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British IdealismA History$

W. J. Mander

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199559299

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199559299.001.0001

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Beginnings and Influences

Beginnings and Influences

(p.13) 2 Beginnings and Influences
British Idealism

W. J. Mander (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter examines the historical influences on British Idealism as well as its earliest forerunners. After consideration of the general state of British Philosophy in the early 1860s, it considers the introduction of both Kant and Hegel into the British context and asks to what extent the idealist movement was simply a German import. The influence of Lotze, Coleridge, and Carlyle are also considered. As examples of figures who, if not themselves idealists, were certainly forerunners of idealism attention is paid to the work of Ferrier, Jowett, Grote, and Martineau. The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of the factors that led to the success of idealism.

Keywords:   Kant, Hegel, Lotze, Coleridge, Carlyle, Ferrier, Jowett, Grote, Martineau

The out-pouring of new ideas that marked the beginning of the British Idealist movement was dated to the mid‐1860s. But, of course, no revolution can spring into life ex nihilo, and this flowering could never have happened without the considerable preparation of the ground that had taken place beforehand. It is these antecedents that form the subject of this chapter.

In tracing the story backwards to its various roots and forerunners the aim is not to deny that the rise of British Idealism constituted a truly transformational episode, the breaking in of something markedly unlike what went before, rather the point is to insist that the change—however radical it was—was not some freak or random surd, but something which may be explained. For even without committing ourselves Whiggishly to a view of the nineteenth century as somehow destined to culminate in idealism, it is undeniable that a variety of factors came together which the Idealists then exploited in making their new move.

Location of its historical origins uncovers vital clues to understanding the character of the movement. But no one is just the child of their ancestors and, as the biographer who spends too long considering the parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents of his chosen subject risks losing his reader's patience and interest before he ever begins his main task, wary of courting a similar fate, although it is always possible to specify more detail or go further back, this discussion of the origins of British Idealism will be kept to a minimum. In brief and to anticipate, it will be seen that the idealistic movement occurred when the native philosophical tradition proved itself largely moribund and unable to respond to the challenges of the day, and people began to look further afield for new ideas; to literature, and to the philosophies of Germany and of the Ancient Greeks. Initial steps were tentative but important insofar as they paved the way for the rush that was to follow.

(p.14) 2.1 British philosophy in the mid-nineteenth century

British Philosophy in the late 1850s and early 1860s was dominated by two main schools of thought, both with a strong geographical affiliation. In Scotland, there reigned supreme what was even then known as the Common Sense school (or the school of Intuition). Taking its origin in Reid's response to Hume, the school offered a mode of thought which, while remaining empiricist, aimed to uphold pre-reflective understandings of ethics and metaphysics in the face of philosophical doubt. Developed through the efforts of such people as Dugald Stewart and Thomas Brown, by the mid-nineteenth century its mantle had passed to Sir William Hamilton, whose ‘philosophy of the unconditioned’, while an anti-sceptical assertion of the primacy of belief, was also influenced by Kant insofar as it maintained that all knowledge was relative and that there could be no positive understanding of the ultimate nature of things. Following Hamilton's death in 1856, the Oxford theologian Henry Longueville Mansel, who was responsible (with John Veitch) for posthumously publishing Hamilton's lectures, himself took up the common sense cause continuing the Kantian bent; though his concern was principally to apply it to matters of religion, where he argued the case for ‘theological agnosticism’.1 Since to think is to ‘condition’, the endeavour to comprehend God or the infinite, the ‘unconditioned’, was for Mansel precisely the attempt to think the unthinkable.

South of the border the situation was different. No less empiricist, philosophy there was of a more psychologistic character, tracing its origins back to Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke. Much developed since those times, in the nineteenth century it found its champion in the figure of John Stuart Mill, whose System of Logic (1843) set out his massively influential inductive philosophy which extended even to mathematics, social science, and ethics, and whoseUtilitarianism (1863), developing the earlier hedonism of such thinkers as Jeremy Bentham and his own father, James Mill, rapidly established itself as the definitive statement of consequentialist moral thinking. Although others such as Alexander Bain continued the psychologistic tradition, it saw little by way of advance after Mill.2

In general terms, it is not unfair to say that most British philosophy in the mid-nineteenth century was at low ebb. Reid's system of common sense first emerged in confutation of Hume's psychologistic scepticism and the fight between the two schools continued into the nineteenth century, becoming increasingly sterile. Indeed, that in 1865 one of the chief philosophical publications of the year was Mill's An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, defending his own phenomenalism against Hamilton's theory of perception, illustrates how the battle lines in philosophy had barely changed (p.15) over the previous fifteen or twenty years, when the positions of these authors were first put forward. Philosophy seemed caught in a narrow range of polarized options; the physical world was either an external reality given in immediate perception or a mere phenomenal construction, its ultimate metaphysical basis was either a matter of unavoidable agnosticism or of simple empirical faith, while moral duty lay in either unchanging conservative intuition or radically progressive but hedonistic and mechanical utility. Meanwhile, of course, history moved on and the scientific, social, political, religious, and aesthetic worlds of the second half of the nineteenth century were vastly different from those of the early years of the century in which these philosophical systems had first been developed.

Not everything in philosophy was static, however, and to complete the picture note must be taken of a new and strident species of naturalism that was beginning to make itself felt as, year on year, the advances of science seemed to confirm a materialist view of the world. Specifically, growing numbers of thinkers began, in one form or another, to speak out for the idea of evolution. Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, but even before then Herbert Spencer was developing an all-embracing conception of evolution which took into its compass the progressive development of the physical world, biological organisms, and the human mind, as well as human culture and society. And following him others, such as Thomas Henry Huxley, George Henry Lewes, and Leslie Stephen, took up the cause of scientific naturalism and evolution. But if this growth of evolutionary naturalism represented a new departure in philosophy, it was one that aroused as much discomfort and resistance as it did support. Moreover, from the point of view of its critics, the powerlessness of existing systems to supply clear or decisive refutation of the perceived threat turned the otherwise depressed state of philosophical speculation of that period into one of crisis.

2.2 Kant

The jibe that ‘bad German philosophers, when they die, go to Oxford’3 was, no doubt, unfair to both German philosophers and Oxford, but it is nonetheless true that a vital factor behind the emergence of British Idealism was a leavening of the native tradition with the ideas of German philosophy. The process by which this happened was a long one involving many people, the full details of which need not detain us,4 but some highlights should be noted.

While perhaps the earliest English writings on Kant appeared in the 1790s,5 it is necessary to move forward quite some years before one may find any significant use of (p.16) his ideas and, with a view to the subsequent idealist legacy, the first person we should note is Samuel Taylor Coleridge.6 In his Biographia Literaria (1817) Coleridge did much to introduce the ideas of Kant, as well as those of Fichte and Schelling, to a new audience. Subsequent accusations of misrepresentation and plagiarism7 have dented Coleridge's reputation in this matter, but his importance at the time cannot be doubted. To Coleridge, who moved over from a youthful support for John Locke and David Hartley to embracing something like Schelling's Naturphilosophie, the discovery of Kant was a decisive moment. Kant's writings, Coleridge says, ‘took possession of me as with a giant's hand.’8 Crucial to Coleridge was the conception of mind as something which, instead of just passively copying experience, had the power to shape it—and even to penetrate through appearances to the spiritual realm behind. For while his presentation of the claim that understanding cannot establish the fundamental truths of noumenal reality is Kantian enough, drawing much out of the distinction between understanding and reason, Coleridge's development of that point as the thesis that we are nonetheless entitled to claim not simply practical knowledge but ‘faith’ or ‘immediate awareness’, of God, freedom, immortality, and even of things in themselves, moves out considerably on its own.

Another figure of great significance to idealism in the introduction of Kantian ideas was Thomas Carlyle, whose 1827 essay on the ‘State of German Literature’ did much to introduce Kant (as well as Fichte) to the wider reading public. Although he had perhaps even less direct knowledge of Kant than did Coleridge, Carlyle was equally convinced of his importance. Endorsing Schlegel's claim, he advertised to his readers that the critical philosophy, ‘in respect of its probable influence on the moral culture of Europe…stands on a line with the Reformation.’9 Like Coleridge, he takes the crucial message of Kant to be that there exist in man two faculties, understanding and reason. Understanding cannot demonstrate the existence of God, virtue, freedom, or immortality and, if it attempts to do so, only ends up in contradiction or proof of the opposite. But ‘to discern these truths is the province of Reason, which therefore is to be cultivated as the highest faculty in man. Not by logic and argument does it work; yet surely and clearly may it be taught to work: and its domain lies in that higher region whither logic and argument cannot reach; in that holier region, where Poetry, and Virtue and Divinity abide.’10 Not claiming himself fully to understand or to pass judgement on it, Carlyle nonetheless insisted that Kant's philosophy was neither impossibly obscure nor mystical, and his call for its further study was effective.

