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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


BRADLEY

(1846 — 1924)

 

ABSOLUTE IDEALISM

Francis Bradley, a vicar's son, was born in Clapham, Surrey. The eminent literary critic A.C. Bradley was his brother. He was educated at Cheltenham College, Marlborough College (where a half-brother was headmaster), and at University College, Oxford. In 1869 he gained his degree in classics and philosophy, and in 1870 he was elected to a non-teaching Fellowship at Merton College. He thereafter devoted himself to writing. He was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1924.

 

PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE AND LOGIC

[1] [Principles of Logic.] Bradley makes a clear separation between logic and psychology [a]. He also rejects the empiricist approach which holds that logic starts with terms (subjects and predicates) and the ideas they are supposed to denote which are then 'associated' in the mind. For Bradley we must begin with judgements as single entities. The view that judgements link together diverse ideas is untenable because what may seem to be a single idea will prove to be complex. (Proper names too must be understood as connoting attributes and are thus akin to descriptions.) Neither can it accommodate such judgements as 'A and B are equal', or 'There is an X' on account of the difficulty in identifying a subject. Indeed, relations cannot be accommodated within the traditional subject-predicate framework. In acts of judgement we refer ideas or concepts constituting propositions to a Reality, a universal meaning' beyond the act [b]. The 'contents' of the mind are thus not to regarded as purely mental or psychical but, by virtue of their reference, as symbolic and possessing meaning. He goes on to argue that all judgements are general. This is clear in universal judgements, for example, 'All cats are mammals'. Here we are saying that if something is a cat, then it also possesses the property of being a mammal. It is thus hypothetical and could be true even if there were no cats in existence. This is the case also of singular judgements, for example, 'I have a toothache'. The references of 'I' and 'toothache' will differ with the individuals making the judgement. There must therefore be general ideas and always some generality in such judgements. And this is not avoided by the use of proper names ('Jones' has attributes which exist over a period of time) or terms such as 'here' and 'now' (which also must be general if they are to have significance). More radically Bradley argues that all judgements are ultimately about Reality as a whole; there are no isolated particular facts [c]. Suppose I say 'There is a cat'. When I do this I am abstracting a part of what I actually say. To avoid this 'distortion' of reality I should have to situate the cat in the environment, in the context of which it is a cat. The real but hidden subject of the judgement is Reality as a whole — to which all judgements are related. It is in the light of this view that Bradley argues that relations should be 'internalized': a fact can be understood only in terms of its relation to others; single facts cannot exist in isolation [d]. In the case of negative judgements, for example, 'X is not Y', he says we are then affirming a property or properties of X which stops it becoming a Y. Affirmative judgements are thus primary. As for universal judgements, although more general they involve even greater abstraction and are thus further from Reality. Thus there is, for Bradley, a 'gap' between thought and the ultimate Reality. However, long after his major metaphysical work had been published, he seemed to be committed to a view of logic as itself part of and as a means of penetrating the Real [See Principles of Logic, 2nd edition] [e].

[2] Bradley says that there are other kinds of inference than the Syllogism, for example, inferences based on relations, which cannot be forced into this mould. After suggesting and then criticizing the view that making an inference consists in the discovering of a relation and the construction of a synthesis uniting terms, he proposes a wider view which reflects the account already given of judgements as abstracting from Reality. Inference involves reasoning; and to reason is not just to link two terms by means of another but to engage in a constructive 'ideal experiment' on a datum. To say A is B and B is C is to link A-B-C as an 'ideal whole', which can then be understood as a discovery of connections between predicates of Reality. The necessity of the inference is defined in terms of 'the ideal self-development of an object' — which, however, for us finite beings is never complete [a]. Inference for Bradley thus also involves an 'ideal content' and hence generality. The particular facts from which we start must already be in some sense ordered and defined in terms of a theory and therefore a 'universal'. He therefore denies that traditional inductive procedures, whether from particulars to particulars or from particulars to universal judgements, can provide us with knowledge. However, he rejects the utilization of a 'dialectic' grounded in formalistic 'categories' [b].

