Mill, John Stuart

Mill, John Stuart
(1806-73)
An English philosopher, proponent of liberalism and utilitarianism , and social reformer, who attempted to provide ‘a general science of man in society’ in his A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Deductive (1843). Ronald Fletcher (The Making of Sociology, 1971) argues that Mill's ‘contribution to the making of sociology is little known and has been considerably under-estimated’. However, this appraisal seems to rest largely on the fact that Mill publicized the works of Auguste Comte in Britain, and developed the utilitarian works of his own father James Mill (1773-1836) and his godfather Jeremy Bentham-thus providing a common critical starting-point for almost every school of sociological thought that has developed since.
Arguably, therefore, Mill's relevance to contemporary sociologists lies mainly in his logical classification of the methods properly to be applied in the human sciences, that is, the five ‘methods of experimental inquiry’: of difference (comparing two particular instances which are alike in every respect except the one which is the object of inquiry); indirect difference (comparing two classes of instances which agree in nothing, excepting the presence of a specific circumstance in one case, and its absence in the other); agreement (where two or more instances of the phenomenon under investigation have only one circumstance in common, which is then hypothesized to be the cause of the phenomenon); concomitant variation (the method of establishing statistical correlations between aggregates); and the method of residues (in which the investigator studies only one instance of a phenomenon, eliminates all those effects of the causes of which he or she already possesses a clear knowledge, and then concentrates on clarifying the relationships between the residual causes and effects). Mill raised objections against all of these kinds of experimental method, which he regarded as inappropriate to the study of society. However, he also rejected pure deductive methods, and suggested instead that the most suitable methods for a general science of society were the ‘concrete deductive method’ (which today would be termed the ‘hypothetico-deductive method’) and the ‘inverse deductive method’. The former involves the statement of a clear hypothesis, making of inferences from this, and testing of predictions by reference to artificial manipulation of empirical data (as in a laboratory experiment). Often, however, the social sciences proceed in the opposite manner: from empirical generalization, from which one has to try to generate hypotheses which will satisfactorily explain generalizations about events that have already happened, and in this way arrive at causal explanations of social processes.
In recent years, Mill's treatise on The Subjection of Women(1869) has also become fashionable, as an early argument against inequality between the sexes.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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