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Cultivating the Individual and Society: J.S. Mill's Use of Ancient and Romantic Dialectics

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Can the older, virtue-centred tradition of the ancients be made to mesh with the modern political, jurisprudential and economic focus on human equality and freedom? Can empiricism's grounding of human freedom in the natural right of each individual to secure his self-preservation and self-interest be reconciled with Kant's grounding of freedom in the capacity of human beings to act out of respect for the rational moral law? Mill thought so, and his work as a whole attests to the ambition and comprehensiveness of such a task. The failure to recognize Mill's goal to heal the fundamental divisions of Western political thought contributes to commentators on Mill ignoring the broad range of Mill's contributions to political philosophy, such as his position on Plato and project to create a comprehensive morality for the future. More important, this void contributes to our missing the fuller, richer ideas of liberty and society that he intended.

Keywords: John Stuart Mill; Mill and Coleridge; Mill and Kant; Mill and Plato; Mill' Bildung; ancient dialectics; liberty and wisdom; moral freedom as opportunity for self development; reason, will and human agency; romantic dialectics; romantic-expressive liberalism; the good and the desires; the good and the right

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Political Science, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, USA, Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2006


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