 

METAPHYSICS/ MIND/ PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION

[3] [Appearance and Reality.] Bradley starts from the assumption that, despite his reservations concerning the limitations of thought, it is possible to discover a general metaphysical view of Truth and Reality which satisfies the intellect. This view is grounded in the notion that Reality is One, a presupposition which is in a sense a matter of faith. However, Reality and Thought (the Rational) are distinct notions (constituting, respectively, 'existence' and 'essence'). In a later essay he says the One is 'given' to us as "feeling-experience" of a "many felt in one" [Essays on Truth and Reality, ch. VI]. This "immediate feeling" is the starting point for our "knowing and being in one" [a]; and from it in due course relations emerge. It is the job of metaphysics to try to articulate, understand, and if possible prove these assumptions. He proceeds [ A & R, Book I, ch. i] by attempting to show that many of the concepts of common sense or philosophy, in terms of which we usually understand the world, lead to contradictions or even unintelligibility. He argues firstly that if secondary qualities are appearances then primary qualities cannot stand by themselves. Materialism as a theory of reality is therefore untenable. Analysis of the reality of things in terms of qualities (substances and attributes) is likewise incoherent [ii]. We say a lump of sugar is white, hard, and sweet. Its reality cannot be just a plurality of qualities. But if we think of it as the unity of these properties in a relation, we will be led to say that A's being related to B means either that A is A or A is other than A. Similarly [iii] there are difficulties with qualities and relations themselves. It is equally problematic to talk of qualities without relations or to talk of them as having them. Qualities can be shown both to make their relations and to be made by them; while relations can be shown to be nothing or to give rise to an infinite regress. In subsequent chapters Bradley deals with space and time [iv], motion and change [v], and causation [vi]. We can show, he says, that space and time must be both more than relations and yet a set of relations. As for causation, we can prove it to be both continuous and not continuous. He then argues [vii] that the concept of activity is riddled with inconsistencies. There is thus nothing left to the notion of things as such. All talk of primary or secondary qualities, relations, space and time, causation, etc. must therefore belong to the world of appearance [b].

[4] Having dealt with the external world Bradley discusses the 'inner' self [ix, x]. Is this not real? He rejects supposed 'intuitions' of the self or of a pure active transcendental Ego, and also any analysis of someone's self in terms of discrete contents of experience because these are constantly changing. Likewise neither bodily continuity nor memory can be the criterion of personal identity; and it cannot be located in any perception of activity or of mere feeling. The self thus seems to be definable only negatively as a 'residue'. And if we argue that the reality of the self must lie in some inner unity in which it inheres we are brought back again to the problem of relations. That we have experience of the self as a constant group of feelings which are connected with pain and pleasure, Bradley says is not in doubt; indeed it is the highest form of experience. But, like the external world, it too must be regarded as appearance and therefore erroneous. Immediate experience is non-relational [a]. In the final chapters of Book I [xi, xii] Bradley concludes that the doctrine of phenomenalism, while useful, gives us only the presentations of the moment or leads to preposterous inconsistencies. The alternative (dualist) theory of things in themselves is rejected as absurd [b]. How could they be related? Whether we start from the 'appearances' or from the 'reality' we are led into difficulties.

[5] In Book II [especially xiii-xv] Bradley presents his positive thesis about the Oneness of Reality. However, he stresses that, in so far as what appears exists, has being, it is not to be set apart from the Real. On the contrary it has to be understood as the appearance of the Real [a]. Considered as experienced, as the object of discursive thought, the world of appearance is riddled with contradictions. Nevertheless, when it is regarded as taken up into the totality (the Absolute) all contradictions are removed; or, looked at from the higher standpoint, the Absolute itself must be one system, "a single and all-inclusive sentient experience, which embraces every partial diversity in discord" [xiv]. In the Absolute a 'fusion' is achieved between Thought and Reality [xv] — which for Bradley are distinct notions, the Real being the 'existence' of a thing (that it is), the Thought its 'essence' or qualities of a thing (what it is). He is critical of the view that that Reality is Thought or the Rational, and that only the Rational is Real, to be revealed to the intellect through abstract categories and the 'dialectic'. Rather it is through judgement, as he understands it, and working on appearance, that a move can be made towards reconciling the 'that' and the 'what' in the 'ideal synthesis' [xv]. As he says [Logic]:

That the glory of this world in the end is appearance leaves the world more glorious, if we feel it is a show of some fuller splendour; but the sensuous curtain is a deception and a cheat, if it hides some colourless movement of atoms, some spectral woof of impalpable abstractions, or unearthly ballet of bloodless categories.

Bradley thus seems to mean that the Absolute is that supra-relational totality in which all finitude and distinction has been eliminated. "Feeling", he says, "supplies us with a positive idea of non-relational unity" [xxvii]. But the idea is imperfect in that feeling is only an aspect of sentience — which in the Absolute additionally includes but transcends sensation, thought, desire, and will. He also thinks of the Absolute as spiritual [xxvii]. However, this is not to attribute any kind of personality to it. It is spiritual only in the sense that it is a unity or manifold in which externality has ceased [b]. This raises questions concerning Bradley's view on (1) individual, finite selves [xxiii, xxvi], and (2) God and religion [xxv].

