Rashdall, Hastings (1858–1924)

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The English theologian, philosopher, and historian Hastings Rashdall was born in London, the son of an evangelical clergyman. He was educated at Harrow and at New College, Oxford, where he read Classical Moderations and "Greats." He remained at Oxford two years after graduation, reading philosophy and theology and working on an essay on the history of medieval universities, for which he won the chancellor's prize in 1883. Much of his next twelve years was taken up with expanding this essay for publication in 1895 as a work in three volumes.

In 1883 he left Oxford to become a lecturer at St. David's College, a college for the education of the clergy in Lampeter, Wales, and in December of that year he was appointed a tutor in theology at University College, Durham. In 1889 he returned to Oxford as a fellow of Hertford College and in 1894 was appointed for a year as chaplain and divinity tutor at Balliol, without relinquishing his Hertford fellowship. He returned in 1895 to New College as fellow and tutor and dean of divinity. He retained his New College fellowship but not his tutorship on his appointment in 1910 as a canon of Hereford Cathedral. He remained in Hereford until 1917, when he became dean of Carlisle, an office he retained until his death.

Rashdall was primarily a theologian and secondarily a philosopher, although he would have been unwilling to draw a clear distinction between the two. His aim was to keep philosophy religious and religion philosophical. Even his history of medieval universities aimed at establishing the rational foundations of religion and ethics, the close connection between the intellectual and spiritual life, and the place of mind in the constitution of the world.

Rashdall justly described himself as "on the left wing of the Church and the right wing of the philosophers." His liberalism in religion and forthright opposition to bigotry kept getting him into trouble with the defenders of orthodoxy. The last years of his life were clouded by the false charge that he denied the divinity of Christa charge based on a newspaper misrepresentation of his observation that Jesus never claimed divinity for himself.

Philosophically Rashdall was a personal idealist. Although he held that there is no matter apart from minda personal Mind, "in which and for which everything that is not mind has its being"he rejected monism. Minds are substantial, and every consciousness is exclusive of every other. Individual minds are produced by the eternal Mind, which is God, but are neither included in it nor adjectives of it. In line both with this metaphysical position and with his general distrust of mysticism, Rashdall held our knowledge of God to be inferential.

Rashdall's most important philosophical work is his two-volume The Theory of Good and Evil. Although it made no distinctively original contribution to ethics, it is perhaps the best general introduction to the subject written from an objectivist point of view, before the advent of metaethics and the application of philosophical analysis. Rashdall's treatment is thorough and comprehensive, and the book leaves no doubt about the importance for theory and practice of the issues discussed. Although it is not a history of ethics, it includes illuminating expositions and criticisms of theories of classical moral philosophers where these are relevant to the development of his own theme.

Rashdall's emphasis on the value of human personality found expression in his moral theory. Intuitionism, in the sense of acceptance of impersonal moral laws binding independently of their consequences, was wholly alien to his thought. He was an uncompromising utilitarian, for whom actions are to be judged by their tendency to produce the greatest good or well-being for human beings. There are, indeed, moral intuitions, but they are about the relative value of ends, not about the rightness of rules of conduct. The good that it is the duty of each to produce for all is a personal good but is not confined to pleasure or happiness. Pleasure is only one element that, in interrelation with other mutually modifying elements, including morality, contributes to form an ideally good pattern of life. It was Rashdall who coined the term ideal utilitarianism to distinguish this form of the theory from the traditional hedonistic utilitarianism it has generally replaced, partly through his own influence. One advantage of the abandonment of hedonism claimed by Rashdall is that it enables the utilitarian to include in moral judgment the quality of the act itself as well as of its consequences. Thus, the disposition to promote the general good can be taken as itself part of the good to be promoted.

Much of the second volume of The Theory of Good and Evil deals with the metaphysical and theological presuppositions of an absolute objective morality. Rashdall held that only in metaphysics can we find an ultimate defense of the validity of moral judgments and that personal idealism has the best chance of supplying it. One postulate of morality is the existence of individual selves to which actions may be attributed; another is the existence of God, as possessing and willing the absolute moral ideal; and a third is immortality. Although he was a determinist, Rashdall escaped having to hold God responsible for evil in human willing because he regarded God not as strictly omnipotent but as limited by those eternal necessities that are part of his own nature.

See also Analysis, Philosophical; Idealism; Metaethics; Religion and Morality; Utilitarianism.


Rashdall's works include The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1895); "Personality Human and Divine," in Personal Idealism, edited by Henry Sturt (New York: Macmillan, 1902), The Theory of Good and Evil, 2 vols. (London, 1907; 2nd ed., London: Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1924); Philosophy and Religion (London: Duckworth, 1909); The Problem of Evil (Manchester, U.K., 1912); Is Conscience an Emotion? (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914); and The Moral Argument for Personal Immortality (London, 1920).

For a discussion of Rashdall, see P. E. Matheson, The Life of Hastings Rashdall (London: Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1928).

A. K. Stout (1967)