John Stuart Mill
From the winter of 1821 I had what might truly be called an
object in life: to be a reformer.
My conception of my own happiness was
entirely identified with this object. The personal sympathies I wished for were
those of fellow laborers in this enterprise. I endeavored to pick as many
flowers as I could by the way but as a serious and permanent personal
satisfaction to rest upon, my whole reliance was placed on this; and I was
accustomed to felicitate myself on the certainty of a happy life which I
enjoyed, through placing my happiness in something durable and distant, in
which some progress might be always making, while it could never be exhausted
by complete attainment.
This did very well for several years, during
which the general improvement going on the Earth and the idea of myself as engaged with
others in struggling to promote it, seemed enough to fill up an interesting and
time came when I awakened from this as from a dream . It was in the autumn
I was in a dull state of nerves, such as everybody is
occasionally liable to; unsusceptible to
enjoyment or pleasurable excitement; one of those moods when what is
pleasure at other times, becomes insipid or indifferent; the state, I should think, in which
converts to Methodism usually
are, when smitten by their first 'conviction of
In this frame of mind it occurred to me to
put the question directly to myself:
"Suppose that all your objects in life were
realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are
looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would
this be a great joy and happiness to you?" And an irrepressible
self-consciousness distinctly answered, "No!" At this my heart sank within me:
the whole foundation on which my
life was constructed fell down.
All my happiness was to have
been found in the continual pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to
charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means?
seemed to have nothing left to live for.
For I now saw, or thought I
saw, what I had always before received with incredulity - that the habit of
analysis has a tendency to wear away
the feelings: as indeed it has, when no other mental habit is cultivated,
and the analyzing spirit remains
without its natural complements and correctives.
The very excellence of analysis is that it tends to weaken and
undermine whatever is the result of prejudice; that it enables us mentally to
separate ideas which have only casually clung together: and no associations
whatever could ultimately resist this dissolving force, were it not that we owe
to analysis our clearest knowledge of the
permanent sequences in nature; the real
connections between things, not dependent on our will and feelings;
natural laws, by virtue of which, in
many cases, one thing is inseparable from another; which laws, in proportion as
they are clearly perceived and imaginatively realized, cause our ideas of
things which are always joined together in Nature, to cohere more and more closely in our
Analytic habits may thus
even strengthen the associations between causes and effects, means and ends,
but tend altogether to weaken those which are, to
speak familiarly, a mere matter
of feeling. They are therefore favorable to
prudence and clear sightedness, but a
perpetual worm at the root
both of the passions and of the virtues; and,
above all, fearfully undermine all
desires, and all pleasures, which are the effects of association according to
the theory I held, all except the purely
physical and organic; of the entire
insufficiency of which to make life desirable, no one had a stronger
conviction than I had.
These were the laws of
human nature, by which, as it
seemed to me, I had been brought to my present state. All those to whom I
looked up were of opinion that the pleasure
of empathy with human beings, and the feelings which made the good of
others, and especially of mankind on a large scale, the object of existence,
were the greatest and surest sources of happiness.
Of the truth of this
I was convinced, but to know that a feeling would make me happy if I had it,
did not give me the feeling.
My education, I thought, had failed to
create these feelings in sufficient strength to resist
the dissolving influence of analysis,
while the whole course of my intellectual cultivation had made
precocious and pre-mature analysis the
inveterate habit of my mind.
fountains of vanity and
ambition seemed to have dried up within me,
as completely as those of benevolence.
neither selfish nor
unselfish pleasures were pleasures to
me. And there seemed no power in nature sufficient to begin the formation of my
character anew, and create in a mind now irretrievably analytic, fresh
associations of pleasure with any of the objects of human
frequently asked myself, if
I could, or if
I was bound to go on living, when
life must be passed in this manner.
I generally answered to myself, that
I did not think I could possibly bear it
beyond a year.
In all probability my case was by no means so
peculiar as I fancied.
A vivid conception of the
scene and its feelings came over me, and I was moved to tears.
this moment my burden grew lighter. The oppression of the thought that all
feeling was dead within me, was gone. I was no longer hopeless.
Relieved from my ever present sense of irremediable wretchedness, I
gradually found that the ordinary incidents of life could again give me some
pleasure; that I could again find enjoyment, not intense, but sufficient for
cheerfulness, in sunshine and sky, in books, in conversation, in public affairs;
and that there was, once more, excitement, though of a moderate
category, in exerting myself
for my opinions, and for the public good. Thus the cloud gradually drew off,
and I never again was as miserable as I had been.
The experiences of
this period led me to adopt a theory of life, very unlike that on which I had
before acted, and having much in common with
what at that time I certainly had never heard of, the anti-self-consciousness theory of
I never, indeed,
wavered in the conviction that
happiness is the test of all rules of conduct, and the end of life.
