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British Idealism$

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

Idealist Political and Social Philosophy

(p.228) 7 Idealist Political and Social Philosophy
British Idealism

W. J. Mander (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Of all its contributions to the discipline, it is the political and social philosophy of British Idealism that has enjoyed the longest life. While their doctrines in metaphysics, religion, and logic were swiftly forgotten once the movement's heyday had passed, their social thought continued to attract consideration. This chapter begins with a detailed discussion of the political philosophy of Green, explaining its key ideas—such as its account of freedom and of rights—and defending it from some of the criticisms that have been raised against it. Consideration is then given of the ways in which these ideas were developed by Edward Caird, Mackenzie, Jones, Ritchie, and MacCunn; also of the various ways in which idealists responded to the notion of evolution. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the ways in which idealist political philosophers were closely involved in questions of the practical application of their ideas, including issues of education.

Keywords:   Green, Edward Caird, Mackenzie, Jones, Ritchie, MacCunn, freedom, rights, state interference, evolution, practical applications, education

Of all its contributions to the discipline, it is the political and social philosophy of British Idealism that has enjoyed the longest life. While their doctrines in metaphysics, religion, and logic were swiftly forgotten once the movement's heyday had passed, their social thought continued to attract consideration and, even to this day, can boast a small band of scholars dedicated to its examination. A great deal of this attention, it must be allowed, has been negative. Often their positions have been criticized as statist, subordinating the interests, value, and agency of the individual to those of the state itself, but even if more careful consideration of those views is able to rebut such accusations, the general tone of their work remains at great remove from anything which is currently popular. As well as being unfashionably grounded in the metaphysics of the Absolute, their doctrines flow seamlessly from their religious and moral thought; two contentious subjects modern multi-culturalist approaches are keen to exclude from the discipline, but which for the idealists were its essential lifespring. Not all attention has been critical, however, and for philosophers seeking a ground to community which transcends the merely pragmatic, egoistic, or utilitarian, the social philosophy of Idealism continues to offer valuable insights.

7.1 T.H. Green

7.1.1 Political obligation

As with many of the domains treated so far, consideration properly begins with the figure of T.H. Green whose 1879–80 Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, first published in the posthumous Collected Works of 1885–8, were the inspiration for the mass of what came afterwards. Both chronologically and thematically, this work followed on immediately from that completed in ethics, the transition from moral to political philosophy marked by the transition from talk about individuals and their social relations to talk about the state. This Green defines as ‘a body of persons, recognised by each other as having rights, and possessing certain institutions for the (p.229) maintenance of those rights’.1 There is no mention of geographical extent and the emphasis on recognition is perhaps unusual2 but, these points aside, there is nothing very remarkable in Green's definition here. Common enough too is Green's choice of the state itself as the appropriate unit in terms of which to conduct his discussion. In addition to establishing continuity with the traditional literature in political philosophy, focus on the state reflected, as Green well saw, the political reality of his day. He by no means intends to deny that there exist many other smaller social units—family, tribe, church, club, and such like—but the state must be regarded as superseding them; for, however precedent and separate their origin, these lesser wholes are taken up into the state as organic parts, strengthening its bonds as it harmonizes and strengthens theirs, making it for its members, ‘the society of societies, the society in which all their claims upon each other are mutually adjusted’.3 Nor does he think there any a priori prohibition on units larger than the state. Indeed, the claim that every human ought to be free amounts, he admits, to a recognition of ‘the idea of the universal brotherhood of men, of mankind as forming one society with a common good’. But in actual fact we pay no more than lip service to this ultimate moral community, and there currently exist neither the institutional mechanisms necessary to bring about any such wider harmonization, nor the desire to create them.4

Green's interest in the state revolves around the notion of political obligation, those things which the state may force us to do (either for itself or for each other). We are familiar enough with the notion of moral obligation; there are many things we ought to do. But with the state comes a new dimension to obligation; there appears a range of things which we may be compelled to do, whether we like it or not. What kind of things can we be coerced into doing, or punished if we refuse to do? And what possible justification can there be for such force?5

To answer these questions we must inquire into the nature of the state. There are various approaches one might take; one might look at it genetically (in terms of its origin), structurally (in terms of its form) or phenomenologically (in terms of what it is like to live in a state), but rather than any of these, Green argues that we need to look at it teleologically (in terms of its purpose). To really understand the state we need to ask what it is for, what it is aiming at. Assuming for the moment that we allow the very idea that a state could have a goal, what kind of a goal might it have? Once more various answers are possible; the state might exist to win power and renown, to create wealth, to foster culture, or to spread the glory of God. But again Green takes a quite different line, and at this point we see very clearly how his political philosophy builds directly on his moral philosophy, for Green adopts a fundamentally moral conception of the state. (p.230) The state is an instrument for the moralization of man. The aim and whole rationale of the state is to make us good; not happy, healthy, safe, or prosperous, but good (although attainment along the way of these further benefits is by no means excluded). This is the sphere of political obligation. Political structures concern whatever is required for our moral development.6

Lest this sound more contentious than it is, a number of points in its defence should be made. First of all, it should be added that ‘good’ here must be understood, not in any narrow moralistic sense, but in the broader Greek tradition of the cultivation of human ‘excellence’ (aretae). It is the ambition of the state that the character of each individual should grow to become the best it can possibly be.

Furthermore, since right inner disposition or motivation is an essential element of genuine goodness, and inner or spiritual life is essentially free, no one can be forced to become virtuous. The state's coercive licence extends to external or outward acts only, and even here it must be allowed that interference is more likely to work in the opposite direction; for example, the attempt to enforce religious observance tends to weaken it, while disproportionate regulation of behaviour undermines the development of one's own autonomous moral sense, and the ready availability of state aid can take away the need to exercise prudence and self-restraint. For this reason constraints should be as few as possible and state action limited to the creation and maintenance of the conditions necessary for moral growth. The state cannot itself make happen individual self-development, merely encourage and help us in it, removing some of the obstacles that stand in our way.7 As we shall see below, that the state should assist but not undermine individual effort was a theoretical point on which all of the Idealists followed Green, although where practically they drew that line was something which allowed for much difference.8

The notion of a state concerned with our virtue rather than our happiness or our welfare little attracts modern readers, however it must be remembered that Green operates with an equivalence between ‘the moralization of man’ and ‘the common good’, and thus another way to make the same point would be to say that in place of managing the various pleasure-seeking activities of distinct and egoistic individuals—the traditional object of political theory—Green proposes a new goal for society, that of seeking the common good. To suggest that the purpose of the state is to promote the good of all its members is a far more attractive notion, but the point to remember is that (for Green) our common good lies precisely in our being good.

A moral conception of the purpose of the state clearly presupposes a prior theory of morality, and this too is something that will make some more modern and liberally minded thinkers uneasy. To an age which has largely lost confidence in the possibility of sure (or even shared) ethical belief, Green's starting point seems utterly alien and (p.231) contentious. But before we allow his ‘moral’ approach to political thought to condemn his position as hopelessly Victorian with nothing useful to say to any contemporary multi-cultural audience, it is vital that we understand it correctly. His ‘moral absolutism’ is not that of one self-appointed group in society who ‘know best’ what all the others should be doing. For as we have already seen in the previous chapter, full knowledge of the common good is beyond the grasp of any one, while partial grasp in so far as it is obtained is the distributed possession of all. Green champions a collective moral purpose, the common goal of a common good, but there is nothing monolithic about this. The state does not and cannot identify this goal for us, because it—together with all its institutions, laws, duties, freedoms, and rights—is but a device to help us in the great endeavour of collectively identifying our mutual good, a good to which each citizen must both contribute and adjust himself.

7.1.2 Sovereignty and the General Will

Having established the scope of political obligation—the range of things we may be obliged to do—our next question must be as to its authority. What justification may be given by those who claim the licence to make us act in these ways? Green arrives at a response to this question through consideration of the inadequacies of previous answers. Beginning not in classical but in early modern times, Green considers at some length the social contract tradition of Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau.9 According to this theory the state may be thought of as the result of a contract (perhaps historical, but perhaps merely hypothetical) made by individuals in a ‘state of nature’ prior to all civilization, a voluntary agreement in which they pool their power for the mutual advantage of all but at the same time give up their natural right to sovereign autonomy and submit to the higher power they have created. Green wholly rejects this view—and in this, of course, he is following both Hegel and Carlyle.10 His objections are of two kinds. His first complaint that the theory presents human beings as the possessors of ‘natural rights’ prior to the existence of any society will be considered in more detail in the section below. But secondly he objects that even if, per impossibile, we were to allow the idea of a contract it would be quite unable to explain obligation. If all there is at the outset is power and enmity (the ‘war of all against all’) then the pooling of resources for mutual benefit will not produce genuine obligation, just a new and stronger form of coercion. Only where we can see a common good in acting a certain way will we feel an obligation that is more than mere compulsion to do so, but in that case, it is our perception of mutual interest not the contract that binds us to act. The whole contract theory confuses mere coercive power with morally grounded duty (p.232) or obligation. There is no path from one to the other. If all there is at the start is mere power, the right of the state to our obedience at the end will be one of mere power also.

For Green the contemporary alternative to social contract theory was utilitarianism which justified political obligation by means of a hedonic calculus; the state is entitled to demand certain forms of behaviour on account either of the great happiness to be won or the great pain to be avoided by doing so. As we have already seen in the previous chapter, Green does not dismiss utilitarianism as worthless; he concedes that it has considerable practical application11 and also—of special note here—that it shares his opposition to natural rights.12 But nonetheless he thought it deficient as a theory of personal morality, and neither did he feel it could give an adequate account of political obligation. For although, like his own teleological defence, it justifies compulsion by reference to common well-being, this is not the well-being of all but only of the majority, and even if for most practical purposes its upshot is the same as that of the Categorical Imperative, for the sake of the many, it sanctions treating as a means rather than as an end, the unfortunate few—its victims, who as a result are coerced rather than genuinely obligated to obey.13

As so often with the British Idealists, Green approaches his own more positive account of obligation historically, in this case through closer consideration of the ideas of Rousseau. Although he opposes Rousseau's appeal to the idea of a contract, he approves of his suggestion that the state's foundation lies in the General Will; the idea that a state is legitimate insofar as it embodies or articulates the real underlying wishes of its members. This, argues Green, is ‘the permanently valuable thing in Rousseau’14 and the theory of the social contract may even be regarded as a confused recognition of its basic truth.15 To be sure, Green finds problems with the expression of this doctrine, complaining that Rousseau's emphasis on democratic voting in effect reduces the unified General Will (volonté générale) to something more like a sum of desires that he himself dismisses as the Will of All (volonté de tous),16 and for this reason (connecting the theory of obligation with his own ethics of self-realization) Green prefers his own understanding of it as ‘an impartial and disinterested will for the common good’,17 which allows that a minority might better see than the mass where the true interests of their society lie. But overall, the theory finds his support. That the basis of political obligation lies in will counters the more common view that it resides in force; that fear or mere expediency is what grounds our (p.233) obedience to the state. But Green objects that even where a sovereign authority continues to hold coercive force it is not generally that power, but recognition of the state's de facto alignment to the common good, which determines people's habitual obedience to it.18 He admits that this sense of shared enterprise or interest is not often conscious or fully articulated, and endorses various ways in which it might be strengthened.19

A key point to note about Green's positive theory of obligation is that it makes the concept an essentially social one. Our obedience is called for, not as one side of some mutual adjustment of distinct wills, but as our contribution to a shared quest for a common goal, higher than the aspiration of any individual. The state to which we are obligated is precisely ‘an institution for the promotion of a common good’.20 In consequence of this, the obligation is a moral, rather than a merely civil, legal, or pragmatic affair. Moral duty and political duty are not simply equated—the former demands more of us than the latter, for one thing—but they do have a common source; the recognition of a communal well-being, conceived also as our own well-being, whether, at any given moment, we feel inclined to it or not.21 We see here the breadth of Green's conception of ‘the state’. The state is a sovereign body, but we go wrong if we suppose that supreme coercive power is all that is essential to a state, if we think of it as but the governing part of society, for we must include too the legitimating ground of that authority which lies in the will of society itself, the governed, turning the state into something wider than society instead of something narrower than it. As thus social and moral, the obligation which results is a duty to serve and not simply a duty to obey. The state may legitimately call from us a contribution to the common weal every bit as much as conformity to its rules and regulations. Here Green's notion of the coincidence of religious and ethical service, already noted, is further extended into the political sphere. What I give to my fellows or to my state I give at the same time to God.

7.1.3 Rights

So much for obligation, for what we owe to the state, it may be said, but does not the state also owe certain things to us? Do not we have certain rights which it is the state's job to secure and protect for us? This is something with which Green would most certainly agree. Although (as noted above) he opposes any doctrine of natural rights, he nevertheless held that the principal way to provide people with the opportunity to achieve the common good, to remove the obstacles to their self-realization, is precisely through a system of rights and obligations. But what for Green are rights, and which rights does he think we have?

(p.234) ‘A right is a power claimed and recognised as contributory to a common good’,22 asserts Green. This claim has a number of significant implications, the first of which is that it renders rights neither universal nor inalienable. What contributes to the common good at one time or in one context may not do so at or in another and therefore rights are not necessarily permanent, but may change as conditions or as society itself changes; old rights may be swept away or new ones created.23 Nor are our rights to be thought of as unlimited, for something contributory to the common good in certain amounts or contexts might be harmful in different measures or situations. Such might be said, for example, of private property. In both these respects Green's conditional teleological conception of rights is quite different from the more common absolutist understanding of them. This might be regarded as a weakness, as it often is against utilitarianism which also subordinates individual rights to a higher social standard. However, the ‘common good’ is not at all the same as the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ insofar as it holds fast, Green insists, to the absolute value of each individual person.24 In the common good, no one gets left behind or forgotten.

