Autotrophic Ethos in Mill's Arboretum

Christopher R. Taylor


In this paper, I use the tree analogy at the heart of Mill’s discussion of individuality as a lens through which to interpret On Liberty and its connection to Utilitarianism. I propose five alternative interpretations: (1) the tree as a symbol for Enlightenment progress as an outgrowth of originality, (2) the tree as a symbol for the capacity for choice within Mill’s hedonistic conception of happiness, (3) the tree as the mystery of human choice, (4) the tree as the uninhibited human spirit, arising out of a plant-animal dialectic, and (5) the tree as the embodied ideal conception of the self. I then argue that the multiplicity of interpretations lends itself to an autotrophic intellectual ethos, wherein the tree becomes as a symbol of the liberty of interpretation.


J.S. Mill; On Liberty; Utilitarianism; human nature; autotrophic intellectual ethos

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