John Mill, child genius

John Stuart Mill - 1806-1873AD

"Is happiness achieved by controlling pleasure and pain?"

John Mill was a child genius. He had learned Greek by the age of three and Latin by the age of eight. At the age of twenty Mill suffered a nervous breakdown, which was the start of emotional problems such as depression that were to plague him for years. Perhaps the impact of his father's endeavours to teach him so much so young was the cause of his problems. As Aristotle said, the best path in life is the one between two extremes.

Mill appeared to get over his emotional problems though by using his considerable intellect to reflect critically on his own happiness, and by forming new attachments to poetry, culture and the arts.

"I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than in attempting to satisfy them."1

There were three major works by Mill; System of Logic made important contributions to the understanding of the empirical nature of the laws of logic, and induction; On Liberty dealt with minority rights in a democracy, and Utilitarianism looked at happiness in relation to pleasure and pain.


In Utilitarianism, Mill gained new insights into what happiness is, building on the work by Jeremy Bentham. Utilitarianism is an ethical theory developed by Bentham, which proposes that the moral worth of an action is solely determined by its contribution to overall utility in maximizing happiness or pleasure as summed among all persons.

Whilst Bentham's view of Utilitarianism was based on allocating units of good or bad equally, Mill formulated a more qualitative view through his 'Greatest Happiness Principle'; in which he states that 'actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.'

Mill believed that to lead a happy life you should always behave ethically. When there is a choice between doing what is right and what is wrong, doing what is good is the right thing to do and will promote happiness. Taking any other course of action will always ultimately result in unhappiness.

For more information about the great philosophers and their views on narcissism and happiness, read Finding Happiness.

1 Mill