Review of the Work of Mr. John Stuart Mill Entitled, ‘Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy’ Informative Summary


This 1866 review by George Grote delves into John Stuart Mill’s “Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy,” offering a comprehensive analysis of their contrasting philosophical views. Grote commends Mill’s logical and clear writing, particularly in his “System of Logic,” which he considers a significant advancement in speculative theory.

Grote highlights Mill’s thorough examination of Hamilton’s doctrines, particularly on the relativity of knowledge, the nature of God, and the freedom of the will. He also explores Mill’s criticisms of Hamilton’s approach to consciousness, concepts, judgment, reasoning, and formal logic. Throughout the review, Grote provides his own insights and occasionally diverges from Mill’s interpretation.

Key Findings:

  • Contrasting Philosophies: The review highlights the stark contrast between Mill’s and Hamilton’s philosophical approaches, particularly in their understanding of logic, consciousness, and the nature of knowledge.
  • Mill’s Contributions: Grote underscores Mill’s contributions to logic and philosophy, praising his “System of Logic” for its clarity and groundbreaking insights, especially in the area of inductive reasoning.
  • Hamilton’s Erudition: While acknowledging Hamilton’s extensive knowledge and influence, Grote criticizes his inconsistencies and tendency to be influenced by immediate controversies, neglecting thorough analysis and consistency in his overall philosophy.


  • Relativity of Knowledge: The reader will learn about the various interpretations of the relativity of knowledge, including those of Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Hartley, and Mill. The review emphasizes the difference between knowledge as relative to other objects and knowledge as relative to the mind knowing.
  • Nature of Consciousness: The review distinguishes between the “introspective” method of interpreting consciousness and the “psychological” or analytical method. The reader will learn how Mill argues for the importance of examining the origins of our ideas and applying the analytical method in understanding consciousness.
  • Belief in External World: The reader will gain insight into the debate surrounding the belief in an external world, with Mill arguing that this belief is not intuitive but rather a product of experience and the laws of association, particularly the law of inseparable association and the law of obliviscence.
  • Primary Qualities of Matter: The review explores the argument that our concept of extension is derived from our muscular sensibility and not from direct intuition, as Sir William Hamilton claimed. The reader will learn about the role of muscular motion, sight, and tactile sensations in developing our understanding of extension.
  • Concept of Free Will: The review delves into the debate surrounding free will and determinism. The reader will learn about Mill’s critique of Hamilton’s view that both free will and determinism are inconceivable, and Mill’s argument that free will is a delusion and that actions are determined by motives and the laws of causality.
  • Role of Formal Logic: The review sheds light on Mill’s view of formal logic, emphasizing its importance as a tool for consistency in reasoning but not as a source of truth itself. The reader will learn about Mill’s criticisms of Hamilton’s attempt to expand formal logic by introducing new distinctions and quantifying the predicate.

Historical Context:

The review was written during a period of significant philosophical debate in England, with Sir William Hamilton’s lectures and writings having a considerable influence on the emerging generation of philosophers. The review reflects the ongoing tension between traditional views of philosophy and the rise of modern scientific and logical approaches.


