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date: 26 February 2020


Abstract and Keywords

This introductory chapter briefly surveys the main philosophical developments of the nineteenth century, contextualising the chapters that follow. Separate sections outline the principal elements of debate for each of the volume’s six sections: Logic and scientific method, metaphysics, science and philosophy, ethical, social and political thought, religious philosophy, and the practice of philosophy.

Keywords: Logic, methodology, metaphysics, science, evolution, ethics, religion, philosophy

The Edwardian mind reacted so harshly against the age that preceded it that not until the second half of the twentieth century was the Victorian world able to reassert itself as a legitimate domain of academic interest. Nor has this rehabilitation even been complete, since to the majority of English-speaking historians of philosophy the term ‘nineteenth-century philosophy’ indicates the great systems of Continental thought—Hegel, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche—rather than the British tradition which, with exception of isolated names like Mill or Newman, to this day remains almost entirely unknown. The current volume seeks to redress that situation and urge that the renewed levels of attention and scholarship which contemporary philosophers have applied to British philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries should be extended also to the work of the nineteenth.

With its earnest yet pragmatic anti-intellectualism focused largely on commerce and respectability, it is sometimes thought that the Victorian mind produced little philosophy of any note. But as the chapters of this volume make very apparent that could not be further from the truth. The nineteenth century was a time of intense intellectual activity, in which critical advances inspired in equal measures both anxious doubt and creative expansion, and nowhere is this more evident than in the work of its philosophers. Conceding this, it is sometimes thought that such philosophy as may be found in the nineteenth century is simply irrelevant to the contemporary subject; its problems, methods, and language quite unlike anything today. For (it is argued) the analytic discipline in which most English-language philosophers now work grew precisely out of the sharp break with the past that occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century, and which we associate with the names of Russell, Moore, and Wittgenstein. But to make this charge is to confuse familiarity with relevance. Certainly nineteenth-century philosophy is conducted in an outdated idiom and subject to a set of different assumptions which make it seem opaque at first sight, but in truth this is no more than might be said of the philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the difference is simply that their central place in the philosophy curriculum has served to make these earlier schemes of thought almost second nature to us. As each of the essays in this volume shows, once we find our way beneath its veneer of obscurity, the relevance of nineteenth-century philosophy comes out very clearly. Often, indeed, we find its philosophers to be addressing the same problems as concern us today.

(p. 2) The following introductory chapter briefly surveys the century’s philosophical developments, contextualizing the chapters that follow. One point which emerges both from that survey and the chapters themselves should be noted at the very start. We can only approach the past from the perspective of our present understanding, and hence modern subject classifications have been used to parcel up the various discussions. That results in a certain distortion, however, for our conception of where these divisions and boundaries lie was not necessarily shared in the nineteenth century, with the result that their theories and arguments often refuse to confine themselves to the neat boxes in which we would now attempt to house them.

Logic and Scientific Method

The technical innovations of Frege, Russell, and Whitehead were so striking that modern logicians tend to regard their subject as newborn in the twentieth century, lumping together everything that went before (from Aristotelian syllogistic until the discovery of predicate calculus) as simply ‘traditional logic’. This completely whitewashes an interesting developmental story, however. In particular it ignores the fact that technical logic in Britain in the nineteenth century, emerging from its moribund status in the preceding era, experienced a rebirth which, even if it was not simply incorporated into the modern discipline, included developments that laid important foundations for what was to follow.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the study of formal logic in Britain was at a very low ebb indeed, having degenerated into little more than informal scientific methodology and the most rudimentary teaching of Aristotle. The person who did most to bring about a change in this state of affairs was Richard Whately (1787–1863). Without pretending to originality, his clear and accurate presentation of logic as a purely formal science of syllogistic reasoning made his 1826 Elements of Logic perfectly suited as a textbook. Moreover, himself a theologian who rose ultimately to become Archbishop of Dublin, Whately was able to offer a clear motivation for its study:

Those who are engaged in, or designated for the Sacred Ministry, and all others who are sensible that the cause of true Religion is not a concern of the Ministry alone, should remember that this is no time to forego any of the advantages which that cause may derive from an active and judicious cultivation of the faculties….Among the enemies of the Gospel now, are to be found men not only of learning and of ingenuity, but of cultivated argumentative powers, and not unversed in the principles of Logic. If the advocates of our Religion think proper to disregard this help, they will find, on careful inquiry, that their opponents do not.1

