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Autobiography of John Stuart Mill de John…
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Autobiography of John Stuart Mill (original: 1873; edição: 1960)

de John Stuart Mill (Autor)

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It may be useful that there should be some record of an education which was unusual and remarkableJohn Stuart Mill (1806-73), philosopher, economist, and political thinker, was the most prominent figure of nineteenth century English intellectual life and his work has continuing significance for contemporary debates about ethics, politics and economics. His father, James Mill, a close associateof the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, assumed responsibility for his eldest son's education, teaching him ancient Greek at the age of three and equipping him with a broad knowledge of the physical and moral sciences of the day.Mill's Autobiography was written to give an account of the extraordinary education he received at the hands of his father and to express his gratitude to those he saw as influencing his thought, but it is also an exercise in self-analysis and an attempt to vindicate himself against claims that hewas the product of hothousing. The Autobiography also acknowledges the substantial contribution made to Mill's thinking and writings by Harriet Taylor, whom he met when he was twenty-four, and married twenty-one years later, after the death of her husband. The Autobiography helps us understand morefully some of the principal commitments that Mill's political philosophy has become famous for, in particular his appreciation of the diversity, plurality, and complexity of ways of life and their possibilities.This edition of the Autobiography includes additional manuscript materials from earlier drafts which demonstrate the conflicting imperatives that influenced Mill'schoice of exactly what to say about some of the most significant episodes and relationships in his life. Mark Philps introductionexplores the forces that led Mill to write the "life' and points to the tensions in the text and in Mill's life.… (mais)
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Título:Autobiography of John Stuart Mill
Autores:John Stuart Mill (Autor)
Informação:Columbia University Press (1960), Edition: New Ed, 240 pages
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Autobiography of John Stuart Mill de John Stuart Mill (1873)

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The autobiography is such an ancient genre, St. Augustine having written his Confessions in 400 AD, that its conventions were already pretty fixed by the time that Mill finally completed his shortly before his 1873 death. His contribution to the genre is right in line with what we expect: an overview of his life, his work, his relationship (note the singular), and his likely legacy, balancing between honest modesty and fair self-regard. It's notable not just merely because of who he was - pioneering radical, influential politician, prescient philosopher, one of the most enduringly useful of the great modern thinkers - but because of how he thought, and though each chapter is written in that dense, fractally-claused 19th century style, the precision, honesty, and clarity of his sentiments comes across regardless. His descriptions of his own crisis of confidence, his admiration for his wife, and descriptions of his role in some of the most important political and philosophical debates of his time are still worth reading today, because aside from the historical recollections, he works in several other genres as well: implicit child-raising guide, a model for self-education and rational thinking, a self-help book on depression, advice on how to reform the political system from inside, and even some relationship goals. I'd previously read Nicolas Capaldi's biography of him and it's not bad, but there's nothing like going back to the source. This is definitely worth a stop after reading Utilitarianism and On Liberty.

His account of his childhood is fascinating. His father James Mill decided to raise him as a sort of knowledge-seeking missile, giving him nothing but impossibly ambitious classical homework and barely letting him interact with other children. The contrast between the dry tone of Mill's description of his father's methods and the profoundly ambivalent effects it obviously had on him is striking: Ancient Greek lessons at 3 years old, Latin at 8, rhetoric and history philosophy, all with scholastic discipline and criticism that sounds nearly as bad as the infamous British boarding school punishments of the day, because although his father never beat him, imagine having your father yelling at you because your elocution when orating a speech by Demosthenes at age 12 was not quite up to par. I was a fairly bookish child, so a boyhood of not having to go to school and just reading all day doesn't sound so bad, and yet I doubt that force-feeding you child literature like that is useful. A 10 year-old's interpretation of Thucydides can only ever be so good. This steroidal homeschooling did produce one of the most famous philosophers of all time, but it's not a surprise that although he respected and admired his father, Mill calmly states that he didn't love him. He would later endorse government-funded (though not government-run) mandatory education in On Liberty, so this reluctance to endorse his own schooling method is pretty interesting. One can only wonder if he would approve of the "guided self-direction" of the Montessori method as being a happy medium between the austere Plato's Republic-style force-feeding of his youth and the often-inflexible public school system we have today, or what he thought of Rousseau's system in Emile.