Consistently with his assumptions and arguments he says that finite bodies and souls, while imperfect appearances and therefore 'untrue', possess a degree of reality in so far as they are appearances of the Absolute [c]. From this standpoint souls are less unreal than physical bodies; they show a greater degree of self-dependence. As appearances, both body and soul are "inconsistent abstractions". Bradley is therefore doubtful that we can admit any kind of personal immortality [d]; the transformation that body and soul undergo in the Absolute would seem to rule this out. Likewise, if the Absolute is non-personal it cannot be God [e] — not least because the Absolute is appearances (albeit transformed). It follows that religion comprehends metaphysics yet is wider [xxvl].

[6] Underlying Bradley's discussion is a commitment to the view that there are degrees of truth and reality [xxiv]. The further an appearance is from self-consistency and relational inclusiveness the less real and the less true it is said to be, the criteria being coherence and comprehensiveness, though at the same time he holds the view that propositions are true as such by virtue of their correspondence to reality [a]. Perfect truth, however, is an ideal to which no finite thinking being can attain, not least because if we could develop a scheme for grasping the totality we should lose sight of the particular concrete facts. Nevertheless, Bradley says we can appeal to "the satisfaction of a want of our nature" as a criterion of truth [b]. In other words, the greater our satisfaction the higher the degree of truth we may suppose ourselves to have distinguished. The smaller the degree of truth there is in appearance the correspondingly greater is the degree of 'untruth' in the error.

 

ETHICS

[7] Although Bradley's Ethical Studies antedated Appearance and Reality, his metaphysics of the Absolute is implicit in it. (Ethics are also discussed in the latter work [xxv].) He starts [Essay I] by considering the concept of responsibility in relation to two views of human action. If we are to be held responsible for our actions, we must accept personal identity: the actions must be ours; we must be intelligent to know the circumstances; and we must be moral agents. Theories both of determinism and indeterminism are inconsistent with these requirements [a]. What then is the end of morality'? Bradley says it is self-realization [b], "as the self-conscious member of an infinite whole, by realizing that whole in yourself " [II]. Before developing this thesis he criticizes the ethical theories of hedonism [III] and duty for duty's sake [IV]. Hedonism, the view that man's good is pleasure, conflicts with its own psychology, and the end is illusory. Further, to attempt to introduce qualitative distinctions into the concept of pleasure is to appeal to a different account of the good. Bradley sees utilitarianism as thereby tacitly introducing self-realization as the proper end of human action — which is inconsistent with hedonism. As for duty-for-duty's sake, he argues that this notion is grounded in an empty abstraction; the theory is self-contradictory; and the categorical imperative is impracticable [c]: it enjoins action for the sake of a form, an unreal self .

What is it then to realize oneself as the self-conscious member of an infinite whole? [V] Bradley's central claim is that it is only in the context of the social organism that the individual can identify himself with the good will (which entails his refusing to identify himself with the bad will of his private self); for the good will is the universal will. To be moral I must will my "station and its duties". By this Bradley means not that there is a certain position or status in a social hierarchy to which one is inflexibly bound, perhaps by accident of birth, for example, but rather that one has certain functions, reflecting intelligence and learned skills, and that it is these which determine one's duties — in the family or wider society of state or nation. At the same time, the individual has a moral duty to realize himself [d] qua artist, scientist, and so on, quite apart from any consideration of the benefit that his activities might in general have for society at large. It follows of course that morality for Bradley is relative (to different societies and cultures) [e]. And indeed it must be; for there can be no universal "full-fledged" moral ideas which have fallen down from heaven, as he puts it, if the individual is to achieve self-realization. But morality is nonetheless real and indeed is projected towards ever higher realization [VI]. In fact Bradley says it is an endless process and can never be realized in the objective world of the state but only for religious consciousness in the "infinite whole" [f].