(p.17) Indeed, it is fair to say that by 1860 the ideas of Kant were well assimilated. It was possible to read his main work in English translation11 and to find broadly reliable and reasonably engaged discussions of his views. Hamilton, Whewell, Martineau, and Mansel, for example, all knew Kant's philosophy and modulated their views in the light of that knowledge. But what had not yet occurred at this time, however, was detailed analytical engagement on the part of British philosophers with the critical system of thought.

2.3 Hegel

The philosophy of Hegel was of immense influence on British Idealism but when we turn to the story of its introduction we find that, although it is possible to trace very early references,12 Hegel's philosophy in general made much slower inroads into British thought than did Kant's, and the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s saw only a trickle of information. The difference calls for some consideration. Muirhead in his history paints a picture of sheer ignorance of foreign trends fed by the insularity of, especially, Scottish Common Sense philosophy, but James Bradley challenges this interpretation suggesting there was far more awareness of Hegel than that would suggest, a point with which den Otter concurs, arguing that the state of philosophy at this time was less one of ignorance about Hegelianism as one of positive hostility to it.13 Typical of such a view was Sidgwick, who of his 1870 trip to Germany, wrote later to a friend ‘before I left Halle I had made up my mind about Hegel for the present. No, I shall read no more of it: not of Hegel in the German language. But if Hegelianism shows itself in England I feel equal to dealing with it. The method seems to me a mistake, and therefore the system a ruin.’14

In consequence of such attitudes, by the early 1860s accurate translation, unbiased commentary, and detailed discussion of Hegel's philosophy were all still in limited supply in Britain, however, this situation changed in 1865 with the publication of (p.18) J.H. Stirling's book, The Secret of Hegel.15 James Hutchison Stirling had attended the University of Glasgow, where he fell under the spell of both philosophy and Carlyle. He proceeded, however, to medical school and thence to medical practice; but, on receiving an inheritance at the death of his father, he became able to devote himself to philosophy, and in 1852 he relocated initially to France and then to Germany. He returned five years later, but it was not until 1865 that the fruit of his studies abroad saw light of day and he published The Secret of Hegel. The book was a considerable success, and he hoped that it might lead to an academic career, but despite numerous lectures, further publications and (eventually) honours, that hope was never realized.

The Secret of Hegel: being the Hegelian system in origin, principle, form, and matter, to give the book its full title, is a curious amalgam of differing elements; a personal account of the author's struggle to make sense of his subject, notes towards a true understanding, direct translation, paraphrase, textual commentary, and consideration of rival interpretations. Moreover, its writing style, full of exclamation and mock-quotation, is so much influenced by Carlyle as to be in places almost unreadable; and it was joked at the time that if Stirling ‘knew the secret of Hegel he had managed to keep it to himself.’16

What is most notable about Stirling's book is its initiation of many of the elements that were to become characteristic markers of the British Idealist reading of Hegel. First, he champions Hegel as one offering an answer to the ‘crisis of faith’. He recalls how he was led to study him by the report that Hegel ‘had not only completed philosophy, but, above all, reconciled to philosophy Christianity itself. That struck!’17 ‘Kant and Hegel’ he goes on to tell us ‘have no object but to restore Faith—Faith in God—Faith in the immortality of the Soul and the Freedom of the Will—nay, Faith in Christianity as the Revealed Religion.’18 The way in which Hegel achieved this, he felt, was through a doctrine of divine immanence. ‘Here lies the germ of the thought of Hegel that initiated his whole system. The universe is but a materialisation, but an externalisation, but a heterisation of…the thoughts of God.…God has made the world on these thoughts. In them, then, we know the thoughts of God, and, so far, God himself.’19 A rounding up, not down, such immanence involved, for Stirling, strong opposition to Darwinism, a cause in which he enlists Hegel's direct help.20 A second key point is his insistence that the only proper way to understand and see the significance of Hegel is through Kant; ‘the secret of Kant is the secret of Hegel.’21 As Kant completes what Hume set in train, so Hegel finishes Kant,22 and in doing so closes the modern world as Aristotle did the ancient.23 The point, on this way of thinking, is that Kant cut off half-way the natural line of thought. Because he retained the thing-in-itself, Kant's categories remained only abstract, but by beginning with the (p.19) most abstract (being) and showing how it develops itself into the most concrete of all (the Absolute) Hegel showed that thought instantiates itself and is therefore really concrete.24 In consequence, ‘The secret of Hegel may be indicated at shortest thus: As Aristotle—with considerable assistance from Plato—made explicit the abstract Universal that was implicit in Socrates, so Hegel—with less considerable assistance from Fichte and Schelling—made explicit the concrete Universal that was implicit in Kant.’25 As we shall see, this emphasis on the concrete universal was a third point subsequently picked up by the British Idealists. It also explains a fourth and final point of influence, namely his choice of Hegel's Science of Logic as his most important work. Nearly all of the Idealists followed Stirling in this choice of text.

For all its faults, Stirling's book was well received; Green, Jowett, Carlyle, Emerson, Edward Caird, and R.B. Haldane were all admirers.26 But its significance lay less in itself—despite his great efforts and profound conviction of the truth of the Hegelian system, there were doubts about how well Stirling had really understood his subject27—than in the new impetus it gave to future study.28 For undoubtedly it is the first work in English seriously to engage with Hegel and to present before its readers the details of his words and arguments. In many ways it heralds the start of the Idealist movement.

2.4 A German import?

Slowly at first but then with growing momentum British minds woke up to the ideas of German idealism, recognizing in them a potential way through the impasse between intuitionism and scepticism, a line of reasoning whereby human knowledge might reach the metaphysical, spiritual, and moral foundations it had been seeking. Long after they had run their course in their native land they began to take on new life in a foreign country. There can be no doubt that this embracing of Kant and (especially) Hegel was a crucial factor in the emergence of British Idealism. As the school burst forth they were expounded at length and in detail, and their views presented as a crucial step forward in (p.20) philosophy. But many commentators have gone further than this insofar as the Idealists themselves have often been described as ‘Hegelians’ or ‘neo-Hegelians’—implying a relationship less of influence than discipleship.29 Not a designation they were necessarily happy with themselves (Collingwood has argued that it was primarily their enemies who called them this)30 the charge must nonetheless be investigated. And although adjudication on this complex question can only emerge gradually, three points seem worth making at this early stage.

First of all, it should be remembered that philosophical schools lack precise membership criteria and that, similarity and difference being matters of degree, it is always possible for one person to see close adherence where another sees creative influence. The question, ‘Was he a Kantian or Hegelian?’ merits an unqualified affirmative only in the cases of Kant and Hegel themselves. Moreover, the distribution of membership badges is no business of the history of philosophy, merely the tracing such lines of connection as aid our understanding.

A second equally obvious point is that, for all their agreements, the many differences between the various philosophers of the Idealist School call for separate answers in each case to the question of how Kantian or Hegelian their system is. A charge which might perhaps be made to stick against one would be harder to prosecute against a second and frankly untenable against a third.

Thus, for example, Haldane's Gifford Lectures begin with the blunt admission: ‘all that is in these lectures I have either taken or adapted from Hegel, and…in Hegel there is twice as much again of equal importance.’31 While McTaggart says at the end of his Commentary on Hegel's Logic, ‘I would wish, therefore, in concluding the exposition of Hegel's philosophy which has been the chief object of my life for twenty one years, to express my conviction that Hegel has penetrated further into the true nature of reality than any philosopher before or after him.’32 Bradley, by contrast, takes pains to place considerable distance between himself and Hegel. In the Preface to his Principles of Logic he rejects any affiliation, ‘partly because I can not say that I have mastered his system, and partly because I could not accept what seems his main principle, or at least part of that principle.’33 Standing between these two extremes, Green had a much more complex relation to Hegel,34 the two sides of which were recalled by Sidgwick: (p.21)

I remember writing to him after a visit to Berlin in 1870, and expressing a desire to ‘get away from Hegel’: he replied that it seemed to him one might as well try to ‘get away from thought itself.’ I remember, on the other hand, that in the last philosophical talk I had with him, he said, ‘I looked into Hegel the other day, and found it a strange Wirrwarr’: the sentence startled me; and the unexpected German word for ‘chaos’ or ‘muddle’ fixed it firmly in my mind.35

Green was keen to direct attention towards the study of Hegel, yet he admitted the whole Hegelian scheme, though in a sense valid, needed to be reworked. ‘It must all be done over again,’ he said.36 The same complex relation may be seen in his 1880 review of John Caird's Introduction to Philosophy of Religion, where he complains that Hegel fails properly to persuade us, despite having produced ‘the last word of philosophy.’37 It may be true that the ultimate reality of things lies in thought, he continues, but we must remain armchair Hegelians—Hegelians, so to speak, on the Sundays of ‘speculation’ rather than the weekdays of ‘ordinary thought’—so long as we understand the second of these terms by reference to our own inner experience rather than the inherent structure of the objective world.38 Peter Nicholson concludes of Green that he was ‘an original and independent thinker who works everything out for himself,’ but he adds that ‘he would not have thought the way he did but for his encounters with Hegel.’39

