Bradley, Francis Herbert

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A major English philosopher of the post-Hegelian school of monistic idealism; b. Clapham, Jan. 30, 1846; d. Sept. 18, 1924. Bradley was the fourth child of Rev. Charles Bradley, a popular evangelical preacher, by his second wife, Emma Linton. A. C. Bradley, the noted literary critic and scholar, was F. H. Bradley's younger brother.

Life. Bradley was educated at Cheltenham (185661) and Marlborough (186163), where his half brother, George Granville Bradley, was headmaster. In 1865 he went to University College, Oxford, where he achieved a first in classical moderations in 1867 but dropped to a second class in literae humaniores in 1869. This reversal may have been due to his increasing disenchantment with the empiricist orthodoxy, stemming from J. locke, G. berkeley, and D. hume and continued in J. S. mill, which then dominated philosophical England and Oxford and whose hegemony Bradley was to overthrow during his lifetime. In spite of the 1869 setback, the next year saw him appointed to an exclusively research fellowship at Merton College, Oxford, with no teaching or lecturing duties, which he held for the rest of his life. In 1871 Bradley was the victim of a kidney inflammation, which became chronic; for the remainder of his long life he was never fully well and was often in pain. He wintered usually on the Riviera or the English coasts, but conscientiously returned to all college meetings. Chronic illness and later deafness combined to make Bradley something of a recluse, although within a small circle of friends he was both liked and a little feared. He is said to have been intolerant of stupidity; indeed, he became one of the greatest masters of philosophical polemic in history. The poet T. S. Eliot considered him one of the most perfect stylists in the English language. The increasing influence of his writings led to many honors, both at home and abroad, culminating in the Order of Merit in 1924.

Thought. Bradley's first book, Ethical Studies, was published when he was 30. It is an all-out attack against the reigning doctrines of English Utilitarianism, especially in the famous criticism of hedonism in the third essay. Ethical Studies is the most Hegelian of Bradley's works, not only in its exploitation of the notion of the "concrete universal" but in its dialectical structure, ranging particular and partial moral views against each other as theses and antitheses and seeking their correctives in higher viewpoints. For Bradley, morality is self-realization, and the inadequacies in this respect of hedonism, of the Kantian identification of self-realization with activity of a purely formal will, and even of the self as equated with the social organism, are all exposed. Bradley goes on to maintain that morality involves a collision between self-assertion, in the interest of comprehensiveness and system, and self-sacrifice, in the interest of higher ends. The contradictory demands of morality call for transcendence in religion, in the assertion of a higher divine will. But Bradley is unwilling to identify God, understood as personal, with ultimate, Absolute Reality. Thought about God, like all thought, is inexorably relational, and to be in relationship is to have only a compromised, an appearance mode of existing that, when analyzed, exhibits contradiction.

The later works of Bradley develop, in the contexts of logic, epistemology, and metaphysics, the schism between appearance and reality. Negatively, Bradley was devoted, like parmenides and zeno of elea, to showing the self-destructive implication of any pluralism, whether of externally or internally related entities. Beginning with a felt unity of experience beneath relations, thought, separating always the "what" and the "that," seeks hopelessly to reunite existence and formal content by endlessly extending the system of relations. Bradley's idealism does not identify thought and reality, but it finds Absolute Reality in an experience that transcends thought and that is beyond all relation. The content of the experience that is Absolute Reality is not other than the content of the experience of finite centers that appear only, but the mode of synthesis or fusion is nonrelational.

The absolute monism of Bradley's doctrine is clearly unacceptable to Christian theists. But the dialectical power of his thought can teach all philosophers much.

See Also: idealism.

Bibliography: Works . Ethical Studies (Oxford 1876; 2d ed.1927); The Principles of Logic, 2 v. (London 1883; 2d ed. rev. New York 1922); Appearance and Reality (London 1893; 2d ed. 1897); Essays on Truth and Reality (Oxford 1914); Collected Essays, 2 v. (Oxford 1935), detailed bibliography of Bradley's writings in v. 1. Study . r. wollheim, F. H. Bradley (Baltimore 1959).

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Francis Herbert Bradley

views updated May 21 2018

Francis Herbert Bradley

The English philosopher Francis Herbert Bradley (1846-1924) based his thought on the principles of absolute idealism. He rigorously criticized all philosophies based on the "school of experience."

Born in Clapham on Jan. 30, 1846, F. H. Bradley was educated at University College, Oxford. In 1870 he became a nonteaching fellow at Merton College, Oxford, a post he would be permitted to hold until marriage. Never marrying, he remained a fellow at Merton until his death. Although a sick and often suffering recluse, Bradley spent several winters with a mysterious American woman, Mrs. Radcliffe, for whom he wrote outlines of his metaphysics, which she later destroyed. In character, Bradley may be classified as an English eccentric. While he was a conscientious member of Merton, witty though reserved in his speech and well versed in French literature, he was curiously impressed with his marksmanship and occasionally shot cats in the evening.

Bradley's first published work was a pamphlet, The Presupposition of Critical History (1876). In his first major work, Ethical Studies (1876), Bradley sought to refute John Stuart Mill's philosophy of individualism. The chapter "My Station and Its Duties" was influenced by G. W. F. Hegel's concept of the ethical community and placed the individual within, and dependent upon, the community. Continuing his critique of individualism and atomism in Principles of Logic (1883), Bradley attacked the method of Mill's inductive logic by holding that judgment and inference cannot begin with isolated, particular facts. For Bradley, thought must begin and end with universal statements. Finally, in his metaphysics, Appearance and Reality (1893), Bradley argued that the world of appearances is self-contradictory. Absolute reality, however, is a "seamless whole, complete and harmonious." It transcends discursive thought, but it can be compared with the unity and wholeness felt in immediate experience. Bradley once defined metaphysics as the "finding of bad reasons for what we believe on instinct."

Bradley's ideas were widely debated by British and American philosophers in the first decades of this century, and his philosophic system is still worthy of study. He was the older brother of A.E. Bradley, the distinguished literary critic. Bradley died of blood poisoning on Sept. 18, 1924.

Further Reading

Richard Wollheim, F. H. Bradley (1960), is a short critical study with bibliographical references and a biographical note. The most recent work on Bradley is Sushil Kumar Saxena, Studies in the Metaphysics of Bradley (1967). For an appreciation of Bradley's literary style see T. S. Eliot, Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley (1964). For Bradley's place in the history of idealism, good sources are John H. Muirhead, The Platonic Tradition in Anglo-Saxon Philosophy (1931), and John Passmore, A Hundred Years of Philosophy (1957; 2d ed. 1966). □

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