John Stuart Mill and the art of consumption

Villeneuve, Louise. 2023. John Stuart Mill and the art of consumption. The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, ISSN 0967-2567 [Article] (In Press)

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Abstract or Description

This article investigates the exclusion of “consumption” from John Stuart Mill’s definition of political economy (1836). Unlike production and distribution, consumption is not an economic activity that Mill included in the theoretical framework of the science of political economy. Consumption could not be subject to a law of political economy and could only be a law of human enjoyment. This article shows that although Mill understood the desire to consume and observed its practice in the Victorian society of the 19th century, he didn’t think of consumption as a productive activity that could lead to the accumulation of wealth. The article argues that consumption for Mill belongs to the realm of art, which he distinguishes from scientific knowledge, and which explains its exclusion from the science of political economy. More specifically, the article shows that consumption belongs to domestic economy, which according to Mill is an art. The purpose of every art is the promotion of happiness, the article hence argues that consumption was part of Mill’s moral theory of happiness influenced by Aristotle rather than the science of political economy, which dealt with the production and distribution of wealth.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):

Additional Information:

JEL Codes: B12; B41; B31; D10; D11


John Stuart Mill; unproductive consumption; enjoyment; art; domestic economy; happiness

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Institute of Management Studies


4 July 2023Accepted
25 July 2023Published Online

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Date Deposited:

07 Sep 2023 11:19

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2023 11:19

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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