Pringle-Pattison, Andrew Seth (1856–1931)

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Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison, the Scottish personal idealist, was born Andrew Seth, in Edinburgh. (He adopted the surname Pringle-Pattison at the age of forty-two as a condition of inheriting a family estate in Scotland.) He studied philosophy at Edinburgh University under Campbell Fraser. Two years of study in Germany convinced him that it was the worst place for the study of German idealism but resulted in his completing, at twenty-four, his Hibbert essay, The Development from Kant to Hegel. From 1880 to 1883 he served as Fraser's assistant at Edinburgh and then took the foundation chair of philosophy in the University College of South Wales at Cardiff. He left Cardiff in 1889 for the chair of logic and metaphysics at the University of St. Andrews. This he relinquished in 1891, when he succeeded Fraser at Edinburgh. In 1919 he resigned, after thirty-nine influential years as a university teacher.

Philosophy for Pringle-Pattison was a serious enterprise of the human spirit, which he did not distinguish strictly from a statement of his own findings in religion and morality. His writing is clear and eloquent but not very original. He sought to advance his subject through critical interpretation of the great philosophers, especially Immanuel Kant and G. W. F. Hegel. He was skeptical about the value of philosophical systems, holding that we cannot know the universe as we can know its individual parts; only God can do this. Rather, "the ultimate harmony may justifiably be spoken of as an object of faithsomething which I am constrained to believe, even though I do not fully see it."

Pringle-Pattison was a Scottish Hegelian with a difference. Rebelling against the absolutism of Hegel and of such Hegelians as Francis Herbert Bradley and Bernard Bosanquet, for whom the individual is merged in the universal, he insisted on the uniqueness of the individual person. It is only as knower that the self is a unifying principle. As a real being it is separate and distinct, impervious to other selves, even to God. "I have a centre of my owna will of my owna centre which I maintain even in my dealings with God Himself." We feel this to be so; it neither needs to nor can be established by argument. But God too is a Person; we cannot deny him self-consciousness, because this is the highest source of worth in ourselves. Hegel and the Hegelians were at fault here also.

Philosophy, Pringle-Pattison held, cannot do justice to "the individual within the individualthose memories, thoughts, and feelings which make each of us a separate soul" (Hegelianism and Personality, p. 217). Religion and poetry go further and deeper than philosophy, and this, as he said, is why he drew so frequently on the poets.

Our knowledge of the Absolute starts from experienceour experience "of the concrete worlds of morality, of beauty, of love or of the passion of the intellectual life." It is, however, a postulate of reason that the world is a cosmos, not a chaos, which we can gradually explore but never grasp in its entirety. Pringle-Pattison described his philosophy as "a larger idealism" that reconciles the dictates of morality and religion with the findings of science, purpose being the supreme category.

He was cautious in his claims about immortality. The nature of the soul is such that it is reasonable to entertain the hypothesis of its survival, and since human spirits must be "values for God" they were surely not made to be constantly destroyed and replaced by others. Yet if there is personal immortality, it is not the inherent possession of every human soul but must be won by the continuous effort needed to develop a coherent self. Morality does not depend on personal immortality, nor need immortality be the central article of philosophy or religion. In the apprehension of Truth, Beauty, and Goodnesseternal realitiesman has already tasted eternal life and so should not be much concerned about personal survival.

See also Absolute, The; Bosanquet, Bernard; Bradley, Francis Herbert; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Idealism; Kant, Immanuel.


works by pringle-pattison

Scottish Philosophy: A Comparison of the Scottish and German Answers to Hume. Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1885.

Hegelianism and Personality. Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1887.

Man's Place in the Cosmos. Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1897.

The Idea of God in the Light of Recent Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1917.

The Idea of Immortality. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922.

Studies in the Philosophy of Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930.

The Balfour Lectures on Realism (delivered 1891), with a memoir by editor G. F. Barbour. Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1933.

A. K. Stout (1967)

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Pringle-Pattison, Andrew Seth (1856–1931)

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