In no case can a charge of pure discipleship be upheld. Their readings are (by modern lights) quite odd and, very often, the Idealists make a point of disagreeing with their sources, for undoubtedly they thought of themselves as going beyond both Kant and (to a lesser degree) Hegel. In his Preface to the 1883 T.H. Green memorial volume, Essays in Philosophical Criticism, Edward Caird argues that however valuable Hegel may be found, it is as impossible as it is undesirable simply to transplant past philosophies to a new time and place,40 a suggestion Wallace too in his Prolegomena to Hegel dismisses as ‘absurd’ and ‘impossible.’41 In this last point we find one explanation of why, after so long, the ideas of German idealism were suddenly taken up with such enthusiasm. The key to the explosion of constructive work, as well as of detailed textual study, was the realization that Kant and Hegel could be treated as resources, to be selectively mined and adapted, and not just systems requiring to be taken up, or resisted, as complete wholes. Their thoughts could be here accepted, there dismissed, here taken in spirit, but there ignored in detail, held to possess insight, but to be in need also of new working out or supplementation by rivals. Paradoxically, denying discipleship, it was precisely because (p.22) they were freed from the obligation of taking everything, that the Idealists were able to take so much from German idealism.

A third point to note is that whatever we decide about the measure of influence of Kant and Hegel on British Idealist thought, that should not blind us to the various other influences which were at work upon them; some of which I now turn to, others of which will be considered in the next chapter.

2.5 Herman Lotze

Philosophical influences from the continent were not limited to those of classical German idealism. By the mid-nineteenth century that school had collapsed, but reformed academic structures created a period of growth in philosophy, and many contemporary German philosophers were read in Britain. These included such figures as Herbart, Fechner, Fischer, Sigwart, and Wundt, but without doubt the most important of them was, the now largely forgotten, Lotze.

Rudolph Hermann Lotze held the chair of philosophy at Göttingen, between 1844 and 1880, from whence he propounded a complex philosophy which, although emphasizing organic unity and maintaining that the underlying nature of reality was spiritual, nonetheless broke clearly with Hegelian Absolute Idealism, drawing sharply the distinction between thought and reality. Yet if he was opposed to Hegelian panlogicism, he was equally critical of any psychologistic alternative, and argued strongly against any reductive materialism that would remove ‘soul’ or ‘purpose’ from the world. Rejecting the constraints of ‘system’ which he saw as straight-jacketing both Hegelians and Materialists, his philosophy was eclectic and of doubtful overall coherence, but it was immensely successful. He became especially influential in the English-speaking world in the 1870s and 1880s.42 Many visited Göttingen to study under him, including the British Idealists, Haldane, Seth Pringle-Pattison, and James Ward, the American Idealists Josiah Royce, Borden Parker Bowne, and Jacob Gould Shurman, as well as others, such as John Cook Wilson.43 And a host of further figures were influenced by his thought, including Green, Bradley, Wallace, Bosanquet, Sorley, and Rashdall. We get a snapshot of his importance at this time if we note the vast amount of work done translating his writings, much of it undertaken by the Idealists.44

(p.23) Many of the Idealists felt they could regard him as an ally. For instance in 1885 William Wallace wrote, ‘on the whole he executes a retreat from the advanced idealist philosophy of the absolute and to a more generally human ground. But the retreat is not equivalent to a surrender. All that was precious in idealism may still be kept, but kept partly as a faith and a conviction, partly as a series of inferences gradually reached by confronting these ideals with the data of everyday experience.’45 Both Green and Bradley drew heavily on Lotze's view of relations while, since he set himself equally against naturalism and Absolute Idealism, in affirmation of the fundamental truths of moral and spiritual experience, he was able to appeal also to Personal Idealists like Seth Pringle-Pattison.46

More divisive, however, was his apostasy from Hegelian rationalism. Seth Pringle-Pattison had sympathy for Lotze's instinct that room must be made in knowledge for particular feelings or intuitions in addition to universal ideas, since thoughts are true of the things we experience but they are not those things themselves, and, even if he felt that Lotze had not managed perfectly to state the relation between thought and reality, he agreed with the insistence that a necessary relation between them is not the same as an identity.47 Nor was Seth Pringle-Pattison his only champion in this regard. The rejection of Hegel's key identification of thought and reality was precisely where Bradley found a point of connection, and of all recent writers, Bradley admits, it is Lotze to whom he owes the most.48 Henry Jones, by contrast, was far less supportive of the break. His 1895 book, The Philosophy of Lotze,49 has been described as ‘a vigorous attempt, from a neo-Hegelian point of view, to stem the tide of Lotze's influence’50 for, instead of expository endorsement, it attempts to drag Lotze forth ‘as an unwilling witness’51 in support of idealism, by exposure of the weaknesses and contradictions of his opposition to Hegel; his view of thought as representative rather than constitutive of reality. A key complaint for Jones is the consequent emphasis Lotze places on feeling as our only genuine access to reality, leaving thought to work with a material quite foreign and alien to it, something which can only lead to scepticism.52 Jones agrees with Lotze that we must avoid ‘panlogicism’, the replacement of living concrete reality by the dead abstractions of thought, but the idealism of Kant and especially of Hegel he understands as the rejection of just such an error, treating as it does the pure universal of (p.24) thought and the pure particular of sense alike as nothing but logical abstractions.53 Given the strength of his opposition to Lotze's system, one might wonder why Jones should write an entire book discussing a philosophy he thought so misguided, but that he should do so shows even among the most loyal supporters of Hegel a recognition that the supposed identity of the real and the rational was not unproblematic.54

2.6 Literary influences on Idealism

Philosophy is today a highly professionalized discipline; its exponents read and react to each other, but hardly ever to outside voices. The British Idealists were certainly aware of contemporary and preceding philosophy, but it is absolutely crucial to realize that for them the influence of non-philosophical writers was equally important.55

This is to be explained partly by the fact that, in their view, the matters with which philosophy dealt were ones which could legitimately be approached from more than one angle, and in this regard the influence of religious writings (notably, the Gospels, St Paul, and Luther) and of poetry (notably, Dante, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Browning, and Tennyson) were both important, and will be discussed in detail in subsequent chapters.

But there was another side to this interest which they might, perhaps, have put by saying that the true spirit of philosophy will always find expression, and if it is blocked in one direction it must flow out in another. Thus Bosanquet in an 1889 Aristotelian Society paper,56 emphasized the currently moribund state of ‘technical’ British Philosophy, and the vital role played by more ‘literary’, ‘prophetic’, or ‘sage’ writers, nurturing and feeding speculative thought. With metaphysics dominated by common sense, psychologism, and materialism, and ethics ruled by traditional intuition or calculations of utility, the ingredient lacking from nineteenth-century British philosophy was a sense of ‘spirit’, any penetration above, beyond, or beneath the appearances of things to a world of greater significance or value. And these writers provided that. The figures of note here are various. On the Continent, we should record Rousseau, Lessing, Herder, Schiller and, perhaps most important of all, Goethe;57 while native writers of importance include Coleridge, Walter Scott, John Ruskin, George Eliot, Matthew Arnold, William Morris, and Walter Pater.

(p.25) While clearly neither possible nor appropriate to offer detailed examination of all these figures, it is worth considering one especially dear to the Idealists, and that is Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle was influential on Victorian society generally, of course, but his particular significance to the British Idealists can hardly be overstressed. He was the writer of their youth. Naming him the greatest literary influence of his own student days, Edward Caird recalled that ‘at that time, Carlyle was the author who exercised the most powerful charm upon young men who were beginning to think. It is hardly possible for those who now for the first time take up Carlyle's works to realise how potent that charm was.’58 And both R.B. Haldane59 and Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison60 recollect that what was true for Scottish undergraduates in the 1860s held equally in the 1870s. Not that the lessons Carlyle had to teach were limited to Scotland. The youthful Green was much influenced,61 Nettleship admiringly suggested in a letter to Henry Scott Holland that his work ought to be available in pocket form so that ‘one might drink of him whenever one felt faint,’62 to Henry Jones he was ‘probably one of the greatest spiritual forces in this country in the nineteenth century,’63 while Bosanquet described Carlyle and his wife as ‘about as noble a pair of human beings as ever lived’, adding that ‘his work, which was made possible by her, has had an influence on English life that cannot be calculated.’64 What was it that all these people found so important and inspiring in the sage of Chelsea's writing? Of the myriad insights to be taken away from Carlyle, the following perhaps stand out.

