and his principles.

That Mr. Mill has fairly won the high place he holds by the quantity, the variety, tho excellence, and the extremely stimulant quality of his writings, no one who knows anything of these writings, and is competent to form an opinion of them, can possibly deny. He is, indeed, a rare man among us. Apart altogether from the important doctrinal substance of his writings, how lucid their style, and what a sense we have, in every sentence, of beautiful sincerity, fine courage, and keen and high philanthropic aim! Thinking of him, and then of the ruck of writers that make the louder part of the roar of our present literary world, we feel how many of them might be well spared, if we could conserve him. And yet, with all this, there is one fact, respecting Mr. Mill and his present rule in the junior world of English speculation, of which both his disciples and those who are not his disciples are bound to take strong cognisance, when they contemplate his influence from the point of view of men instructed in the history of philosophy. Mr. Mill is far from disguising the fact himself; he calls attention to it — puts it almost in the fore-front of all he writes. What is that fact? It is, that Mr. Mill, with all that makes him so peculiarly the English philosopher of the present, belongs to one of those two schools of philosophy which have hitherto been always antagonistic — the wrestling of which with each other, and their alternate local defeat and local revival, have constituted hitherto the very essence of the history of human thought; and the battle between which may not yet have been fought out even in England. In other words, the ascendancy of Mr. Mill's philosophy, or of his kind of philosophy, in England is, and ought to be declared to be, the ascendancy for the time of a new form of one of the two possible philosophies between which men have divided themselves since philosophizing began, and neither the one nor the other of which has over long left its rival unattacked and in peace. Most men who read and quote Mill, whether as his disciples or not, know this; and those who read and quote him without knowing it ought to be told it.

Mr. Mill belongs to what has been variously named the Empirical (not a very fair name, as there is a vicious popular association with the word), Sensational, or Descendontal School of Philosophy, which maintains that there are no necessary or innate truths or ideas in the mind of man, but that all his knowledge, notions, and beliefs are acquired or fabricated out of his experience in the terrestrial and social conditions in which he finds himself. The opposite school is that of the Transcendental or a priori Philosophers, who maintain that there are such things as structural ideas, or forms and necessities of thinking, in the mind of man, antecedent to all experience, and by which, in the acquisition of knowledge and the building up of belief, experience is grasped and moulded. These two philosophies, we say — expressing themselves variously from age to age, but always essentially the same in their antagonism — have wrestled with each other since philosophizing began; and, according as the one or the other has been uppermost, locally or generally, there and then all thought, all literature, all action have been correspondingly affected. In the ancient world the main form of the controversy was the struggle between Aristotelianism and Platonism; in medieval Europe the controversy between Nominalism and Idealism had this at its heart; in modern times the English Locke and the German Leibnitz represent the opposed poles. "Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensibus," is the epigrammatic summing up of the principle of the Lockian philosophy; to which, that Transcendentalism might not want its contrary epigram, Loibnitz refulminated, "Nihil est in intellectu, quod non prius fuerit in sensibus, prater intellectual ipsum." And, from the time of Locke and Leibnitz, European philosophers have continued the controversy as to this question of a prior outfit, or not, of the intellectus ipse, with truths, notions, necessary or structural ideas, and also as to the question what and how many truths, notions, necessary or structural ideas form the stock of this prior outfit.

