Quotations by Mill, John Stuart


All political revolutions, not affected by foreign conquest, originate in moral revolutions. The subversion of established institutions is merely one consequence of the previous subversion of established order.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
“A Few Observations on the French Revolution” (1833)
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[Economic] and social changes, though among the greatest, are not the only forces which shape the course of our species. Ideas are not always the mere signs and effects of social circumstances: they are themelves a power in history.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
“M. de Tocqueville on Democracy in America” (vol. 2), The Edinburgh Review (Oct 1840)
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Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
“On Education,” Address on installation as rector, University of St Andrews, Scotland (1 Feb 1867)

See Burke.
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There is nothing which spreads more contagiously from teacher to pupil than elevation of sentiment: Often and often have students caught from the living influence of a professor a contempt for mean and selfish objects, and a noble ambition to leave the world better than the found it; which they have carried with them throughout life.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
“On Education,” speech, University of St Andrews (1 Feb 1867)
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The convictions of the mass of mankind run hand in hand with their interests or with their class feelings.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
“Reorganization of the Reform Party,” The London and Westminster Review (Apr 1839)
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Secular is whatever has reference to this life. Secular instruction is instruction respecting the concerns of this life. Secular subjects therefore are all subjects except religion. All the arts and sciences are secular knowledge. To say that secular means irreligious implies that all the arts and sciences are irreligious, and is very like saying that all professions except that of the law are illegal. […] To know the laws of the physical world, the properties of their own bodies and minds, the past history of their species, is as much a benefit to the Jew, the Mussulman, the Deist, the Atheist, as to the orthodox churchman; and it is as iniquitous to withhold it from them. Education provided by the public must be education for all, and to be education for all it must be purely secular education.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
“Speech on Secular Education,” undelivered (1849)
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There is a difference between irreligious and not religious, however it may suit the purposes of many persons to confound it.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
“Speech on Secular Education,” undelivered (1849)
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I cannot help remarking how much less confidence professed Christians appear to have in the truth and power of their principles than infidels generally have in theirs. Disbelievers in Christianity almost always hail the advance of public intelligence as favourable to them; the more informed and exercised a mind is, the more likely they account it to adopt their opinions; but I cannot find a trace of similar confidence in most of the professedly religious.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
“Speech on Secular Education,” undelivered (1849)
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What a country wants to make it richer is never consumption, but production. Where there is the latter, we may be sure that there is no want of the former. To produce, implies that the producer desires to consume; why else should he give himself useless labor? He may not wish to consume what he himself produces, but his motive for producing and selling is the desire to buy. Therefore, if the producers generally produce and sell more and more, they certainly also buy more and more.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
“The Consumer Theory of Prosperity” (1830)
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Judging by common sense is merely another phrase judging by first appearances; and everyone who has mixed among mankind with any capacity for observing them, knows that the men who place implicit faith in their own common sense, are, without any exception, the most wrong-headed and impracticable persons with whom he ever had to deal.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
“The Spirit of the Age,” part 2 The Examiner (English journal) (6-29 May 1831)
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The concessions of the privileged to the underprivileged are seldom brought about by any better motive than the power of the unprivileged to extort them.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
(Attributed)
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Every great movement must experience three stages: ridicule, discussion, adoption.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
(Attributed)
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War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
(Attributed)
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That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in the next.