Since the common good is a social good it follows that rights too must be social. Rights may attach to individuals, and they may be for an individual's own benefit, but both of these points must be qualified. They attach to individuals only in so far as they are members of a society.25 The isolated individual on a desert island could have no rights, and thus if I assert a right, my claim is not qua individual, but always with my corporate hat on. Moreover any benefit derived, though it may accrue to the individual, is given ultimately for the good of all. I may be granted the private use of something, but only because it is better for society as a whole that I should be; part of our common prosperity consisting precisely in the prosperity of each. The fact that rights are social means also that there are no purely natural rights; no rights attaching to individuals prior to the formation of society. Green does allow an alternative sense in which we may think of natural rights as ‘ideal’, the sort a perfect society ought to accord us,26 but in its traditional form, the doctrine, for all its long pedigree, fails at several points: its picture of human individuals existing in the absence of all society is as historically fictitious as it is metaphysically absurd, and even were we to allow such an impossibility, it would merely assert not justify the rights it maintains, rights which (p.235) would be egoistic ones of private self-interest, existing without correlative duties, something Green thinks illogical.27 One of the most significant consequences of the sociality of rights is that people can have no right to anything which is not in the common good. The mere fact that we would like to do something, however important it may be to us, is no basis for a right. Since ‘every right is derived from some social relation’,28 the notion of a right to act against society, or even just unsocially, is a plain contradiction.29 The fact that we have no right against the state does not mean that we have no rights against the misuse of state power, for example, the right not to be arrested without charge. Indeed, the state may well give us just such rights, for they contribute greatly to the common good. Rights against state oppression are some of the most important ones we have. Nor does it rule out our right to rebel against any state which, failing to express the general will, destroys the basis of its own purpose.30 Promotion of the common good is the very root of political obedience, and therefore where a corrupt authority no longer promotes the common good, we may legitimately resist.31 Our rebellion may be thought of as the assertion of the rights of a better or truer state against an imperfect or corrupt one, suggests Muirhead, expounding Green.32 Not simply our right, it may even be our duty to rebel for, as Mackenzie points out, ‘we can often serve our state best by attacking its faults and resisting its aims’.33 However, since the rule of law itself is one of the greatest components of the common good, deciding to do this is no light matter. Nor, given the complexities involved, is it a simple one for which clear criteria may be set out in advance; although generally Green thinks that obedience coupled with work for reform is a better option than open revolt, especially in a democratic country.

A further crucial component of the definition of rights which we are considering is that they must be recognized by society; we have a right to all and only what society recognizes as necessary for our moral development.34 In this claim we see again just how far Green stands from the natural rights tradition which holds us to possess certain basic rights regardless of whether we or anyone else suppose that we do—for in the state of nature, by definition, there can be no social recognition. By contrast, for Green, (p.236) only insofar as they are recognized, do our rights come into being.35 Why does he say this? Green derives his rights recognition thesis from the co-relativity of rights and duties. At its simplest his point is just that I can't really or effectively be said to have a right unless others recognize a corresponding duty to me. This is true, but Green's point runs even deeper than that. The insight is not so much that my right entails another's duty (to me), but rather that my having a right means that others must have it too and thus that I have duties (to them). I can't have the right without recognizing it in others as well. The point is not just the pragmatic calculating one that I ought to recognize others' claims if I want them to recognize mine. It is a deeper acknowledgement that our common human nature means anything I claim for myself must apply equally for them. In the end a right exists only because society agrees that a certain power or other should be defended or prohibited. But without ‘consciousness of common interests’ there could be no agreement on which to base these decisions. In the end rights are indicators not (as Marx thought) of egoism and atomism, but rather (as Kant and Hegel believed) of our common humanity and mutual society.36

The rights recognition thesis has not been popular, and so we may consider some objections that might be raised against it. It might be objected that social recognition places an unwelcome cognitive hurdle in the way of rights possession. Green explicitly states that animals have no rights, because they cannot meet the recognition criterion,37 while the level of rights granted to the mentally infirm will involve a complex triangulation of the strength of their incapacity, whether or not it is curable and the kind of contribution they may be able to make to society.38 Some may find such results unpalatable, but we should not make the mistake of regarding the absence of right as itself some sort of licence to ill-treatment (any more than its presence is some kind of trump card ever-available to be played against the same). It might be objected that Green is making the outrageous claim that people have only those rights which the state says they have. But that is mistaken, for Green distinguishes between legal rights, which require state recognition, and moral rights which require only social recognition. People can still have rights although a state—or even all states—refuse to recognize them, so long as society at large allows that they do.39 Even this might seem refuted by historical cases, such as that of slavery, where (surely) we want to say that there was a right to freedom even though neither states nor individuals admitted it. But Green replies that recognition can be either explicit or implicit, and even where there is no conscious acknowledgement of something, the logic of our action and attachments may say otherwise. In his dealings with the slave, argues Green, however unfair they may be, the owner recognizes him as a person capable of living in community with (p.237) others, and this is enough to ground his rights as a member of society. Only if we saw him as irredeemably sub-human, and in all our dealings treated him as such, would we be justified in denying him such rights.

7.1.4 Property, punishment, and family

These general comments concerning state, individual, obligation, and rights may be given further substance if we consider their application in three more concrete dimensions; private property, punishment, and the family.

Green supports the right to private property, for he thinks it contributes to the common good by allowing us to express our will. It is a mode of self-realization, a vehicle by which we give reality to our ideas and wishes, a way of manifesting and developing ourselves as persons.40 As thus contributory to the common good, we must respect also the property claims of others, and without such recognition of ownership, of course, there simply is no property. Given its value in this regard, it might be wondered if the state ought not to grant everyone some allocation of this good, but Green rejects any such communist distribution on the grounds that it would defeat precisely the moral development it seeks to bring about; for the very acquiring and looking after property is a large part of its good for us. Green thinks of private property as the institution that has allowed us to develop morally beyond primitive or feudal life, but part of this system is free transfer, and so he accepts too that it brings with it a certain inevitable inequality.

Green allows that this case for private property holds only within certain limits. Where the struggle is simply to survive, or where a person has more wealth than they can use, property is unable to serve the self-realizational function which justifies its existence, but rather than reject as inherently flawed the capitalist system which produces such inequalities Green seeks to modify it, regarding its defects as ones which stem from historical abuses that can be corrected. He looks to increase property owning among the poorest classes, and his arguments support state intervention to secure at least minimal living conditions. For the job of the state is to remove the obstacles to self-improvement, but ‘until life has been so organised as to afford some regular relief from the pressure of animal wants’ no possibility can emerge for ‘“living well” or “well-being” as distinct from merely “living”’.41 He looked also to promote the redistribution of wealth among the already better off; especially to encourage—he does not go so far as to say enforce—equal inheritance of property among all children rather than primogeniture. Generally, everyone has a right to enough, but no one has the right to more than they need, and always it must be remembered that the right to property is not absolute or unconditional. We have a right to own property only in so far as doing so contributes to the social good; that's what property is for.

(p.238) The reverse side of our duty or obligation to the state is its right to compel our compliance or punish our disobedience, but punishment too is an institution subordinated to the common good.42 Green insists that it is not the business of state punishment either to ascertain and chastise wickedness per se, or to impose moral virtue. It must respect the right to free life, for that is its very justification. The state has the right, however, ‘to prevent such action as interferes with the possibility of free action contributory to social good’.43 Within this ground, Green sees aspects working together of each of the three traditional theories of punishment; retributive, deterrent, and reformatory.44

He rejects any derivation of punishment as the state regulated continuation of private vengeance,45 but he allows for an element of desert. A criminal may be punished only where they have knowingly and avoidably violated some right, and in such a case,

the person punished himself recognizes it as just, as his due or desert…. The criminal, being susceptible to the idea of public good, and through it of rights, though this idea has not been strong enough to regulate his actions, sees in the punishment its natural expression. He sees that the punishment is his own act returning on himself, in the sense that it is the necessary outcome of his act in a society governed by the conception of rights, a conception which he appreciates and to which he does involuntary reverence.46

Of course, such punishment cannot be just unless the system of rights it reflects is just.47 Punishment may also be preventative, so long as we remember that what is being prevented is violation of rights and so long as it is proportionate. This allows Green to suggest—controversially—that penalties may vary according to the deterrent needed. Though a burglar and fraudulent banker may transgress to the same degree, the threat of imprisonment with hard labour by which we try to deter the first is more than what is needed to deter the second.48 Similarly in criminal negligence cases the level of punishment is set by the importance of the right violated and the degree of terror needed to deter such negligence, not any assessment of the degree of moral shortcoming involved. (The train driver who fails to observe a signal has made no greater mistake than we are all of us constantly guilty of in less dangerous circumstances.)49 Punishment may also be reformatory but, if so, its aim is not the moral good of the criminal (p.239) himself—that is a matter with which the state has no direct business—but only his recovery from such criminal habits as impede the common good.50

Green's attitudes towards the family have a radical edge but are also, inevitably, rooted in their time. He applauds family life as a kind of anticipation of the common good. ‘The formation of family life supposes that in the conception of his own good to which a man seeks to give reality there is included a conception of the well-being of others, connected with him by sexual relations or by relations which arise out of these. He must conceive of the well-being of these others as a permanent object bound up with his own, and the interest in it as thus conceived must be a motive to him over and above any succession of passing desires to obtain pleasure from, or give pleasure to, the others.’51 Since the conditions of family life shape the possibilities of our moral development, they are matters of public right, and not just personal morality.52 It is quite appropriate, therefore, that the state should intervene to ensure a fair and open opportunity for all, for example, by excluding the imbalance of rights that inevitably accompanies polygamy, by divorce laws in which no one should be bound to an unfaithful or abusive partner, by compulsory education, or by protection or removal of children at risk. But at the same time there should be no interference in purely private life (so, for example, the state should not take it upon itself to prosecute or punish marital infidelity)53 nor any action that might undermine self-reliance or morality (for example, Green regards marriage as a life-long commitment and fears that to hold out the possibility of divorce on the grounds of incompatibility would itself generate such incompatibility).54 Although more restrictive than today, given the very unequal nature of sex relations in late Victorian Britain, Green's views on marriage, together with his support for women's education, make it appropriate to regard him as what we would now call a feminist.55

7.1.5 Freedom

In this discussion of rights we have not yet touched upon what many would regard as the most important right of all, the right to freedom, and it is to this that we must now turn, for Green's view of freedom represents one of his most important contributions to political thought. In an 1879 lecture ‘On the Different Senses of Freedom’ Green distinguishes three senses of the term. First there is free will. Exercised by each individual without aid or impediment from anyone else, this is what marks the difference between action and mere behaviour, and has already been discussed at some length in the chapters on metaphysics and on ethics. Second, there is juristic freedom, the liberty accorded us by the law. While this needs a society to grant it, once granted, it too may (p.240) be enjoyed by individuals in isolation. Third, there is real freedom. Unlike the first two senses, which can apply indifferently to good or evil actions, real freedom contains an evaluative component. It is ‘a positive power or capacity of doing or enjoying something worth doing or enjoying’,56 the ability to realize oneself, the capacity to do good. Green's second and third senses are often contrasted as negative and positive freedom, and correlated with talk of negative and positive rights; we have rights not merely to non-interference but also to other positive advantages (and duties not merely to let others alone but also to help them). But in another sense real freedom may be thought of as a continuation of the juristic sense of freedom; as the latter liberates us from the constraining incursions of others, so the former liberates our better nature from the equally constraining influence of our weakness and irrationality. Real freedom is also, again unlike the other two kinds, necessarily social. That might seem odd; no one is more free, we might suppose, than the solitary wandering child of nature. However, freedom of that sort is ‘not strength but weakness’ insists Green.

The actual powers of the noblest savage do not admit of comparison with those of the humblest citizen of a law-abiding state. He is not the slave of man, but he is the slave of nature. Of compulsion by natural necessity he has plenty of experience, though of restraint by society none at all. Nor can he deliver himself from that compulsion except by submitting himself to this restraint. So to submit is the first step in true freedom.57

In other words, the only way to be free from the contingencies of nature (either external nature or one's own) is to submit oneself to the common goals of society which in return grants one both strength and purpose.58 Freedom is a social good; we find our freedom in service to the common weal. Human nature is such that unrestricted negative or individual liberty means in practice the freedom to pursue selfish, short-sighted, and materialistic advantage; something which tends to result in social structures and hierarchies that effectively bar most people from enjoying the goods or powers that it renders their more fortunate or adroit brethren ‘free’ to enjoy; and something which by lowering the moral quality of society as a whole, effectively blocks everyone from enjoying the higher benefits of a cooperative, far-sighted and profound community. Where negative freedom is the bluntest of tools, positive freedom is more focused—a freedom to access the things that really matter on the part of those who are usually denied them.

Green is sometimes thought of as advocating real freedom only. But in fact he thinks that we need all three kinds. There can be no real freedom without juristic freedom, (p.241) and no juristic freedom without free will. He is not opposed to the juristic or negative power to do what one wills free from compulsion by others, but insists that there is more to freedom than this; that negative liberty is but a first crude step towards a higher and wider positive sense of freedom in which people have the effective ability to bring about something worthwhile. Because higher, the latter has the authority to limit or trump the former, and this was something Green argued at length in his 1881 essay ‘Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract’. He urged there that the state's work of encouraging and removing the barriers to moral growth should result in a great deal of positive action, much of which may limit traditional negative freedoms. For example, although in general he accepted the idea that the free market was the best way to benefit the whole society, he saw clearly how its mechanisms could disadvantage the poor, leaving them little or no chance at a decent life, and he advocated extension of the power of the state over working conditions, education, health, housing and town planning, and the relief of unemployment. As to the corrosive effects of such intervention, self-help is a deep and ultimately essential virtue, he allowed, but he realized too that it is one not equally possible for all people in all circumstances. Green's argument was influential in changing liberal attitudes in a more interventionist and welfare orientated direction, although in this advocacy of state intervention, his followers such as Ritchie, Jones, and Haldane tended to go further than he did.59

‘Positive freedom’ has been the subject of severe criticism in the twentieth century, most famously in an essay by Isaiah Berlin, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ which, if not directed specifically at Green, was aimed at his tradition and the implications of his thought.60 In his essay Berlin distinguishes between two understandings of liberty, the negative, which consists in freedom from interference, and the positive, which consists in self-mastery. As initially set out, he admits, the difference seems small but the ideas may be developed so as to become almost opposite. Self-mastery becomes the triumph of the higher, ideal, or true self over the lower self, which in turn becomes the triumph of the social over the private self, which develops into the anti-democratic coercing of others for their own good.61 This is the very opposite of negative liberty, or freedom from interference, which Berlin regards as the genuine or original sense. The notion here of a ‘real’ or ‘true’ meaning of liberty is an odd one, but of course what lies beneath Berlin's encomium is a claim about which is the more important or more valuable form of freedom.

Berlin's essay has produced a library of response, but in this context it will suffice merely to argue both that he misinterprets Green and that Green's view has within it built-in safeguards to prevent its ever being developed in the direction Berlin fears.62 (p.242) For all its influence, the model that Berlin uses to explain positive freedom is seriously flawed. To begin with, he mischaracterizes the nature of the higher social self by identifying it with the state. Although a perfect state would indeed embody it, the higher self must not be identified with the state in which we just happen to live, for it is an ideal which draws us forward, as likely to speak with the voice of our own conscience as with that of our current laws and institutions. There is in Berlin's interpretation an assumption that others—those representing this higher self—know better than we do what is our own best interests,63 but while Green admits that people are not always best judge of their own true good, he is equally clear that no one has privileged access to the content of the common good. It is something whose full appreciation we all collectively inch towards. Worst of all, Berlin imagines that on this scheme a higher form of life will be somehow forced upon those currently pursuing something lower. But nothing could be further from the truth. Green is absolutely clear that no one can be forced to be free; ‘of course there can be no freedom among men who act not willingly but under compulsion’64 he says. The root problem is that Berlin's metaphysical picture of ‘two selves’ is really something of a misrepresentation of Green. Children are not pushed aside or taken over by the adults they become (in the way that red squirrels are ousted by grey ones) rather they develop into those adults, and in the same way what Green describes is not the imposition of one self on another, but the emergence of new values and ideas. As we grow we seek higher forms of satisfaction, forms which are increasingly social rather than selfish, but these are sought from within not imposed from outside. We need not deny that in a sense there are two selves, but the matter is perhaps easier to comprehend insofar as we identify the higher self with the divine rather than the social self, for here we have to hand a widely accepted model for the process, namely the indwelling of God. To the religious mind, the divine may realize itself in us, but in no sense does this undermine the fact that self-realization is something that we do for ourselves.

