Bradley, Francis Herbert (1846–1924)

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The English idealist philosopher Francis Herbert Bradley was born in Clapham and educated at University College, Oxford; in 1870 he was elected to a fellowship at Merton College, Oxford, terminable on marriage. Since he never married and the terms of the fellowship did not require him to teach, he was able to devote himself entirely to philosophical writing. His first published work was a pamphlet titled The Presuppositions of Critical History (Oxford, 1874). There followed Ethical Studies (London, 1876), Principles of Logic (London, 1883), and Appearance and Reality (London, 1893), as well as many articles in philosophical journals, some of which were published in Essays on Truth and Reality (Oxford, 1914) and others in Collected Essays (Oxford, 1935).

Like Bernard Bosanquet, Bradley was influenced by T. H. Green. Like Bosanquet, too, he read and admired G. W. F. Hegel, but was less in sympathy with Hegelianism than Bosanquet was. Bosanquet was active in social reform, as Green had been, whereas Bradley was a Tory who hated liberalism and sometimes thought along the lines of Thomas Carlyle's later writings. Bradley was, and intended to be, a highly polemical writer. His Ethical Studies and Principles of Logic are a sustained attack on the utilitarianism and empiricism of John Stuart Mill and his followers and upon the positivist outlook of the times. Later in his career, Bradley crossed swords with William James (who, however, greatly influenced Bradley's views on existence and reality) and with Bertrand Russell. His views were at their maximum influence during the first decade of the twentieth century, and the philosophical analysis of Russell and G. E. Moore arose largely in the attempt to refute them. Bradley's literary style has been much admired, notably by T. S. Eliot, who, as a graduate student at Harvard, studied Bradley in detail and wrote a thesis about him. Few if any other works on logic have been written with the verve, eloquence, and exuberant clarity of Bradley's Principles, but Appearance and Reality is less varied, and, from a stylistic point of view, much less successful.


Bradley's Ethical Studies is the most Hegelian of his writings. There is much criticism in it of Mill and some criticism of Immanuel Kant. There are amusing skirmishes with Matthew Arnold and with Frederick Harrison, the English positivist. Running through the book is the idea that it is not for the moral philosopher to tell people what to do, but rather to dispel false views of the nature of morality and to provide an analysis of morality that can stand up to philosophical criticism. Thus he starts with an analysis of the moral concepts of the plain man, which, he holds, are not consistent with utilitarian views on punishment and responsibility. He goes on to criticize hedonism, largely on the ground that since pleasure is an "infinite perishing series," it cannot be the object of a rational pursuit. (The influence of Hegel's doctrine of the False Infinite is apparent here.) As to utilitarianism, Bradley holds that in the light of the Greatest Happiness Principle any course of conduct might conceivably be right, and "this is to make possible, to justify, and even to encourage, an incessant practical casuistry; and that, it need scarcely be added, is the death of morality."

Like Hegel, Bradley considered Kantian ethics to be formal and abstract, and, again like Hegel, he endeavored to supplement Kant's theories by a more concretely social view of ethics. In the study "My Station and its Duties" he developed the concept that Hegel had called "social morality" (Sittlichkeit ). According to this view, duties are determined by the agent's place and functions in society. Bradley argued, furthermore, that men themselves are what they are because the society in which they are born and bred is what it is. The "individuals" of liberal and utilitarian social theory do not exist. The community is not, as the liberals assumed, a mere collection of individuals who are logically prior to it, but is a real being "and can be regarded (if we mean to keep to facts) only as the one in the many."

This language shows that Bradley regarded communities as both real and as concrete universals, and individual men as factually and logically dependent upon them, a view that was to achieve logical status in the Principles of Logic. Bradley wrote of morality as "self-realization," and some writers have therefore classed him as an ethical egoist. But the self that realizes itself is, according to Bradley, a socialized self that expresses and develops itself in making its contribution to the whole. It should be noted (and here again he is following Hegel) that Bradley did not regard "my station and its duties" as the culmination of morality. He held that on the basis of social morality other forms are developed. In pursuing science or in producing works of art, people are not confined to any particular station, and they also set themselves ideals that go beyond what mere duty would require of them. Perhaps humankind is the beneficiary in such cases, but humankind is not a being or community (this is in criticism of the positivists) in the way that a state or a nation is. Thus, on the basis of "the objective world of my station and its duties" ideals of social and of nonsocial perfection are constituted. These various spheres and duties often clash with one another, but the moral philosopher cannot formulate rules (as the utilitarians thought they could) that would enable the clashes to be avoided or settled. Conflict and failure are inseparable from morality, which could not exist without them.