Sharing his conception of the subject as purely formal, but not his belief that it found its last word in Aristotle, William Hamilton (1788–1856) first came to public attention in 1833 as a critic of certain aspects of Whately’s work, but it was not until 1846 that he set out the innovation for which he is best-known, the quantification of the predicate.2 Arguing that (p. 3) in affirmative as well as in negative judgements the predicate may be either distributed or undistributed, so that (for example) ‘All As are B’ can be read as either ‘All As are all Bs’ or ‘All As are some Bs’ and the overall number of valid syllogisms thereby increased from twenty-four to thirty-six, the historical importance of Hamilton’s innovation lay more than anything else in the spur it gave to subsequent studies, such as those of Augustus de Morgan (1806–71). Much of de Morgan’s published work arose out of his acrimonious dispute with Hamilton about who first discovered the quantification of the predicate doctrine and, more importantly, about its precise nature and significance, although for his broader contribution to the subject as a whole de Morgan should equally be remembered for his opening up of the logic of relations, and for the laws which bear his name relating the operators and, not, and or.3

The pioneering work of George Boole (1815–64) moved formal logic further from traditional philosophy in the direction of mathematics, locating a fundamental similarity between the symbolic systems of algebra and those that might be used to express thought more generally, thereby permitting logical propositions to be expressed in the form of algebraic equations and deductions to be performed mathematically. This method, now known as Boolean algebra and familiar to many as the foundation of computer science, he demonstrated by reference to a variety of historical theological arguments and―of more interest to modern readers―by application to probability theory. Boole’s work was taken up by figures like W. S. Jevons (1835–82), John Venn (1834–1923), and Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) (1832–98) but only joined with the deep influence of Frege were these advances able to contribute to the great flowering of logic that emerged in Cambridge in the early twentieth century due to Russell and Whitehead.

The nineteenth century also saw important developments in inductive logic which, without even the excuse of a ‘modern canon’ against which they may be found wanting, have become almost as neglected as those in formal logic. Thomas Kuhn is famous for having urged philosophers to remember their history of science.4 But ironically he and they had forgotten not just their history of science, but their history of the philosophy of science, for they could have learned the very same lesson from William Whewell (1794–1866), whose philosophy of the inductive sciences grew out of his magisterial History of the Inductive Sciences, from the Earliest to the Present Times (1837). Whewell claimed to be ‘renovating’ Bacon’s inductive method, but such allegiance as he had to the classical empiricist tradition was augmented by a vital debt to the philosophy of Kant, whose thinking he did much to introduce into Britain, albeit in highly modified form. For Whewell all knowledge requires, as well as ‘fact’ or ‘experience’, the presence of some organizing ‘idea’ or ‘principle’—he takes these terms very broadly—two elements whose roles, if they can be distinguished, can never be separated. Neither innate nor unrepresentative of the world in the manner of Kant’s categories, the role which Whewell’s ideas play in induction is a creative one; that of providing the conceptual framework that ‘colligates’ the facts into an explanatory system. Novel prediction, consilience (when an induction, obtained from one class of facts, coincides with an induction, obtained from another different class), and the progressive unification or simplification of diverse phenomena may all be used to test for truth, but most curiously of all (p. 4) Whewell argues that the process of scientific progress arrives in the end at necessary truths, thereby rejecting any fundamental distinction between induction and deduction.

Though less influenced by historical reflections and hopeful of distilling a timelessly valid scientific method, John Stuart Mill (1806–73) agreed with Whewell in regarding induction as the sole legitimate procedure for the extension of knowledge. But fully aware of Hume’s critique he offers no justificatory defence of its use beyond the fact that it is spontaneous and unavoidable; something done all the time by all of us. Indeed, reflecting the conclusion arrived at in the twentieth century by such figures as Nelson Goodman and Peter Strawson, he concludes that, rather than consider the standing of induction in general, the proper task of philosophy should be to determine the criteria for good or bad inductions in particular. It is in this context that we need to understand Mill’s famous canons of induction, his five principles for identifying those instances of genuine causality which we may (as later philosophers have put it) ‘project’ into the future.

However, Mill and Whewell disagreed profoundly over the correct understanding of what was involved in inductive inference, entering into an important dispute with one another, which extended over many years from the first edition of Mill’s System of Logic in 1843 until Whewell’s On the Philosophy of Discovery in 1860. Essentially a difference of opinion about the sense in which inductive inference can ‘advance’ beyond what is empirically given, an important part of the discussion focused around the illustrative example of Kepler’s discovery that the planet Mars moves in an ellipse. Mill allowed that Kepler had to bring in the concept of ‘lying on an ellipse’ in order to characterize rightly the data, but insisted on its presence somehow within that observational data since, by his lights, any move beyond the given must be deemed illegitimate. For Whewell, by contrast, the notion of an ‘ellipse’ is a new one imposed upon the data by a creative act of the mind, ‘colligating’ the observed facts, and guaranteeing that the inference is more than simply a union or collection of particulars. Contra Mill, he insists that there can be no mechanical ‘inductive logic’ with canons parallel to those of formal logic, or rather to put the same point slightly differently, that the real work of scientific discovery lies in the reduction of complex phenomena into their underlying patterns of similarity and difference, a distillation from experience which is impossible without the admixture of creative organizing ideas.