Part of Berlin's reason for doubting that Green has the true or right sense of freedom is that he thinks Green has over-inflated its worth conflating it with that of other goods, such as ‘justice’ and ‘equality’. We should simply accept, he thinks, that valuable freedom may co-exist with, even lead to, much that is evil. For Green, by contrast, only understood as positive freedom can sense be made of the importance and value we attach to this notion in the first place; for surely individual freedom has value only to the extent that it leads to the good. In itself, or misused, it has no value. Autonomy is a precondition for, but not itself a component of, the good will.

Berlin is a pluralist and objects to any attempt to set up one value as supreme or binding on all. Individuals must simply be left to choose as they please from among life's many and conflicting goals. However, it is important to keep these last two ideas (p.243) separate. To say that all must seek self-realization or the common good might seem like an oppressive monism, but it needs to be recognized that Green has a very pluralistic understanding of the common good. Beneath the terminological appearance of uniformity, it is in truth a wide and multi-faceted thing.65 Yet Green insists that it is also a harmonious and integrated thing; ‘There is no such thing really as a conflict of duties’66 he says. This is where Green and Berlin differ most fundamentally; Green asserts diversity of ends but without conflict, whereas for Berlin conflict (or at least its possibility) directly follows from diversity.

7.2 Edward Caird

The political and social philosophy of Green dominated the Idealist movement; however, the writings of those thinkers who followed him into this domain contain not simply repetition and allegiance, but a complex pattern of development and difference, making them individually worthy of attention. Consideration may begin with Edward Caird and with a comparison between his and Green's attitudes towards Rousseau; for in 1877—two years before Green gave his Lectures on Political Obligation—Caird himself wrote an important paper on Rousseau. As might be expected from the other similarities we find between them there is considerable continuity in their treatments. Like Green, Caird objects to Rousseau's postulation and exaltation of a natural pre-social state of human life, his adherence to the idea of contract, his theory of education and his account of religion. But Green and Caird do not simply repeat each other. For example, where Green finds in the General Will a point of promise, Caird is struck only by its utter inaccessibility; either we seek without success to find it in some element of agreement among the many wills of all citizens or, recognizing that the General Will differs from the will of all, it reveals itself as some kind of despotic device whereby the latter may be suppressed and the state ‘force individuals to be free’.67

Caird's own social holistic understanding of the individual emerges through his consideration of two units, the family and the state. Green himself had suggested that we might regard the state as ‘an organisation of a people to whom the individual feels himself bound by ties analogous to those which bind him to his family’,68 but in Caird this idea of the family as a microcosm of the state is developed even further. In both we find ‘an organization—i.e. a self-maintaining, self-developing unity—in which in the movement of life a multiplicity of parts are continually subordinated to the whole.’69 (p.244) Thus, for example, in the family the independence of the separate individuals is dissolved so the whole may be thought of as a single moral personality. The family is that in which we come to be what we are, that without which we have no value or dignity. It is only in its other members that we find ourselves, only out of their unity that we grow to a sense of our own independence. We may speak of a person's duty to their family, or think of family commitments as fetters on their natural scope or capacity, but this is to take a false abstraction of the individual, for the family—like the state—is precisely the arena in which we develop and exercise our own being, so that ‘in the state and the family the man is truly not bound but freed’.70 Both family and state are teleological units, whose moral purpose dictates their structure. The reciprocal rights and duties of parents and children ‘are only expressions of the fact that it, the family life, has for its end the education of the children to moral freedom and therefore whatever is necessary to that end is to be granted on both sides.’71 At the heart of family life is, of course, marriage, which in essence Caird regards, not as a natural or legal relation, but as a moral one; ‘it is a contract of two independent Persons—whereby they cease to be independent Persons and become one Person’.72 Like Green's, his views on marriage are advanced for his time. It is a partnership between equal but complementary individuals, and must be monogamous—‘polygamy is and involves the slavery of women’ and is anyway contrary to the nature of marital affection.73 Caird in his own life worked tirelessly to enhance the position of women, especially in education, but also in the workplace. Nonetheless, his views about the complementary nature of men and women show his attitudes still to be very much of his time; he tells us that men think generally and women intuitively, that men need combat and independence while women seek unity, and that man's true sphere is in the outside world as against woman's natural place in the bosom of her family.74

For all its great value the family suffers two limitations. It comes to a natural end, and it is a unity of feeling. As a permanent and rational unity, the state is higher than the family.75 Caird regards it, however, in a similarly holistic fashion; ‘A nation is not a mere aggregate of men…it is a unity at once real and ideal, a spiritual body’. The unity is an organic one; that of a association of people, however numerous and diverse, all of whom ‘can feel the throb of one emotion and one impulse of life’, born out of a common history (especially of struggle) and, more importantly, some common goal, mission or object of pursuit ‘which may often be sought almost unconsciously’.76

(p.245) It is from this union that the greater part of our moral lives flow, it is the chief source of our obligations (‘the duties of man are still to us mainly the duties of the good citizen’) and the chief arena in which we may act (‘it is in the main by acting with and upon [the national state] that we can serve humanity’).77 Caird is well aware of the possibilities of misinterpretation that attend such statements and sees that the horizons of morality do and must extend beyond national boundaries. A nation cannot live for itself alone but is continually influencing and influenced by other nations, and the worlds of science, art, and literature or of economic, social, and political community have much wider compass. Moreover, Christianity itself has taught us to regard national life as part of something universal; God's interest is in humanity as a whole.78 But, however that may be, the actual fact of the matter is that today the highest really organized whole is still the nation state.79 Green said as much, but behind what is de facto the case, Caird senses a deeper point of principle; for while it was the emergence of Christianity that taught us the universal brotherhood of men, something that seemed in the Early Christian and Medieval eras to point towards a single theocratic world state, it was precisely the later development of Christianity (in the form of the Protestant reformation) that urged individual nations to demand the freedom to mould their own religious destiny.80

As well as demanding, service to one's state is a high calling, the more so if the state served is a noble one like Britain. And there can be no doubt that Caird is prepared to sing the praises of Victorian Britain as loudly as anyone. Both in granting individual liberty and in developing the power of civic association Britons have been a nation of originators as well as leaders. But he is not complacent. ‘No one can think,’ he insists, ‘without grave misgiving of the evil and wretchedness that lurk in our crowded cities, of the hardship and destitution that still survive alongside of the greatest wealth which any people has ever accumulated, or of the vulgar ambition and greed that darken our political and social life.’81

As a way of manifesting the eternal consciousness Green sees service to the state as a kind of religious service, yet religion was one of his primary examples where the state could not successfully interfere. We find a similar tension in Caird when he explores the relation between church and state. Initially one might think these are separate; the one dealing with what is inner and eternal, the other with what is outer and temporal. But such a thought soon breaks down. Unless state gives way to church, man's higher calling is subordinated to his lower, yet if church marks certain domains—family and individual life—beyond the reach of politics, they in turn may block the state's pursuit of its proper goal. In truth, the division cannot be maintained, for history shows us that the growth of religion and the growth of society are two sides of the same coin. ‘In this way it would seem that…religion is of the very essence of the state and that its highest (p.246) task must be to preserve the religious life of which it is the very embodiment.’82 Where for Comte an adequate social philosophy must pass beyond the stages of theology and metaphysics to a religion of positivism, for Caird, ‘there can be no religion of Humanity, which is not also a religion of God’.83 To deepen and develop our social life and feeling is precisely to deepen and develop our religious life and feeling, and vice versa. But paradoxically (and as we noted just above) one part of the development of religion (especially in its Protestant Christian context) has been to realize precisely that in religion there can be no compulsion, resulting in a species of separation between state and the religion which nonetheless constitutes its very heart. That the state is something of profound spiritual significance in Caird is a point on which there can be no doubt, but two qualifications are in order. First, ‘that Religion is greater than the state does not necessarily imply that the church is’,84 for church and clergy are but one social institution and class among many. Second, it must be remembered that a religious attitude is not one that looks down upon or disregards the temporal world. It is not an ‘other-worldly’ point of view but one that ‘spiritualizes’ the everyday world.85

In raising the issue of state intervention in religious life, we broach the more general question of state interference in societal life at large. Green's view of the role of the state was an uneasy combination between standing-back and getting-involved; he insists that it can do no more than remove obstacles but at the same time advocates the provision for all of positive freedom, the real chance at a life worth living, something which could only be achieved by transgressing many traditional ‘rights’ and ‘liberties’. We find the same two-sided ambivalence in Caird. He demands that, whatever the state does, it must never act in a way that will undermine individual freedom, independence, or creative energy; indeed, more strongly, he insists that no state action can ever really be of any help to people ‘unless it be such as to call out and stimulate their individual energy…our methods must always be those in which we help men to help themselves’.86 The watch-word is self-help.87 He uses an analogy to make his point; ‘Men are like trees in the forest which can only grow at a certain distance from each other, which allows them to stretch out their boughs and show their full proportions’.88 With such thoughts we might expect Caird to advocate a very light-touch. But far from it. He objects that the laissez-faire hidden hand theory of social (p.247) development only works in so far as people are already moral.89 The state's moral ambitions means that it must take into its own hands certain of our key interests, that it must place limits on the permissible range of people's freedoms, and even make positive demands from individuals for specific services.90 It is not easy to say exactly what work should be done by the state, but enough should be done ‘to secure to each citizen what is absolutely necessary for his retaining or recovering the position of a citizen, and to protect against dangers that might be fatal to the common weal.’ More specifically Caird suggests that ‘experience seems to prove that while special interests—the interests of classes—can take good care of themselves—that the great general interests of the community—health, education, and pauper relief—must inevitably suffer in the long run if left without the active assistance and direction as well as the control of government.’91 But we should not cast Caird a greater socialist than he really was. Henry Jones may have reported that he once said that class distinctions had become artificial and in need of breaking down,92 but the evidence is that he simply wanted to help the poor and disadvantaged not do away with class altogether. Likewise, while he seeks to remove the worst forms of human competition, war, and the exploitation of the weak by the strong,93 and allows that in certain cases monopoly may be preferable to competition,94 he nonetheless insists it would be a mistake to abolish all competition—‘because competition is as necessary to human development as association’, because it could only be prevented by a kind of social regulation, akin to slavery,95 and because it is ‘the natural process whereby the individual is pressed up or down, till he finds his proper place—the place in which he can best serve the community’.96

In the end we can only judge on a case by case basis. But if with Green, this piecemeal approach sounds somewhat tentative and ad hoc, with Caird, it is more principled. Looking back on the history of the debate he holds that initial views were extreme; that first appeared unfettered freedom and laissez faire capitalism which led to ‘anarchism’, against which rose up an equally abstract socialism, attempting to impose a fixed and fair order on society, but becoming in the end a ‘social despotism’ which reduced the individual to a mere instrument of the community.97 However, intellectual life evolves and no one anymore holds such polarized views; indeed we are moving in a side-to-side fashion from abstract extremes towards a mid position that draws from both perspectives. Moreover, this is the only way we can proceed; progress has to be gradual, not (p.248) revolutionary,98 and where and how far it is best to intervene are questions ‘which can only be settled by slow experiment’.99 With particularly economics in mind—though the point applies to all the sciences of man: ethics, politics, and history—he opposes any attempt to work from purely a priori abstract principles, because ‘as man is a progressive being—so all the sciences that analyse his life must be progressive—must be constantly accumulating new facts and evolving new principles’.100

7.3 J.S. Mackenzie

The fresh focus that the Idealists gave to social questions was drawn out and underlined in the work of one of Caird's pupils, John Stuart Mackenzie, who sought to carve out a new and distinct branch of study which he called ‘social philosophy’. From 1895 Professor at University College Cardiff, he wrote two introductory textbooks outlining this sub-discipline101 and it was his great hope that it would come to be taught in universities.102 ‘Concerned with the relations of men to each other, with their relations to the material world, and with the development of individual character in so far as that is affected by these relations’,103 the subject was to have three main departments: political philosophy, economic philosophy, and philosophy of education. Methodologically contrasted with any empirical approach which looks to the natural history or the mechanics of society, this application of philosophy to social questions—‘the systematic effort to deduce the laws of social life from certain primary principles’104—Mackenzie thought must focus on the metaphysics of society and on its ‘logic’ (by which he means the normative question of its goal or ideal).105 The result was a branch of study closely connected to, but distinct from, ethics.106

In metaphysical terms, Bradley, Green, and Caird had all argued that the individual is in a sense incomplete and cannot be understood in abstraction from its social context, implying that the real whole is society itself. Mackenzie, following this lead, takes up the matter from the other end (so to speak) and looking at society itself asks whether we may really regard it as a unity, and if so, what sort of a unity? If the British Idealists are sometimes said to be loose in their handling of this term, that could not be said of Mackenzie here. He distinguishes between three types of unity; monism, which views (p.249) a unity as a single system in which the nature of every part is predetermined by the nature of the whole (e.g. a single crystal); monadism, which views unity as a collection of mutually independent parts, each possessing a separate nature of its own (e.g. a heap of stones); and a third intermediate kind of unity in which neither parts are independent of their whole, nor the whole independent of its parts—a real unity which expresses itself through difference. Within this third class he distinguishes between mechanical unity (e.g. the solar system), chemical unity (e.g. a compound which completely transforms the nature of its original parts), and organic unity (e.g. a single plant).107 The last is the kind which he thinks holds of society.

