Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

John Stuart Mill

English Philosopher, Economist and Civil Servant

"A pupil from whom nothing is ever demanded which he cannot do, never does all he can."

"Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness."

"As soon as mankind have unanimously accepted a truth, does the truth perish within them? The highest aim and best result of improved intelligence, is has hitherto been thought, is to unite mankind more and more in the acknowledgment of all important truths; and does the intelligence only last as long as it has not achieved its object? Do the fruits of conquest perish by the very completeness of the victory?"

"All the good of which humanity is capable is comprised in obedience."

"Because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage it contained. that so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time."

"Customs are made for customary circumstances and customary characters... The mind itself is bowed to the yoke; even in what people do for pleasure, conformity is the first thing thought of; they live in crowds: they exercise choice only among things commonly done: peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct, are shunned equally with crimes: until by dint of not following their own nature they have not nature to follow: their human capacities are withered and starved: they become incapable of any strong wishes or native pleasures, and are generally without either opinions or feelings of home growth, or properly their own."

"He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that."

"As soon as any part of a person’s conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it, becomes open to discussion."

"Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time."

"How can great minds be produced in a country where the test of great minds is agreeing in the opinion of small minds?"

"I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than attempting to satisfy them."

"Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing."

"If it were only that people have diversities of taste, that is reason enough for not attempting to shape them all after one model. But different persons also require different conditions for their spiritual development, and can no more exist healthily in the same moral, than all the varieties of plants can in the same physical atmosphere and climate."

"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."

"In this age the man who dares to think for himself and act independently does a service to his race."

"It is not because men’s desires are strong that they act ill; it is because their consciences are weak. There is no natural connection between strong impulses and a weak conscience."

"Men lose their high aspirations as they lose their intellectual tastes, because they have not time or opportunity for indulging them; and they addict themselves to inferior pleasures, not because they deliberately prefer them, but because they are either the only ones to which they have access, or the only ones which they are any longer capable of enjoying. It may be questioned whether any one who has remained equally susceptible to both classes of pleasures, every knowingly and calmly preferred the lower; though many, in all ages, have broken down in an ineffectual attempt to combine both."

"On every subject on which difference of opinion is possible, the truth depends on a balance to be struck between two sets of conflicting reasons."

"Originality is the one thing which unoriginal minds cannot feel the use of."

"It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is individual in themselves, but by cultivating it, and calling it forth, within the limits imposed by the rights and interests of others, that human beings become noble and beautiful object of contemplation; and as the works partake the character of those who do them, by the same process human life also becomes rich, diversified, and animating, furnishing more abundant aliment to high thoughts and elevating feelings, and strengthening the tie which binds every individual to the race, by making the race infinitely better worth belonging to."

"That which is the result of habit affords no presumption of being intrinsically good."

"The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, utility, or the Great 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... Pleasure and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends."

"The dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution is one of those pleasant falsehoods which men repeat after one another till they pass into commonplaces, but which all experience refutes."

"The love of power and the love of liberty are in eternal antagonism."

"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... The only purpose of which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."

"The real advantage which truth has consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favorable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such a head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it."

"All good things which exist are the fruits of originality."

"Whatever crushes individuality is despotism... I am not aware that any community has a right to force another to be civilized."

"Whatever helps to shape the human being; to make the individual what he is, or hinder him from being what he is not - is part of his education. And a very bad education it often is; requiring all that can be done by cultivated intelligence and will, to counteract its tendencies."

"A people in a state of savage independence, in which every one lives for himself, exempt, unless by fits, from any external control, is practically incapable of making any progress in civilization until it has learnt to obey. The indispensable virtue, therefore, in a government which establishes itself over a people of this sort is, that it make itself obeyed."

"Customs are made for customary circumstances; even in what people do for pleasure, conformity is the first thing thought of; they live in crowds: they exercise choice only among things commonly done: peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct, are shunned equally with crimes: until by dint of not following their own nature they have not nature to follow. Whatever crushes individuality is despotism. [And] I am not aware that any community has a right to force another to be civilized."