Although Mill championed inductive logic, his view that all knowledge proceeds from particular experience pushed him into developing important ideas about the apparent counterexamples to that position, that is, about a priori knowledge. Holding that all genuine inference proceeds from particular to particular, with general statements serving merely as a summary or ‘register’ of such inferences, he rejects syllogism as not properly a species of inference at all, while mathematical and geometrical truths he treats as highly generalized empirical claims about the physical world, with the consequent and unsettling implication that they are both fallible and contingent.

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century British philosophy experienced something of a revolution, as an idealism heavily indebted to Kant and Hegel appeared on the scene and rapidly came to dominate, first in Oxford and Glasgow and then in the country at large.5 Dismissed by its opponents as the last gasp of an outmoded system which even in Germany had succumbed to a more modern empiricism—it was quipped that Oxford is the (p. 5) place to which bad German philosophers go when they die6—in truth the turn to idealism in Britain represented something new and vital. The Idealists did much to revitalize and professionalize the study of philosophy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their logic which originates in T. H. Green (1836–82), but was most developed in F. H. Bradley (1846–1924) and Bernard Bosanquet (1848–1923). If Idealism is today one of the most neglected parts of the century’s thinking, its logic is the most neglected part of a neglected system. The reason for this lies in its great difference from either species of logic so far considered but, as Ferreira’s essay makes clear, once the initial hurdle of unfamiliarity is passed they reveal themselves to be logicians of very great acuity. In Idealist hands logic is no longer a purely formal discipline confining itself solely to the interrelations between ideas but becomes instead the science of knowledge (or true thinking) as forms of judgement and inference are analysed and assessed for their ability to express reality itself. Guided by a holistic metaphysics, logic shifts from a subject whose essence lies in sharp distinctions into one characterized everywhere by fluidity. Implying more than they are able to say, terms have indistinct edges, while the lines between different types of judgement―even between judgement and inference―become blurred, as everywhere the chief criterion of adequacy for any analysis that may be proposed becomes how coherent, comprehensive, and systematic a conceptual scheme it allows us to build. Not even the great distinction between inductive and deductive logic can stand, argued the Idealists, when both come before the same measure of their contribution to the coherent explanation of experience as a whole. The contrast becomes a relative difference of emphasis. For Bradley all inference rests ultimately on universals, and for this reason he was clear in his rejection of Mill’s conception of induction, although he seems unaware how close his own line brings him to Whewell.


During the first half of the nineteenth century the two chief metaphysical systems which dominated British philosophy were both national and traditional. On the one hand there was the Scottish or Common Sense school which took its lineage from Thomas Reid’s response to David Hume. Work in this tradition continued throughout the nineteenth century, but in terms of influence the greatest figure was William Hamilton who from the 1830s to the 1850s was held in extremely high regard (a level of reputation that in hindsight seems most curious). Though allowing that our grasp of the world functions in accordance with certain basic and native regulatory principles of ‘common sense’, unlike Reid Hamilton argued that this brought us to a position that was more like faith than knowledge. He urged a ‘natural’ or direct realism of perception according to which we have unmediated access to both the self and the not-self, although here again he disagreed with Reid, insisting that our access is only to things not separated from us by space or time, with the consequences that we can know the light-rays which come from physical objects but not the physical objects themselves, and that we can entertain only present memory (p. 6) images but not the past itself. Fully conversant with German philosophy, perhaps the most significant thing about Hamilton’s philosophy was the way in which he attempted to combine his native common-sense tradition with more Kantian ways of thinking in what he called the Philosophy of the Conditioned. The ‘relativity of knowledge’, he argues, limits what we can ever know to that which is conditioned by our own finite faculties of cognition, but this is something which falls always between two exclusive and contradictory extremes. Though clearly taking as its source the antinomies of pure reason, Hamilton’s theory here varies from its Kantian origin in that, rather than accept the legitimacy of both opposing arguments and hence the self-contradictory nature of reality—its utter discrepancy with our reason—he argues that one side must be true. We just don’t know which. Thus the proper lesson to be drawn is simply one of the limitation on our knowledge.