He admits that the notion of ‘organic unity’ gains some of its force from the biological analogy it invokes, but insists that as a mode of union it may be given independent content, listing three defining characteristics, each of which he argues may be said to hold of society. In the first place an organic unity is one in which the parts are intrinsically related to the whole. Mackenzie follows his idealist predecessors finding it ‘clear’ that the individual nature of a human being is formed and coloured by their society. Indeed, so great is the dependence of individual on nation or culture that one might well be tempted to regard the relation as monistic. He lays particular stress on common language.108

Secondly, an organic unity is one that grows from within. Mackenzie argues that (in the same way as human character cannot be changed overnight by external fiat, but only by the accumulated effect of many individual acts of will) societies cannot be made, altered, or changed externally or from the top by, for example, change of government or conquering powers, but only gradually through the development of individual lives. In this sense they too may be said to grow from within.109 Yet to say that society grows from within invites misunderstanding. A plant grows from within, but only in a prescribed way. Its development path is fixed by nature, whereas that of society, being self-reflective, is unconstrained. Returning to the subject nearly thirty years later Mackenzie emphasizes this point: ‘A natural organism cannot add a cubit to its stature, nor can it make any radical change in the disposition of its parts. A society may transform itself out of all knowledge.…It is indeed alive, but it is alive with thought. It “distinguishes, chooses, and judges,” and shapes its future by reflection on its past and criticism of its present.’110 This leads him to prefer the notion of a ‘spiritual unity’—a unity of spiritual beings conscious of themselves as pursuing some common good.111

Lastly, an organic unity is one with its own internal end. It strives to bring about, not something separate from it, but some state of its own being. That this applies to social (p.250) life, Mackenzie admits, is something that might well be questioned. It might be objected that, no more than individual ethical life, has social life any goal or purpose at all—internal or external. These are simply modes of behaviour to which evolutionary development has led us, contingent upon whatever given circumstance favours ‘survival’, and hence utterly variable across different cultures and eras. Mackenzie responds that in such comparisons superficial variations tend to attract far more attention than fundamental agreements, and in so far as it amounts to a claim that the moral life of humanity cannot be rationally explained, this species of objection is best refuted by providing just such an explanatory account.112

If society has an aim, if there is some good it pursues, what might that be? It must, Mackenzie argues, be a function of the human goal itself which is self-realization; the fulfilment of our rational conscious nature as a whole. Such satisfaction is inevitably social, for ‘it is only in the lives of other human beings that we find a world in which we can be at home’.113 Mackenzie's argument for this conclusion has already been considered in the last chapter,114 but what is new for us to note here is its application to society. What kind of a social ideal does this ethic entail? Three varieties of social ideal—emphasizing individual liberty, socialist intervention, and aristocratic hierarchy respectively—he finds each one-sided; and linking their partiality with three similarly one-sided social metaphysics, he suggests that an organically unified society must aim at a synthesis of all three.115

In terms of real content this must be confessed thin, but Mackenzie does appreciate that synthesis can only be achieved through the recognition and careful balance of many elements, calling for our own moral growth both individually and collectively, and also that it cannot be achieved immediately or mapped out before the start. It is necessarily progressive, rendering the social ideal itself an essentially progressive one.116 Not that Mackenzie is naive or simplistic about progress. In an age where, in all departments—historical, cultural, material, even metaphysical—‘progress’ and ‘evolution’ were as widely used as concepts as they were assumed as facts, Mackenzie urges caution. Is the progress we so fondly believe in real? Can it be continued? We must not look to biology to guarantee that it can (as the work of some thinkers like Spencer might suggest), for biological advance is not moral advance; more complex developed and integrated lives are not necessarily happier or better ones.117 Nor can we rest in a mere empirical appeal, as Mackenzie feels that Green and Bosanquet were content to do, since one observation can so easily be overturned by others.118 But if progress is (p.251) illusory or impossible, we must ask what prevents it. Mackenzie suggests two possible obstacles. It might be feared that development of the baser elements in life undermines progress in its higher aspects, for example, that the richer our material lives grow the poorer our spiritual lives become. Mackenzie responds that while this may on occasion be so, it is predominantly a feature of the earliest phases of development. The narrowing of interest which results from the great effort to wrest from wayward nature technical and commercial control of life passes as material prosperity is won, and time and effort are released for life itself. Again it might be feared that the good of the individual and that of society are opposite so that advance in one must mean decline in the other. But any ‘opposition between the good of the individual and the good of society seems on the whole to be superficial’,119 Mackenzie responds, for in the end no one can find realization or happiness solely within himself, and our own deepest interests are inseparable from those of our society. It is hardly surprising that for an absolute idealist the two great obstacles to human progress should come out as materialism and individualism, but it is a testament to the breadth of Mackenzie's vision that he can further see how, in a different light, these two may also be thought of as the solutions to our problems.120

Although setting out a new field, ‘social philosophy’, Mackenzie is ready to admit that there is no sharp dividing line between it and the more theoretical aspects of adjacent disciplines, and one of the most interesting and valuable aspects of the work is to observe its intersection with them. To take political philosophy, for example, Mackenzie is a democrat but sufficiently in thrall to Ruskin and Carlyle to worry about democracy. Against the charge that it is government by a uniform mediocrity, which pulls us all down to the lowest common denominator, Mackenzie responds that a true democracy must be aristocratic; we all contribute and we all count, but that does not mean that we should all try to steer the ship. If all are members of a living whole, there is no need for everyone to do everything; rather each must seek out the role for which he is best fitted. Against the charge that the combined self-interest of everyone is not the same thing as the common interest of all, that the Real Will must be distinguished from the will of all, Mackenzie argues that for a successful democracy its members need to be animated by a higher spirit of service. To be effective democracy requires the cultivation of citizenship.121

Mackenzie's appreciation of economic questions was also advanced for the time. Much concerned with the poor social conditions of modern industrial countries, he advocated a high degree of social intervention,122 although he certainly wanted to (p.252) defend private property123 and the traditional rights of gift and inheritance.124 The British Idealist philosopher most interested in economic questions, however, was Arnold Toynbee. Toynbee came up to Pembroke College, Oxford in 1873 but was forced to withdraw due to ill-health, re-matriculating two years later, this time at Balliol, where he was taught by both Jowett and Green. Upon graduating he was employed as a tutor and lecturer at Balliol, but as much as to academic matters he devoted himself to social reform, working with the poor in both London and Oxford, and supporting adult education, not least through public lectures. His early death in 1883, aged only thirty, robbed Idealism of one its most energetic reformers. The focus of his interest was political economy; his only book, the posthumously published The Industrial Revolution in England (1884) which popularized the term ‘industrial revolution’, is an exploration both of economic history and the fundamental principles of economics. Though by no means opposed to traditional liberal values, his experience of the realities of social deprivation persuaded him that they needed to be supplemented by a greater measure of state intervention, and just like Green in his 1881 address, ‘Liberal Legislation and the Freedom of Contract’, Toynbee sought to inch his way forward carefully. He said in a speech the following year:

We have not abandoned our old belief in liberty, justice, and self-help, but we say that under certain conditions the people cannot help themselves, and that then they should be helped by the State representing directly the whole people. In giving this State help, we make three conditions: first, the matter must be one of primary social importance; next, it must be proved to be practicable; thirdly, the State interference must not diminish self-reliance. Even if the chance should arise of removing a great social evil, nothing must be done to weaken those habits of individual self-reliance and voluntary association which have built up the greatness of the English people.125

This was a sacred obligation of the privileged class to serve the poor. In one of his last speeches, addressing the working-class members of his audience, he admitted that ‘we [the middle classes] have neglected you. Instead of justice we have offered you charity, and instead of sympathy we have offered you hard unreal advice…you have to forgive us, for we have wronged you; we have sinned against you grievously—not knowingly always, but still we have sinned, and let us confess it; but if you will forgive us—nay, whether you will forgive us or not—we will serve you, we will devote our lives to (p.253) your service.’126 If the tone and language here seem religious that simply locates the true source of Toynbee's practical and intellectual effort; ‘without religion a man were better dead,’ he wrote.127 We should add, however, that, much influenced by Green, this was a religion of liberal creed and active citizenship. Rejecting too any distinction that would place the church in charge of man's spiritual needs and restrict the state to his material requirements, Toynbee held that the State has the same end as the Church, viz. the promotion of the highest form of life. Indeed, he thought that ‘the ideal Church is the State’.128

7.4 Henry Jones

The notion of society as an organic whole emerges as something of a leitmotiv in Idealism. We have seen it now in Green, Caird, Bradley, and Mackenzie. But before we note its appearance in the thought of yet another of Caird's pupils—Henry Jones—a certain amount of context is useful. Although highly characteristic of their thought, we should not make the mistake of thinking that the idea of society as an organism was either the exclusive preserve or the original creation of the British Idealists. As well as through earlier encounters with the suggestion in the philosophies of Plato, Hobbes, Hegel, and Coleridge,129 the idea also entered nineteenth-century British consciousness through the evolutionary-minded system of Herbert Spencer. His 1860 essay on ‘The Social Organism’ argued that, just like natural organisms, from small beginnings involving simple configurations of largely independent parts, societies gradually grow in mass, structural complexity and mutual dependence of their parts until at last, ‘the activity and life of each part is made possible only by the activity and life of the rest’. A society has a kind of life which, unlike the lives of any of its component members which come and go, survives from generation to generation.130

Spencer's conception was not the same as that of the Idealists, however, and in the 1883 memorial volume for T.H. Green (which appeared some seven years before Mackenzie's Introduction) Jones sought to attack it—giving to his paper the very same title Spencer had chosen for his.131 Though promising, he argued, Spencer's conception (p.254) was vitiated by his individualistic presuppositions. For Spencer is careful to insist that he speaks only analogically, and his organism is ultimately an aggregate composed of many distinct individuals each of whom seeks his own good. Spencer maintains that, ‘society exists for the benefit of its members; not its members for the benefit of society’,132 but even to raise the issue of which serves as means to the other's end, complains Jones, implies that we may form an independent conception of their aims, which is false.133 Society has no ends which are not those of individuals, but equally individuals must find their ends in society. Says Jones, ‘it seems to me that the first and last duty of man is to know and to do those things which the social community of which he is a member calls upon him to do. His mission is prescribed to him by the position in society into which he is born and educated, and his welfare depends upon its performance.’134 Without common enterprise or goal there is no organism, just an aggregate. Spencer tries to court organicism without giving up his individualist credentials but, in truth, it is an all-or-nothing affair; ‘whatever the difficulties may be in finding the unity of the social organism, if we hold by the doctrine and make it more than a metaphor, we must recognise that society and individuals actually form such a whole, and that apart from each other they are both nothing but names; and we must cease to speak of individuals as if they ever could exist apart from society.’135

The biological metaphor is in fact somewhat misleading, thinks Jones, for it misconstrues the real nature of the unity. Indeed, since the various parts of natural life forms are all in point of fact connected together mechanically, its tendency is to make us regard components as rather too separate and distinct.136 Unlike the constitution of some plant or animal, the complexity of human beings is that of a living creature endowed with self-consciousness and freedom, and no theory which denies or short-sells that could ever be accepted.137 At first sight this point might seem to take us away from social unity, but on deeper reflection it does the very opposite, for our spirituality and freedom are precisely the glue that binds society together.138 Society gives us our freedom and in our freedom we come together as a society; we find ourselves in our social duties and through that contribution together create our community. The closeness of the bond lies precisely in the consciousness or spirituality of the relation between part and whole. Behind this argument we have, of course, the (by now) familiar idealist conception of freedom as service. Jones admits that there exists also an individualistic and capricious understanding of ‘freedom’ that would splinter people (p.255) apart, but to the Idealist such subjective liberty is not real freedom—it yields only inertia, caprice, or the fatal path of hedonism.139

7.5 J.M.E. McTaggart

Notwithstanding its popularity, it should be noted that the conception of society as organic was not accepted by all Idealists. In an important article in 1897 the Cambridge Idealist, McTaggart, argued against the view, taking as his template Mackenzie's three-part conception. The second element, that an organism grows from within rather than by accretion from without, McTaggart regards as but an implication of the first, that it manifests an intrinsic relation of parts; and while he does not dispute that individual and society are thus inter-related, the same holds, he argues, between any two things in the universe and therefore picks out nothing distinctive to the organic.140 Mackenzie's condition excludes any theory which holds that individuals are completely unaffected by living in society, but surely no one ever thought that?

The heart of the issue, for McTaggart, lies with Mackenzie's third criterion, whether the end to which the system works forms an essential element in its own nature—whether it is an end in itself—or whether the system is a means to some end beyond or outside it. To allow the title ‘organic’ to unities of the latter kind, would be to open the door to things whose goals were potentially indifferent or even hostile to that which was seeking to bring them about—a property possible enough in itself, but surely not for anything we want to call an ‘organism’.

McTaggart allows that Absolute Reality as Hegel conceives it would be an end in itself, and even that it can be thought of as a kind of society.141 But (he argues) it does not follow from this ultimate ‘theological’ truth that any actual ‘earthly’ society does, or ever could have, the same status. Even if it is true that our ideal is some state of society which is an end in itself, and true also that the only path to realize this is through our present society, it still does not follow that we ought to regard our present society as an end in itself.

What makes McTaggart's opposition especially significant here is not simply that he strikes a note so different from other Idealists, but that he explicitly draws this opposition from Hegel himself. Since he defines for us an ideal of perfection towards which we must always strive, surely ‘the true lesson to be learned from the philosophy of Hegel,’ insists McTaggart, ‘is that earthly society can never be an adequate end for man.’142 Moreover, although it is often said that Hegel sees the nature of society as ‘organic’, he (p.256) does not himself use this term. Nor is it very suitable. For self-conscious persons are more individual than a hand or foot and, on Hegelian principles, the more individual things are, the deeper needs to be their unity, calling for society to express a unity more profound than the simply organic.143

7.6 D.G. Ritchie

If Mackenzie and Jones owed most to Caird, the next figure to be considered, D.G. Ritchie, was primarily indebted to Green. A student of his at Balliol, Ritchie described Green as ‘the philosophical teacher from whom I learnt most’.144 But Ritchie goes back to the details of Hegel far more than does Green, insisting on the coincidence of the real and the rational—even if he admits that Hegel was often too ready to find such an equation reflected in the current state of science or social institutions.145

7.6.1 The social nature of the individual

Ritchie is fully signed up to the social conception of individuality that was typical of nearly all of the British Idealists.