"Among the foremost benefits of free government is that education of the intelligence and of the sentiments which is carried down to the very lowest ranks of the people when they are called to take a part in after which directly affect the great interests of their country."

"Hitherto it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being. They have enabled a greater population to live the same life of drudgery and imprisonment, and an increased number of manufacturers and others to make fortunes. They have increased the comforts of the middle classes. But they have not yet begun to effect those great changes in human destiny, which it is in their nature and in their futurity to accomplish. Only when, in addition to just institutions, the increase of mankind shall be under the deliberate guidance of judicious foresight, and the conquests made form the powers of nature by the intellect and energy of scientific discoverers, become the common property of the species, and the means of improving and elevating the universal lot."

"Even despotism does not produce its worst effects, so long as individuality exists under it; and whatever crushes individuality is despotic, by whatever name it may be called, and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men."

"In the human mind one-sidedness has always been the rule, and many-sidedness the exception. Hence, even in revolutions of opinion, one part of the truth usually sets while the other rises."

"Justice is a name for certain moral requirements, which, regarded collectively, stand higher in the scale of social utility, and are therefore of more paramount obligation, than any others; though particular cases may occur in which some other social duty is so important, as to overrule any one of the general maxims of justice. Thus, to save a life, it may not only be allowable, but a duty, to steal, or take by force, the necessary food or medicine, or to kidnap, and compel to officiate, the only qualified medical practitioner. In such cases, as we do not call anything justice which is not a virtue, we usually say, not that justice must give way to some other moral principle, but that what is just in ordinary case is, by reason of that other principle, not just in the particular case. By this useful accommodation of language, the character of indefeasibility attributed to justice is kept up, and we are saved from the necessity of maintaining that there can be laudable injustice."

"Intimate society between people radically dissimilar to one another is an idle dream. Unlikeness may attract, but it is likeness which retains."

"The real advantage which truth has, consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it."

"One of the greatest dangers... of democracy, as of all other forms of government, lies in the sinister interest of the holders of power: it is the danger of class legislation; of government intended for (whether really effecting it or not) the immediate benefit of the dominant class, to the lasting detriment of the whole. And one of the most important questions demanding consideration, in determining the best constitution of a representative government, is how to provide efficacious securities against this evil."

"Our actions follow from our characters [but] we are exactly as capable of making our own character, if we will, as other are of making it for us. The free will doctrine, by keeping in view precisely that portion of the truth which the word “necessity” [“determinism”] puts out of sight, namely the power of the mind to cooperate in the formation of its own character, has given its adherents a practical feeling much nearer to the truth than has generally (I believe) existed in the minds of the determinists."

"The principle of private property has never yet had a fair trial in any country."

"The most cogent reason for restricting the interference of government is the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power."

"The state of the whole universe at any instant we believe to be the consequence of its state at the previous instant; insomuch that one who knew all the agents which exist at the present moment, their collocation in space, and all their properties, in other words, the laws of their agency, could predict the whole subsequent history of the universe, at least unless some new volition of a power capable of controlling the universe should supervene. And if any particular state of the entire universe could ever recur a second time, all subsequent states would return too, and history would, like a circulating decimal of many figures, periodically repeat itself."

"The proper functions of a government are not a fixed thing, but different in different states of society; much more extensive in a backward than in an advanced state."

"The spirit of improvement is not always a spirit of liberty, for it may aim at forcing improvement on an unwilling people."

"The study of science teaches young men to think, while study of the classics teaches them to express thought."

"The test of real and vigorous thinking, the thinking which ascertains truths instead of dreaming dreams, is successful application to practice. Where that purpose does not exist, to give definiteness, precision, and an intelligible meaning to thought, it generates nothing better than the mystical metaphysics of the Pythagoreans or the Vedas."

"The worth of a state, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it."

"Those only are happy 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. Aiming this at something else, they find happiness by the way... Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so. The only chance is to treat, not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life."

"Though society is not founded on a contract, and though no good purpose is answered by inventing a contract in order to deduce social obligations from it, every one who receives the protection of society owes a return for the benefit, and the fact of living in society renders it indispensable that each should be bound to observe a certain line of conduct towards the rest."