The other great tradition, the English or Empirical school, was equally venerable in that it traced its lineage back to the sensory and psychological tradition of Bacon and Locke. These ideas it took forward principally through the work of John Stuart Mill. Mill espoused a psychologically focused doctrine in which the only items of which we have direct awareness are our own mind-dependent sensations, anything beyond that to be arrived at by inductive reasoning. This famously led him to a phenomenalist conception of physical reality as consisting in permanent possibilities of sensation.7

Hamilton’s attempt to combine Reid’s natural realism with a Kantian doctrine of the relativity of knowledge has been judged inconsistent by many scholars, including Mill himself,8 whose disagreement called forth what became in fact his most substantial foray into metaphysics, An Examination of Hamilton’s Philosophy (1865). In this work Mill is quite unsparing in his criticisms of Hamilton, and contemporary scholars have almost all judged Mill the victor. But events at the time might be read to tell a different story, for in the second half of the century metaphysical speculation found new life, and to no small extent it was Hamilton’s work that encouraged this.9 British philosophy entered what might be thought of as a golden age of independent constructive metaphysics,10 as the following three examples illustrate.

The philosophy of James Frederick Ferrier (1808–64) represents a substantially new coinage. Against the faith of the Scottish school in the natural power of mind, which philosophy can only confuse, and against the faith of the Empirical school in science, which philosophy can only serve, Ferrier represents a renewed belief in the power of philosophy itself both to diagnose error and to move constructively beyond it. An a priori project reliant solely on non-contradiction and set out in something akin to geometrical form, his final work, the Institutes of Metaphysics (1854), has polarized opinion, seeming to some readers a falling-away from the heights of the tradition which nurtured him, and to others a confident new dawn of fresh philosophical speculation. Against his somewhat implausible (and not unpolitical) insistence that his philosophy was but a development of the Scottish tradition, the influences that more readily spring to mind are Spinoza and Hegel (though ostensibly he rejects both). Ferrier was in large part responsible for the rehabilitation of Berkeley, (p. 7) and it is with idealism he begins, recasting the fundamental unit of apprehension as always subject-plus-object. He argues that we can be ignorant only of what could be known, and that since all knowledge consists of some subject in synthesis with some object11 not only is it impossible to know either a subject-in-itself or a thing-in itself, but it makes no sense either to suppose that this is something lying outside our knowledge. Ferrier is here criticizing both Kant and Hamilton’s agnostic doctrine of the unconditioned. In doing so he ushers in a new and strong anti-realism, for which contribution the Idealists who followed him gave explicit acknowledgement.

Another metaphysician now even more ignored, though likewise highly regarded in his day, was Shadworth Hodgson (1832–1912). But contemporary esteem and influence on subsequent thinkers are not the only criteria for inclusion in a history of philosophy,12 and since such histories have an inevitable tendency to narrow canons, inclusion of a figure like Hodgson reminds us of the great diversity and originality of philosophical work to be found in the nineteenth century. One of the last ‘lay’ philosophers, as the first president of the Aristotelian Society Hodgson was also significant in the process of the professionalization of philosophy. Much of his thought was set out in his series of annual presidential addresses to the society, but it was in the four-volume Metaphysic of Experience (1898) that it found its fullest expression. Like many nineteenth-century writers Hodgson’s verbose style itself won him no friends, but he illustrates how elaborate constructive work in philosophy was not simply the preserve of ‘rationalists’. For taking Hume’s method as far as it is possible to go, his close attention to the detailed texture of actual experience results in a detailed constructive system which anticipates both phenomenology and radical empiricism.

At the opposite end of the spectrum of both fame and influence, F. H. Bradley’s metaphysics was no less original, and where previous scholarship has often viewed Bradley simply as a disciple of Hegel, Basile in his contribution notes that more recent studies—without, of course, denying the importance of Hegel—have given us a much broader picture; drawing attention both to his divergences from Hegel (e.g. the refusal simply to identify thought and reality) and to the influence of other figures (e.g. Herbart and Leibniz). It has been noted already how Idealist logic is grounded in holistic metaphysics and a crucial argument behind that holism lay in Bradley’s famous denial of the reality of relations, both the centre of his own system and the claim that spurred Russell and Moore to formulate their own alternative conception of reality. The thesis that relational experience is self-defeating has two important consequences. If reality itself is non-contradictory then such defects must be ones which we have added, implying the existence of a more basic and uncorrupted species of experience, which Bradley calls ‘Feeling’, while on the other side, the power of thought to diagnose its own error points to a higher form of experience beyond it, which he terms ‘the Absolute’. It is important to realize that if in both of these cases we pass beyond thought, we never pass beyond experience and hence Bradley’s position remains squarely within the Idealist fold. Bradley declines to call the Absolute ‘God’, unlike Ferrier and Hodgson both of whose systems make explicit room for the divine, but in this era the impulse to metaphysics cannot well be separated from the impulse to religion (p. 8) and even Bradley himself admits that ‘with certain persons, the intellectual effort to understand the universe is a principal way of thus experiencing the Deity’.13 He is most likely thinking of himself here.