Of course, there's only so much you can learn from your father, even if your father is himself a major philosopher, so it's fortunate that James Mill knew many of the leading philosophic lights of the day. Mill spends many pages talking about how his personal relationships with David Hume, David Ricardo, Jeremy Bentham, etc. as a child and young man influenced his later thinking. James Mill was an autodidact himself, perhaps he wanted to try to hurry up his son's enlightenment by giving him access to people who had already read all those books. In a way that's almost more interesting than his homeschooling background - if you deliberately unleashed your kid on your smartest friends and let ask them as many questions as they wanted and your friends would tolerate, how would that mentorship affect them? Bentham was the main influence, of course, but Mill came into contact with many people who already were or would later go on to be very significant (he himself would become godfather to Bertrand Russell), and Mill is very perceptive about what he took and what he rejected from his mentors. There's an inherent tension between trying to devise an authentic personal philosophy that's true to yourself, on one hand, and on the other to race ahead as fast as possible, to stand on the shoulders of giants by learning from other people as much and as quickly as possible. I think that's where judgment and discernment come in, because ultimately you need the ability to say no to people, to choose what's important from what you take in and discard the rest, and indeed one can take much of Mill's philosophy as instructive guidance on how to choose wisely, not just between ideas but between anything.

And yet we are not mere utilitarian calculating machines, as Mill illustrates with his account of his spiritual crisis at age 20. It's a fascinating account of how he found that he was unable to derive personal happiness purely by the maximize pleasure-minimize pain ethos that underlay his own philosophy. One day in the autumn of 1826, he wasn't feeling so great (it sounds sort of like one of those Sunday afternoons that Douglas Adams so memorably described as the long dark tea-time of the soul), and he started asking himself some tough questions:

"In this frame of mind it occurred to me to put the question directly to myself, 'Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?' And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, 'No!' At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for."

There are a truly remarkable number of thought-provoking questions embedded in that paragraph that he answers explicitly or implicitly in the remainder of the chapter:

- Is it actually possible to find true happiness in abstract thought, in any degree? For anyone, or just some? Even if it was possible for you, would that happiness be sufficient? How do you balance the importance of your own "life of the mind" with the rest of your life?
- How does your own personal temperament affect your philosophy? Is something like utilitarianism more or less likely to be believed by happy people? Does switching (or reaffirming) belief systems really change your happiness in the long run, like feeling more confident in a nicer outfit? Can you think yourself sad?
- How important are our own beliefs about the world to you, not just your answers to "big questions" but even minor tastes and opinions? What would it mean if something you thought you really loved turned out to be empty, or flat wrong, or even actively negative to your ego?
- If you don't find joy in something's ultimate conclusion, can there be anything positive about any aspect of it at all? Can you go through the motions of something and be happy, or do you need to excise the whole thing, root and branch, and move on? Does being unhappy that something failed mean that there's still something valuable there, or is unhappiness synonymous with exhaustion?
- As we go through life, does it matter at what age we have big mental paradigm shifts? Is it better to have a crisis of faith when young so you can "course correct" more easily, later so that you don't have to live through as much disappointment, or are quandaries time-invariant? How much depends on the quandary, and how much depends on you as a person?
- When you fall down, how do you find what will pick you up? Is it better to just distract yourself until you feel better and go back to what you were doing, or deliberately start on a different path? What role do other people play?

Mill spent some time depressed, then picked himself back up, rebuilt his entire value system from the ground up, and then went on to become one of the most important philosophers in modern history. That's how it's done, folks! His discovery that happiness is often easier to find when you don't chase it too directly is hardly original, but given that it's a much easier maxim to hear than to actually live, you can hardly hear it repeated too frequently. How many goals have we chased in the idea that when we reach them we will finally be satisfied, only to find out that we needlessly caused ourselves and others unhappiness along the way to an empty and unfulfilling end? How many are we still chasing right now?

