Mill's Perfectionism

Prolegomena 5 (2):149-164 (2006)
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J. S. Mill lays great emphasis on the importance of the notion of the individual as a progressive being. The idea that we need to conceive the self as an object of cultivation and perfection runs through Mill’s writings on various topics, and has played a certain role in recent interpretations. In this paper I propose a specific interpretation of Mill’s understanding of the self, along the lines of what Stanley Cavell identifies as a “perfectionist” concern for the self. Various texts by Mill, ranging from the Logic to On Liberty, show an understanding of the self in which both the theoretical and the practical domain are presented as being internally connected to the transformation of the self. Mill elaborates a criticism of a notion of truth articulated by doctrines having a life independent of the self, as well as a notion of choice which is not the expression of one’s inner self. This internal relation of truth and choice to the self generates a special dialectic within the self, which Mill explores in On Liberty’s second and third chapters by means of several contrasts, such as passive vs. active knowledge, living vs. dead beliefs, or being oneself vs. liking and choosing in crowds
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Perfectionism.Hurka, Thomas
John Stuart Mill.Flew, Antony
Mill on Liberty.Little, Daniel

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