John Stuart Mill was one of the foremost philosophers and advocates for human liberty of the 19th century. Together with his intellectual partner (and eventually wife) Harriet Taylor, he wrote an impassioned defense of women's rights and liberty, at a time when women had virtually no legal or political rights in law. Their work helped lay the groundwork for a revolution in political freedom for women.
The Subjection of Womenby Stephen Wright, John Stuart Mill, Harriet Taylor, Carrie Chapman Catt
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This book contains three essays: John Stuart Mill's "The Subjection of Women", his wife Harriet Taylor's earlier "Enfranchisement of Women", and an appreciation of their work by the American woman's suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt. The book has been compiled from several primary sources and reviewed carefully with proprietary proofreading tools against other texts to ensure that it provides a comprehensive overview of Mills and Taylor's work, to a high quality standard.
From the editor's notes to this edition:
Mill's famous essay "The Subjection of Women" is a brilliant argument for equal treatment of women with respect to property, marriage, education, and vocation that should appeal to a wide range of readers, including libertarians, conservatives, liberals and feminists.
Libertarian and conservative readers interested in the history of philosophic thought about liberty will find many important threads in his argument. The first thread, and the one that the reader would expect to find given Mill's association with utilitarianism, has to do with the cultural, social and economic costs of depriving women of education and opportunity to compete in the marketplace. ...
Mill then jumps from the social to the psychological arena, arguing with remarkable insight that the subjection of woman does not lead to elevation for men; on the contrary, it almost inevitably distorts their character to live as the authorized master of others. ...
Mill's ability here to reflect on the role of experience in forming judgments and developing personal character is remarkable from an epistemological perspective. Mill, of course, is one of the great thinkers on the problem of induction, that is, on how to reach appropriate generalizations from individual concrete experiences, and (in part) how to avoid incorrect generalizations where one's experiences are incomplete. It is one of the great triumphs of this essay that Mill is able to show how his contemporaries' limited experience of what women may be capable can blind them to any alternative. In the process he is able to set himself just far enough outside that context to appreciate just how limiting it must be, building to a crashing conclusion: "...we may safely assert that the knowledge which men can acquire of women, even as they have been and are, without reference to what they might be, is wretchedly imperfect and superficial, and always will be so, until women themselves have told all that they have to tell."
There are certainly flaws in this essay. For one, Mill speculates on what he thinks may be distinctive and complementary intellectual abilities in women (speculation that arguably reflects Mill's working relationship with his intellectual companion and wife Harriet Taylor more than any real general propensity.) For another, he assumes that women have a distinctive role with regard to raising their children (providing an unwitting example of the kind of cultural blinding he identifies above!) And he does not address the extent to which traditional theological views of women have played into their cultural subjugation. But his central thesis: that women should be treated in all legal and social regards on an equal basis with men, free to compete for education, to choose careers (even to the exclusion of marriage), to marry as equals, and, finally, to tell their _own_ story; that thesis is presented passionately and logically. And while he condemns the conditions he finds around him--often in the most excoriating terms--his focus is on the inspiring potential for full human self-actualization in men as well as women, and for the changes this will engender in both social institutions and intimate relationships. ...
No presentation of Mill's essay can stand without a review of the remarkable precursor essay written by Harriet Taylor in 1851, "Enfranchisement of Women." The relationship between Mill and Taylor was extraordinary. They first met in 1830. Both were under 25, but Taylor was married and raising three children. Over the course of several years they developed an intense intellectual working partnership and emotional relationship that continued until the death of her husband in 1848. They married in 1851 and continued working together until Taylor's death in 1858. For most of his philosophic career, Mill maintained that his work was heavily indebted to Taylor's thinking and their collaborative process.
- Stephen Wright
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