A more uplifting human interest point in his life story is his relationship with Harriet Taylor, the woman who would later become his wife. One of the downsides of being raised as a child prodigy apart from your peers by a humorless father who cares mostly about your ability to recite ancient Greek is that it's not great for your sex life. On the flip side, when he met Harriet that repression gave him an admirable devotion to her, sustained platonically at the beginning since she was married at the time and then not-so-platonically after the husband conveniently died and they could then get hitched. It's a good reminder that there's no one right way to go through life, and even if you've got baggage, or what you're doing seems scandalous (there's no evidence that Mill was ever a homewrecker, but really really close friendships with someone else's spouse are red flags in any era), it's possible to come out the other side happy and fulfilled. Not that anyone would recommend his path to happiness, probably least of all Mill himself, but in spite of their irrationality and generally low odds of success, I think "love finds a way" stories will always find an audience, since very few of us ever take the straight line to happiness. I am honestly jealous of his appreciation for his wife as a person and a philosophical companion who complemented him. As he says: "What was abstract and purely scientific was generally mine; the properly human element came from her: in all that concerned the application of philosophy to the exigencies of human society and progress, I was her pupil, alike in boldness of speculation and cautiousness of practical judgment." He doesn't spend too much time outlining his grief at her death after only 7 years of marriage, but he clearly missed her very deeply, both as a companion and as a fellow philosopher.

One thing that separates Mill from the overwhelming majority of philosophers both ancient and modern is that he was actually a member of the House of Commons for a time, and not merely a writer. Like Marx said, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it!" It's all well and good to sit down at your desk and construct a paper paradise, but actually rolling up your sleeves and participating in the ugly moral compromises that politics requires is very different, particularly in that pre-Marx era when advocates of socialism were basing much of their reform proposals on models of primitive communism, which were as much of a dangerous distraction in the Industrial Revolution as they are now. Unsurprisingly, his main issues were all related to fairness: universal suffrage, reducing corruption, and instituting proportional representation. He was unhappy that no one liked his proposal that the more educated be given more votes than the less educated, which sounds anti-egalitarian, but compared to the contemporary explicit bias towards property-owners or the modern implicit bias towards rural voters, it sounds downright reasonable. He was critical to the development of British Liberal Party, but was himself reluctant to fully embrace party labels, preferring to be his own man, and when it came down to tough choices, as it did for him when considering Gladstone's Reform Bill, he was a stick-to-your-guns kind of guy even at the potential cost of passage:

"I had always declined being a member of the [Reform] League, on the avowed ground that I did not agree in its programme of manhood suffrage and the ballot: from the ballot I dissented entirely; and I could not consent to hoist the flag of manhood suffrage, even on the assurance that the exclusion of women was not intended to be implied; since if one goes beyond what can be immediately carried and professes to take one’s stand on a principle, one should go the whole length of the principle."

For the most part his views as expressed here only reinforce my idea of Mill as a thinker tirelessly trying to find the most logical way to systematize and thus extend morality. As a member of that unhappy tribe of non-socialist liberals, without the helpful guiding light of a dogma, many of his difficulties with his fellow legislators stemmed from his insistence at trying to universalize moral concepts in a system that encouraged parochialism. For example, during the US Civil War there was a real danger that the UK would support the Confederacy instead of the Union out of crass commercial interests (Karl Marx, then covering the war as a journalist for the New York Herald-Tribune, also correctly argued against this view at length), and for many British legislators, the Civil War really did seem like those "it was about states' rights" myths you still heard about sometimes: "There were men of high principle and unquestionable liberality of opinion who thought it a dispute about tariffs, or assimilated it to the cases in which they were accustomed to sympathise, of a people struggling for independence." His friend David Hume infamously said of logic: "We speak not strictly and philosophically when we talk of the combat of passion and of reason. Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them." You can look at Mill's entire parliamentary career as a struggle to show that moral passion and the highest reasoning faculties are not in fact opposed, although judging by the fact that one of his best and most famous lines is still as relevant today as it was in 1861, his successes are tempered at best: "The Conservative party was, by the law of its constitution, necessarily the stupidest party. Now, I do not retract this assertion; but I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative."