Science and Philosophy

Natural science came of age in the nineteenth century, and in the attempt to discern the philosophical significance of this development two new and controversial ideas stand out: the emerging sense that scientific thinking alone was able to yield truth, and the growing realization that it was a method which could be extended from the physical world to the human sphere.

Perhaps the earliest of nineteenth-century philosophies systematically to address these notions was that of Auguste Comte, who found British followers in such figures as John Stuart Mill, George Eliot, and Harriet Martineau. A key thinker here was George Henry Lewes (1817–78), an eclectic thinker whose literary reputation has tended to eclipse his philosophical work. His popular Biographical History of Philosophy was much influenced by Comte’s thinking and became one of the chief routes by which the ideas of positivism were introduced into Britain. From the uncompromisingly critical rationale of that first book, written as an attempt to ‘[show] by Argument, what History shows by Facts,—that to attempt to construct a science of Metaphysics is to attempt an impossibility’14 he gradually moved to the more moderate stance of attacking its method rather than its subject matter, arguing ‘that metaphysical problems have, rationally, no other difficulties than those which beset all problems; and, when scientifically treated, they are capable of solutions not less satisfactory and certain than those of physics’.15 This empirical metaphysics is best illustrated in his efforts to develop a theory of mind upon wholly physical lines most notable today for their early anticipation of the notion of ‘emergence’. Another cognate writer, whose philosophical reputation also became buried under his literary fame, was Leslie Stephen (1832–1904). Again like Lewes, the scientifically grounded agnosticism to which his reading of Comte and Mill brought him was one was expressed largely through his work on the history of philosophy, such as his History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (1876) and The English Utilitarians (1900).

Though unwilling to classify himself as a positivist and largely ignorant of Comte’s system, Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) was a member of the Comtist circle which introduced those ideas into Britain, and his thinking was of sufficiently similar stamp that many at the time regarded him as a positivist. Few philosophers have met with such extremes of fortune as Spencer, who from being perhaps the most debated of all Victorian thinkers has fallen into a near complete disregard from which he has yet to recover. His thought displays three characteristic marks of its time. First, although prefaced with a species of philosophical agnosticism derived from Mansel, it confidently moves forward under the assumption that everything from material reality, to psychology, to ethics, to sociology can be explained (p. 9) ‘scientifically’. Second, it offers a unified synoptic view of everything; his ten-volume synthetic philosophy grew to become the work of a lifetime. Thirdly, it is deeply optimistic. For Spencer the key to understanding is ‘evolution’; it being a fundamental law of matter that wherever homogeneity is acted on by external forces it produces difference and variety, generating a vast evolutionary scheme which manifests itself throughout the physical, biological, and social worlds. These ideas on evolution were arrived at in advance of Darwin and Wallace, and applied to biology as but an instance of a cosmic scheme, and although Spencer coined the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’,16 his evolution was in fact Lamarckian (although he did later allow a small role for natural selection).

For all that it may have been preceded and out-popularized by Spencer’s evolutionary system, Charles Darwin’s (1809–82) theory of evolution by natural selection was a creation of incomparably greater significance. Given that it is a theory which in the present day is commonly thought to have profound implications for wide range of domains, it is important to look carefully at its influence on the philosophy of its time for, although it was recognized from the first as vitally important, attitudes towards the theory were quite different from those which hold today—and different too, it must be said, from the way in which many today have sought to portray them. That it challenged orthodox religious belief can hardly be denied, but if it undermined the cosy dovetailed alliance between science and religion that characterized the work of such eighteenth-century figures as Paley, it was replaced not by simple opposition, but by a complex of differing reactions—ranging from those who concluded that science and religion had nothing to do with each other at all, to those who welcomed the theory with open arms as revealing precisely how God had performed his miracle of creation. The great problems, of course, were the continuity between man and nature, and the apparent lack of purpose (and especially moral direction) in the scheme. But important though these points were in fostering debate they should not be allowed more space than a careful weighing of the evidence bears, for it is well to record that if Darwin himself lost his faith it was for reasons other than his own theory (such as the doctrine of eternal damnation), and by the end of the nineteenth century mainstream theological opinion had very largely accommodated itself to the new theory. One of its greatest supporters was Frederick Temple who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury.