The individual is thought of, at least spoken of, as if he had a meaning and significance apart from his surroundings and apart from his relations to the community of which he is a member. It may be quite true that the significance of the individual is not exhausted by his relations to any given set of surroundings; but apart from all these he is a mere abstraction—a logical ghost, a metaphysical spectre, which haunts the habitations of those who have derided metaphysics. The individual, apart from all relations to a community, is a negation…personality is a conception meaningless apart from society.146

Where Green, Bradley, and Caird all argue a priori, Ritchie is particularly keen to employ results from modern science in support of this position; recent biological advances, he suggests, have been vital in the process whereby ideas of organism and evolution have largely replaced older conceptions of mechanical aggregation. In welcoming support from contemporary science his thought is allied to Samuel Alexander's, though his welcome, like Henry Jones', is tinged with caution, and he objects to the still-individualistic character of thinkers such as Herbert Spencer. Moreover, for all he embraces empirical allies, the view they are called to support remains a metaphysical one; the claim that our particular self or ego is really but the imperfect (p.257) realization of a more universal self quite clearly one that owes its ultimate source to Green's ‘metaphysics of knowledge’.147

Ritchie's social conception of individuals leads him to a correspondingly social conception of their satisfaction, that is, to the idealist doctrine of the common good—an end for the whole community which is at the same time an end for each of its members. The state has as its goal the best possible life for each individual, but since that best life is literally inconceivable in the absence of organized society, the state is not simply a means to its achievement, but is at the same time, in some fashion, ‘an end to itself’.148 Even more than this, and meeting again the same triad we found in Green, the ideal self to be realized is understood so universally as to become not simply the realization of society but the realization of God himself.149

However, in spelling out the content of the common good, distance opens up between Ritchie and other Idealists; for while they were very dismissive of utilitarianism, he is more sympathetic.150 He sees idealism as a tool which offers the possibility of ‘reforming Utilitarianism’ into something more serviceable.151 The Idealist in holding that ‘the ultimate end is the wellbeing of all mankind’ means essentially same thing as the utilitarian when he speaks of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, suggests Ritchie, ‘but it is put in a less misleading way’.152 It is less misleading because utilitarianism in its traditional form suffers two defects. On the one hand, ‘The difficulties of the utilitarian theory arise from its individualistic basis, from its assumption that a society is only an aggregate of individuals’.153 While on the other, it is hampered by its undue emphasis on transient feeling (pleasure and pain). There is no harm in calling the final goal ‘happiness’ or designating ‘right conduct’ as that which leads to it. The lesson Idealism teaches is just that this needs to be unpacked, not as transient and individualistic pleasure, but rather in terms of social self-realization; the development and enduring welfare of the social organism as a whole. How far Ritchie's proposal takes him either from Idealism or towards utilitarianism are not easy matters to judge—nor helped by Ritchie's own lack of detail. The resultant position must certainly be distinguished from orthodox utilitarianism. His conception (p.258) of the moral goal both qualifies and goes beyond theirs,154 while utilitarianism's willingness to sacrifice the few for the many is quite at odds with his metaphysically grounded commitment to the intrinsic value of each individual.155 In general Ritchie seems confused about the relation between self-realization and the utilitarian end, his suggestion that they be combined one that is itself poorly developed. He foresees an advance in clarity and precision. In appealing to social utility, he thinks, we are appealing to something that can be tested—albeit by reference to past experience156—but that is not the same thing as a decision procedure, and the measure of any given action's contribution to the common good, for him, even if it involves that, cannot be reduced down to any simple enumeration of various of its causal outcomes.

7.6.2 Natural rights

Ritchie's most important book, Natural Rights, completed while he was still at Oxford and published during his first year as professor at St Andrews, takes up another theme of great importance to Green. Contrasting them with legal rights (those recognized by the state) and moral rights (those recognized by society, irrespective of their recognition by the state) Ritchie defines his subject, ‘natural rights’, as those which their proponents think ought to be recognized and, especially, those which are most fundamental; the ones which act as the base from which the others may be deduced.157 But such a definition is minimal and only invites the question, how are we to determine what rights an ideal society would sanction? Ritchie recognizes three traditional categories of answer to this: authority, nature, and utility.158 But each is found wanting.

Simplest would be to base rights in some authority external to the mind of the individual, such as a god or king; but such a derivation renders the source of our evaluative standards immune from evaluation itself and ultimately as arbitrary as it is unaccountable.159 It is no help to change the appeal to some historical contract or tradition, since there exists no reason to respect such agreement which is not already a reason to respect rights more generally.160 Dissatisfied with looking outside of ourselves we might turn inwards and look to individual conscience or sentiment, our own natural feelings; but this varies so much by individual, class, cultural environment and (p.259) historical era that it offers no stable criterion. Finally, to make some advance we might appeal to something more objective, such as the evident security and welfare of the society we inhabit; but utilitarianism, in so far as it treats individuals as atoms and looks only to their feelings of pleasure and pain cannot suffice. It cannot, for example, explain our preference for an equal distribution over a grossly unequal one where the total happiness is slightly greater.161

Once we recognize the social nature of the individual, however, the basis for rights becomes clearer; we see that the question of which rights ought to be recognized must be considered from a much broader perspective. ‘The person with rights and duties is the product of a society, and the rights of the individual must therefore be judged from the point of view of a society as a whole, and not the society from the point of view of the individual’.162 ‘The appeal to natural rights, which has filled a noble place in history, is only a safe form of appeal if it be interpreted…as an appeal to what is socially useful’—useful not simply for the existing members of a given society, but for its future members, and for humanity at large.163 Although attaching to individuals, rights are not themselves individual in nature, but social. They depend for their existence on membership of a society, and depend for their legitimacy on the contribution they make to the good of society.164

There are several things to bring out here. For Ritchie (like Green) rights require recognition. But (again like Green) he distinguishes between legal rights, which require state recognition, and moral rights which require only social recognition.165 Since rights are the creation of society, there can be no right of the individual against the society of which they are members. Talk of ‘rights’ in this context must be read as an appeal to those rights which an ideal, or at least a better, society ought to grant us.166 Rights are accorded on the basis of their contribution to social utility. But Ritchie points out that utility varies historically, such that what was useful or necessary at one time may not be so at another. Thus any satisfactory theory of rights must be historically conditioned.167 He cites the institution of slavery which was ‘a necessary step in the progress of humanity’168 and universally accepted in its day, but which, now it has outgrown its use, strikes us as quite horrible and contrary to natural right. Indeed, he suggests there (p.260) are probably many things we do now that one day will seem terrible but to us today seem natural.169

7.6.3 State interference

Those who press the case for charity over state action tend to rest on the separation of morality and religion as ‘private’ from the ‘public’ domain of politics, arguing that social and moral regeneration call for individual responsibility and can never be brought about by direct government edict. Ritchie acknowledges that there is truth in this case—in Greenian fashion he thinks that ‘the direct legal enforcement of morality cannot be considered expedient or inexpedient: it is impossible. The morality of an act depends upon the state of the will of the agent, and therefore the act done under compulsion ceases to have the character of a moral act’.170 But in focusing on only half a truth this view creates a falsehood, ignoring the possibility that intervention might have indirect as well as direct effects, and attributing greater significance than is due to free will. Far more than we care to recognize, both the virtue of the respectable as well as the vice of the disreputable are a result of the conditions in which we find ourselves, responsibility for which is communal.171 Within the realms of possible and appropriate intervention, again like Green, Ritchie thinks there are no ‘natural rights’ or general a priori limits that may be placed ab initio on permissible state interference in private life.

Instead the proper limits of state action must be determined ‘simply and entirely by “Utilitarian” considerations’172 and each proposed intervention must be looked at experientially on a case by case basis. And here perhaps we find more difference with Green. While unlike Green, Ritchie was not especially involved in active politics, he paradoxically had even greater enthusiasm for social and political reform by the state. And as Freeden has pointed out, whereas Green had warned that ‘to attempt a restraining law in advance of the social sentiment necessary to give real effect to it, is always a mistake’, Ritchie thought that in fact new laws themselves ‘may produce those opinions and sentiments which go to the furtherance of morality’; that ‘the economic change must come before the moral’.173 Institutional change may encourage and not simply reflect social change. For example, although there is no distance between them on the basic principles behind private property (that its only justification lies in its contribution to the common good), in contrast to Green's somewhat cautious attitude, (p.261) Ritchie is more prepared if he sees the need to ride roughshod over existing claims of natural or historical right to land or property.174

7.7 Idealism and evolution

Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection has been touched upon several times in the discussion so far, but its significance to idealist social and political thought is a matter of sufficient importance to merit consideration as a separate topic. Idealists were not the only ones, of course, to explore the connections between evolutionary and social theory, and there were many naturalistically minded thinkers who also took up the theme. Generally the social philosophy of these people was more sympathetic towards evolution than that of the Idealists, but the ‘evolutionary school’ against which Idealism tended to position itself was far from monolithic, and consideration of their views needs to bear in mind the various differences between such ‘evolutionists’ as Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Herbert Spencer, G.H. Lewes, Leslie Stephen, Benjamin Kidd, and Thomas Henry Huxley.

7.7.1 A.S. Pringle-Pattison

For all the importance they gave to ideas of development and evolution, Green and Caird were unwelcoming to the theory of natural selection. Green's insistence that there could be no science of man ruled out its application to social, ethical, or political questions,175 while Caird's principle that developmental explanation should be of the higher by the lower and not the other way round cut right across its basic methodological assumption.176

In this they influenced many subsequent Idealists. We find the same negative attitude taken up, for example, in the work of Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison. In ‘Man's Place in the Cosmos’ he discusses the views of Huxley, whose 1893 Romanes lecture, ‘Evolution and Ethics’, had caused quite a stir. For all that he supported Darwinism extending even to the common ancestry of man and apes, in criticism of the ethics of evolution, Huxley had argued that an ethical life calls us to act in a way quite opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic struggle for existence. In place of self-assertion, competition and the survival of the fittest it calls for self-restraint, co-operation, and the fitting of as many as possible for survival. To progress ethically man should resist, not imitate, cosmic processes and, through the use of his intelligence (p.262) and will set himself apart from them.177 In a paper published later the same year Seth Pringle-Pattison finds himself largely in agreement with this position, praising the uncompromising stand taken on ethical life and the resulting distance set between human and non-human nature. Huxley, he applauds, has called us back to the view of ‘human life as an imperium in imperio—a realm which, though it rises out of nature, and remains exposed to the shock of natural forces, requires for its laws no foreign sanction, but bases them solely on the perfection of human nature itself’.178 Ethical feelings and institutions may evolve, but that process cannot account either for their content or their validity.

However, Pringle-Pattison's idealism causes him to dissent from Huxley in two places. Huxley's stance works only by dividing the cosmos in two, he complains, by treating spiritual life as alien to the rest of nature. But this is to give up one of the greatest benefits of the theory of evolution, namely, its profound insight into the unity of nature. Yet how can we throw out our bath water without losing our baby? Only, answers Pringle-Pattison, if in place of a causal unity building up from lowest to highest, we think instead in terms of a teleological unity reaching back from highest to lowest. In this way rather than reduce the moral into its non-moral building blocks, we may regard the earliest stages of life as the first awakenings of a greater capacity inherent in reality from the start.179 His second complaint is that Huxley, for all that he endorses the call to ethical life, is agnostic about the final value of the universe. His is, in the end, a stoical and defiant stand on behalf of value in the face of a quite possibly hostile or indifferent universe. By contrast, reassured of the fundamental unity of the cosmos, Pringle-Pattison regards an affirmation of the ultimate and binding value of ethical life as entailing in its turn a full scale metaphysical assertion of the value of reality as a whole.180

7.7.2 D.G. Ritchie

Not all Idealists were so hostile to evolutionary theory, however. Bosanquet, for example, shows a degree of sympathy with it,181 but the Idealist who felt himself (p.263) most in line with Darwinian evolution was D.G. Ritchie. Ritchie attempts to argue that evolution by natural selection and Hegelian idealism are wholly compatible with, and even supportive of, each other—labelling the resultant position ‘idealist evolutionism’.182 Not only do they both tell a dynamic developmental story in which the world grows without external influence from simple to complex but, suggests Ritchie, evolutionary theory agrees with Hegel in asserting the fundamentally rational character of history.183 Indeed it is even possible to regard heredity, variation, and elimination of the least fit as just new forms of the Hegelian categories of identity, difference, and negativity.184 Ritchie stresses the resolving power of both theories. Just as Hegelian dialectic can synthesize opposed thesis and antithesis, evolution has helped modern thought to overcome ‘sophistical’ and falsely dichotomized thinking.185

In taking this line, Ritchie set himself against the majority of Idealists who saw these schools as opposed—thinking that to trace development from the bottom could lead only to materialism, hedonism, utilitarianism, and individualism—and he therefore attempts to dispel this alleged opposition. Natural selection and Hegelian dialectic might seem to work in opposite directions, he says, one looking to origins the other to ends, but it needs to be remembered that they are wholly different kinds of explanation. And since they are quite different, there is no reason why they may not run simultaneously. Darwin's approach is temporal and causal. By contrast, Hegel's underlying principle is a timeless and logical relation. He is explaining a thought-process. This tends to get presented historically, but that is in fact misleading,186 and there is often as much value in ‘reading Hegel backwards’ as a criticism of categories.187 A nice illustration of the complete failure to appreciate this difference can be found, notes Ritchie, in Lewes and Spencer's plan to appeal to heredity in explanation of the a priori. This is just confusion, for the a priori (at least in so far as it appears in Kant) is not something psychological, but rather logical or conceptual.188

Of course, the fact they are totally different types of explanation will not remove conflict between them if each claims to be complete, the only one that we need, but that too Ritchie challenges. Spencer insists that evolution by natural selection is simply a question of explanation of the lower by the higher, but Ritchie insists that we must think of it as also containing an element of teleology.189 To understand what anything really is, we must look to the final and most perfect form of it that we can find. Crude origins ‘only have their value for the scientific investigator because he looks at them in the light of what they come to be’.190 ‘We only understand a part of anything when we (p.264) can look at it as a part of a whole, and we only understand the elementary stages when we know them as the elementary stages of something more highly developed’.191 ‘Looking back on the whole process, we may say that nature “intends” the fittest’.192 In this way, suggests Ritchie, ‘Darwin restores “final causes” to their proper place in science’.193 Although it is true that we can never divest ourselves of the knowledge of where evolution has taken us, we must be wary of falsely reflecting that future back onto the past, and Ritchie's case for teleology is barely more than asserted here. More plausible is his argument, from the other side, that neither is Hegelian explanation complete in itself. Validity is a logical not a temporal relation but inferences can only be drawn by people in time, and in the same way dialectic, even if in essence a pattern of thought, must still be manifested in time. But this can only be through causal historical processes.194

What was most radical about Darwin's theory of natural selection was, of course, its application to human life. It is therefore no surprise to find Ritchie further investigating this matter. How far into the human sphere can Darwinian ideas be applied? He considers two areas—intellect and ethical life—and his conclusions are generally positive about each. Contra both Idealists like Green and evolutionists like Alfred Russel Wallace,195 he thinks that evolution might explain the origin of our intellectual faculties. Consciousness, reflection, and language are all useful for survival, and it is simpler to explain their origin by natural selection than by some mysterious intrusion from outside;196 although it is also noteworthy that, once originated, they can be further adapted to purposes which seem to have no direct survival advantage either to the individual or the species.197 Our systems of belief too he thinks may be explained in the same way, arguing that the process by which we come to think what we do is not merely analogous to natural selection, but in fact the very same process at work in the cognitive sphere.198 The functional survival value of true belief is rather clearer to see than that of consciousness, and modern philosophy of mind, if sharing Ritchie's confidence with respect to the natural origin of the latter, has still offered but little to substantiate it.

(p.265) Ritchie also broadly endorses the attempts of philosophers such as Clifford, Stephen, and Alexander to account for ethics in evolutionary terms.199 He even suggests that Hegel agrees with the evolutionists in denying any ultimate distinction between ‘is’ and ‘ought’200 as well as in repudiating individualism.201 Attempting to hold a middle ground between those who would simply reduce ethical to natural life and those who would keep them forever distinct, Ritchie finds a significant ‘convergence of results’202 between evolutionary theory and Idealism. Specifically he holds that natural selection is able to assist Idealism in its work of vindicating the essential truth and correcting the errors of utilitarianism.203 Rescuing us ‘from the arbitrary and subjective standards of intuitionism’204 and shifting our thinking to the level of organisms, the theory of natural selection tells us only the fittest society or race survives, and that the customs and ideas of the fittest society are precisely those most advantageous to its stability and endurance.205 In this way natural selection may be used to explain the origin and development both of our social and political institutions,206 and of our moral intuitions which result from them.