The best Mill is his philosophical works, though his accounts of his practical experiences in his career are filled with fascinating little historical asides. For example, I never knew that Mill played such an important role in promoting acceptance of Lord Durham's recommendation for the 1840 unification of French and English Canada, which laid the foundation for modern Canada's creation in 1867 and become the template for the motherland's relationship to the other British colonies. His discussions with famous friends, his disputes with other leading lights, and his recollections of a long and productive life make certain elements of Utilitarianism and On Liberty make a lot more sense; I guess on some level our abstract mental systems of the world can never really be fully divorced from personal experience, and understanding where someone is coming from tells you a lot about where they're trying to go to. An autobiography might be as much mortification as inspiration, like George Orwell's line about how "A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats", but Mill had such an exceptionally eventful life that even with his characteristic modesty and understatement it's truly hard to see how he could have written a better or more useful book. His life was his work, and he did a ton of it. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Much more interesting than I expected, and I'm much more interested in reading Mill's work than I was before I read this. Although he had some astonishing blind spots, he comes across as a humble, fascinating, radical man. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
Mill prefaces the book by saying that the majority of his life would be quite boring to hear about, and the only reason he's written an autobiography is to make a record of the unusual education he had. indeed, that is what i wanted to read about, and i read the first half of this with great attention. but then he gets beyond his education, and it is as boring as he said it would be. worth it? i guess. ( )
  julianblower | Jul 23, 2020 |
child genius
  ritaer | May 19, 2020 |
This model of romantic & Victorian autobiography features many bonus insights. Throughout the book, Mill's own life & concerns are intimately tied with the struggle between the values of Enlightenment & those of Romanticism; with evolving notions of political & social engineering, then known as "political economy"; with the conscientious first-person account of a depression, together with an almost existential approach to its cure. Not to forget the dominant theme of this book: a detailed description & evaluation of the bizarre, slanted, yet singularly effective education of a very young JS Mill by his formidable father, James Mill. ( )
  nielspeterqm | Nov 26, 2010 |
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Open any page of Mill, and you will find something very well-expressed. If I were teaching students to write good, serviceable, muscular, forthright English prose, I should give them Mill to read.
 

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It seems proper that I should prefix to the following biographical sketch some mention of the reasons which have made me think it desirable that I should leave behind me such a memorial of so uneventful a life as mine.
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For now I saw, or thought I saw, what I had always before received with incredulity -- that the habit of analysis has a tendency to wear away the feelings; as indeed it has, when no other mental habit is cultivated, and the analyzing spirit remains without its natural complements and correctives.
Of the truth of this I was convinced, but to know that a feeling would make me happy if I had it, did not give me the feeling.
Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end.
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It may be useful that there should be some record of an education which was unusual and remarkableJohn Stuart Mill (1806-73), philosopher, economist, and political thinker, was the most prominent figure of nineteenth century English intellectual life and his work has continuing significance for contemporary debates about ethics, politics and economics. His father, James Mill, a close associateof the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, assumed responsibility for his eldest son's education, teaching him ancient Greek at the age of three and equipping him with a broad knowledge of the physical and moral sciences of the day.Mill's Autobiography was written to give an account of the extraordinary education he received at the hands of his father and to express his gratitude to those he saw as influencing his thought, but it is also an exercise in self-analysis and an attempt to vindicate himself against claims that hewas the product of hothousing. The Autobiography also acknowledges the substantial contribution made to Mill's thinking and writings by Harriet Taylor, whom he met when he was twenty-four, and married twenty-one years later, after the death of her husband. The Autobiography helps us understand morefully some of the principal commitments that Mill's political philosophy has become famous for, in particular his appreciation of the diversity, plurality, and complexity of ways of life and their possibilities.This edition of the Autobiography includes additional manuscript materials from earlier drafts which demonstrate the conflicting imperatives that influenced Mill'schoice of exactly what to say about some of the most significant episodes and relationships in his life. Mark Philps introductionexplores the forces that led Mill to write the "life' and points to the tensions in the text and in Mill's life.

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