Kant was the last philosopher who gave a great original reconstruction to the school of necessary or à priori ideas. His chief work consisted in a kind of repetition of that Copernican stroke which revolutionized astronomy. In other words, as Copernicus thought he could explain the phenomena of the celestial motions better if he retracted his gaze from the vast alleged wheelings of the planetary and starry spheres, and made the central little ball wheel in his fancy instead, so Kant professed that greater progress would be made and greater certainty arrived at, as to the nature and grounds of human knowledge and belief, if, instead of roaming always among the huge miscellany of external objects, we were rigorously to analyze first the mysterious knowing subject rotating in the midst of all. In England, although on the whole Locke's system has so strongly retained the ascendancy for the last century and a half that Locke may be called pre-eminently the father of the national English philosophy, yet there have never been wanting protests and contradictions in the interest of the other philosophy. There has been a kind of chronic protest from the northern part of the island — the most prominent philosophers of the so-called Scottish school, from Reid to Sir William Hamilton, having been decidedly anti-Lockian; and the national Scottish philosophy, so far as thero has been such a thing, having always leant as decidedly towards the à priori or transcendontal side of the controversy, as the English has towards the other. Aiding this protest, especially since the time of Kant and the rise of the German philosophy, there have nover been wanting native English anti-Lockian minds of great power, opposing tho prevalent bent in language different from that of the Scottish school. Among these Coleridge was a chief. Coleridge, transmitting German light through the stainedglass medium of his own highly poetical mind, but catching also gleams and traditions of such old native English pre-Lockian thought as are to be found among the Cambridge Platonists, diffused through England an Anglican philosophy, the rich and subtle influence of which is not yet, in this generation, wholly exhausted.

But, though there is a fine bequest of Coloridgianism still influencing much of tho best of English thought, it is Mr. Mill, we repeat, that is the accepted English philosopher of the present — at least among the "growing ones” of the generation and the men under forty. Apart from this bequest of thought from Coleridge, now considerably attenuated by time, the only British philosophic influence, of a regular, logical, and professedly systematic kind, that now struggles conspicuously with that of Mill, is the influence left by the late Sir William Hamilton. This operates strongly within the limited but powerful circle of those who stood in the personal relation of pupils to Sir William while he was alive; and it has recently been imported, with singular effects, into England. It is working, and will work; and more is still to come out of it. But, for the present, the shade of Hamilton, revisiting the glimpses of the moon, to champion in these islands the cause of necessary truth which was so dear to him, must find the metropolis at least, and all the region commanded thence, in possession of the contrary philosophy, as championed by the supreme living expositor. Nay, in Hamilton's own land, there is a large lapse over to the opposition. The elaborate work on the Human Mind by Professor Alexander Bain, of Aberdeen — one of the most able, rich, complete, and important contributions that have recently been made to the literature of British philosophy — is an accession of strength, from the part of the island hitherto reputed most strongly à priori, to the general views of Mill. The question, thon, recurs — Will Mr. Mill retain his monopoly long, or will there be a blast soon again in England across it of that philosophy of necessary ideas which has never yet ceased out of the earth, but which Mr. Mill disowns? It is, we should suppose, one of Mr. Mill's tenets, that tho extinction of the possibility of such a philosophy, or of the wish for it, will mark the epoch of the triumph of true philosophic thought. But is it so? Evon out of those trains of recent scientific speculation whence we might least expect any contradiction to Mr. Mill's views — those speculations of an extreme physiology which regard man as the last term or result of a measureless evolution, inorganic in its beginnings, and then organic — may there not come a new form of the tendency to account for man's ideas and the principles of his action by considering them not as generalizations of his experience as man, but as, in part, structural predeterminations and compulsions? To answer the question of the likelihood of the permanence of Mr. Mill's philosophic reign, even from this point of view (which is, by no means, the only point of view from which we would propose the question), we should have to. take account, among other things, of the differences from Mr. Mill already shown by tho extraordinarily able and peculiarly original thinker whose name wo have associated with Mr. Mill's at the head of this article. We may take occasion at another time to call attention to the speculations of Mr. Herbert Spencer, whose works, in the meantime — and especially that new one whoso title we have cited — we recommend to all those select readers whose appreciation of masterly exposition and great reach and boldness of generalization does not depend on their mere disposition to agree with the doctiines pioEounded. Ere we do this, however, it will e due to Mr. Mill to examine more particularly the doctrine of the beautiful treatise which has suggested these remarks.


“Mr. John Stuart Mill and His Influence.” The Reader. (18 April 1863): 376-77. London: “Published at 112, Fleet Street,” 1863. Hathi Digital Library Trust web version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. 19 July 2016.

Created 19 July 2016