The Ethical Studies are impressive today by virtue of the anticipations in them of twentieth-century views on socialization and the formation of conscience. But Bradley's position is different from that of present-day sociologists in that he thought that the plain man's views on responsibility are superior to any utilitarian reformulation of them and that they presuppose a nonatomistic metaphysics. The facts of moral judgment and of moral action, he held, force the philosopher to a monistic view of social life and to a metaphysics of the self as a being that can be itself only by transcending itself.


In his Principles of Logic, Bradley endeavored to refute false views of the subject without going thoroughly into questions of epistemology and metaphysics. The main objects of his attack were: the traditional subject-predicate, syllogistic, formal logic; the inductive logic with which, since the appearance of Mill's Logic, this traditional logic had been supplemented; and the confusion he claimed to see in the current empiricist logic between logical and psychological problems.

Bradley thought that the traditional logic was inadequate and incomplete. For example, in treating all judgments as of the subject-predicate form it omitted relational judgments, and the doctrine of the syllogism failed to take account of relational arguments. He maintained, too, that universal affirmative judgments are not categorical but hypothetical, since they do not necessarily assert that there are members of the subject class. These are theses that subsequent logicians have accepted.

Bradley denied that the advance of knowledge was from particulars to universals, or from particulars to particulars as Mill had suggested. Hence he denied the existence of induction as understood by Mill and the writers of textbooks who followed him. The great mistake of the empiricists, Bradley argued, was to suppose that thought could possibly get started with knowledge of separate and independent particulars. Such particulars, in his view, could be known only after a preceding condition of vagueness, ambiguity, and generality. This, however, is a historical, not a logical, consideration. Bradley's main argument is that inference is possible only on the basis of universals and hence cannot be a procession from particulars to particulars or from particulars to universal. Inference presupposes judgments and ideal contents, and these, in their turn, presuppose generality and universality. It is only legitimate to argue from some to all if it is known or surmised that the particulars share some universal character. Bradley supported this by a detailed examination of Mill's inductive methods, an examination that owes something, as Bradley acknowledged, to William Whewell's criticism of them in his Philosophy of Discovery. The main point is that the facts or particulars from which the induction is alleged to start must already be ordered and defined in terms of some sort of theory, and hence in terms of a universal, if they are to give rise to an advance in knowledge. Both premises and conclusion must be organized around the central concept in a system of related concepts.

The empiricists subordinated logic to psychology. David Hume's account of thought was in terms of ideas that, by the very fact of being described as "fainter" than impressions, were regarded as a sort of mental image. Based on Hume's views, there had grown up a theory that knowledge advanced by the association of ideas. Bradley set out to refute this view, which today is known as psychologism. He argued that logicians are not concerned with ideas as psychical facts, but with ideas as meanings. As meanings, ideas do not have dates and histories, but are "ideal contents" and hence abstract. The real distinction between subject and predicate, he argued, is not to be found in the relation of one ideal content to another but in the relation of a complex ideal content to the reality to which it is referred.

In judgment, therefore, an ideal content is referred to a reality existing beyond the act of judgment. The real subject of a judgment is thus often quite different from the grammatical subject of the sentence, as can be seen in such an example as "A four-cornered circle is an impossibility," where the real subject is not a four-cornered circle, for there could be no such reality, but the nature of space. (This distinction between the grammatical form and the logical form was later to play an important part in analytic and linguistic philosophy.) If this view is accepted, then psychological accounts of inference fare no better than psychological accounts of judgment, since it is meanings, not psychical occurrences, that are relevant. There could not be any association between particular mental occurrences since they perish as they pass, and past ones would have somehow to be revived or re-created if they were to be associated with those existing in the present. Thus similarity and reproduction presuppose universals, just as inference itself does.