That ideas of evolution might be used to ground an ethics free from religious support inspired many to create systems of evolutionary ethics, such as that developed by Leslie Stephens in his The Science of Ethics (1882). But if both Spencer and Darwin’s evolutionary theories had ethical import, as Ruse shows in his essay, their cases and merits were very different. For Spencer evolutionary forces tended towards complexity and differentiation, concepts of cooperation and justice evolving naturally as part of the progressive development of social frameworks. This tended to generate an ethic which, while it finds a place for sympathetic moral sense, took its main root in liberal individualism; moral progress is won when individual creativity is subject to as few restrictions as possible. (And despite his talk of the ‘social organism’ Spencer remained at root an individualist, as the later Idealist Henry Jones showed.17) In the hands of subsequent ‘social Darwinists’ this became the view that laissez-faire systems encouraging unfettered competition were the chief route to moral (p. 10) health and progress. Yet against this simplistic conflation of ‘is’ and ‘ought’ Henry Sidgwick and T. H. Huxley spoke out strongly. The latter, for example, wrote,

the practice of that which is ethically best—what we call goodness or virtue—involves a course of conduct which, in all respects, is opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic struggle for existence. In place of ruthless self-assertion it demands self-restraint; in place of thrusting aside, or treading down, all competitors, it requires that the individual shall not merely respect, but shall help his fellows; its influence is directed, not so much to the survival of the fittest, as to the fitting of as many as possible to survive. It repudiates the gladiatorial theory of existence. It demands that each man who enters into the enjoyment of the advantages of a polity shall be mindful of his debt to those who have laboriously constructed it; and shall take heed that no act of his weakens the fabric in which he has been permitted to live. Laws and moral precepts are directed to the end of curbing the cosmic process and reminding the individual of his duty to the community, to the protection and influence of which he owes, if not existence itself, at least the life of something better than a brutal savage.18

As the result of such criticism the reputation of Spencer’s ethics sank very low, but the grand speculations of that system could not be further in temperament from the contributions of Darwin himself, whose own small-scale suggestions about how moral instincts might come about and what evolutionary advantage they might confer have proved far more attractive and fruitful to contemporary evolutionary theorists.

It can thus be seen that the reaction to evolutionary theory was very complex, and this is particularly well illustrated by reference to Idealism, which came to dominate the philosophical scene at the same time as Darwinianism was gaining currency. Fully committed by their Hegelianism to a universe which, in all departments of its being, was best understood in developmental or evolutionary terms, at one level Darwin seemed an ally to the Idealists, and equally to be approved of was the manner in which his system cut away the ground from any dualist or super-naturalist conception of the universe. Reality was one whole governed by a single set of laws. However, where Hegelian evolution was teleological or purposive, evolution by natural selection seemed thoroughly causal and blind, and so the Idealists were never able to embrace Darwinism without qualification. However, whether it was best rejected (Green), admitted as a lower or partial expression of a truth more adequately explained by philosophy (Bosanquet and Jones), or interpreted in such a way as to fall fundamentally in harmony with Hegelian development (Ritchie) was a point of ongoing debate and disagreement among them.

There is one last aspect of scientific development in the nineteenth century which deserves special mention. In the seventeenth century natural science emerged as a distinct discipline, in part bringing to the table new subjects and methods of inquiry, in part taking over work which had once been regarded as ‘philosophical’, and in a somewhat similar process during the nineteenth century psychology came into being as an autonomous academic discipline, separate from but closely connected to philosophy. Hatfield argues in his essay that in Britain, the disciplinary practice of psychology came into being considerably before it acquired any institutional foothold or clear self-understanding, either of its own nature or of its relations to philosophical thinking about the mind. The long British tradition of mental philosophy which took in both the Associationist and the Common Sense schools made (p. 11) it possible for many to regard the emergence of experimental psychology not as the arrival of a new discipline but simply as the supplementation of new methods of working, while for others the new approach only heightened the need of philosophy proper to distinguish itself from such merely empirical distractions; just one part of a general opposition between philosophical and scientific thinking which Hatfield argues lasted well into the twentieth century.

Ethical, Social, and Political Thought

For much of the nineteenth century the landscape of ethical philosophy was dominated by two theories, utilitarianism and intuitionism.19 Both approaches are actively discussed today. However, the nineteenth-century incarnations of the former are much more familiar than those of the latter because, while modern discussions of utility commonly look to the nineteenth century, those of intuitionism tend instead to refer to early twentieth-century figures. Nineteenth-century utilitarianism, however, cannot be properly appreciated except against a backdrop of the position to which it was opposed. Intuitionism originated in the eighteenth century—in the work of Thomas Reid (1710–96) and Richard Price (1723–91)—and was developed in the nineteenth century by figures including William Whewell, William Hamilton, H. L. Mansel, James Martineau, and Henry Calderwood. The utilitarianism–intuitionism debate was often a cover for further issues. For example, John Stuart Mill’s criticism of Whewell’s moral intuitionism was that, because necessary truths are always true, it implied that morality could not progress which made it a position allied to reactionism in politics and superstition in religion; something a ‘radical’ such as himself was duty-bound to resist. But the distance between the camps was not always as great as they thought. Dale Miller argues in his contribution for Mill that not all intuition was rejected. Taking this rapprochement even further, Henry Sidgwick, whilst rejecting common-sense or intuitive morality in favour of what he took to be its implicit ground in utilitarianism, nonetheless came to think of the basis for that ground as ultimately intuitive, albeit fallible—utilitarianism ‘on an intuitional basis’ he called it20—thereby rejecting not just the notion that the first principles of morality might be necessary truths, but also the view of his utilitarian predecessors that they were empirical inductions. Their certainty he thought made that impossible.

