A System of Logic (1843)

A System of Logic is Mill’s most comprehensive and systematic philosophical work, elaborating his inductive method, which helped to free the empirical sciences from the rigidity of analysis by way of syllogisms. Syllogisms are arguments grounded in general principles, in which two premises are used to deduce a third premise, or conclusion. In A System of Logic, Mill breaks away from this age-old practice and instead proposes the use of a form of logic derived from the principles of the natural sciences. It was first published in 1843 and immediately enjoyed a wide circulation, going through numerous editions. Mill himself made substantial changes in the third edition, published in 1850, and the eighth edition, published in 1872, a year before his death.

The SparkNotes guide Selected Works of John Stuart Mill offers one section of Summary & Analysis of A System of Logic.

Principles of Political Economy (1848)

Principles of Political Economy was first published in 1848, and it went through various editions; the final edition was the seventh, which appeared in 1871. Political Economy is the term 19th-century writers use to refer to the study of what we today call macroeconomics, though its practitioners, such as Adam Smith, Mill, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx, were more philosophical and less empirical in their methods than modern economists. In this book, Mill examines the fundamental economic processes on which society is based: production, the distribution of goods, exchange, the effect of social progress on production and distribution, and the role of government in economic affairs.

The SparkNotes guide Selected Works of John Stuart Mill offers one section of Summary & Analysis of A System of Logic.

On Liberty (1859)

Mill described On Liberty as being about “the importance, to man and society, of a large variety in types of character, and of giving full freedom to human nature to expand itself in innumerable and conflicting directions.” This celebration of individuality and spurning for conformity runs throughout the essay. Mill rejects attempts to coerce people’s opinions and behavior—saying that society should treat diversity with respect while arguing that the only time coercion is acceptable is when an individual’s behavior harms other people.

The key concept of On Liberty is that liberty is essential to ensure progress, for both the individual person and society—particularly when society becomes more important than the state. This ideal is attained in a representative democracy when the opposition between the rulers and the ruled disappears, because rulers only represent the interests of the ruled. Mill suggests that a democracy makes the liberty of the individual possible, but it does not guarantee it.

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