Open main menu

Wikiquote β

James Mill

Scottish historian, economist, political theorist and philosopher
No good government can ever want more than two things for its support: 1st, Its own excellence; and, 2dly, a people sufficiently instructed, to be aware of that excellence. Every other pretended support, must ultimately tend to its subversion, by lessening its dependence upon these.

James Mill (April 6, 1773June 23, 1836) was a Scottish utilitarian philosopher of the school of Jeremy Bentham; also an economist, historian and political theorist. He was the father of the political philosopher John Stuart Mill.



  • The government and the people are under a moral necessity of acting together; a free press compels them to bend to one another.
    • The Edinburgh Review, vol. 18 (1811), p. 121
  • No good government can ever want more than two things for its support: 1st, Its own excellence; and, 2dly, a people sufficiently instructed, to be aware of that excellence. Every other pretended support, must ultimately tend to its subversion, by lessening its dependence upon these.
    • The Edinburgh Review, vol. 21 (1813), pp. 217-18
  • This habit of forming opinions, and acting upon them without evidence, is one of the most immoral habits of the mind. ... As our opinions are the fathers of our actions, to be indifferent about the evidence of our opinions is to be indifferent about the consequences of our actions. But the consequences of our actions are the good and evil of our fellow-creatures. The habit of the neglect of evidence, therefore, is the habit of disregarding the good and evil of our fellow-creatures.
    • The Westminster Review, vol. 6 (1826), p. 13

Government (1820)Edit

"Government" — supplement to the 4th, 5th and 6th Editions of the Encyclopædia Britannica; also published in The Article Government : Reprinted from the Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica (1821)
  • The question with respect to Government is a question about the adaptation of means to an end. Notwithstanding the portion of discourse which has been bestowed upon this subject, it is surprising to find, upon a close inspection, how few of its principles are settled. The reason is, that the ends and means have not been analyzed; and it is only a general and undistinguishing conception of them which exists in the minds of the greater number of men. So long as things remain in this situation, they give rise to interminable disputes ; more especially when the deliberation is subject, as in this case, to the strongest action of personal interest.
  • The end of Government has been described in a great variety of expressions. By Locke it was said to be "the public good;" by others it has been described as being " the greatest happiness of the greatest number." These, and equivalent expressions, are just ; they are only defective, inasmuch as the particular ideas which they embrace are indistinctly announced; and different combinations are by means of them raised indifferent minds, and even in the same mind on different occasions.
    It is immediately obvious, that a wide and difficult field is opened, and that the whole science of human nature must be explored to lay a foundation for the science of Government. To understand what is included in the happiness of the greatest number, we must understand what is included in the happiness of the individuals of whom it ii composed.
    That dissection of human nature which would be necessary to show, on proper evidence, the primary elements into which human happiness may be resolved, it is not compatible with the present design to undertake. We must content ourselves with assuming certain results.
    We may allow, for example, in general terms, that the lot of every human being is determined by his pains and pleasures; and that his happiness corresponds with the degree in which his pleasures are great, and his pains are small.
    Human pains and pleasures are derived from two sources :—They are produced, either by our fellow-men, or by causes independent of other men.
    We may assume it as another principle, that the concern of Government is with the former of these two sources; and that its business is to increase to the utmost the pleasures, and diminish to the utmost the pains which men derive from one another.
  • Of the laws of nature on which the condition of man depends, that which is attended with the greatest number of consequences is the necessity of labor for obtaining the means of subsistence, as well as the means of the greatest part of our pleasures. This is no doubt the primary cause of government; for if nature had produced spontaneously all the objects which we desire, and in sufficient abundance for the desires of all, there would have been no source of dispute or of injury among men, nor would any man have possessed the means of ever acquiring authority over another.
    The results are exceedingly different when nature produces the objects of desire not in sufficient abundance for all.
    The source of dispute is then exhaustless, and every man has the means of acquiring authority over others in proportion to the quantity of those objects which he is able to possess. In this case the end to be obtained through government as the means, is to make that distribution of the scanty materials of happiness which would insure the greatest sum of it in the members of the community taken altogether, preventing every individual or combination of individuals from interfering with that distribution or making any man to have less than his share.
  • Whenever the powers of government are placed in any hands other than those of the community, whether those of one man, of a few, or of several, those principles of human nature which imply that government is at all necessary, imply that those persons will make use of them to defeat the very end for which government exists.