There can be no doubt however that the most famous ethical doctrine to emerge from the nineteenth century was utilitarianism and, while earlier antecedents can be found in figures like Hume and there have been important further advances in the second half of the twentieth century, the line of thinking from Bentham and James Mill through John Stuart Mill to Henry Sidgwick still represents the classical development of this doctrine. Neither probing deeply into psychological theory nor into the foundations of ethics, it was to Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) a plain truth of observation that human beings are motivated solely by pleasure and pain and plain pragmatic sense that right action should seek ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’; a phrase whose discovery in 1769 he was right to regard (p. 12) as the ‘Eureka moment’ that determined his philosophy (whether, as he recalled, he first found it in the work of Joseph Priestley or whether, as modern scholarship has argued, it may be traced to an English translation of Beccaria’s Dei delitti e delle pene).21 Subservient to no authority, it was the legal and political ramifications of the principle that most exercised him, as he reflected on how best to defeat the ‘sinister interests’ that must otherwise flourish as leaders, no less self-interested than anyone else, put their own greatest happiness above that of the community. Though it might on a superficial look seem otherwise, his celebrated criticism of the natural rights tradition (‘nonsense upon stilts’) is not in fact contra-rights, but rather contra-metaphysics; a protest against the empty bolstering of an essentially self-evident ethical truth. For rights can have no existence independently of governments or laws that secure them, and moral claims are obscured rather than strengthened by being made to dress up in the borrowed clothes of rights.

In the shadow of his larger-than-life friend and collaborator, James Mill (1773–1836) has not received the attention his philosophical work deserves. Making good the theoretical foundations over which Bentham had taken little concern, his Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (1829) sets out in greater detail than had ever been done before the doctrine of associationism which lay behind both their empiricism and their hedonism, reducing the vast theatre of mind to the play of basic sensory elements under the play of the pleasure–pain principle. Although he wrote widely on a variety of topics, including character, education, and economics, James Mill’s current standing rests largely on his 1820 Essay on Government in which he argues that a society fashioned upon utilitarian principles must be a representative democracy, in which elected members have identical interests with those they represent; for only thus can it guard against the abuse of power that must otherwise occur when power is concentrated in the hands of a few. The essay itself is remembered today perhaps as much for the prolonged dispute it occasioned with the essayist and historian T. B. Macaulay (1800–59) who took issue with Mill’s claim that political rulers are chiefly determined by their selfish personal interests.

Together Bentham and his spokesman Mill made a formidable team, founding in 1824 the Westminster Review, and inspiring a group of philosophers set on reshaping society, and known to history as the ‘philosophical radicals’. They included such figures as David Ricardo (1772–1823), Joseph Hume (1777–1855), Henry Brougham (1788–1868), John Austin (1790–1859), George Grote (1794–1871), John Arthur Roebuck (1802–79), Charles Buller (1806–48), and William Molesworth (1810–55) and together they did much to shape and bring about reform in early Victorian Britain. But with respect to the future of philosophy, there can be no denying that their greatest influence was on James’s own son, John Stuart Mill, who later in life described his own education as ‘a course of Benthamism’.22 His Utilitarianism and On Liberty have become the definitive statements of the classical utilitarian tradition, attracting volumes of critical attention, but it is important to acknowledge too that the younger Mill extended and even to some measure subverted the views of his teachers. Rejecting any simplistic hedonism, Mill’s great contribution was to broaden the goal of morality, allowing that happiness has within it many parts and departments—some earning their place only by association with others―and that pleasure must be assessed by its quality as well as just quantity. (Although the break here should not be overstressed, for in this (p. 13) last, rarely recognized is the role of his own father who, contrary to Bentham’s notorious dictum that ‘pushpin is as good as poetry’, argued that senses and consequent pleasures formed a hierarchy from the most sensual up to the most intellectual.23) It is sometimes thought that there exists some kind of tension between Mill’s advocacy of individual liberty and his moral philosophy in which the many outweigh the few but, for Mill, liberty is the supreme utility, allowing individuals to satisfy their own preferences and vital for personal development. (And here, interestingly, we see Mill picking up from his father’s work the psychological topic of the formation of character, which in his System of Logic he christened ‘ethology’,24 and which continued to play throughout nineteenth-century educational writing.)

