John Stuart Mill's commitment to empirically based inductive logic shapes the political substance of his theory, limiting his ability effectively to make the argument he wishes to make. The Subjection of Women is presented as a test case in which Mill wishes to argue for the justice and utility of the emancipation of women. His efforts are thwarted by his inability to argue from anything but an empirical basis, grounding his evidence in historical data which serve both to stereotype women's “good” qualities and to judge women's potential by what is observable from an admittedly unjust history.
The essay reviews respected feminist analyses of Mill with an eye to establishing the natures and limitations of the various perspectives. It briefly discusses Mill's System of Logic which provides a detailed example, in pure form, of the methodological problems he faces in the Subjection. The essay then considers the method and content of The Subjection of Women, arguing that the shortcomings of Mill's political analysis are the result of his efforts to cling to an impossibly “pure” empiricist methodology.