In the final Essay [VII] (which anticipates his discussion in ch. xxv of Appearance and Reality) Bradley tries to show that self-realization involves both selfishness and 'self-sacrifice'. Selfishness here is, however, 'proper egoism' and acceptable. It is not, for example, pleasure-seeking; nor does it involve actions which are done at the expense of other people. Rather it may be understood as self-assertion and characterized by single-mindedness — the determination to realize or perfect oneself using all the materials at one's disposal. But I may choose to achieve my moral end by attending to the needs of other people (altruism). On the other hand my individuality may suffer through lack of attention to, say, my health. This is self-sacrifice. Nevertheless it is at the same time a form of self-realization, in that it involves renouncing a particular mode of existence in favour of something higher. However, both approaches come together, Bradley says, and are transcended in the Absolute [g]. It is in popular ethics that they are separated and the good identified (unsuccessfully) with one or the other. As for evil, it is obviously real for us, and indeed Bradley considers it as a precondition for morality; without pain and suffering the notion of our real and 'whole' self overcoming our 'bad self' (which is only a formal collection of bad habits and desires — not a genuine unity), with a view to achieving harmony, would have no purchase. From the standpoint of the Absolute there is neither evil — nor morality [h].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Bradley was the greatest of the British Idealists. His system of absolute idealism has the merit of avoiding, in its content, language, and application, the worst excesses of his German idealist antecedents. He is significant also for his criticism of the empiricists for subordinating logic to psychology. His ethics, with its central concept of one's 'station and duties', has often been underrated and deserves wider attention as offering an alternative to Kant's formalism and Mill's hedonistic utilitarianism. In general it can be said that Bradley's achievement is impressive for his detailed argumentation over a range of concepts in his search for truth. There are of course difficulties with his system.

(1) While they accepted his attack on psychologism, Moore and Russell rejected his doctrine of internal relations; and most philosophers today would agree with this criticism.

(2) It has been claimed that there is some inconsistency between the implications for self, space and time, and so on of his account of predication as identity (Appearance and Reality, Book 1) — which he had rejected in his Logic — and his account of degrees of reality in Book II. His concept of the Absolute itself is not clearly defined, being described only in terms of transformed appearances. However, this would seem to be a necessary consequence of his premisses: categorization distorts the Real; the Real cannot be known except through appearance. In extrapolation to the Absolute all distinctions have to be dissolved.

(3) In his ethics there is a problem relating to individual liberty. Is this concept consistent with his view that the self is but appearance? Does the self when 'realizing' itself for religious consciousness in the infinite whole retain its selfhood? Many critics have also argued that individuality is even compromised at the level of appearance, to the extent that Bradley stresses the primacy of the social organism. Furthermore, while self-realization may be regarded as a desirable ideal, what is the justification for the claim that it is our moral duty to realize ourselves through our work or vocation?

 

READING

Bradley: Ethical Studies (1876); Principles of Logic (1883; 2nd edition 1922); Appearance and Reality (1893); Essays on Truth and Reality (1914). A useful collection is Writings on Logic and Metaphysics edited and with introductions by J. W. Allard and G. Stock.

Studies:

Introductory

R. Wollheim, F. H. Bradley.

Advanced

T. S. Eliot, Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley.

T. Sprigge, James and Bradley: American Truth and British Reality.

Collection of essays

A. R. Manser and G. Stock (eds), The Philosophy of F. H. Bradley.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Bradley

 

Note: Attention should be paid to Bradley's general rejection of the empiricist tradition, especially of Mill's philosophy (and through him also of Aristotelian logic). Much of the influence of Hegel on him was mediated through Thomas Hill (1836-82) and Rudolf Lotze (1817-81), but he was critical of key aspects of Hegel's idealism (the Absolute as Spirit, the identity of the real and the rational, and the formalism of categorical deduction, for example). There are parallels between Bradley's and Spinoza's thought as well as many differences, though the precise details have perhaps not been fully established: the similarities may perhaps just reflect common features of monist systems. The parallels between Bradley and Royce are also of interest; Royce was critical of Bradley's later philosophy.

 

[1a] Logic not to be understood in terms of psychology

   Mill

   Brentano

   Frege

Russell

Moore

[1a]

[1d]

[1a]

[1f]

[1a]

 

[1b] Logic starts with judgements not 'association' of terms/ ideas; contents 'ideal' and symbolic — refer to Reality beyond act; rejection of primacy of subject-predicate logic; proper names have connotation

   Mill

   Brentano

   Frege

Russell

Moore

[1b c]

[1a b]

[2a c g]

[1e]

[1b 2c]

 

[1c; cf. 2a 6a] Judgements general, about Reality as a whole — no isolated facts

   Hegel

Royce

[2c]

[1c]

 

[1d; cf. 3a] Relations 'internalized' — facts understood only in relation to other facts

   Leibniz

   James

Whitehead

Russell

Moore

[1a]

[1g]

[4f]

[2a]

[1a]

 

[1e; cf. 3a 5b] 'Gap' between Thought and Reality, but can be penetrated by logic

   Parmenides

   Plato

   Hegel

[1e]

[6a 7e]

[1a 2a]

 

[2a; cf. 1c e 3a 5a b] Inference: not all syllogistic; through judgement involves constructive 'ideal' exploration of the 'given' synthesis; ideal self-development of objects), but never complete

   Plato

   Hegel

   Mill

   James

   Frege

Russell

[2d 3b]

