Benjamin Franklin exhorted his fellows to “either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” John Stuart Mill (like Franklin himself) is among that rare breed who managed to do both. It hardly needs stating that Mill’s writing and thought is influential. Across the field of political philosophy, ethics, gender studies and economics, his writings still carry a good deal of weight. If the true measure of greatness is posthumous productivity, as Goethe suggested, Mill’s status is assured.
But Mill’s life holds plenty of interest, too, not least for the additional light it shines on the development of his thought. In this brief biographical sketch, I hope to show this relationship between life and work in two areas in particular. First, the way in which Mill’s extraordinary upbringing and education fuelled his journey away from utilitarianism towards liberalism; and second, how his relationship with Harriet Taylor influenced his thinking on gender equality, most obviously, but also on the potentially damaging influence of social custom.