Though not a particularly Christian thinker, Carlyle is a deeply religious one. ‘A man's religion is the chief fact with regard to him’,65 he urged, the need to find one's proper home in the universe an imperative second to none. In June 1821, in Leith Walk Edinburgh, Carlyle experienced a striking spiritual awakening which is (partially) related in his extraordinary novel, Sartor Resartus. He there describes a state of existential hopelessness into which the book's narrator and hero, Teufelsdröckh, falls having lost his religious faith, a state in which, ‘To me the Universe was all void of Life, of Purpose, of Volition, even of Hostility: it was one huge, dead, immeasurable Steam-engine, rolling on, in its dead indifference, to grind me limb from limb.’66 Against this despair rises up the sudden realization that he himself is quite other than this world and (p.26) can stand defiantly against it, a fundamental recognition that spiritual life itself can never be reduced away. To such a unresponsive cosmos he protests, ‘I am not thine, but Free, and forever hate thee!’ (‘The Everlasting No’).67

Teufelsdröckh is a philosopher and born out of this spiritual rebirth puts forward what he calls a ‘clothes philosophy’ whose message is that Nature, Life, and the Universe are but a ‘living garment’ or ‘symbol’ of God or Spirit,68 for ‘All visible things are emblems; what thou seest is not there on its own account; strictly taken, is not there at all: Matter exists only spiritually, and to represent some Idea, and body it forth. Hence Clothes, as despicable as we think them, are so unspeakably significant.’69 This position, which he characterized as a ‘high Platonic Mysticism’,70 was also (of course) idealism. Its greatest attraction, perhaps, lay in the fact that it offered not just an altered vision of the world but of human nature itself, for what holds of objects holds even more of the soul. To Carlyle, it is because we are more than we know that we cannot be satisfied with any lower view of our nature. ‘Man's Unhappiness, as I construe, comes of his Greatness; it is because there is an Infinite in him, which with all his cunning he cannot quite bury under the Finite.’71 Carlyle's consequent attacks on the demeaning hedonism and utilitarianism that were dominant in his day were another aspect of his thought that resonated with the Idealists. In its emphasis on pleasure, utilitarianism is satirized as ‘pig philosophy’ in which paradise consists in the unlimited attainability of Pig's-wash.72 But his opposition was not such as could be dissolved by something as easy as Mill's distinction between higher and lower satisfactions, for what he really objected to was the very notion that we should make happiness at all the goal in life. As Teufelsdröckh reflects further, he sees that the human problem lies precisely in the search for individual contentment. We must seek not happiness, but blessedness. We must love not pleasure, but God (‘The Everlasting Yea’).73

Though in many ways an anti-philosopher, with contempt for logical proof in general, Carlyle drew on philosophical sources (as we have seen) and his ideas had much philosophical potential. To many of the British Idealists, it seemed that they were simply reformulating (in more detailed and philosophical a fashion) the idealism they had first read as students in Carlyle. It should not be supposed, however, that the Idealists approved of, or followed, everything that their exalted spiritual guide advanced. Carlyle championed the natural equality of all and supported social change, but his was a radicalism quite unlike that of those to whom the term is more usually applied. The stern calling he prescribed for individuals he repeated for society, leading (p.27) him to express an elitist love of heroes and a loathing for democracy. This strong individualism offended the Idealists' social holism, and Caird, Macunn, and Mackenzie all took him to task in their various ways for his failure to value the unity and solidarity of civic life.74

2.7 Forerunners of Idealism

2.7.1 James Frederick Ferrier

Although the idealist movement proper did not begin until the 1860s, there were a few philosophers before then who may be thought of as forerunners, figures who began to sense the possibility of new lines of thought and who freed up the ground for others to go further. The first such person to consider is James Frederick Ferrier, a Scot, who was educated in the Universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, and Heidelberg, before finally he became Professor of Moral Philosophy at St Andrews.75

His principal work, Institutes of Metaphysics (1854), marks something new in both message and method. It is divided into three sections. Section I, The Epistemology or Theory of Knowing, uses Berkeleian ideas to argue for the relativity of subject and object, section II, The Agnoiology or Theory of Ignorance, uses this idealist result to urge that knowledge of either subject or object as it is in itself out of all relation to the other is an utter impossibility, even for a supreme intelligence, and so not really ignorance at all, thereby opposing Hamilton's doctrine of the unconditioned (although the case it makes is equally applicable to Kant also),76 while section III, The Ontology or Theory of Being, puts forward a positive metaphysic of monistic idealism. The approach throughout is rationalistic (it even adopts a geometrical model of presentation) and opposed to both the common sense and the psychological styles of its day.

To assess the historical significance of this work is not easy. Ferrier's thought is sometimes proposed as a vital step in the story of how Hegel came to Britain. He wrote two detailed articles on Hegel and Schelling for the Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography (1857–63)77 and his Institutes ranks Hegel (above Kant) with Plato, Leibniz, and Spinoza.78 Moreover, the position he ultimately advances is unquestionably an Absolute Idealist one. At the same time, however, he is openly doubtful just how much can be usefully got out of Hegel's writing,79 and responding to criticisms of the book, he absolutely denied that there had been any influence. (p.28)

Some of my critics assert that my philosophy is nothing but an echo of Hegel's.…The exact truth of the matter is this: I have read most of Hegel's works again and again, but I cannot say that I am acquainted with his philosophy. I am able to understand only a few short passages here and there in his writings.…If others understand him better, and to a larger extent, they have the advantage of me, and I confess that I envy them the privilege. But, for myself, I must declare that I have not found one word or one thought in Hegel which was available for my system, even if I had been disposed to use it.80

Nor is the question of his relation to the British Idealists any clearer. James Seth, Sorley, and Muirhead all include him in their histories, Muirhead describing him as a ‘pioneer’ of the Idealist movement,81 and certainly his system is a striking anticipation of theirs. But was there any more direct influence? Arguably so. His university career interrupted by ill health, Edward Caird was for a short while (1856–7) at St Andrews. It is not known for certain whether he attended Ferrier's classes, but undoutedly in subsequent years he advised his students to read Ferrier.82 Less conjecturally we know it was Ferrier who first awoke an interest in philosophy on the part of William Wallace when he was a student at St Andrews.83 Nor was Ferrier's influence confined to St Andrews. R.B. Haldane wrote in the introduction to his sister's life of Ferrier that when he was a student at Edinburgh in 1875, Ferrier's writings were much read; indeed, that although he had died more than ten years earlier, the memory of his personality was still a living influence. To the students of that time ‘Ferrier had pointed out a path which seemed to lead us in the direction of Germany if we would escape from Mill, and Stirling was urging us in the same sense.’84

2.7.2 John Grote

The second pioneering figure to consider is John Grote, younger brother of the more famous utilitarian, George Grote. Educated in Cambridge, where he finally became Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy, the first volume of his Exploratio Philosophica was published in 1865—the same year as Stirling's Secret. His Examination of the (p.29) Utilitarian Philosophy (1870) and the second volume of the Exploratio Philosophica (1900) were published posthumously.85

Through written in the knowledge of and with affinities to, both Hegel and Ferrier, Grote's metaphysics traces its own path to idealism. The current field he finds to be occupied by three sorts of philosophy. The Philosophy of the Human Mind or Psychology, by which he means the empirical tradition from Locke to Mill that seeks to explain consciousness by treating us, its possessors, as one object among a universe of similar objects,86 and ultra-phenomenalism, mis-phenomenalism or (more helpfully) positivism, by which he means the scientific or naturalistic attempt to treat mind as a just species of animal intelligence, and which he regards as ‘not properly philosophy’,87 are both rejected as of only limited value relative to ‘the true and real philosophy’,88 which he calls both idealism and personalism,89 and which takes as its given or basic starting point our consciousness of reality. Such a philosophy is not without danger and he warns of both notionalism, which illegitimately reifies what are philosophical notions,90 and subjectivism or scepticism to which Kant and Berkeley in their different ways alike fell prey.91 Grote's idealism itself is given more flesh in the second volume of the Exploratio where he argues that ‘Knowledge is really a phase or mode of consciousness and, the object as well as the subject being a part of itself, it is really mind that is its object as well as its subject; and existence, the more immediate object, is such, in virtue of its being looked upon as the result of mind or intelligence. Knowledge is the sympathy of intelligence with intelligence, through the medium of qualified or particular existence.’92

Of even greater interest with regard to subsequent thought is Grote's moral philosophy, and that more so in its negative than in its positive aspect, for he was as determined a critic of egoistic hedonism and utilitarianism as the Idealists who followed him. He gives a thorough exploration of the many problems and fallacies of Mill's system, but his fundamental point is that while pleasure or happiness is a legitimate goal, it is but one small part of ethics (he calls it ‘eudaimonics’) next to a far greater part (‘aretics’), dealing with non-consequential value. The utilitarian viewpoint must, therefore, be widened to include, on one side, motive, and on the other, such ideals as virtue, duty, and the perfection of character. Grote gives particular emphasis to justice, distribution, and self-sacrifice, all areas in which utilitarianism is notoriously weak. While Grote's work undoubtedly contains many such idealist themes, his precise influence on British Idealism, however, is harder to discern. It has been argued that he helped shape the movement in so far as it developed in Cambridge,93 and that is not (p.30) unlikely, but it must be allowed that the chief Cambridge Idealists were mainly influenced from outside.94

