Hodgson, Shadworth Holloway (1832–1912)

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Shadworth Holloway Hodgson, the English metaphysician and epistemologist, was educated at Rugby and Oxford. Although he worked outside the universities, Hodgson was widely respected among English philosophers; he was elected president of the Aristotelian Society at its founding in 1880 and was reelected for thirteen successive years. In the United States, William James recognized the similarity of many of his own doctrines to those of Hodgson, and acknowledged Hodgson's priority despite their profound differences on fundamental points of metaphysics.

Independent and workmanlike, Hodgson was remarkably free from the characteristics and fashions of late Victorian philosophy. He remained steadfast in a central position, attacking the superficial clarities of the associationists on the one side and the vague generalizations of the Germanizing idealists on the other. His primary achievement was to keep alive the firmness of intellectual analysis peculiar to the epoch of Sir William Hamilton and H. L. Mansel. In particular he carried out the line of investigation begun in J. F. Ferrier's Institutes of Metaphysics. J. C. Shairp, principal of St. Andrews University and Hodgson's friend and mentor, was his link with Ferrier. Hodgson got from Ferrier a sense of the importance of the relationship of being empirically distinguishable but inseparable, in the way, for example, that color is visually inseparable from shape but nevertheless distinguishable from it. As developed by Hodgson, this principle meant that the notion of logical independence is much more complex than most philosophers have realized. Color, for example, although it is not isolable from shape, does vary independently of shape. From this point of view, Hodgson was able to repudiate the crude logical atomism then prevalent among the associationists without running to the extreme of the sort of logical monism which denies outright the reality of independence.

At a deeper level still, Hodgson applied this same principle of distinguishability with inseparability to elucidate the relationship of consciousness to its objects, that is, of the subjective to the objective. This relationship was basic for Hodgson, and he felt it was disclosed by the kind of reflective analysis that René Descartes used in establishing his cogito. Indeed, one might say that Hodgson's starting point was the distinction between this reflective consciousness and a prereflective consciousness in which the distinction between subject and object has not yet emerged.

Although he lacked Ferrier's striking originality, Hodgson was a thinker of great intellectual honesty and thoroughness. What gives his work its special value is the modern manner in which his untiring examination of the fashionable nineteenth-century problems combined technical competence with clarity. The long discussion of G. W. F. Hegel in The Philosophy of Reflection is still of interest. So too is Hodgson's treatment of the relationships between particulars and universals and between perception and conception. His careful reconsideration of the problem of free will in The Metaphysic of Experience can also be profitably consulted. We are free in the sense that we determine our own actions, but that which does the determining in each case is a set of neurocerebral conditions that is not self-determined, accompanied by consciousness. In this way, he held, free will and determinism are compatible. He explained our awareness of being free as simply our awareness of the uncertainty of the outcome of our acts of volition.

Hodgson held that consciousness gives us knowledge of a reality which is independent of consciousness and which is its condition, even though consciousness is our only evidence for that reality. The material object revealed by consciousness causes sensations in consciousness. It is material, but it is composed of elements that apart from the object would not be material. Consciousness is an epiphenomenon. It is always conditioned by organic and interorganic interaction and never conditions such interactions. The proximate causes of all psychical events lie in the neurocerebral system. There might be immaterial causes of such events, but experience reveals none.

Hodgson resembles Edmund Husserl among later philosophers, rather than Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, and their followers. Hodgson's doctrine that things are what they are "known as" anticipated in a way Husserl's phenomenological reduction, and his technique of distinguishing between inseparables approximates to Husserl's reduction to essences. Hodgson's ethics, though perhaps less interesting than his metaphysics, nevertheless shows the same conscientious struggle to clarify basic distinctions and can be as profitably studied as some other, better-known systems.

See also Analysis, Philosophical; Descartes, René; Ferrier, James Frederick; Hamilton, William; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Husserl, Edmund; James, William; Mansel, Henry Longueville; Metaphysics; Moore, George Edward; Russell, Bertrand Arthur William.


works by hodgson

Time and Space. London: Longmans, Green, 1865.

The Theory of Practice. 2 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 1870.

The Philosophy of Reflection. 2 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 1878.

The Metaphysic of Experience. 4 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 1898.

works on hodgson

Carr, H. W. "Shadworth Holloway Hodgson." Mind n.s., 21 (1912).

Hicks, G. Dawes. "Shadworth Holloway Hodgson." Proceedings of the British Academy 6 (1913).

Stout, C. F. "The Philosophy of Mr. Shadworth Hodgson." PAS 1 (1892).

George E. Davie (1967)

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Hodgson, Shadworth Holloway (1832–1912)

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