Keen as Ritchie was to extend evolution by natural selection into the human sphere, he thought this needed to be done with care and he attacked the previous misuse of Darwinian ideas in these areas. He argues that evolutionary theory has in the past been poorly and uncritically applied.207 Although ‘the phrases “social organism” and “evolution” are on everybody's lips’ he says ‘those who use them most frequently have often grasped their significance the least.’208

He insists that (rightly understood) they do not give sanction to laissez faire economic thinking.209 It may be that unbridled competition has brought our society considerable advance, but it is also hideously wasteful, and there is no reason to think we could not do as well or better at less cost.210 He is similarly sceptical of those who would cite social evolution in support of democracy. He has no quarrel with the notion that society is developing in an increasingly democratic direction and he doubts it will ever return to feudalism or aristocracy.211 Nor is he opposed to the development—less worried than Mill, Carlyle, or even Mackenzie, he urges that even if others know better than we what we should aim for, they must still make us want what they recommend, and so the only right of a minority is to try to become a majority if they can.212 However, he insists that the future of society is not fated but up to us, and that progress achieved is no ground for the conclusion that continuation along the current path is necessarily advantageous. Indeed, he sounds a warning. Even if wisdom (p.266) does not confer a right to rule, he argues we must distinguish between means and ends, for there is such a thing as scientific expertise in administration, and to simply hand over the running of the factory, town, or country to all of its workers, inhabitants, or citizens would only undermine prosperity.213 He also argues that, in the same way as democracy among children would be a cruelty not a kindness, so it should be withheld from ‘lower races’.214 The key point he suggests is to distinguish between democracy itself and the democratic spirit (of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’) for the two are not necessarily coincident.215

Ritchie is very aware of the potentially conservative implications of evolutionary functionalism but he seeks to mitigate them by pointing out, even if social institutions which have survived must once have served some useful function, there is no need to admit that they still do so today.216 Indeed, he urges the work of reform can just as well be construed as helping evolution along. Rules tend to ossify and so only societies which reform survive, in which case we may regard an ‘intelligent and far-sighted utilitarian policy’ as itself ‘a system of rational artificial selection’.217

Beyond this, Ritchie makes two more theoretical points. First, even if it can explain how we have come to hold the ethical beliefs we do, no more than Pringle-Pattison does he think that natural selection can explain the nature of morality itself. The fittest to survive are not necessarily the best in any other sense.218 Progress is not the same as evolution,219 since natural selection may produce degeneration just as much as it may produce advance. ‘The ultimate question’ of good and bad ‘belongs to the metaphysic of ethics. But for the practical discussion of what is better or worse in social conduct and institutions’ natural selection may help, he allows.220

The second theoretical point is that to Ritchie's thinking the introduction of consciousness (that by which man becomes free from the tyranny of nature) introduces a vast difference into the workings of natural evolution.221 He claims that the role of consciousness and of social institutions, over and against heredity, have been underestimated in evolutionary theory. Natural selection no longer means the same things for humans as for animals. He suggests a three-stage story in which ‘natural evolution’ gives way to ‘imitative evolution’ (the half-conscious process of conjecture and refutation through which societies develop their beliefs, convictions and structures) which in turn gives way to ‘rational evolution’ in which the process is taken up in consciousness.222 Conscious reform of habitual rules is part of the natural evolutionary process, not a violation of it.223 Ritchie was not simply claiming that consciousness added a new thrust to natural selection; rather, it changed its workings so totally that Darwinism, originally a system expressing the primacy of impulse, became an almost (p.267) completely conscious and reasoned process. Rational selection takes over from natural selection. For example, evolution explains our broadly welfare-related intuitions. But

when reflection appears, however, a higher form of morality becomes possible; the useful—i.e., what conduces to the welfare of the social organism, is not recognised merely by the failure of those societies in which it is not pursued, but by deliberate reflection on the part of the more thoughtful members of the society. The utilitarian reformer reflects for his society, and anticipates and obviates the cruel process of natural selection by the more peaceful methods of legislative change. The theory of natural selection thus gives a new meaning to Utilitarianism.224

Whether Ritchie's proposal here is really a continuation of evolutionary thinking or the rejection of it for a quite different alternative, is not easy to settle, nor can the critic be confident that the position Ritchie wishes to outline is even a consistent one. And in purely historical reputational terms he was right to fear that his reconciling efforts to bring Idealism and evolution together would just make both sides look on him as a heretic.225

7.8 John MacCunn

Before ending this discussion of idealist social philosophy, there is one last name which deserves briefly to be noted: John MacCunn; from 1881 Professor of Philosophy University College Liverpool226 and before that a pupil of Caird's in Glasgow and Green's at Balliol. MacCunn's principal work The Ethics of Citizenship was published in 1894 and is a typical piece of idealist political thought. He argues there that equality should be understood as a recognition of the fact that man is a being with a moral worth that distinguishes him from a mere animal or chattel, and that respect for this worth means he must be accorded equality of civil and also political rights (for to develop morally we need a public life).227 In itself this recognition is consistent with much other inequality, for worth itself is unequally distributed, and in so far as other inequalities result from that fact it would be inconsistent not to admit them.228 But the same principle also limits how great those inequalities may become, for no inequality should be allowed that holds back human worth, that prevents people from receiving a fair chance in life. Redistribution beyond this point, however, is of doubtful value.229

As to the nature of political and civil rights more generally, MacCunn's view is much like Green's. He is opposed to natural rights, but finds Bentham's insistence that our only rights are legal ones equally implausible. Instead we must think of our rights as those which ought to be granted us. This is a social matter. ‘Rights are not mysteries; not gifts from a higher Source, of which we can tell no more than that we have them’ he (p.268) argues, rather they are ‘certain advantageous conditions of social well-being indispensable for the true development of the citizen, enjoyable by all members of the community, and of which we are prepared to say that respect for them ought (in one way or another) to be enforced’.230 It cannot be assumed that the rights it would be expedient and practical to grant at one time and place would hold for all other times and places.

To speak without qualification of rights as granted sends a potentially wrong signal. It is true that there are various modes of civic life (employment, health, family, public life, religion, education, and the like) that need to be in place, if men are to become citizens not merely in name but in reality. But citizenship is no passive gift. ‘Men become citizens in truth and in substance, only when they use their rights.’231 Rights are but an opportunity to do our duty, their real value rises and falls with the use to which they are put. For example, what value freedom of speech without thought to the worth of what we say, or freedom of worship to those who can no longer be bothered to worship anything?232 And we can only rely on democracy if we play our part and become responsible voters, one aspect of which must be to stand out against majority opinion when necessary. ‘Reasonable trust in the majority there can never be where there is not a readiness, if need be, to withstand the majority to the face; for it is only out of men prepared so to do that a reasonable majority can be made.’233 Our right to suffrage is not given but earned by its responsible exercise.

7.9 Practical applications

There is one final topic to consider before concluding this chapter, and that is the high level of involvement in practical politics on the part of the British Idealists. Of course, they were not the first philosophers ever to take seriously ethical or political questions—a whole history of philosophy can be cited to counter that claim. Nor were they the first to apply their ideas practically—we may think of Plato's unsuccessful attempts to persuade Dionysius II of Sicily to adopt his political scheme or Bentham's famous Panopticon. And it is also true that late Victorian culture generally placed great emphasis on involvement in social works.234 But none of these qualifications take away from what is a distinctive point about British Idealism—that it was at its very heart a philosophy about the transformation of, not just laws and public institutions, but society itself; a philosophy which therefore could not and did not remain aloof from praxis.

(p.269) A certain modesty prevailed. ‘All philosophy has to do’ argues Bradley ‘is “to understand what is,” and moral philosophy has to understand morals which exist, not to make them or give directions for making them.’ It should not be thought, says T.H. Green in a similar vein, that any moral theory could make anyone ‘a better man’ or bring about in people ‘a more lively sense of their duty to others’.235

But this was not perhaps entirely honest. The Idealists ‘taught’ philosophy as a church ‘teaches’ religion—as an opening of eyes and a call to service. John MacCunn, a former pupil of Green, saw clearly that his tutor's interest was not simply academic.

No reader of his Prolegomena to Ethics, can fail to feel the repressed fervour of its pages, and those who knew the man can never forget the unobtrusive passion for righteousness that shone through a character which shrank from easy expression of itself. It was ethical temperament, habitual moral aspiration, religious fervour. Doubtless. But was it not also, in part, the fruit of a life-long, determined, reasoning reflection upon the moral possibilities and destiny of man?236

This practical focus continued throughout the movement's history, so that even Collingwood, who came up to Oxford in 1908, was able to recall how the school of Green saw philosophy as ‘a training for public life’ and sent out ‘a stream of ex-pupils who carried with them the conviction that philosophy, and in particular the philosophy they had learned in Oxford, was an important thing and that their vocation was to put it into practice’.237 In this Balliol was pre-eminent, but the other centres of Idealism were equally committed to praxis. A.D. Lindsay paid tribute as follows to the influence of Caird and Jones in Glasgow, equally tireless campaigners, and both of whom he had known:

The influence of their personalities and their teaching fitted generation after generation of their pupils to face all the thronging problems which multiplied in the second half of the nineteenth century. They were not either of them mere academic teachers. They trained a great school of teachers of philosophy, but they were also the inspiration of teachers and preachers, of administrators and statesmen, of men who through them did better service to their day and generation in all manners of ways.238

(p.270) It is this practical import of British Idealism that stands out, making it a movement as interesting to social historians as to historians of philosophy. The present work is not a social history, and others have written extensively about this side of things,239 but it is worth stopping to summarize a few main points because idealism is subject to the perennial objection that it is a kind of retreat from reality, some sort of refuge in a world of dreams. But whatever may be true of other idealisms, nothing could be further from the truth here. We have seen how in metaphysics the British Idealists went out of their way to stress that the Absolute was not something ‘other-worldly’ and similarly with ethics and political theory—even if their later enemies were wont to criticize them as just sermonizing—their concern for the ideal in no way meant lack of concern for the actual. Indeed, with an idealism so immanentist, the inconsistency would be if they had not been active to such a degree in practical affairs.

In a few cases the engagement was through traditional politics. Haldane entered parliament (1885) and T.H. Green was the first University member ever to be elected to the Oxford city council (1876), while less successfully, after Green's death in 1882 Toynbee also stood for election to Oxford city council and in 1918 Millicent Mackenzie stood for parliament seeking to represent the University of Wales.240

But generally their efforts were more immediate than political. Much of their energy was directed towards improving the lot of the most disadvantaged in society. One manifestation of this was the Charity Organisation Society (COS). Set up in 1869 to distribute poor relief on a more ‘scientific’ basis, it attempted to distinguish between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, between cases in which assistance would encourage and those in which it would only undermine efforts at self-improvement.241 This was (as we have seen) a distinction many Idealists stressed and the Organisation's members included C.S.Loch, Arnold Toynbee, Canon Samuel Barnett, Helen Bosanquet, and notably, Bernard Bosanquet, who on coming into an inheritance, in 1881 resigned his Oxford Fellowship and moved to London, in order to devote himself to social work and writing.242

Another important initiative was the University Settlement Movement. In 1883 COS member Samuel Barnett (himself an alumnus of Wadham College) gave a lecture at St John's College entitled ‘Settlements of University Men in Great Towns’ in which he suggested that by living among the people they sought to help, those with a university education could more effectively channel their work for the disadvantaged. Central to the scheme was education (though the provision of libraries and lectures) the (p.271) aim being to offer spiritual improvement as much as practical. Barnett's initiative culminated in the establishment of a settlement in 1884 in East London, named Toynbee Hall, after Arnold Toynbee who had died the previous year.243 Within a very short time there were many other such settlements,244 significant not just for the way in which they reflected idealist principles, but for the heavy involvement of the Idealists themselves (who offered lectures) and their pupils in this work. Initially support for the movement was strong, but gradually it fell away. For example, the COS who affirmed in its journal in 1884 that ‘there must be many like us who share our conviction that this is an experiment which of all others at this time is most hopeful and most worth trying’, by 1895 was complaining that those who still thought this a viable model for social improvement ‘must have been sleeping for twenty years’.245 Bosanquet warned against ‘the glorification of the settlement life’ and feared the potential harm that might be done where groups of inexperienced young men or young women came together, burning ‘to do good’ but without proper knowledge, training, or resources.246

At the same time there grew up a number of other related organizations which (while not exclusive to) both involved Idealists and expressed principles of idealist spirit.247 These included the Christian Social Union, particularly associated with Green's former pupil, Henry Scott Holland, and the London Ethical Society, set up by J.H. Muirhead and James Bonar.248 For general support and especially lectures the LES drew on such figures as Edward Caird, J.S. Mackenzie, William Wallace, Henry Jones, D.G. Ritchie, and Bosanquet, making it an important source for many subsequent Idealist writings. Notwithstanding his close involvement with it, Bosanquet came somewhat to disagree with the direction taken by the LES; disapproving of their aim to become some sort of alterative ‘ethical’ church and insisting on the need to keep separate ‘teaching’ and ‘preaching’.249

The Idealists were great campaigners too on many more specific matters, urging a range of social changes that would benefit the worst off in society. They supported (p.272) labour reform, such as the factory acts (Edward Caird was especially concerned to help the situation of women workers250) and were keen advocates also of electoral reform. (Both Edward and John Caird worked for women's suffrage, although Green it seems was not a supporter.251)

One such cause, which now seems dated, but which Green in particular thought vitally important was temperance.252 Teetotal himself, it was Green's belief that drink was a more potent source of social harm than almost any other, and he supported the power of local authorities to reduce the number of licences, restrict opening hours, or even close down pubs altogether. Given that none of the other Idealists followed him in this cause, it is tempting to bring in personal reasons: his brother was an alcoholic. But this temptation should be resisted, for the argument is logical. He rightly points out that alcohol dependency is a bar to moral progress—obviously so for the alcoholic, but equally so for his family and for the neighbourhood—and as such idealist principles clearly sanction its removal. It might be objected that outside agencies should not attempt to impose personal habits, and that here is a perfect opportunity for self-discipline. But Green would respond that in this case, as often as not, people are unable to help themselves. Again, it might be objected that people have a right both to drink and to sell alcohol. But Green would simply not agree that we have any such unconditional right. Indeed, the restriction of alcohol is one of the examples he discusses in ‘Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract’ describing drunkenness as a ‘wide-spreading social evil, of which society may, if it will, by a restraining law, to a great extent, rid itself, to the infinite enhancement of the positive freedom enjoyed by its members’.253

Holding a metaphysics in which reality consists in the progressive completion of rational thought, especially through the medium of human culture, holding an ethics in which the human ideal consists in self-realization, and holding a political theory centred around the duties of citizenship in pursuit of the common good, it was inevitable that education—the system whereby we develop intellectually and socially—should take on special importance to the British Idealists. But they recognized too a practical imperative here, rightly seeing this as the key from which nearly all other positive social change would follow. In consequence, the one cause which exercised their attention more than any other was education. Indeed, so important a theme is this that a division in its treatment is appropriate here, considering the early years at this juncture, and leaving later developments for a subsequent chapter.

