James fitzjames stephen, john stuart mill, and the victorian theory of toleration

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Due to his famous conflict with John Stuart Mill, James Fitzjames Stephen is often assumed to have been an opponent of toleration and intellectual freedom and a defender of authoritarian or reactionary principles. These assumptions are misleading. Stephen was, and was known in his time to have been, a champion of toleration. This essay provides a comprehensive overview of his writing on these themes, drawing from a wider array of texts than is usually considered in the study of the Stephen-Mill controversy. Contrary to popular belief, Stephen had a deep and multi-faceted argument in favor of toleration. As a critic of contending theories of toleration and freedom of discussion (especially Mill’s), Stephen was concerned to defeat what he saw as the resurgence of a priori principles in Victorian political philosophy and to combat the expansion of a proper notion of toleration to include a cluster of beliefs and attitudes of which he disapproved. In his approach to these issues Stephen was, arguably, as representative of Victorian thinking as the author of On Liberty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)364-398
Number of pages35
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Carl toleration
  • Freedom of expression
  • James Fitzjames Stephen
  • John Locke
  • John Stuart Mill
  • Utilitarianism


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