2.7.3 Benjamin Jowett

Benjamin Jowett, although not a forerunner of Idealism in the sense of someone who, like Ferrier or Grote, clearly advocated such a position, was nonetheless absolutely crucial in its emergence. For many years a tutor at Balliol, before becoming its Master, and a long-serving Professor of Greek in the University at large, Jowett re-energized classical studies at Oxford (and, indeed, nationally.) This he did in large part through his Dialogues of Plato translated into English with Analyses and Introductions which first appeared in 1871. His original intention had been to produce a commentary on the Republic, but for an adequate account of that he found it necessary to bring in Plato's other dialogues, and the scheme was expanded. As the title suggests, what Jowett presented was more than just translation, but combined analysis and interpretation which, together with the manifest literary qualities of his translations (many of which are still read today), made him the unsurpassed Plato expert of the age. He also published a translation of Aristotle's Politics—in which he challenged the traditional picture of Aristotle as simply an empiricist95—but his principal influence at Oxford, was to direct attention to Plato and to raise him up on the same level as Oxford's more traditionally favoured ancient philosopher, for example, by getting the Republic designated in 1853 a ‘set text’ for Greats, alongside those of Aristotle. Jowett also injected more modern philosophy into the course, helping further to free it from a purely historical or literary focus.96

The second important fact about Jowett was his early appraisal of the significance of German philosophy. Before he turned in his later years to Plato, Jowett's first interests had been in theology, and these had taken him, as early as 1844 and 1845, to Germany where he learnt about Hegel. On returning, he set to a more thorough study of Hegel, (p.31) beginning a translation of the Logic, and becoming embroiled in some controversial biblical scholarship. The precise influence of Hegel on his own thinking is contested. Although never a follower and, indeed, as he grew older, more and more critical, of Hegel's thought,97 he had no doubt of its importance. Nor did he keep this to himself. His great significance to the story lies in the fact that as a fellow and then Master of Balliol College until his death in 1893 he passed his interest in Hegel on to Green, Caird, Bosanquet, Ritchie, Wallace, and Arnold Toynbee, all of whom were Balliol students. Jowett, we may say, was the route by which Hegel came finally into Oxford.

Jowett's two interests were not unconnected, of course, for he saw a fundamental affinity between Platonic and Hegelian idealism. He knew not only Hegel, but Hegel's account of ancient philosophy, and in his commentaries he made use of these ideas to explain Plato. Moreover, his ‘Hegelian’ belief in the development or evolution of ideas led him to see a continuity between their positions. It allowed him to see modern thought as a fuller understanding of the things Plato had been trying to say, which is as much as to say it allowed him to see in Plato anticipations of more modern thinking.98 At times, it must be allowed, Jowett's Plato is made to speak in an anachronistically Hegelian idiom—‘The Platonic unity of differences or opposites’, for example, is explained as a forerunner of ‘the Hegelian concrete or unity of abstractions’.99 But for the most part Jowett is more catholic. His general aim, he admits ‘has been to represent Plato as the father of Idealism’,100 that doctrine ‘which places the divine above the human, the spiritual above the material, the one above the many, the mind before the body’.101 And in this broad spirit he tries also to present Plato as criticizing sensational empiricism,102 and as preaching an ideal ethic of self-sacrifice to the higher common good.103

Jowett shaped classics at Oxford for a generation. Looking back, from the idealist-unfriendly perspective of 1959, C.S. Lewis, the celebrated Christian writer who first went up to Oxford in 1917, wrote

The tradition of Jowett still dominated the study of ancient philosophy when I was reading Greats. One was brought up to believe that the real meaning of Plato had been misunderstood by Aristotle and wildly travestied by the neo-Platonists, only to be recovered by the moderns. When recovered, it turned out (most fortunately) that Plato had really all along been an English Hegelian, rather like T.H. Green.104

(p.32) 2.7.4 James Martineau

A number of the Idealists were drawn towards Unitarianism, and at least two even contemplated careers in the Unitarian ministry,105 it is therefore worth briefly considering this intellectual tradition with which they felt so closely at home. The intellectual champion of Unitarianism at this time was James Martineau. The strong ethical tenor of his mind led him to reject what he saw as the barren materialism of Locke, Hartley, and Priestley on which he had been brought up, replacing deism with theism and materialistic necessitarianism with a quasi-Berkeleian idealism that emphasized the role of free will.

Green and Martineau were on warm terms with each other, a friendship fed by the close affinity in both their views and their characters.106 As a Unitarian, Martineau regarded the figure of Jesus unique in degree rather than in kind, that is, he saw him as a man vastly more inspired than any other by the spirit of God, thereby revealing the potentiality for fellowship with God that lies in us all.107 As we shall see later on, this same line was taken up by Green (and many of the other Idealists) and, more than just coincidence on a technical point in Christology, it represents a deep point of sympathy in their respective understandings of human nature. For both, the ‘indwelling of God’ is a literal truth about the proper nature and potential of human character; the development of the human moral consciousness is to be understood as nothing less than the progressive self-realization and revelation of God. As Martineau's pupil and later colleague, C.B. Upton put it, ‘Where Martineau and Green were entirely at one was in the conviction that the eternal Thinker, of whose thought the universe is the expression, progressively reveals Himself and His character in the human soul.’108 And as Martineau himself put it in an early sermon, anticipating several of the later idealists, (p.33) ‘no merely finite being can possibly believe the infinite’.109 At first sight their views may seem rather different. For Martineau conscience is necessarily dualistic, a state in which Self stands face to face with the higher moral authority of God, whereas for Green ‘it is the very essence of moral duty to be imposed by a man upon himself.’ But the difference disappears when we remember that for Green the self-legislating moral consciousness in time is precisely the communication of an eternal consciousness.110 There was affinity too in the profoundly ethical cast of both their minds. Equally opposed to the hedonism and utilitarianism of the day, they both took from Kant the overwhelming importance of motives in moral action.111

But any assessment of his significance for Green must note too Martineau's deep dissent from what he regarded as the Hegelian element in the system. (Although at heart he always felt Green was really more of a Kantian.112) With what amounted almost to a horror of pantheism, he could not accept any wholesale absorption of the finite into the infinite spirit, while the primacy he accorded to the freedom of contingency, prevented him from resting even in the non-natural freedom of self-determination that Green worked so hard to secure. It was, admitted Martineau, no easy task to draw a line that separates God's being from our own, but if in a region higher than volition there is some sense in which we are one with God, the decisions of our will at least are unimpeachably our own.113 In both of these worries Martineau was followed by his colleague C.B. Upton, who was an important early critic of British Idealism in its Absolutist form.114

Not surprisingly this antipathy meant that Martineau never fully appreciated or anticipated the importance Idealism was to have. He doubted Green's thought would have any ‘permanent influence’ and, thinking the condition in which he left it quite unstable, looked forward to the next advance of the Greenian school.115 This he thought he saw in the idealism of Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison and his brother James Seth.116 And certainly Martineau's position, often described as ‘ethical theism’, with its (p.34) strong emphasis on the individual or personal character of moral life, was really more influential on the Personal Idealists. His conception that in conscience or moral obligation we are confronted with a consciousness both other and higher,117 is clearly echoed in Illingworth, and openly acknowledged as a source—if with a greater degree of reserve—by both Seth Pringle-Pattison and Webb.118

2.8 The success of Idealism

When, from all these beginnings the British Idealist philosophy began to spring forth, it was by any measure, immensely successful; a fact which, before we chart the details of its course, we should stop to note. The few pioneering works of the 1860s were followed by a flood of writings in the 1870s and 1880s, as a whole generation of idealist philosophers emerged. They were especially successful at Glasgow and Oxford; although Edinburgh, St Andrews, and Cambridge all contributed as well (as, in due time, did the new provincial universities.)119 Nor was this some mere fashion, as rapid in its passing as in its arrival; Idealism continued to dominate the philosophical scene for at least thirty years, and to be a formidable force for many more. It must not be forgotten that philosophical theories are adopted because they are perceived to be true and the arguments in their support to be sound, but it should be remembered as well that such a sense is unlikely to occur unless the theory is perceived also to answer certain questions, meet certain needs or solve certain problems that press at that time.120 It is, therefore, worth enquiry into the contributory factors that made idealism intellectually so successful.121

The late nineteenth century saw a series of threats to the spiritual or religious view of humanity and its place in the universe—from the advance of science to the advent of evolutionary theory to the results of Biblical Criticism—which so overwhelmed previous certainties as to constitute nothing short of an intellectual crisis. Not just the (p.35) articles of faith, but the sense of self and of moral value, appeared under threat from a growing naturalism and materialism. Crucially, the old division between the school of Mill and Hamilton seemed unable to respond to this challenge, quite lacking the resources to deal with it. The ‘unknown’ was too thin and abstract a notion to ground real hope, but honesty ruled out any faith that called on one simply to close one's eyes to intellectual progress. It was in this frame of mind that many began to look to idealism, whether classical or German, for help. On an idealist understanding the infinite was no longer beyond the reach of human cognition but rather to be encountered, in a world transfigured, all around us. Whether they found explicit defence of Christianity, or simply a friendlier universe, all heard Carlyle's call for a higher self in a higher world. This will be discussed further in Chapter 5.

