Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill on Sexual Equality

Historical, Methodological and Philosophical Issues


Vincent Guillin uses the issue of sexual equality as a prism through which to examine important differences – epistemological, methodological and theoretical – between Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill. He succeeds in showing how their differing conceptions of science and human nature influence and affect their respective approaches to philosophy and to the analysis of female (in)equality in particular. Guillin shines a bright searchlight into long-neglected aspects of both men’s thinking – for example, Mill’s proposal to construct an ‘ethology’, or science of character-formation, and Comte’s seemingly bizarre interest in phrenology – and the ways in which these shaped their views of women’s intellectual and political capacities. Guillin’s wide-ranging study examines both men’s major and minor works, their correspondence with one another, and the reasons for the final acrimonious break between two of the nineteenth century’s most original and important thinkers.
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Biographical Note

Vincent Guillin is currently Assistant Professor at the Collège de France in Paris, for the Chair of the Philosophy of Life Science. After graduating from Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, he completed a Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science at the London School of Economics in 2006. He is working at the intersection of philosophy of science, political philosophy and history of science, especially on the various ways scientific theories have informed and are informing projects of social reforms and public policies. He is also interested in the early reception of John Stuart Mill's writings and ideas in France. Most recently, he has co-edited, together with Anne Fagot-Largeault, Frédéric Worms and Arnauld François, a special issue of Annales Bergsoniennes (Paris, PUF, 2008) on Henri Bergson's Evolution creatrice.

Review Quotes

Ce qui frappe aussi dans ce livre, c’est non seulement la précision de l’information, mais le soin méticuleux apporté à déconstruire et reconstruire les argumentations et à croiser les thèses particulières sur la question féminine avec celles des œuvres majeures des deux philosophes. L’ouvrage présente donc de multiples intérêts qui le recommandent certes à la lecture des spécialistes de comte, de mill ou des études de genre, mais aussi de tous ceux qui apprécient les travaux bien documentés et la clarté et la rigueur des exposés dûment ordonnés.
Annie Petit, Revue philosophique, n° 1, 2012, pp. 109-111

Table of contents

1. Comte and Mill on Sexual Equality: Context and Problems
2. The Female Brain and the Subjection of Women: Biology, Phrenology and Sexual Equality
3. The Phrenological Controversy
4. The Explanation of Moral Phenomena: Comte and Mill on the Architectonics of the Moral Sciences
5. A Never Ending Subjection? Comte, Mill, and the Sociological Argument against Sexual Equality
6. The Ethological Fiasco: The Methodological Shortcomings of the Millian Science of the Formation of Character
7. How To Discover One’s Nature: Mill’s Argument for Emancipation in the Subjection of Women
Appendix: Comtean Studies, 1993-2000


All those interested in the history of ideas, nineteenth-century philosophy, and the history of science.


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