mill-height-of-absurdity-wisdom-wist_info-quote

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
(Attributed)
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Often cited from a quote in Adlai Stevenson, Call to Greatness (1954), but appears earlier in, e.g., National Magazine (Nov 1911). Unverified in Mills' writings.
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The deep-rooted selfishness, which forms the general character of the existing state of society, is so deeply rooted only because the whole course of existing institutions tends to foster it.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
Autobiography, ch. 7 (1873)
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Thus, a people may prefer a free government, but if, from indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice, or want of public spirit, they are unequal to the exertions necessary for preserving it; if they will not fight for it when it is directly attacked; if they can be deluded by the artifices used to cheat them out of it; if by momentary discouragement, or temporary panic, or a fit of enthusiasm for an individual, they can be induced to lay their liberties at the feet even of a great man, or trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions; in all these cases they are more or less unfit for liberty: and though it may be for their good to have had it even for a short time, they are unlikely long to enjoy it.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
Considerations on Representative Government, (1861).
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A great statesman is he who knows when to depart from traditions, as well as when to adhere to them.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
Considerations on Representative Government, ch. 5 (1861)
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When the people are too much attached to savage independence, to be tolerant of the amount of power to which it is for their good that they should be subject, the state of society (as already observed) is not yet ripe for representative government.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
Considerations on Representative Government, ch. 6 (1861)
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The test of real and vigorous thinking, the thinking which ascertains truths instead of dreaming dreams, is successful application to practice.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
Considerations on Representative Government, ch. 3 (1861)
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The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful is the cause of half their errors.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty
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The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence, is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty (1859)
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A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 1 “Introductory” (1859)
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So natural to mankind is intolerance in whatever they really care about, that religious freedom has hardly anywhere been practically realized, except where religious indifference, which dislikes to have its peace disturbed by theological quarrels, has added its weight to the scale.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 1 (1859)
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The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 1 (1859)
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The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in
the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil in someone else. The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 1 (1859)
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He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 2 (1859)
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We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 2 (1859)
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If all mankind, minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 2 (1859)
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Though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of the truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 2 (1859)
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To refuse a hearing to an opinion because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 2 (1859)
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A party of order or stability and a party of progress or reform are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 2 (1859)
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Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 3 (1859)
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In proportion to the development of his individuality, each person becomes more valuable to himself, and is, therefore, capable of being more valuable to others.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 3 (1859)
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There is one characteristic of the present direction of public opinion peculiarly calculated to make it intolerant of any marked demonstration of individuality. The general average of mankind are not only moderate in intellect, but also moderate in inclinations; they have no tastes or wishes strong enough to incline them to do anything unusual, and they consequently do not understand those who have, and class all such with the wild and intemperate whom they are accustomed to look down upon.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 3, “Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being” (1859)
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To extend the bounds of what may be called moral police until it encroaches on the most unquestionably legitimate liberty of the individual is one of the most universal of all human propensities.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 4 (1859)
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The [free] individual is not accountable to society for his actions in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself. Advice, instruction, persuasion, and avoidance by other people, if thought necessary by them for their own good, are the only measures by which society can justifiably express its dislike or disapprobation of his conduct.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
On Liberty, ch. 5 (1859)
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If competition has its evils, it prevents greater evils. … It is the common error of Socialists to overlook the natural indolence of mankind; their tendency to be passive, to be the slaves of habit, to persist indefnitely in a course once chosen. Let them one attain any state of existence which they consider tolerable, and the danger to be apprehended is that they will thenceforth stagnate. … Competition may not be the best conceivable stimulus, but it is at present a necessary one, and no one can foresee the time when it will not be indspensable to progress.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
Principles of Political Economy, 4.7.7 (1848)
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Some will object, that a comparison cannot fairly be made between the government of the male sex and the forms of unjust power which I have adduced in illustration of it, since these are arbitrary, and the effect of mere usurpation, while it on the contrary is natural. But was there ever any domination which did not appear natural to those who possessed it?

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
The Subjection of Women, ch. 1 (1869)

Full text.
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Was there ever any domination which did not appear natural to those who possessed it?

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
The Subjection of Women, ch. 1 (1869)
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It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
Utilitarianism, ch. 2
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In the long run, the best proof of a good character is good actions.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
Utilitarianism, ch. 2 (1863)
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The creed that accepts, as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest-happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
Utilitarianism, ch. 2 (1863)
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I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative. I believe that to be so obvious and undeniable a fact that I hardly think any honorable Gentleman will question it.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
Debate in Parliament with John Pakington (31 May 1866)

Often paraphrased "Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative." Misquoted in Courtney, Life of John Stuart Mill (1889) as "I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it."
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The English, of all ranks and classes, are at bottom, in all their feelings, aristocrats. They have some concept of liberty, & set some value on it, but the very idea of equality is strange & offensive to them. They do not dislike to have many people above them as long as they have some below them.

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
Letter to Giussepe Mazzini (15 Apr 1858)
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