Other factors that aided the idealist cause were more temporal. By any measure late nineteenth-century social conditions were appalling, a deep indictment on the political philosophy of the preceding century that had allowed them to develop. Idealism offered a moral and political theory which addressed these concerns and that was a large factor in its success. In this regard, the success of idealist philosophy needs to be considered alongside and even to a degree as overlapping with the broader parallel movement known as ‘the new liberalism’ which, without going so far as socialism, argued for increased state intervention in social, economic, and cultural life. The Idealists (especially Green, Ritchie, and Haldane) are sometimes included in their number, and certainly there are similarities, but both the New Liberals and the Idealists were very diverse groups, the former including figures such as L.T. Hobhouse who were suspicious of, and unfriendly towards, idealism, while the latter included such figures as Jones, Bosanquet, and Muirhead who were suspicious of the collectivism of the New Liberals.122 The success of idealist philosophy in the social field sprang also in part from its close connection with praxis. To the Idealists it was not enough to understand what needed to be done, one had to go out and do it. They took their ideas right into their own lives, and this stimulated the creation of ethical societies, university settlements, and such like, which were important to its spread insofar as they gave to the movement a real life and impetus of its own, which it would have lacked had it simply remained in the universities. For beyond mere beliefs, or individual efforts, such institutions—many of which are still with us—have themselves a power to carry ideas forward. These matters will be discussed further in Chapter 7.

Another factor that Idealists both benefited from and contributed to concerned the life of the universities. Mark Pattison in his 1876 Mind account of ‘Philosophy at Oxford’ complains of the ‘stagnation of philosophical thought’ at the university,123 while some time later William Wallace makes a similar complaint that in England generally ‘the fountain head of the philosophical stream has not been in the Universities.’ And he contrasts the case with Germany where the universities were the centre (p.36) of philosophy. Institutional organization, he argued, provides at the very least a continuous tradition with more or less uniform vocabulary and usage which allows for a kind of progress that individual disorganized or even eccentric private efforts can never produce.124 Like German philosophy, German educational systems were widely admired and played a significant role in fuelling a major programme of educational and academic reform in Britain; these processes included the establishment of new chairs and lectures, and led in the next century to the creation of the new universities. Idealism both contributed to and benefitted from these developments. One part of this change was the emergence of philosophy itself as an autonomous academic subject, distinguished from either theology or classics and marked, for example, by the setting up of specialized journals.125 Green himself has been heralded as ‘the man who for the first time established philosophy as an independent discipline at Oxford.’126 In this sense philosophy was a new subject, calling for a new methodology and new body of professional exponents, and Welchman has argued that the rise of Absolute Idealism may be explained in part by the fact that it was the only school willing or able to take up this challenge and to defend the legitimacy of philosophy itself.127

One last point must be mentioned. Lakatos argued that no existing scientific research programme is ever abandoned unless a stronger one presents itself as available replacement, nor any new one adopted unless the current programme is perceived as relatively weaker.128 The same is true of philosophical theories and in this regard it must be noted that had there been more vigour in native philosophy at this time the Idealist story might well have been different, but (as we saw at the beginning of this chapter) British Philosophy in the early 1860s was in a moribund state; and so one final (albeit negative) factor in the success of Idealism must be the fact that (in Quinton's words) ‘it arose in something very like a philosophical vacuum’.129

This brief discussion of the success of Idealism should not conclude without one further, negative, point. It must not be forgotten that Idealism, even at its most successful, was not all-conquering. Collingwood says that the movement never dominated philosophical thought and teaching at Oxford and, taking the year 1900, he points out that Bosanquet had long left for London, T.H. Green, Toynbee, Nettleship, and Wallace had all died young, Caird was lost to administration and Bradley a recluse.130 Oxford Examination papers from the 1870s onwards show the increasing (p.37) influence of idealism, with questions on Kant, Hegel, and Bradley making an appearance, but it did not wholly take over and, as Walsh notes, at the very height of its influence it was still possible to do well in Greats without being an idealist.131 Even if we move from teaching to publication, and from Oxford to Britain at large, allowing a case to be made for greater dominance, it is nonetheless true that there remained at all times a group of thinkers opposed to Idealism: the evolutionists such as Spencer, Huxley, and Leslie Stephen continued to speak out, Utilitarianism found a fresh champion in Henry Sidgwick, realism was defended by Shadworth Hodgson and given powerful new voice by Cook Wilson, while F.C.S. Schiller developed the novel line of thought that was in America called ‘pragmatism’, though he himself preferred the term ‘Humanism’.


(1) To use Reardon's phrase (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). An Anglican clergyman, Mansel, somewhat in the manner of Kant, sought to limit the pretentions of reason in order to make proper room for revelation and faith.

(2) Utilitarianism, it turned out, was not quite a spent force and, contemporaneously with the development of Idealism, received further development at the hands of Henry Sidgwick. (See below pp.186, 202, 214.)

(3) Quoted in Webb, A Study of Religious Thought in England, 97.

(4) For more extensive discussion see J.H. Muirhead, The Platonic Tradition, 147–73; René Wellek, Immanuel Kant in England; R. Metz, A Hundred Years of British Philosophy, 29–268; James Bradley, ‘Hegel in Britain’; Peter Robbins, The British Hegelians, chs 2–5; A.P.F. Sell, Philosophical Idealism and Christian Belief, ch. 1; Sandra den Otter, British Idealism and Social Explanation, 19–33.

(5) Metz, A Hundred Years of British Philosophy, 240 note.

(6) For more detail see J.H. Muirhead, Coleridge as Philosopher.

(7) Whole pages were copied unacknowledged from Schelling and Maasz, a point proved by J.F. Ferrier in 1840 in Blackwood's Magazine.

(8) Biographia Literaria, ch. IX, 76.

(9) ‘State of German Literature’, 66.

(10) ‘State of German Literature’, 70.

(11) A list of the main early translations of Kant: Essays and Treatises on Moral, Political and Various Philosophical Subjects (J. Richardson, 1798–9), Metaphysic of Morals (J. Richardson, 1799), Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics (J. Richardson, 1819), Lectures on Logic (J. Richardson, 1819), The Metaphysic of Ethics (J.W. Semple, 1836, extracts), The Critick of Pure Reason (Francis Haywood, 1838), Religion within the Boundary of Pure Reason (J.W. Semple, 1838), The Critique of Pure Reason (J.M.D. Meiklejohn 1855), Kant's Critical Philosophy for English Readers (J.P. Mahaffy, 1872, extracts; rev edn with J.H. Bernard, 1889), Kant's Theory of Ethics or Practical Phiulosophy (T.K. Abbott, 1873), The Critique of Pure Reason (J. Max Müller, 1881), Text-book to Kant (James Hutchison Stirling, 1881, extracts), The Philosophy of Kant (John Watson, 1882, extracts), Kant's Prolegomena and Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (Ernest Belfort Bax, 1883; revised 1891), Kant's Introduction to Logic (T.K. Abbott, 1885), The Philosophy of Law (W. Hastie, 1887).

(12) The earliest (if passing) reference to Hegel has been credited to William Hamilton in his 1829 essay on ‘The Philosophy of the Unconditioned’ (James Bradley, ‘Hegel in Britain’ 4–5).

(13) Muirhead, The Platonic Tradition, 148–54, 160; James Bradley, ‘Hegel in Britain’ 1–2, 6–7; den Otter, British Idealism and Social Explanation, 12–13. For further discussion of Hegel's early reception in Britain see Willis, ‘The introduction and Critical Reception of Hegelian Thought in Britain 1830–1900’.

(14) Letter of 8th September 1870 quoted in A.S. Sidgwick and E.M. Sidgwick, Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir, 238.

(15) For more detail see G.D. Stormer, ‘Hegel and the Secret of James Hutchison Stirling’ and J. Allard, Logical Foundations of Bradley's Metaphysics, 6–11.

(16) Muirhead, Platonic Tradition, 171.

(17) Secret, xviii.

(18) Secret, xxii.

(19) Secret, 85.

(20) Secret, 745–6.

(21) Secret, 98.

(22) Secret, 185.

(23) Secret, 78, 97.

(24) Secret, 191.

(25) Secret, xxii.