  • Sir William Hamilton’s Influence: Hamilton’s lectures on logic and metaphysics at Edinburgh influenced a large number of aspiring young students, shaping their understanding of these subjects.
  • Influence of James Mill: John Stuart Mill’s father, James Mill, was a prominent historian, philosopher, and political economist, known for his work on British India and political economy.
  • Mill’s ‘System of Logic’: Mill’s “System of Logic” is considered a landmark work in logic, advancing the understanding of both deductive and inductive reasoning.
  • The Relativity of Human Knowledge: This doctrine, popularized by Hamilton, emphasizes the understanding of knowledge as relative to the mind knowing and not simply to other objects.
  • The “Introspective” Method: This method, popularized by Cousin, focuses on examining the present state of consciousness without delving into the origins of our ideas.
  • The “Psychological” Method: This method, advocated by Locke and others, emphasizes examining the origins of our ideas and applying analytical reasoning to understand the workings of the mind.
  • The Belief in an External World: Mill argues that this belief is not an intuitive truth but rather a product of experience and association, particularly the law of inseparable association and the law of obliviscence.
  • Extension and Muscular Sensibility: Mill, drawing on Professor Bain’s work, argues that our concept of extension is rooted in our muscular sensibility, specifically the sensation of impeded motion.
  • Free Will and Determinism: Both Hamilton and Mill argue against the possibility of true free will, believing that actions are ultimately determined by motives and the laws of causality.
  • The Importance of Formal Logic: Mill believes formal logic is essential for maintaining consistency in reasoning but not as a source of absolute truth.
  • Sir William Hamilton’s Inconsistencies: Grote points out numerous inconsistencies and contradictions in Hamilton’s writings, attributing them to his tendency to be driven by immediate controversies and a lack of thorough analysis.
  • Platner’s Study of a Blind Man: Sir William Hamilton cites the case of a blind man studied by Platner, which supports the theory that extension is not directly perceived but learned through experience.
  • The “Law of Obliviscence”: This law, introduced by Mill, explains how certain elements of consciousness are forgotten due to the strength of other associations.
  • The “Law of Inseparable Association”: This law emphasizes the strong link between ideas or sensations that are constantly experienced together.
  • The Limitation of Introspection: Mill criticizes the reliance on introspection alone for understanding consciousness, arguing that it fails to take into account the acquired nature of many beliefs and the influence of association.
  • The Importance of History of Philosophy: Mill argues that Hamilton would have been more effective as a historian of philosophy than a philosopher himself, given his extensive knowledge of past thinkers.
  • The Importance of Understanding “Dihoti”: Mill emphasizes the importance of understanding not only “hoti” (the what) of philosophical opinions but also “dihoti” (the why) behind them.
  • The Difference Between “Hoti” and “Dihoti”: While Hamilton excelled in understanding “hoti,” he often lacked the ability to grasp the underlying reasons or “dihoti” behind philosophical opinions.


  • 20 years: Hamilton lectured on logic and metaphysics at Edinburgh for twenty years.
  • 28 chapters: Mill’s “Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy” consists of twenty-eight chapters.
  • 560 pages: The book contains 560 pages.
  • 46 lectures: Hamilton’s lectures on metaphysics, published posthumously, comprised forty-six lectures.
  • 35 lectures: His lectures on logic comprised thirty-five lectures.
  • 6th edition: The review refers to the sixth edition of Mill’s “System of Logic.”


  • Relativity of Knowledge: The doctrine that all knowledge is relative to the mind knowing and not simply to other objects.
  • Introspection: The examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings.
  • Psychology: The study of the mind and its functions.
  • Association: The mental process of linking ideas or sensations together.
  • Obliviscence: The process of forgetting, particularly due to the strength of other associations.
  • Inseparable Association: A strong link between ideas or sensations that are constantly experienced together.
  • Primary Qualities of Matter: Qualities of objects that are thought to be inherent to the objects themselves, such as extension, shape, and solidity, as opposed to secondary qualities, which are subjective, such as color, smell, and taste.
  • Free Will: The ability to choose one’s actions independently of any determining cause.
  • Determinism: The belief that all events are caused by preceding events and that there is no such thing as free will.
  • Formal Logic: The study of the structure and validity of arguments.


  • Hamilton’s inconsistent views: Grote highlights instances where Hamilton contradicts his own views in different writings, demonstrating his lack of thorough analysis.
  • The case of the blind man: Platner’s study of a man born blind, cited by Hamilton, provides evidence that our concept of extension is not intuitive but derived from experience.
  • Predicating attributes of God: Grote points out that predicating attributes like “seeing,” “hearing,” and “veracity” of God can be problematic, as they are not understood in the same way when applied to humans.
  • The “necessity of belief” and association: Hamilton’s argument that certain beliefs are necessary to the human mind, based on introspection alone, is criticized by Mill as failing to account for the possibility that such beliefs are acquired through association.
  • The contrast between Mill and Hamilton’s logical theories: The review emphasizes the difference between their respective views on the nature of reasoning and the role of the syllogism.


Grote’s review of Mill’s “Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy” presents a nuanced and critical assessment of both Mill’s and Hamilton’s contributions to philosophy. While acknowledging Hamilton’s vast erudition and influence, Grote ultimately finds Mill’s work superior due to its clarity, logical rigor, and consistency. The review highlights the ongoing debate surrounding the nature of knowledge, consciousness, and the freedom of will, and emphasizes the importance of applying a critical and analytical approach to philosophical inquiry. The reader will learn about the key differences between Mill and Hamilton’s philosophical approaches, along with the significance of examining the origins of our ideas and understanding the interplay of association in shaping our beliefs. The review leaves the reader with a valuable understanding of the complexities of philosophical debate and the importance of engaging in thoughtful and rigorous analysis.

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