Elements of Political Economy (1821)Edit

Elements of Political Economy (1826)
Elements of Political Economy 3rd Edition, 1844 online
  • The distinction, between what is done by labour, and what is done by nature, is not always observed.
Labour produces its effects only by conspiring with the laws of nature.
It is found that the agency of man can be traced to very simple elements. He does nothing but produce motion. He can move things towards one another, and he can separate them from one another. The properties of matter perform the rest.
  • A certain immense aggregate of operations, is subservient to the production of the commodities useful and agreeable to man. It is of the highest importance that this aggregate should be divided into portions, consisting, each, of as small a number of operations as possible, in order that every operation may be the more quickly and perfectly, performed. If each man could, by the more frequent repetition thus occasioned, perform two of these operations, instead of one, and also perform each of them better, the powers of the community, in producing articles useful and agreeable to them, would, upon this supposition, be more than doubled. Not only would they be doubled in quantity, but a great advantage would be gained in point of quality.
This subject has been fully illustrated by Dr. Smith, in the first chapter of the first book of the "Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations," where the extraordinary effect of the division of labour in increasing its productive powers, in the more complicated cases, is displayed in some very remarkable instances. He states that a boy, who has been accustomed to make nothing but nails, can make-upwards of two thousand three hundred in a day; while a common blacksmith, whose operations are nevertheless so much akin to those of the nailer, cannot make above three hundred, and those very bad ones.
  • Ch 1 : Production
  • In the employment of labour and machinery, it is often found that the effects can be increased by skilful distribution, by separating all those operations which have any tendency to impede one another, and by bringing together all those operations which can be made in any way to aid one another. As men in general cannot perform many different operations with the same quickness and dexterity with which they can by practice learn to perform a few, it is always an advantage to limit as much as possible the number of operations imposed upon each. For dividing labour, and distributing the powers of men and machinery, to the greatest advantage, it is in most cases necessary to operate upon a large scale; in other words, to produce the commodities in greater masses. It is this advantage which gives existence to the great manufactories; a few of which, placed in the most convenient situations, frequently supply not one country, but many countries, with as much as they desire of the commodity produced.

Quotes about James MillEdit

  • His place is an eminent one in the literary, and even in the political history of his country; and it is far from honourable to the generation which has benefited by his worth, that he is so seldom mentioned, and, compared with men far his inferiors, so little remembered.
  • Considered merely in a literary capacity, the description of the Hindus in the History of British India, is open to censure for its obvious unfairness and injustice; but in the effects which it is likely to exercise upon the connexion between the people of England and the people of India, it is chargeable with more than literary demerit: its tendency is evil; it is calculated to destroy all sympathy between the rulers and the ruled; to preoccupy the minds of those who issue annually from Great Britain, to monopolize the posts of honour and power in Hindustan, with an unfounded aversion toward those over whom they exercise that power. . . . There is reason to fear that these consequences are not imaginary, and that a harsh and illiberal spirit has of late years prevailed in the conduct and councils of the rising service in India, which owes its origin to impressions imbibed in early life from the History of Mr. Mill.
    • H.H. Wilson, Preface by H.H. Wilson in the reedition of James Mill's History of British India. Wilson was "scathing about Mill's ignorance of India", quoted from Dirks, Nicholas B. (2001), Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of New India, ISBN 978-0-691-08895-2, page 37-38
  • James Mill's highly influential History of British India (1817), most particularly the long essay "Of the Hindus," comprising ten chapters, is the single most important source of British Indophobia and hostility to Orientalism.
    • Trautmann, Thomas R. (2008). Aryans and British India.

External linksEdit