Green was especially active in this regard. Comparing a lack of basic education in modern society to physical handicap254 he advocated free compulsory state-provided (p.273) primary education (something achieved during his lifetime in 1880). Himself from 1865–6 a School Inspector on behalf of the Taunton Commission,255 he was also a moving force behind the establishment in 1881 of the Oxford High School for boys,256 the city's first secondary school, giving concrete expression to his allegiance to the notion of a ‘ladder of learning’ all the way up from elementary to university education. Committed to widening University access, he supported the Association for the Higher Education of Women in Oxford, and he took charge of Balliol Hall, a lodging house on Oxford's St Giles, set up as part of an extension scheme to make available more places for deserving scholars at Balliol.257

It has been said that if the Idealists did not write at great length on educational theory, this was because they had no need for a separate philosophy of education, the raison d'etre of their entire philosophy being an educational one.258 Certainly it is true that one might read the systems of Green, Bradley, or Caird as extended discussions of self-realization or socialization, plausible candidates for the aim of education; but it should not be thought that the Idealists eschewed altogether writing specifically on philosophy of education. We have already noted the advocacy and analysis of Plato's Republic as a treatise on education by Nettleship, Bosanquet, and Caird, and moving away from classical studies the work of two further writers, Mackenzie and MacCunn, deserves special attention.

Mackenzie locates three elements to social progress, the economic and industrial subjugation of nature, the perfection of social machinery, and personal development; but it is the third—the work of education—he thinks the most important.259 As the training that develops our character and brings us into harmony with others and with the universe at large, education, more than any other social ideal, is a good ‘common to all’, communicable and undiminished in sharing,260 and it ‘may even be said to be the chief end of life’.261 Education is a broader process than simply formal institutions—Mackenzie insists, for example, ‘that all citizens should have sufficient leisure to be able to give some cultivation to their whole nature as human beings, and not sink into the slavish position of being merely machines for the performance of particular services’262—it is also ‘so essential to the life of a community that it can hardly be left exclusively to the efforts of private individuals. It needs a well-planned organisation; and it is naturally regarded as one of the functions of the State to provide this’.263 Holding thus that ‘a nation is bound to provide for its children the possibility of becoming good citizens’, he argues that the aim is to develop intelligence rather than to (p.274) impart specific information and skills, and that the elements of general culture should be easily accessible to all.264

John MacCunn's The Making of Character, subtitled ‘Some Educational Aspects of Ethics’, was published in 1900 in the Cambridge Series for Schools and Training Colleges (the same series that included Bosanquet's Education of the Young in the Republic of Plato) and enjoyed considerable success.265 It is an extended discussion of the many factors—from heredity, to natural environment, to family, and society at large—that contribute to the formation of moral character. Indeed one aspect of the book is the relatively minor place given to institutions of formal instruction, such as schools, relative to the overall moral environment of our society. Opposing the view of individuals as ‘mutually hostile human atoms’266 which would leave our concern for one another inexplicable, MacCunn follows Caird in thinking that the unit from which development starts is the family member, whose concern may naturally be extended further outwards.


(1) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §132.

(2) On this see below pp.235–7.

(3) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §141.

(4) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §§154–5.

(5) Green does not always distinguish these terms as clearly as he might. See Harris ‘Green's Theory of Political Obligation and Disobedience’, 128.

(6) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §21.

(7) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §§14–17.

(8) For example, we may contrast Ritchie (7.6.3 below) and Bosanquet (14.1.6 below).

(9) ‘Popular philosophy’, 113–17, 122–4, Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §§36, 46, 54, 55, 77.

(10) Hegel, Philosophy of Right, §§75, 100, 258; For Carlyle the contract was a myth—sadly Rousseau forgot to tell us its date, he joked (Ritchie, Darwin and Hegel, 187, 214)—because ‘if all men were such that a mere spoken or sworn Contract would bind them, all men were then true men, and Government a superfluity’ (Carlyle, The French Revolution, Part II, Book I, Chapter VII).

(11) See Chapter 6.2.4. This rapprochement especially impressed D.G. Ritchie. See below pp.257–8.

(12) Bentham famously called natural rights ‘nonsense on stilts’ (‘Anarchical Fallacies’, p.501). For an idealist discussion of that critique see MacCunn, Ethics of Citizenship, ch.III.

(13) Prolegomena, §214.

(14) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §77.

(15) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §116.

(16) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §§75, 73, 98.

(17) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §69.

(18) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §92.

(19) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §§120–3.

(20) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §124.

(21) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §117.

(22) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §99.

(23) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §142.

(24) Prolegomena, §214.

(25) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §138. ‘No one…can have a right except as a member of a society…’ (Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §25). Green's view is in this regard comparable to that of Wallace who argues that ‘the mere individual has no rights as such; he has rights only as a person, i.e. as member of a society, as embodying in himself, at least partially, the larger aggregate of which he is a unit’ (Lectures and Essays, 258). Since the state is for all practical purposes the larger society in question, it follows that the state is ‘the ultimate creator, guardian and guarantee of all right in this world’ (Lectures and Essays, 262).

(26) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §9.

(27) See, for example, Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §§38, 116.

(28) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §141.

(29) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §138.

(30) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §§100, 107–9, 142–4.

(31) ‘So far as the laws anywhere or at any time in force fulfil the idea of a state, there can be no right to disobey them’ but that ‘does not carry with it an obligation under all conditions to conform to the law of his state, since those laws may be inconsistent with the true end of the state, as the sustainer and harmoniser of social relations’ (Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §142–3).

(32) Service of the State, 72–3.

(33) ‘Use of Moral Ideas in Politics’, 22.

(34) ‘There can be no right without a consciousness of common interest on the part of members of a society’ (Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §31) ‘Rights have no being except in a society of men recognising each other as isoi kai homoioi [equals]. They are constituted by that mutual recognition’ (Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §139). For further discussion see Gaus, ‘The Rights Recognition Thesis’.

(35) In this sense he allows that a right is an ideal entity (Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §§38, 136).

(36) Simhony, ‘Rights that Bind’, 238, 248–9.

(37) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §139.

(38) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §154.

(39) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §144.

(40) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §§213–14. He is here following Hegel, Philosophy of Right, §41ff.

(41) Prolegomena, §240. See also §243.

(42) For further discussion see Brooks, ‘T.H. Green's Theory of Punishment’.

(43) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §176.

(44) For discussion of whether it is really possible for Green (and Bosanquet, who attempts something similar) consistently to combine these three very different justifications see Crossley, ‘The Unified Theory of Punishment of Green and Bosanquet’.

(45) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §178.

(46) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §186.

(47) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §189.

(48) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §193.

(49) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §198.

(50) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §204.

(51) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §236.

(52) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligationv, §242.

(53) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligationv, §§243–4.

(54) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §246.

(55) Anderson, ‘The Feminism of T.H. Green’; Leighton The Greenian Moment, 302–9.

(56) ‘Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract’, 370–1. Italics added.

(57) ‘Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract’, 371. Compare D.G. Ritchie ‘The savage, roaming solitary like a wild beast in search of prey, is more a mere part of nature and less a free individual than the citizen who lives along with others in a complicated political society whose ends are rational and the development of which it is possible to trace’ (‘Rationality of History’, 135).

(58) Green's line of argument here is recognizably the same as that of Edward Caird, which was considered in the previous chapter (see above pp.211–12).

(59) Boucher, The British Idealists, xxiii.

(60) ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, 180n, 196.

(61) ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, 179.

(62) At least one commentator (Richter, Politics of Conscience, 202–4) has found Berlin plausible, but the majority have been less persuaded. Strong rebuttals of Berlin may be found in Nicholson, The Political Philosophy of the British Idealists, 124–6 and Simhony, ‘T.H. Green's Theory of Positive Freedom’.

(63) Berlin, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, 179. To make quite fair assessment of Berlin due note must, of course, be taken of the historical context in which his essay was first written.

(64) ‘Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract’, 371.

(65) The function of society being the development of persons ‘It does not follow from this that all persons must be developed in the same way’ (Prolegomena, §191) for the common good ‘may be pursued in many different forms by persons quite unconscious of any community in their pursuits’ (Prolegomena, §283).

(66) Prolegomena, §324.

(67) ‘Rousseau’, 128, 141.

(68) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §123.

(69) Lectures on Moral Philosophy, 42. Caird's account of the family closely follows that of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, §§160–80.

(70) Lectures on Moral Philosophy, 43.

(71) Lectures on Moral Philosophy, 61.

(72) Lectures on Moral Philosophy, 50.

(73) Lectures on Moral Philosophy, 55; Green also insists on monogamy.

(74) Lectures on Moral Philosophy, 52–4.

(75) Lectures on Moral Philosophy, 48–9, 61.

(76) Lay Sermons,100–2.

(77) Lay Sermons, 80.

(78) Lay Sermons, 79–80, 85–6, 109.

(79) Lay Sermons, 80, 110.

(80) Lay Sermons, 86–8; Lectures on Moral Philosophy, 105.

(81) Lay Sermons, 78.

(82) Lectures on Moral Philosophy, 104.

(83) The Social Philosophy and Religion of Comte, xvii.

(84) Lectures on Moral Philosophy, 106.

(85) Lectures on Moral Philosophy, 107; see also Lay Sermons, 111–12; this common idealist attitude may also be seen, for example, in John Caird's discussion of immortality, or in Bosanquet's ‘On the True Conception of Another World’.

(86) Moral Aspect of the Economical Problem, 14.

(87) In this Caird (and the British Idealists generally) taps into a strong Victorian value, most clearly illustrated perhaps in Samuel Smiles' fantastically popular book, Self-Help (1859) which used numerous examples to exhort its readers to set to the work of improving themselves, to develop their own character.

(88) Moral Aspect of the Economical Problem, 16.

(89) Lectures on Moral Philosophy, 88.

(90) Lectures on Moral Philosophy, 90. For instance, taking control of policing or municipal government, imposing labour law, and demanding from individuals jury service.

(91) Lectures on Moral Philosophy, 97.

(92) The Life and Philosophy of Edward Caird, 149 note.

(93) ‘Individualism and Socialism’, 187.

(94) ‘Lecture on Political Economy’, 160.

(95) Moral Aspect of the Economical Problem, 15.

(96) ‘Individualism and Socialism’, 187.

(97) ‘Individualism and Socialism’, 177.

(98) ‘Individualism and Socialism’, 190–1.

(99) ‘Lecture on Political Economy’, 160.

(100) ‘Lecture on Political Economy’, 161.

(101) The first was published in 1890, the second in 1919.

(102) Introduction to Social Philosophy, 357; Outlines of Social Philosophy, 102.

(103) Introduction to Social Philosophy, 62.

(104) Introduction to Social Philosophy, 12.

(105) Introduction to Social Philosophy, 28–32.

(106) Introduction to Social Philosophy, 46–8. In a similar vein, in his 1882 inaugural lecture on taking up the Whi te's Chair at Oxford, vacated by the death of Green, William Wallace argued that while any account of the origin and contents of morality must draw on the results of sociology and make reference to the social context from which it springs, this can never account for its authority, which depends on its recognition by reason as essential to bring about the ideal (‘Ethics and Sociology’, 241).

(107) Introduction to Social Philosophy, 128–36; This careful taxonomy of types of unity is further developed in Elements of Constructive Philosophy, Book II, chapter V.

(108) Introduction to Social Philosophy, 150–4. He is here following Green, Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, §123.

(109) Introduction to Social Philosophy, 155–8.

(110) Outlines of Social Philosophy, 50.

(111) Outlines of Social Philosophy, 58.

(112) Introduction to Social Philosophy, 187.

(113) Introduction to Social Philosophy, 233.

(114) See above p.226. It should be noted that the argument for self-realization (with its detailed attack on hedonism) that we find here (Introduction to Social Philosophy, ch. IV) was in fact published three years before that of his Manual of Ethics.

(115) Introduction to Social Philosophy, ch. V.

(116) Introduction to Social Philosophy, 295.

(117) ‘The Idea of Progress’, 204–5.

(118) ‘The Idea of Progress’, 202–3.

(119) ‘The Idea of Progress’, 212.

(120) Introduction to Social Philosophy, ch. II.

(121) ‘The Dangers Of Democracy’, passim.

(122) ‘the remedy for the most prominent of the evils which accompany a highly developed industrial state, is to be found in a certain measure of what may, in a somewhat loose sense, be described as Socialism’ (Introduction to Social Philosophy, 313). ‘The cultivation of good citizenship in its various aspects is so essential to the life of a community that it can hardly be left exclusively to the efforts of private individuals. It needs a well-planned organisation; and it is naturally regarded as one of the functions of the State to provide this’ (Outlines of Social Philosophy, 107).

(123) Following Green he argues that it ‘is essential to the very idea of personality. A man does not become completely human until he possesses something which he can call his own, on which he may in some measure impress his character’ (Introduction to Social Philosophy, 270).

(124) Not only is the desire to provide enduring support for one's family an important inducement to work, but the relief from work that inheritance can provide gives space for society to develop a culture and ‘A great deal of culpable idleness and misused wealth may be tolerated for the sake of even a few men of culture’ (Introduction to Social Philosophy, 273).

(125) ‘Are Radicals Socialists?’, 219.

(126) Progress and Poverty, 53.

(127) ‘The Church and the People’, xxviii.

(128) ‘The Ideal Relation of Church and State’, 238.

(129) Plato's Republic treats the state as a structure whose parts work together like an organism (Bk IV); Hobbes opens his Leviathan with a comparison between society and the human body (Introduction); Hegel, Philosophy of Right, §§267, 269, 271, 286; Coleridge, On the Constitution of the Church and State, 78–9, 95.

(130) ‘The Social Organism’, 272. See also his Principles of Sociology, vol.I, part II, ch.II. For discussion see D. Boucher, ‘Evolution and politics’, 89–91. Another evolutionary minded ethicist to take the same approach was Leslie Stephen who argued ‘that society is not a mere aggregate but an organic growth, that it forms a whole, the laws of whose growth can be studied apart from those of the individual atom’ (Science of Ethics, 31).

(131) See also his ‘The Working Faith of the Social Reformer’, 39–41. Essentially similar objections to Spencer's so-called ‘social organism’ are also repeated in D.G. Ritchie, Principles of State Interference, 13–22. Another similar idealist discussion of the ‘social organism’ from the same year may be found in Wallace's ‘Ethics and Sociology’, 242–6.