We have said that in his Logic Bradley tried to avoid being drawn into epistemological and metaphysical discussions. It is not surprising that he failed in this. Part of his attack on the "School of Experience" consisted in his bringing to light the untenable atomistic metaphysics that he regarded as basic to it. This is a parallel operation to his assault on utilitarianism. The claim that scientific knowledge is based on a prior knowledge of facts or particulars he rejected on the ground that from atomistic particulars no inference could be made. No inference could be valid apart from identities or universals linking one fact with another. It is clear, therefore, that Bradley thought that the fact of inference invalidated metaphysical pluralism, as the facts of morality went against it too. At this point Bradley has some important things to say about universals. He takes the view that what is essential to universality is identity in difference. Identity in difference can take two main forms. It can be abstract, as with such adjectives as "red" or "hard," which require substances in which to inhere. Or it can be concrete, as with an individual man, who is identical throughout his many actions, or a community, which persists through many generations of inhabitants. Abstract universals, therefore, are dependent, insubstantial, unreal, whereas concrete universals are (relatively) independent, substantial, and real. If what is real is individual, then concrete universals are individuals. Bradley ends this part of the discussion with the words: "It might be urged that if you press the enquiry, you will be left alone with but a single individual. An individual which is finite or relative turns out to be no individual; individual and infinite are inseparable characters." He does not pursue this in the Logic, but says that such a "revision" (an interesting choice of words) "must be left to metaphysics." So it is to his metaphysics that we now turn.


Bradley's metaphysics, apart from the glimpses of it given in the Ethical Studies and the Logic, is set out in Appearance and Reality and in Essays on Truth and Reality. The main argument of Appearance and Reality is quite simple. It is divided into two books. The first and shorter one is titled "Appearance" and is about the contradictory character of mere appearances. Book II is titled "Reality" and is about the Absolute.

In Book I, certain commonsense concepts, such as relation, cause, space, time, thing, and self, and certain philosophical concepts, such as the thing-in-itself and the distinction between primary and secondary qualities, are declared to be self-contradictory and are in consequence "degraded to the rank of mere appearances." In Chapters 2 and 3 of Book I, titled, respectively, "Substantive and Adjective" and "Relation and Quality," Bradley argues that the very notion of a relation is self-contradictory and that this inconsistency is alone sufficient to condemn "the great mass of phenomena," since space, time, causation, the self, all imply relations.

In Chapter 2, in considering the suggestion that all things are groups of related attributes, Bradley argues that if A and B stand in relation to C, then C must be related to A and B by another relation D, and this by a third relation E, and so on indefinitely. In Chapter 3 he argues that if simple qualities are to be conceived, they must be conceived as related to one another; but if A is related to B, then there must be the independent aspect of A and the aspect in which it is related to B, and hence it cannot be simple; but if A is not simple, then the independent aspect and the aspect in which it is related to B must be related to one another, so that there is set up in each of them a further plurality of aspects generating what Bradley calls "a principle of fission which conducts us to no end."

In Book II, it is argued that if it is being self-contradictory that degrades mere appearances, then reality must at least be not self-contradictory, but consistent and harmonious. Furthermore, reality must also be of the nature of experience, for what is not experience cannot be conceived of without self-contradiction. Finally, it is clear that reality must be comprehensive and include all that is. If reality is a consistent and harmonious and all-inclusive experience, then it cannot be a plurality of independent reals, for whatever is related to anything else must be to some extent dependent on it. "Plurality and relatedness are but features and aspects of a unity." Furthermore, the sort of unity that reality or the Absolute must have may be understood by analogy with feeling or immediate experience, for here there is diversity without relatedness.

According to Bradley, our experience of related things arises out of a prior immediate experience in which there are felt differences but no distinct qualities, and therefore no conception of things with different qualities in relation with one another. In passing from the primitive harmonious vagueness to a knowledge of related things, we pass from what might be called the state of precognitive innocence to the flawed world of contradiction. Wherever there is thought, there is the distinction between the what and the that, between ideal content and reality, between adjective and substantive; and hence wherever there is thought, there is contradiction. Thus reality, or the Absolute, must transcend thought, and thought always points beyond itself to something in which "mere thinking is absorbed." The Absolute must be conceived as analogous to immediate experience but transcending thought rather than falling short of it.