(26) Amelia Hutchison Stirling, James Hutchison Stirling, 66–70; Muirhead, Platonic Tradition, 170–1; for Green's high opinion see Collected Works V:454n. R.B. Haldane wrote the Preface to Amelia Hutchison Stirling's account of her father.

(27) Bosanquet wrote, ‘I should not like to say it in public, but I am convinced that Stirling never understood Hegel’ (Bernard Bosanquet and his friends, 52–3).

(28) It is possible to see this explosion of activity from the rate of translations, many made by the Idealists themselves. H. Sloman and J. Wallon's summary of The Subjective Logic of Hegel (1855); T.C. Sandars' summary of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1855); Hegel's lectures on the Philosophy of History (J. Sibree, 1857); The Secret of Hegel (J.H. Stirling, 1865, extracts); Hegel's Logic (William Wallace, 1874); The Introduction to Hegel's…Philosophy of Fine Art (Bernard Bosanquet, 1886); Hegel's Lectures on the History of Philosophy (E.S. Haldane and F.H. Simson, 1892–6); Hegel's Philosophy of Mind (William Wallace, 1894); Hegel's Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (E.B. Spiers and J. Burdon Sanderson, 1895); Hegel's Philosophy of Right (S.W. Dyde, 1896); Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (J.B. Baillie, 1910); Hegel's Science of Logic (W.H. Johnson and L.G. Struthers, 1929).

(29) See e.g. T.M. Lindsay, ‘Recent Hegelian Contributions to English Philosophy’, 476. Bertrand Russell often called them this (e.g. History of Western Philosophy, 701, 762, My Philosophical Development, 32) but the term has stuck, e.g. P. Robbins, The British Hegelians.

(30) ‘As for the “Hegelian School” which exists in our reviews, I know no one who has met with it anywhere else’ (Bradley, Principles of Logic, x); Collingwood, Autobiography, 15.

(31) Pathway to Reality, 309.

(32) Commentary, 311.

(33) Principles of Logic, x.

(34) For a detailed account of Green's view of Hegel see Wempe, Beyond Equality, ch. 1.

(35) H. Sidgwick, ‘The Philosophy of T.H. Green’, 19.

(36) From Edward Caird's Preface to Seth Pringle-Pattison and Haldane (eds), Essays In Philosophical Criticism, 5.

(37) ‘Review of John Caird's Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion’, 141.

(38) ‘Review of John Caird's Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion’, 142–6.

(39) ‘T.H. Green's Doubts about Hegel's Political Philosophy’, 62.

(40) Essays in Philosophical Criticism, Preface, 2.

(41) Wallace, Prolegomena to…Hegel, 12.

(42) For details see Devaux, Lotze et son Influence sur la Philosophie Anglo-saxonne, and Kuntz, ‘Introduction’ to George Santayana's Lotze's System of Philosophy, 48–68.

(43) R.B. Haldane, Autobiography, 12–17; G.F. Barbour, ‘Memoir of Andrew Seth Pringle-Patton’, 28–30; P.K. Kuntz, ‘Introduction’, 48–64. Trips to Germany for study purposes were common at the time and taken by many of the Idealists, including Green, Mackenzie, and Sorley.

(44) System of Philosophy: Logic [1874] (R.L. Nettleship, F.H. Peters, F.C. Conybeare, B. Bosanquet, 1884); System of Philosophy: Metaphysic [1879] (T.H. Green, B. Bosanquet, C.A. Whittuck, A.C. Bradley, 1884); Microcosmus [1856–64] (E. Hamilton and E.E. Constance Jones, 1885). G.T. Ladd translated a series of his lecture notes: Outlines of Metaphysic (1884); Outlines of Philosophy of Religion (1885); Outlines of Practical Philosophy (1885); Outlines of Psychology (1886); Outlines of Aesthetics (1886); Outlines of Logic (1886); Outlines of Philosophy of Religion (F.C. Conybeare, 1892).

(45) ‘Lotze’, 509–10.

(46) See Chapters 4 and 10.

(47) Review of Henry Jones' The Philosophy of Lotze, 528 and passim.

(48) Principles of Logic, ix.

(49) An expansion of some previous articles, this was the first of two volumes planned—one on thought, one on reality—although only the first was ever written (Old Memories, 219).

(50) Passmore, One Hundred Years of Philosophy, 536.

(51) The Philosophy of Lotze, Preface, xiv.

(52) The Philosophy of Lotze, 331, 333.

(53) The Philosophy of Lotze, 69.

(54) Allard, Logical Foundations of Bradley's Metaphysics, 22.

(55) See Lindsay, ‘Idealism of Jones and Caird’, 176.

(56) ‘The Part Played by Aesthetic in the Development of Modern Philosophy’.

(57) Goethe was in Jones' eyes ones of those poet-philosophers who ‘teach the world as it never was taught before, in any age, how sacred it all is and how interfused with the light divine’ (Idealism as Practical Creed, 101) while for Haldane he was ‘the greatest critic of life that has spoken in modern times’ (Pathway, 323). Between 1898 and 1912 Haldane (together with Peter Hume Brown, the Scottish historian, who shared his passion) made annual trips to Weimar where Goethe had lived; he was for a while president of the English Goethe Society, and Volume II of his Pathway to Reality includes a portrait of Goethe as its frontispiece. Sorley cites as meriting special approval Goethe's recognition of the way in which analysis can kill the life of something (Moral Values, 248).

(58) ‘The Genius of Carlyle’, 231.

(59) ‘The Conduct of Life’, 6–8.

(60) Preface to Selected Essays of Thomas Carlyle, viii.

(61) A.V. Dicey wrote to Green's widow of the ‘great admiration which when I first knew your husband, he felt for Carlyle’ (A.V. Dicey to Mrs Green, 17th September 1882, T.H. Green papers; quoted in Gordon and White, Philosophers at Educational Reformers, 59).

(62) Holland, Henry Scott Holland: Memoir and Letters, 28.

(63) A Faith that Enquires, 7.

(64) Letter of 24 December 1887 quoted in Helen Bosanquet, Bernard Bosanquet, A Short Account of his Life, 41.

(65) On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, 2. cf. Bosanquet, What Religion is, vii.

(66) Sartor, 196.

(67) Sartor, 198. Jones (Browning as Philosophical and Religious Teacher, 55–6) and Haldane (‘Conduct of Life’, 6–8) both testify to the importance of this passage.

(68) Sartor, 220, 236, 254.

(69) Sartor, 89.

(70) Sartor, 81.

(71) Sartor, 221. This idea is echoed in Bosanquet especially.

(72) Latter-Day Pamphlets, VIII, 379–80,

(73) Sartor, 223–4. Past and Present, bk. 3, ch. 4.

(74) ‘Genius of Carlyle’, 264; Six Radical Thinkers, 152; ‘Dangers of democracy’, 164–8.

(75) For further details on Ferrier see Keefe, ‘The Return to Berkeley’, ‘James Ferrier and the Theory Of Ignorance’.

(76) It is worth noting that we find similar arguments against the ‘unconditioned’ in both J. Caird Introduction (ch. I) and E. Caird Evolution of Religion (ch. IV).

(77) James Bradley, ‘Hegel in Britain’, 8.

(78) Institutes, 42.

(79) ‘who has ever yet uttered one intelligible word about Hegel? Not any of his countrymen, not any foreigner, seldom even himself’ (Institutes, 91). He has a similarly low opinion of Kant. ‘Kant had glimpses of the truth; but his remarks are confused in the extreme in regard to what he calls the unity (analytic and synthetic) of consciousness’ (Institutes, 90).

(80) In an 1856 pamphlet entitled ‘Scottish Philosophy, the old and the new’. This was partially reproduced in Volume I of his posthumous Lectures on Greek Philosophy and other Philosophical Remains as ‘Appendix to the Institutes of Metaphysics’. The quotation is from p.486 of this volume.

(81) Seth, English Philosophers, 332–9; Sorley, History of English Philosophy, 284–6; Muirhead, The Platonic Tradition, 162.

(82) Jones, E. Life and Philosophy of Edward Caird, 19, 78.

(83) Caird's ‘Biographical Introduction’ to Wallace's posthumous Lectures and Essays, viii. Wallace graduated in 1864, the year Ferrier died.

(84) Elizabeth S. Haldane, James Frederick Ferrier, 7. The younger sister of R.B. Haldane and J.S. Haldane, Elizabeth Haldane—who never married but lived with her philosopher-statesman brother at Cloan and London—was notable also as a philosopher. She collaborated on translations of Hegel's Lectures on the History of philosophy (1892–6) and The Philosophical Works of Descartes (1911–12) as well as writing three philosophical monographs, The Wisdom and Religion of a German Philosopher (1897), James Frederick Ferrier (1899), and Descartes, his Life and Times (1905).

(85) For a detailed discussion of Grote see John Gibbins, John Grote.

(86) Exploratio, I:ix.

(87) Exploratio, I:xiii.

(88) Exploratio, I:xi.

(89) Exploratio, I:146.

