Mill, James an eminent British metaphysician and political economist, was born of humble parentage in the neighborhood of Montrose, Scotland, April 6, 1773. After having received a thorough education in the house of Sir John Stuart, M.P., he was sent to the University of Edinburgh, where he was educated for the Church. He entered into holy orders in 1798, but, instead of devoting himself to his sacred calling, he went to London in 1800; became editor of the Literary Journal, and wrote for various periodicals, including the Eclectic and the Edinburgh Review. In 1806 he commenced a History of British India, which he completed and published in 1818. The impression produced by this masterly history on the Indian authorities was such that in 1819 Mill was appointed assistant-examiner of Indian correspondence. He continued in this office till 1832, when he was appointed head of the examiner's office, where he had the control of all the departments of Indian administration. Shortly after his appointment to the India House, he contributed the articles on Government, Education, Jurisprudence, Law of Nations, Liberty of the Press, Colonies, and Prison Discipline to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. These essays were reprinted in a separate form and became widely known. The powers of analysis, of clear statement, and thorough application of principles exhibited in these articles had probably never before been brought to bear on this class of subjects. In 18211822 he published his Elements of Political Economy, a work prepared primarily with a view to the education of his eldest son, John Stuart Mill (q.v.).
In 1829 Mr. Mill came before the public with his Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, a work on which he bestowed more of the labor of thought than on any other of his productions, and on a subject of special interest to the theologian and the philosopher. In this work Mill has attempted to resolve all the powers of the human mind into a very small number of simple elements. From an examination of a number of the more complicated cases of consciousness, he arrives at the conclusion that they all resolve themselves into three simple elements — sensations, ideas, and the train of ideas. He thus explains what he means by the terms sensations and ideas: "We have two classes of feeling: one, that which exists when the object of sense is present; another, that which exists after the object of sense has ceased to be present. The one class of feelings I call sensations, the other class of feelings I call ideas" (1:41). He begins with the simpler phenomena, and thence proceeds to the exposition of the more complex ones. " The feelings," he says, "which we have through the external senses are the most simple, at least the most familiar, of the mental phenomena. Hence the propriety of commencing with this class of our feelings" (Analysis, 1:1). Accordingly he begins with sensation, under which head he ranges the feelings which we have by the five senses — smell, taste, hearing, touch, and sight; the muscular sensations, and the sensations in the alimentary canal. He next treats of ideas, or, as he calls them, the images of sensation. He then comments on ideas put together or associated in trains, and of the order of their association and the causes of that order. He then treats of consciousness and conception, which philosophers, he says, have erroneously created into what they called powers of the mind; whereas, he says, consciousness is merely a name applied to sensations, and to ideas whether simple or complex — to all the feelings of our sentient nature: and conception a name applied only to ideas, and to ideas only in a state of combination. "Imagination," he says, "is the name of a train of ideas. I am said to have an imagination when I have a train of ideas. There is a great diversity of trains. Not only has the same individual an endless variety of trains, but a different character belongs to the whole series of trains which pass through the minds of different individuals or classes of individuals. The different pursuits in which the several classes of men are engaged render particular trains of ideas more common to them than other trains. One man is a merchant, and trains respecting the goods in which he buys and those in which he sells are habitual in his mind. Another man is a lawyer, and ideas of clients and fees, and judges and witnesses, and legal instruments and points of contestation, and the practice of his court, are habitually passing in his mind. Ideas of another kind occupy the mind of the physician; of another kind still the mind of the warrior. The statesman is occupied with a train different from that of any of the classes that have been mentioned, and one statesman with a very different train from another, according as his mind is running upon expedients Which may serve the purpose of the day, or arrangement which may secure the happiness of the population from generation to generation. A peculiar character belongs to the train which habitually occupies the mind of the mathematician. The mind of the metaphysician is also occupied by a train distinguished from that of other classes. And there is one man yet to be mentioned, the poet, the peculiarity of whose trains has been a subject of particular observation. To such a degree, indeed, have the trains of the poet been singled out for distinction, that the word imagination, in a more restricted sense, is appropriated to them. We do not call the trains of the lawyer, or the trains of the merchant, imagination. We do not speak of them as imagining, when they are revolving each the ideas which belong to his peculiar occupation; it is only to the poet that the epithet of imagination is applied. His train, or trahis analogous to his are those which receive the name of imagination" (1:179).
In some parts of his philosophy Mill has, we think, been led into error, by carrying his notion of association, as an explanation of these phenomena, too far. Thus, in the chapter on classification, after very ably showing how long men had been led away by mere jargon from the real nature and object of classification, he says: "Man first becomes acquainted with individuals. He first names individuals. But individuals are innumerable, and he cannot have innumerable names. He must make one name serve for many individuals." Then, after alluding to the case of "synchronous sensations so concreted by constant conjunction as to appear, though numerous, only one, of which the ideas of sensible objects — a rose, a plough, a house, a ship — are examples," he thus proceeds: "It is easy to see wherein the present case agrees with and wherein it differs from those familiar cases. The word man, we shall say is first applied to an individual; it is first associated with the idea of that individual, and acquires the power of calling up the idea of him; it is next applied to another individual, and acquires the power of calling up the idea of him; so of another, and another, till it has become associated with an indefinite number, and has acquired the power of calling up an indefinite number of those ideas indifferently. What happens? It does call up an indefinite number of the ideas of individuals as often as it occurs; and calling them up in close connection, it forms them into a species of complex idea" (1:204). From this simple basis he builds up with remarkable dexterity a comprehensive system, all the errors or defects of which lie at the very threshold. His conclusions are inevitable, if his premises, his representation of the facts of consciousness, be accepted. Sensation, ideation, association, and naming are the elementary processes in his analysis, by which he accounts for all the complex phenomena of the mind — for abstraction, memory, judgment, ratiocination, belief, and the power of motives. He devotes the latter half of the second volume of his Analysis to the phenomena in which the sensations and ideas are to be considered as not merely existing, but also as exciting to action. He treats of pleasurable and painful sensations, and of the causes of the pleasurable and painful sensations; then of ideas of the pleasurable and painful sensations, and of the causes of them. He treats of wealth, power, and dignity, and their contraries; of our fellow-creatures, and of the objects called sublime and beautiful, and their contraries, contemplated as causes of our pleasures and pains. Chapter 22 is devoted to the subject of motives, and chapter 24 to that of the will; chapter 25 (the last) to intention. Mr. Mill's exposition of all these phenomena is mainly grounded on the law of association, by which he means simply the fact that the order of occurrence among our ideas is the order of occurrence among our former sensations, of which those ideas are the copies.
The last publication of Mill was a fragment containing a severe criticism on James Macintosh's dissertation on the progress of ethical philosophy. Mill, who had always exercised a particular championship for the doctrines of Thomas Hobbes (q.v.), was not at all pleased with the unceremonious manner in which his favorite was handled by Sir James. If Hobbes and Mill are right, then many great names are liable to the charge of error. Mill took a leading part in the founding of University College, London, and gave a powerful intellectual stimulus to a number of young men, some of whom (including his own son, and Grote. the Greek historian) have risen to eminence. Hedien at Kensington June 23, 1836. See Engl. Cyclop. s.v.; Amer. Cyclop. 11:501 sq.; Chambers, Cyclop. s.v.; Lewis, Biog. Hist. of Philosophers, 2:507; Westminst. Rev. 13:265; Blackwood's Magazine, 46:671; Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors, 2:1279 sq.