I now understood that this end was only to be attained by not making it the
direct end. Those only are happy who have their
minds fixed on some object other
than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of
mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an
Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the
Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease
to be so.
The only chance is to treat, not happiness, but
some end external to it, as the purpose of life.
fortunately circumstanced you will inhale happiness with the air you breathe,
without dwelling on it or thinking about it, without either forestalling it in
imagination, or putting it to flight by
This theory now became the
basis of my philosophy of life. And I still hold to it as the best theory for
all those who have but a moderate degree of sensibility and of capacity for enjoyment, that
is, for the great majority of mankind.
I ceased to attach almost
exclusive importance to the ordering of outward circumstances.
maintenance of a due balance among the
faculties, now seemed to me of primary importance.
I had now
learnt by experience that the passive
susceptibilities needed to be cultivated as well as the active capacities, and
required to be nourished and enriched as well as guided.
cultivation of the feelings became one of the cardinal points in my ethical and
I now began to find meaning in
the things which I had read or heard about the importance of
poetry and art as instruments of human
culture. The only one of the imaginative
arts in which I had from childhood taken great
pleasure, was music; the best effect of
which consists in exciting enthusiasm; in winding up
to a high pitch those feelingsof an
elevated category which are
already in the character, but to which this
excitement gives a glow and a
fervor, which, though transitory at its utmost height, is precious for
sustaining them at other times.
This effect of
music I had often experienced; but like
all my pleasurable susceptibilities it was suspended during the gloomy period.
I had sought relief again and again from this quarter, but found none. After
the tide had turned, and I was in process of recovery, I had been helped
forward by music, but in a much less
elevated manner. I at this time first became acquainted with Weber's Oberon,
and the extreme pleasure which I drew from its delicious melodies did me good,
by showing me a source of pleasure to which I was as susceptible as
The good, however, was much impaired by the thought, that the
pleasure of music fades with
familiarity, and requires either to be revived by intermittence, or fed by
continual novelty. It is very characteristic both of my then state, and of the
general tone of my mind at this
period of my life, that I was seriously tormented by the thought of the
exhaustibility of musical combinations.
This source of
anxiety may, perhaps, be thought to
resemble that of the
philosophers of Laputa, who feared
lest the sun should be burnt out.
In this power of rural beauty over
me, there was a foundation laid for taking pleasure in Wordsworth's
poetry; the more so, as his scenery
lies mostly among mountains, which, owing to my early Pyrenean excursion, were
my ideal of natural beauty. What made
Wordsworth's poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they
expressed, not mere outward beauty, but
states of feeling, and of thought colored by feeling, under the
excitement of beauty. They seemed
to be the very culture of the feelings, which I was in
quest of. In them I seemed to draw from
a source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared
in by all human beings; which had no connection with struggle or imperfection,
but would be made richer by every improvement in the physical or
social condition of mankind.
them I seemed to learn what would be the
perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have
been removed. And I felt myself at once better and
happier as I came under their
influence. There have certainly
been, even in our own age, greater poets than Wordsworth; but
poetry of deeper and loftier feeling
could not have done for me at that time what his did.
I needed to be
made to feel that there was real, permanent happiness in tranquil
Wordsworth taught me this, not only without turning away from, but with
a greatly increased interest in the common feelings and common
destiny of human beings.
And the delight which these poems
gave me, proved that with culture of this sort, there was nothing to dread from
the most confirmed habit of analysis.
analysis is not the only way to resolve
Life itself still remains a very effective
- Karen Horney, German psychoanalyst
aim, therefore, of patriots, was to
set limits to the power which the ruler should exercise over the
community; and this
limitation was what they meant by
liberty; protection from the tyranny
of political rulers. It was attempted in two ways.
First, by obtaining a recognition of
certain immunities, called political liberties or rights, which it was to be
regarded as a breach of duty in the ruler to infringe, and which, if he did
infringe, specific resistance, or general rebellion, was held to be
A second, and generally a later
expedient, was the
establishment of constitutional
checks; by which the consent of the community, or of a body of some sort supposed to
represent its interests, was made a necessary condition to some of the more
important acts of the governing power.
A time, however, came in the
progress of human affairs, when men ceased to think it a necessity of nature
that their governors should be an independent power,
opposed in interest to themselves. It
appeared to them much better that the various magistrates of the State should
be their tenants or delegates, revocable at their pleasure. In that way alone,
it seemed, could they have complete security that the powers of
government would never be abused
to their disadvantage.
If all mankind minus one were of one opinion and
only one individual were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no
more justified in silencing that individual than, if he had the power, would be
in silencing mankind.
If the opinion is
right, they are deprived of the
opportunity of exchanging
error for truth; if
lose, what is almost as great a benefit,
the clearer perception and livelier
impression of truth, produced
by its collision with error.
opinion be compelled to silence, that opinion may, for
aught we can certainly know, be true.
To deny this is to
assume our own
back to stacks
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