It is clear that contradiction, error, and evil are not harmonious and hence are not real, but it is equally clear that they are not nothing. How then must they be considered in the light of the Absolute? To this question Bradley gives a very interesting answer. He says that although error and evil are discordant and hence not real, it is possible that they contribute to the harmony of the whole, and if this is possible then we must conclude that it is so even though we do not know how it is possible. "For what is possible," he says, "and what a general principle compels us to say must be, that certainly is " (Appearance and Reality, Ch. 16). In this way, he protects himself against demands to show exactly how appearances are self-contradictory, unreal, not nothing, and yet are elements in the total harmony. Even so, he does make some attempts to show how all this is possible. In Book I, for example, time is condemned as self-contradictory, but in Book II Bradley says that although it is not real it nevertheless exists.

In explaining what he means by existence, he says it consists in being an event in time, in being a fact, in being directly perceived. In a later essay he says that what exists is what is continuous with our waking body. Existence, therefore, is the mode of being of the phenomenal world. But this would seem to bring us back to the point from which we started. Bradley also says that the real, the Absolute, must appear in what exists, that it cannot remain unmanifested. But he also attempts to miti-gate the dualism between harmonious reality and self-contradictory appearance-existence by sketching a scheme in which reality permits of degrees. At the bottom of the scale, there are sheer contradictions and the abstract being of lifeless matter. Organic matter has more reality and is higher in the scale, and mind is higher still, for in mind the whole is immanent in its manifestations and the manifestations express the whole.

It is in mind that we see how the real must appear. But insofar as mind is thought, it suffers the disruption into the what and the that, which we have already considered. Perhaps, then, reality is to be found in mind as practical. This is rejected on the ground that practice essentially contains the distinction between reality as it is and reality as it will be when altered. Reality cannot be found in aesthetic experience either, for art entails pleasure, pleasure is an experience of selves, and selves, Bradley has argued, cannot be ultimately real. "The Absolute," Bradley concludes, "is not personal, nor is it moral, nor is it beautiful or true." Yet in spite of all this he ends Appearance and Reality with the words: " the more that anything is spiritual, the more is it veritably real."

The weakest part of Appearance and Reality is Book I. The amount of space and care given in it to the task of discrediting the whole of common sense and much of the philosophy of the past is trifling compared with the magnitude of the desired result. Bradley seems almost to take the reader's agreement for granted and to hasten on to the more congenial, yet only slightly more constructive, task of showing what the Absolute must be. A good part of the argument of Book I assumes that predication is identity, in accordance with "the old puzzle how to justify the attributing to a subject something other than itself." After all, Bradley had refuted this view of predication in his Logic. Perhaps then he is arguing dialectically, in order to bring out the unhappy consequences of working with this "logic of identity." But if this were so, then relation, space, time, the self, etc. would only be self-contradictory if looked at in the light of a false logic, and might be reinstated if the true logic were brought to bear on them. The doctrine of degrees of reality goes some way towards meeting this difficulty. But in Book I there is no indication that the self is more real or less self-contradictory than space and time. As A. S. Pringle-Pattison put it in his review of Appearance and Reality: "Mr. Bradley has the aim of swallowing at a gulp in Book II what he had choked over in the successive chapters of Book I."

As to Book II there are two main defects. One is that the Absolute described in it seems to be without any definite features but is an amorphous refuge into which appearances are "fused," "transformed," "transmuted," or "dissolved." The other is that in the course of developing the doctrine of degrees of reality Bradley unwittingly reverts on occasion to the arguments of Book I, as when he says that aesthetic experience cannot be or reveal the Absolute since it involves pleasure and selves and selves are self-contradictory. Bradley here seems to be reverting to the logic of identity that in Book II he had been moderating. On the other hand, there is much excellent discussion of details. The account of time is particularly good. Bradley holds that we should not think in terms of one time series only, but in terms of several or many. Just as the events of one fiction are not temporally related to the events in another fiction, so there may be various time series in which what is past in one may be yet to come in another.