[1c]

[1e-g]

[1f h]

[2a]

[1f]

 

[2b; see also 5b] Particularity grounded in the 'universal'; traditional inductive procedures do not give knowledge; rejection of 'dialectic' grounded in formalized categories

   Plato

   Hegel

   Mill

Whitehead

Moore

[2d 3b]

[2a 5c]

[1gl]

[4b]

[1b]

 

[3a; cf. 1d e 5a b] Reality is One but Reality (as 'existence') distinct from thought ('essence'); immediate feeling-experience' of many-in-one as starting-point for knowledge; relations emerge

   Parmenides

   Aristotle

   Spinoza

   Hume

   Hegel

   James

Royce

Moore

[1e]

[12e]

[2b e]

[1c]

[1a 1c 2a 3a]

[1c e i]

[1f]

[1b]

 

[3b; cf. 5a] Common sense/ philosophical notions lead to contradictions: primary and secondary qualities, space and time (relations), causation, motion and change, relations in general belong to appearance

   Parmenides

   Leibniz

   Berkeley

   Hegel

Royce

Whitehead

Moore

[1f]

[3b]

[2c]

[2b 4b]

[1a]

[3a]

[2f]

 

[4a] No intuition of self as pure active Ego; we experience self as group of feelings but this is false appearance; immediate experience is non-relational; rejection of continuity, memory, activity as criteria of personal identity

   Locke

   Berkeley

   Kant

   Hegel

   Mill

   James

[2h]

[2f]

[3b]

[5e]

[2c]

[2b]

 

[4b] Rejection of phenomenalism and notion of unknowable things-in-themselves

   Kant

   Mill

   Hegel

[2d]

[2b]

[1a]

 

[5a; cf. 2a 3a b 5b c] Reality is One: appearance is of Reality, Real is in appearance

   Parmenides

   Spinoza

   Hegel

Moore

[1a]

[2b c]

[1a]

[1b 2a]

 

[5b; cf. 1e 2a 3a 5a] Absolute as supra-relational totality in which all distinctions eliminated; 'fusion' of Thought and Reality; not 'Spirit' but 'spiritual' unity in which no externality

   Spinoza

   Hegel

   Schelling

Royce

Moore

[2c]

[1a 1c]

[3a]

[1f]

[1b 2a]

 

[5c; also 6a] Degrees of reality in finite bodies and minds

   Plato

   Spinoza

   Hegel

   James

Whitehead

Moore

[2a b 6b]

[4b]

[2c]

[1c e]

[4h]

[1c]

 

[5d] Personal immortality doubtful; 'body' and 'soul' abstractions as appearances

   Spinoza

   Hegel

Royce

Whitehead

[3e]

[5b]

[2d]

[4h]

 

[5e] Absolute non-personal — not God

   Spinoza

   Hegel

Royce

[2f]

[8c]

[2e]

 

[6a; also 5c] Degrees of truth, criteria being coherence and comprehensiveness, but true propositions correspond to reality

   Plato

   Spinoza

   Leibniz

   Hegel

   Brentano

   James

Royce

Russell

Moore

   Hempel

[6b]

[4b]

[4d]

[2c]

[1c]

[1b]

[1c]

[1g j]

[1c 2a 2b]

[1b]

 

[6b] 'Satisfaction' of needs as criterion of truth    James [1b]

 

[7a] Determinism and indeterminism incompatible with moral agency; the individual can develop his own moral character

   Aristotle

   Spinoza

   Kant

   Hegel

   James

[10d]

[3d]

[5c]

[5f]

[1k]

 

[7b; cf. 7d] Self-realization as end of morality

   Aristotle

   Hegel

   Mill

Royce

Moore

[18c]

[7c]

[3c]

[2a]

[3a]

 

[7c] Critique of hedonism, utilitarianism, and categorical imperative/ good will theory

   Aristotle

   Butler

   Kant

   Mill

[18c d]

[1a]

[6a-e]

[3b c]

 

[7d; cf. 7b] Individual identifies with good will only in 'social organism': will to one's 'station and its duties'

   Hegel

Moore

[7b c]

[3b]

 

[7e] Morality relative to different societies and cultures    Hegel [9b]

 

[7f] Moral end fully realizable only for 'religious consciousness in infinite whole — not in objective state/ society    Hegel [7c]

 

[7g] Self-sacrifice and selfishness both involved in realization of self — opposition reconciled in Absolute

   Butler

   Hegel

[1a]

[6d e]

 

[7h] Evil precondition for morality but does not exist in Absolute

   Spinoza

   Hegel

Royce

[5a]

[6f]

[2g]