Wednesday, December 30, 2009

John Stuart Mill's Mother

... you wouldn't know he had one, from his Autobiography (which I just finished reading), other than that he mentions the presence of younger siblings and, in passing, his father's marriage. Pages containing the word "father" in the Autobiography: 127. Pages containing the word "mother": 1 (in reference to someone else's mother).

Biographers seem to conclude that Mill's mother had little influence on him (e.g., Wilson in the Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Mill) -- but I don't think that follows at all. A Google search of Harriet Barrow Mill doesn't reveal much; she seems to be lost in the dust of time.

3 comments:

William Moore. said...

To be fair, the entry says that Mill's mother "seems to have had very little influence upon him." In this sense, it is not that Mill's mother had no influence on him (for she might have). Rather, there just is little evidence of her influence, especially when compared to his father's influence, who, from what I remember reading, was an overbearing figure in Mill's life.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Ah, that weasel-word "seems"! Saying without saying. I use it far too much myself.

William Moore. said...

Also, a quick internet search (from a different search engine, so you may not have seen this) yields this document:

http://assets.cambridge.org/052162/0244/sample/0521620244ws.pdf

You may have already seen it, but it has some interesting notes. For instance, a piece of unpublished notes form Mill's autobiography about his mother. It is worth a look.