(90) Exploratio, I:73.

(91) Exploratio, I:114.

(92) Exploratio, II:296.

(93) John Gibbins, John Grote, ch. 10.

(94) Sorley's (Cambridge 1879–88, 1900–33) formative education was in Edinburgh and MacKenzie's (Cambridge 1886–96) in Glasgow. Mackenzie introduced his Glasgow Hegelianism to Cambridge and, in particular to McTaggart (Cambridge 1885–1925) (John Stuart Mackenzie, 50), although McTaggart was also was much inspired by Oxford's Bradley. G.E. Moore recalls McTaggart saying of an occasion when he met Bradley at Oxford that, when Bradley entered, he felt ‘as if a Platonic Idea had walked in the room’ (‘Autobiography’, 22).

(95) ‘Aristotle is thought to have been the first who based knowledge on experience, but ever and anon the ideal or poetical image which was always latent in Greek philosophy, though clothed in an unpoetical dress, and reduced to a skeleton, returns upon him. It would have been a surprise to himself, and still more to his school, if he could have recognised how nearly he approached in reality to some of those conceptions on which he was making war’ (The Politics of Aristotle, ‘Introduction’, xix).

(96) ‘The teaching of philosophy in Oxford at this time centred round certain works of Aristotle, to which portions of Plato had recently been added.…The study of Plato and Aristotle had lately entered on a new phase. With an increased knowledge of German philosophy, and especially of German history of philosophy, working through men like Jowett and Pattison, it had become (to use a current antithesis) less “literary” and more “philosophical.” In other words, their works had begun to be treated less as instructive analyses or brilliant criticisms of the commonplaces of culture, and more as partial expressions of systematic views of human life and the world’ (Nettleship, ‘Memoir’, lxx).

(97) Jowett felt, in particular, that Green had gone too far in his Hegelianism. His Notebooks complain that Green had become a servant of the Hegelian system rather than its master (Robbins, The British Hegelians, 44) while in a letter to Florence Nightingale he says Green has become so swamped by Hegelian metaphysics as to have become unintelligible to his students (den Otter, British Idealism and Social Explanation, 10).

(98) He did not, of course, equate them, not least because as his thought developed he became increasingly critical of Hegelianism, but finding in Plato ‘the germs of many thoughts which have been further developed by Spinoza and Hegel’ he confessed to ‘difficulty in separating the germ from the flower, or in drawing the line which divides ancient from modern philosophy’ (Dialogues of Plato, IV:316).

(99) Dialogues of Plato, IV: 314, 316.

(100) Dialogues of Plato, I: xi.

(101) Dialogues of Plato, II: 19.

(102) Dialogues of Plato, IV: Intro to Theaetetus passim.

(103) Dialogues of Plato, II: 295–6.

(104) ‘Fern Seeds and Elephants’, 247.

(105) A career in the dissenting ministry was one option Green considered, once admitting (in 1861) that ‘a modified unitarianism suits me very well’ (Nettleship, ‘Memoir’, xxxv). From 1885 to 1888 J.H. Muirhead studied philosophy and theology at Manchester New College (then in London) where James Martineau was Principal, with a view perhaps to becoming a Unitarian minister (Muirhead, Reflections by a Journeyman, ch. V). A contemporaneous novel that brings together Unitarianism and the Victorian crisis of faith is William Hale White's The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford.

(106) Upton recalls that ‘with T.H. Green he cherished a warm and much valued friendship. He delighted to recall his visits to Balliol and the conversations he there enjoyed’ (Dr Martineau's Philosophy, xviii). Muirhead confirms that Martineau ‘was himself strongly attracted both by the teaching and the personality of T.H. Green’ (Reflections by a Journeyman, 67).

(107) ‘The Incarnation is true, not of Christ exclusively, but of Man universally and God everlastingly. He bends into the human to dwell there; and humanity is the susceptible organ of the divine’ (Letter 5 June 1895, cited in J.E. Carpenter, James Martineau Theologian and Teacher, 404). ‘The Divineness which I meant to claim for Jesus is no other than that which I recognise in every human soul, which realises its possible communion with the Heavenly Father. And the pre-eminence which I ascribe to him is simply one of degree, so superlative, however, as to stand out in strong relief from the plane of ordinary history’ (letter 13 August 1894 to Rev. Valentine Davis. MS in the library of Harris Manchester College, Oxford). We find the same view in his pupil, C.B. Upton: ‘the Incarnation here contended for, though, in my view, most completely manifested in the personality and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, is by no means peculiar to him, but is, in its essence, the intrinsic property and highest privilege of all rational souls’ (Lectures on the Bases of Religious Belief, viii).

(108) Dr Martineau's Philosophy, xviii.

(109) ‘The Spirit of Life in Jesus Christ’, 2.

(110) Types of Ethical Theory, II:5; Prolegomena to Ethics, §324; Types of Ethical Theory, II:99.

(111) Types of Ethical Theory, II:23; Drummond and Upton, The Life and Letters of James Martineau, II:390.

(112) Drummond and Upton, The Life and Letters of James Martineau, II:360. In a letter dated 6 December 1892 to a former pupil, Alexander Craufurd, Martineau even suggests that in the end Green experienced something of a change of heart, writing ‘I know Hegel's “Philosophy of Religion”; but neither in it, nor in his English interpreters, have I found any future life that does not disappoint its name. The genuine hope dawned upon Thomas Hill Green on his death-bed, I am assured; not, however, as a corollary from his Hegelianism, but rather as an emergence from it’ (Craufurd, Recollections of James Martineau, 221–2).

(113) ‘Lo! God is here’, 83.

(114) Upton, Review of Prolegomena to Ethics, 831; Lectures on the Bases of Religious Belief, ch.VIII.

(115) Drummond and Upton, The Life and Letters of James Martineau, II:226; J.E. Carpenter, James Martineau, 571.

(116) Upton, Dr Martineau's Philosophy, 155–6. On 29 November 1893 Martineau, then in his eighty-ninth year, wrote to Seth Pringle-Pattison: ‘I have read your essay on Man's Place in Nature with the keenest interest, and with all but unqualified assent to its reasoning and its critical estimates through out. I would fain express to you, if I could, the happy confidence with which, at the end of life, I anticipate from you the much-needed reaction from the dominant Hegelian form of Idealism. My hopes in this respect used to rest, as I often told him, on Thomas Hill Green, whose noble moral nature was always pressing him in that direction. And now it is my fancy that his mission has devolved on you. It is a great trust; and may be executed with full acknowledgment of the lofty influence, intellectual and ethical, exercised by his genius and Edward Caird's during their period of ascendancy. But they have not said the last word in philosophy, and would be the first to repudiate the pretension’ (Barbour, ‘Memoir of Pringle-Pattison’, 80).

(117) ‘it takes two to establish an obligation’ (Types of Ethical Theory II:100). ‘In the act of Perception,’ says Martineau, ‘we are immediately introduced to an other than ourselves that gives us what we feel; in the act of Conscience we are immediately introduced to a Higher than ourselves that gives us what we feel’ (Study of Religion, II:27).

(118) Seth Pringle-Pattison, ‘Martineau's Philosophy’, 95–6; Webb, Divine Personality and Human Life, 123. (Note: Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison's works can all be found together in the Bibliography under Pringle-Pattison.

(119) It was a success repeated also in America. Rogers wrote in 1922 that, ‘This English adaptation of German Idealism attracted during the last quarter of the century a large proportion of the best speculative intellect of England and America, attaining in the universities a dominance that for a time was almost complete’ (English and American Philosophy Since 1800, 208).

(120) To admit the necessity of such a condition is not, of course, to admit its sufficiency.

(121) For further detailed discussion of these factors see Quinton, ‘Absolute Idealism’, 126–39.

(122) Collini, Liberalism and Sociology, 45; Vincent and Plant Philosophy Politics and Citizenship, ch. 5.

(123) ‘Philosophy at Oxford’, 86.

(124) Schopenhauer, 11–12.

(125) Mind (1897), Proceedings of Aristotelian Society (1887), Philosophical Review (1892), International Journal of Ethics (1876), Hibbert Journal (1902).

(126) Richter, Politics of Conscience, 9. Bain and Sidgwick were comparable figures in Scotland and Cambridge respectively (Schneewind, Sidgwick's Ethics and Victorian Moral Philosophy, 6).

(127) Dewey's Ethical Thought, 18–19. She suggests too that it fell into decay at the turn of the century once the status of philosophy as a discipline became once again secure.

(128) Lakatos, ‘Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes’.

(129) ‘Absolute Idealism’, 126, 135–9.

(130) Collingwood, Autobiography, 16. Boucher has argued that Collingwood is probably deliberately downplaying the impact of idealism here (The Social and Political Thought of R.G. Collingwood, 9–10).

(131) Mure ‘Oxford and Philosophy’, 298–9; Walsh, ‘The Zenith of Greats’, 314.