(132) Principles of Sociology, 479.

(133) Cf. D.G. Ritchie, Principles of State Interference, 100–4.

(134) ‘Social Organism’, 193.

(135) ‘Social Organism’, 193.

(136) ‘Social Organism’, 208; ‘Working Faith’, 40–1.

(137) ‘Social Organism’, 200.

(138) ‘The bond of the social organism…is freedom’ (‘Social Organism’, 200).

(139) ‘Social Organism’, 201–4.

(140) ‘The Conception of Society as Organism’, 81. See also Nature of Existence, §§109–13, 137–43. In this fashion ‘The fall of a sand-castle on the English coast changes the nature of the Great Pyramid’ (Nature of Existence, II §309, 11–12).

(141) His own metaphysical views incline him to this. See ‘Further Determination of the Absolute’.

(142) ‘The Conception of Society as Organism’, 193. For further discussion of McTaggart's suspicion of social holism see Chapter 13.1.1 below.

(143) ‘The Conception of Society as Organism’, 178. Here McTaggart is perhaps not so far from Henry Jones above (see pp.253–5). For further discussion of McTaggart's own conception of that ‘deeper’ unity see Chapter 10.1.3 below.

(144) Quoted in P.P. Nicholson's Introduction to the Collected Works of D.G.Ritchie, xvii. Upon graduation Ritchie was awarded a Fellowship at Jesus College, for whom he tutored until in 1894 he was elected Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of St Andrews.

(145) ‘Darwin and Hegel’, 70–2.

(146) State Interference, 11; Natural Rights, 102.

(147) See above Chapter 4.1.

(148) State Interference, 102. Some critics have found such claims uncomfortable. John Morrow, for example, argues that ‘while Green shared the liberal concern with the individual…Ritchie and Bosanquet.…cannot be regarded as liberals at all, since they regarded individuals as of secondary importance’ (‘Liberalism and British Idealist Political Philosophy’, 93). But this is mistaken; focus on the true aims of the state in no way trumps or excludes focus on the true aims of the individual, since the two are exactly the same.

(149) Philosophical Studies, 237.

(150) For more on this see Weinstein, Utilitarianism and the New Liberalism, ch.5. For criticism of Weinstein's interpretation see Tyler, ‘Vindicating British Idealism: D.G. Ritchie contra David Weinstein’.

(151) Natural Rights, 97.

(152) Philosophical Studies, 299. In Ritchie's eyes Green had been saying much the same, State Interference, 142–5.

(153) ‘Ethical Democracy’, 81.

(154) ‘Happiness or contentment is rather a means to the good life than the end of it [for] much of the best work in the world comes from (or at least with) unhappiness; because much happiness comes from ignorance and Indolence’ (1886 letter, Philosophical Studies, 237n).

(155) ‘Each can claim to be an end-in-himself without inconsistency or necessity of conflict, only because none is an end-in-himself, except as partaking of the one “Reason” or “Nature” which is what all the higher religions have meant by God’ (Natural Rights, 97).

(156) ‘History is the laboratory of politics.’ (Natural Rights, 103). For example, appealing to historical examples, Ritchie argues that our judgements on the legitimacy of past wars owe more to their actual results than to abstract principle (‘War and Peace’, 145–50).

(157) Natural Rights, 78–80.

(158) Natural Rights, 81.

(159) For example, if what makes things valuable or right is just that they are commanded by God, there is no room to ask if God's commands are themselves good (Natural Rights, 83).

(160) ‘Contributions to the History of the Social Contract Theory’, 224.

(161) Natural Rights, 96.

(162) Natural Rights, 101–2.

(163) Natural Rights, 103.

(164) For this reason they do not belong to animals (Natural Rights, 107); cf. Green above p.236.

(165) The position of Green and Ritchie here should be contrasted with that of Bosanquet, for whom recognition must always be by the state within its laws and institutions, even if only implicitly (Boucher and Vincent, British Idealism and Political Theory, 138–40).

(166) ‘The Rights of Minorities’, 282. ‘When people seriously appeal to justice against society, what they really mean is that a higher form of society should supersede a lower. But it would be much better to say so directly, and not to talk about natural rights or abstract justice at all’ (Natural Rights, 106–7).

(167) Natural Rights, 286.

(168) Natural Rights, 103. Also ‘Rationality of History’, 142–3. Ritchie here follows Hegel's historical justification of Greek slavery as a necessary condition for the development of ‘aesthetic democracy’ (Philosophy of History, Part II, section II, chapter III, 265).

(169) Natural Rights, 104.

(170) State Interference, 147.

(171) The Moral Function of the State, 4–5.

(172) State Interference, 167.

(173) Freeden, The New Liberalism, 58; Green ‘Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract’, 384; Ritchie, The Moral Function of the State, 8; Ritchie 1890 letter in Robert Latta's Memoir in Philosophical Studies, 48. In general Freeden sees Green as much less important than Ritchie, and Idealism as much less important than has commonly been supposed, in the turn of the century transformation of liberal thought (The New Liberalism, 16–7, 55–60). These are of course historical claims.

(174) ‘Origin and Validity’. 29; ‘Locke's Theory of Property’, 192. Collini describes him as the most radical of the Idealists (Liberalism and Sociology, 38n).

(175) In January 1875 J.A. Symonds, his wife's brother, described a conversation with Green saying ‘he seems bent upon attacking evolution from the idealist point of view’ (Letters and Papers of John Addington Symonds, 69–70).

(176) Evolution of Religion, I:45. In Caird's account of the evolution of the idea of evolution Darwin earns but one cursory mention (Evolution of Religion, I:24).

(177) ‘Evolution and Ethics’, 82–3.

(178) ‘Man's Place in the Cosmos’, 11–12.

(179) ‘Man's Place in the Cosmos’, 17.

(180) ‘Man's Place in the Cosmos’, 31–2. The following year Henry Jones in his Glasgow inaugural address voiced similar objections to Huxley's dualistic claim that the moral order is antagonistic to the natural, partly on the grounds that since one is unconscious and the other intelligent there is no point at which they could meet and conflict, but mainly on the grounds that, both being products of the same process, they must be understood as partners not enemies in the great cosmic enterprise. Nature in itself is neither moral nor immoral, but as a necessary precondition of both moral and conscious life, ‘the moral achievements of man are also nature's’ (‘Is The Order of Nature Opposed to the Moral Life?’, 20, 28).

(181) Where Huxley both divides and opposes the natural and moral spheres, Bosanquet stresses their continuity, and the necessity of the struggle for existence to the positive development of human character (‘Socialism and Natural Selection’). Given this coincidence, in terms of what really matters, viz. its harmony with human cognition and value, he regards the hypothesis of a naturally evolved universe as but minimally different from that of an intelligently designed one (‘Old Problems Under New Names’, 108–11).

(182) Darwin and Hegel, Preface (vii).

(183) ‘Darwin and Hegel’, 58.

(184) ‘Darwin and Hegel’, 56.

(185) Natural Rights, 24. In this, of course, his thinking echoes Caird's. See e.g. Evolution of Religion, I:26.

(186) ‘Darwin and Hegel’, 50.

(187) ‘Darwin and Hegel’, 47–9.

(188) ‘Note on Heredity as a Factor in Knowledge’, 36–7.

(189) State Interference, 44–5.

(190) ‘Rationality of History’, 131.

(191) ‘Darwin and Hegel’, 47; Natural Rights, 27–8.

(192) ‘Ethical Democracy’, 73.

(193) ‘Darwin and Hegel’, 60–1.

(194) ‘Darwin and Hegel’, 51.

(195) Although as we have seen he has grave doubts about the evolutionary epistemology of Spencer and Lewes, interestingly Green does not completely rule it out ‘To deny categorically…that the distinctive intelligence of man, his intelligence as knowing, can be developed from that of “lower” animals would…be more than we should be warranted in doing’ (Prolegomena, §84). We must distinguish here the metaphysical question of the explanation of consciousness, from the historical question of its origin within the human vehicle. Alfred Russel Wallace by contrast was certain that natural selection could not in any way account for the origin of life, consciousness, or the higher human faculties, arguing that these called for some kind of spiritual intervention from outside (‘The Limits of Natural Selection as Applied to Man’).

(196) Darwinism and Politics, 93, 101; also Essay II, §3.

(197) ‘Social Evolution’, 10.

(198) ‘Ethical Democracy’, 74–5.

(199) Darwinism and Politics, Essay II, §2.

(200) ‘Darwin and Hegel’, 68.

(201) ‘Darwin and Hegel’, 72.

(202) State Interference, 168.

(203) ‘Darwin and Hegel’, 62. The result he calls ‘evolutionist utilitarianism’ (State Interference, 169).

(204) ‘Ethical Democracy’, 80.

(205) ‘Ethical Democracy’, 82.

(206) Darwinism and Politics, 106.

(207) ‘Darwin and Hegel’, 41.

(208) Natural Rights, 277.

(209) Darwinism and Politics, Essay I §5; State Interference, 108.

(210) Darwinism and Politics, 30.

(211) ‘Ethical Democracy’, 88.

(212) ‘The Rights of Minorities’, 270–3, 281.

(213) ‘Ethical Democracy’, 89.

(214) ‘Ethical Democracy’, 92.

(215) ‘Ethical Democracy’, 91–2.

(216) Natural Rights, 16–18.

(217) ‘Ethical Democracy’, 81–2.

(218) Darwinism and Politics, 13.

(219) Natural Rights, 111.

(220) ‘Ethical Democracy’, 80–1.

(221) Darwinism and Politics, 24.

(222) ‘What are economic laws?’, 170.

(223) Darwinism and Politics, 32–3.

(224) Darwinism and Politics, 105.

(225) Darwin and Hegel, Preface (vi).

(226) Which afterwards in 1903 became the University of Liverpool, and where from 1882 to 1890 he was a colleague of A.C. Bradley.

(227) Ethics of Citizenship, 4–12.

(228) Ethics of Citizenship, 16–18.

(229) Ethics of Citizenship, 20–6.

(230) Ethics of Citizenship, 55–6.

(231) Ethics of Citizenship, 69.

(232) Ethics of Citizenship, 71.

(233) Ethics of Citizenship, 116–17.

(234) An important figure in this regard was John Ruskin. He exerted influence through his writings and, from 1869 onwards, as Oxford's first Slade Professor of Fine Art, by his presence in the University. His famous Hinksey road-building project of 1874, saw the participation of the Idealist Arnold Toynbee, as well as Oscar Wilde, Alfred Milner, and H.D. Rawnsley.

(235) Ethical Studies, 193; Prolegomena, §331. Bosanquet too holds that moral philosophy cannot give guidance for conduct. Its function is to understand good and evil conduct, not to take command of individual lives. Philosophy has to understand, not to dictate (Some Suggestions in Ethics, 161), For each of us our task is ‘original, unique, creative’ (Some Suggestions in Ethics, 149), ‘Ethical Theory cannot either lay down the rules for conduct or pronounce judgment on particular actions’ (‘The Practical Value of Moral Philosophy’, 144). That the task was more than just intellectual was equally clear to Mackenzie who concluded his Introduction to Social Philosophy by suggesting that ‘a philosophic understanding of our social problems is not even the chief want of our time. We need prophets as well as teachers, men like Carlyle or Ruskin or Tolstoi, who are able to add for us a new severity to conscience or a new breadth to duty. Perhaps we want a new Christ. We want at least an accession of the Christlike spirit—the spirit of self-devotion to ideal ends—applying itself persistently in all the departments of life’ (376–7). For more detailed discussion of the relation between description and prescription in Green's ethics see A. Vincent, ‘Ethics and Metaphysics in the Philosophy of T.H. Green’.

(236) Making of Character, 237.

(237) Collingwood, Autobiography, 17.

(238) ‘Idealism’, 1.

(239) See for example Carter, T.H. Green and the Development of Ethical Socialism; den Otter, British Idealism and Social Explanation; Gordon and White, Philosophers as Educational Reformers; Leighton, The Greenian Moment; Vincent and Plant, Philosophy, Politics and Citizenship.

(240) John Stuart Mackenzie, 116.

(241) For further detail see den Otter, ‘The Restoration of a Citizen Mind: British Idealism, Poor Relief and Charity Organisation Society’; Sprigge, God of Metaphyics, 347–51.

(242) He was tempted back into Academia to take the Chair in Moral Philosophy at St Andrews from 1903 to 1908.

(243) In memorial of a different kind, like Green, Toynbee also appears in a novel by Mrs Humphry Ward. He was the inspiration for the character Edward Hallin in her Marcella (1894).

(244) Oxford House in east London (Founded in 1884 by Green's pupil, Henry Scott Holland), Mansfield House in Canning Town (1890), University Hall (founded in 1890 by Mary (Mrs Humphry) Ward, re-established in 1896 as the Passmore Edwards Settlement, and finally renamed in 1920 as the ‘Mary Ward Centre’). The Women's University Settlement in south London (1897), Bermondsey University Settlement (1891), Cambridge House (1894), and Lady Margaret Hall Settlement (1897). Outside London we may note the Glasgow Settlement (founded in 1889 and with which the Caird brothers were much involved), the Manchester University Settlement (1895), Liverpool University Settlement (1906), and Bristol University Settlement (1911).

(245) Harrow, ‘The English University Settlements 1884–1939’, 3.

(246) ‘The Duties of Citizenship’, 25–6.

(247) For further detail see Ian MacKillop, The British Ethical Societies.

(248) den Otter, British Idealism and Social Explanation, 118; Gordon and White, Philosophers as Educational Reformers, 114–21.

(249) Helen Bosanquet, Bernard Bosanquet, A Short Account of his Life, 44; Muirhead, Bernard Bosanquet and his Friends, 49.

(250) Jones and Muirhead, Life and Philosophy of Edward Caird, 118–25.

(251) Jones and Muirhead, Life and Philosophy of Edward Caird, 96–101, 150–2; Anderson, ‘The Feminism of T.H. Green’, 683–4.

(252) For further detail see Nicholson, ‘T.H. Green and State Action: Liquor Legislation’.

(253) ‘Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract’, 384.

(254) ‘Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract’, 374–5.

(255) Gordon and White, Philosophers as Educational Reformers, 73–4.

(256) Nettleship, ‘Memoir’, cxix. See also Green's lecture on ‘The Work to be Done by the New Oxford High School’, in his Collected Works, III.

(257) Gordon and White, Philosophers as Educational Reformers, 83–4.

(258) Gordon and White, Philosophers as Educational Reformers, 48.

(259) Introduction to Social Philosophy, 351.

(260) Introduction to Social Philosophy, 366.

(261) Outlines of Social Philosophy, 94.

(262) Outlines of Social Philosophy, 106–7.

(263) Outlines of Social Philosophy, 107.

(264) Introduction to Social Philosophy, 354.

(265) It was reprinted eight further times until 1931, later impressions containing new material.

(266) The Making of Character, 106.