What Bradley said about time and about existence and reality greatly exercised G. E. Moore who, in various writings, notably "The Conception of Reality" (19171918), endeavored to make clear what it is to say that something exists. Moore argued that Bradley's view that time, although unreal, must exist, depended upon his assuming that whatever can be thought of must somehow exist in order to be thought of. But Moore rejected this assumption. Bradley, he thought, was deceived into making it because he did not notice that although "unicorns are objects of thought" is of the same grammatical form as "lions are objects of the chase," it is of quite a different logical form. Moore's reason for this was that if lions are to be hunted there must be lions, whereas unicorns can be thought of although there are no unicorns. Thus Moore used against Bradley the distinction between logical and grammatical form that Bradley had formulated in 1883. A weapon that Bradley had himself devised was employed against him by a philosopher who had improved its range and sophistication.

See also Absolute, The; Analysis, Philosophical; Appearance and Reality; Arnold, Matthew; Bosanquet, Bernard; Carlyle, Thomas; Eliot, Thomas Stearns; Ethics, History of; Green, Thomas Hill; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Hegelianism; Hume, David; Idealism; James, William; Kantian Ethics; Kant, Immanuel; Logic, History of; Logic, Traditional; Mill, John Stuart; Moore, George Edward; Pringle-Pattison, Andrew Seth; Psychology; Russell, Bertrand Arthur William; Whewell, William.


Bradley's main writings and the dates of publication have been indicated in the body of the article. A second edition of Ethical Studies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927) contains corrections and additional notes that Bradley left at his death. A second edition of Principles of Logic (London: Oxford University Press, 1922) contains the original unaltered text with an extensive commentary, which owes much to Bosanquet, at the end of each chapter and a set of "Terminal Essays" at the end of the book. The second edition of Appearance and Reality (London, 1897) contains an appendix occasioned by criticisms of the first edition. See also Aphorisms (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), a few of which appeared in the preface to Appearance and Reality. Collections of his works include Collected Essays (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1967) and Essays on Truth and Reality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968).

For a detailed critical study of Bradley's philosophy, see Richard Wollheim, F. H. Bradley (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1959). This contains further bibliographical references. See also C. A. Campbell, Scepticism and Construction (London: Allen and Unwin, 1931); R. W. Church, Bradley's Dialectic (London: Allen and Unwin, 1942); and T. S. Eliot, Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1964), the thesis mentioned above.

A. S. Pringle-Pattison, "A New Theory of the Absolute," reprinted in Man's Place in the Cosmos (Edinburgh and London: Blackwood, 1897, 1902), is probably the best criticism of Bradley's metaphysics. G. E. Moore, Some Main Problems of Philosophy (London: Allen and Unwin, 1953), Chs. 11, 12, 16, contains a detailed discussion of parts of Bradley's metaphysics.

Criticism of Bradley's view that the notion of relation is self-contradictory is contained in J. Cook Wilson, Statement and Inference (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926), Vol. I, p. 255, Vol. II, pp. 692695. See also W. H. Walsh, "F. H. Bradley," in A Critical History of Western Philosophy, edited by D. J. O'Connor (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1964).

other recommended works

Bradley, F. H. Selected Correspondence, January 1905June 1924, edited by Carol A. Keene. Bristol, U.K.: Thoemmes Press, 1999.

Bradley, F. H. Collected Works of F. H. Bradley, edited by Carol A. Keene. Bristol, U.K.; Sterling, VA: Thoemmes Press, 1999.

Horstmann, Rolf-Peter. Ontologie und Relationen: Hegel, Bradley, Russell und die Kontroverse über interne und externe Beziehungen. Athenäum: Hain, 1984.

Ingardia, Richard. Bradley: A Research Bibliography. Bowling Green, OH: Philosophy Documentation Center, 1991.

Mander, W. J. An Introduction to Bradley's Metaphysics. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Mander, W. J. Perspectives on the Logic and Metaphysics of F. H. Bradley. Bristol: Thoemmes, 1996.

Manser, Anthony Richards. Bradley's Logic. Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983.

Manser, Anthony Richards, and Guy Stock. The Philosophy of F.H. Bradley. Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press, 1984.

Shrivastava, S. N. L. Sámkara and Bradley: A Comparative and Critical Study. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1968.

Sprigge, Timothy L. S. James and Bradley: American Truth and British Reality. Chicago, IL: Open Court, 1993.

H. B. Acton (1967)

Bibliography update by Michael J. Farmer (2005)

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Bradley, Francis Herbert (1846–1924)

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Bradley, Francis Herbert (1846–1924)