Notwithstanding its importance in its own era and its currently high profile, it should be noted that for most of the intervening period the reputation of utilitarian ethics has been very much lower, and for the explanation of this fact we must look to a third ethical and political tradition that flourished in nineteenth-century Britain, the school of Idealism—whose chief standard-bearers, Green, Bradley, and Bosanquet we have already met. Criticized by such figures as Thomas Carlyle (who was no philosopher, but whose views no history of philosophy can afford to ignore) and John Grote (1813–66), utilitarian philosophy met with challenge from the outset, but at the hands of the Idealists this became a far more focused and sophisticated attack. Defeated by its own psychology, utilitarianism (it was charged) is unable to provide us with any coherent or achievable goal at which to aim our lives. In conceiving of pleasures as mental states, that is, subjective and transitory feelings, it reduces the good life to nothing but a series of such ‘perishing particulars’.25 The ‘self’ which strives after this good evaporates into a sequence of instantaneous and heterogeneous ‘satisfactions’. The attempt may be made to give more unity and coherence to this postulated ideal by suggesting we aim at a ‘sum’ of pleasures, but the pleasures of a lifetime cannot be summed until we are dead and past enjoying them. We might seek instead to maximize the pleasures of the moment, but if our target is as much pleasure as possible, we must all fail to reach it since no one can experience an infinity of pleasures, while if we aim for as much pleasure as we can get, trivially everyone all of the time achieves that, at least by the lights of the hedonist psychology upon which the theory rests.26 With these and other criticisms the Idealists devastated the utilitarian tradition, casting it into a neglect that long outlasted their own period of dominance.

Now, of course, it is the turn of Idealist ethics to sit in the shade. One factor that explains this neglect—the point that perhaps most sharply distinguishes their moral and social thought from what occurred before, and what went after—is its unashamedly metaphysical basis. Turning their backs on the question ‘what actions should we do?’ for the rather older question ‘what kind of people should we be?’, the Idealists urged that ethical life aims at self-realization, but this framework requires a metaphysical theory of the true nature of the self and, rejecting the individualist and atomic conception of selfhood defended by figures like Mill and Spencer, they urged that man is a properly social creature, who (p. 14) correspondingly finds his greatest fulfilment in social life. As his most fundamental form of life is found in community, so his greatest good is not individual but common. How to articulate such a position without wholly subsuming the life of the individual into that of the collective became one of the chief tasks and problems of the Idealist school.

Their social conception of the individual led to a moral conception of the political and we find a continuity between ethical and political philosophy in Idealist thought, placing it in sharp difference from moderns conceptions of political science as the art of structuring communal life in the absence of shared culture or value. Idealist political philosophy reached its height at the turn of the century, but following two world wars and the hostile reaction they engendered towards any theory which appeared to exalt institutions at the expense of individuals, it suffered a massive reversal of fortune from which it has still not fully recovered. But as both the chapters by Vincent and Simhony demonstrate, recent scholarship has gone a long way towards correcting this picture. The state was never for the Idealists something that could be set in opposition to individuals, for it had no purpose beyond the freedom and fulfilment of individuals and if (like the utilitarians they so criticized) the Idealists rejected natural rights it was because they saw rights as moral structures which exist only for the sake of the good, with the consequence that there can be no right to act contrary to one’s own good or that of one’s society.

There is irony in the fact that at the same time as the Idealists in Oxford and Glasgow were so effectively destroying the reputation of utilitarian philosophy it was finding its most able exponent in Cambridge, in the figure of Henry Sidgwick (1838–1900). Sidgwick made a number of advances. Where classical utilitarianism looked to questions of legislation, Sidgwick championed it as a system of personal morality, and he recognized clearly that its aggregative calculus stood in need of a further supplementary principle of distribution, most plausibly an egalitarian one.27 But perhaps his most important advance was to break clearly from the psychological egoism with which utilitarianism had always been associated. To Bentham and James Mill it was axiomatic that we desire only pleasure, while John Stuart Mill, even if he had eventually come to see that happiness was something best not pursued directly but found along the way,28 was unable to free himself from the thought that ‘desiring a thing and finding it pleasant [are]…in strictness of language, two different modes of naming the same psychological fact’.29 But Sidgwick was clear that while it was possible to desire pleasure, in point of fact people do desire much else besides.30 For all his efforts, however, he was unable to reform utilitarianism to his own satisfaction. In particular, unable to share the confidence of the Idealists that the pursuit of personal and public good necessarily coincide, his ethics came to rest upon a fundamental dualism which he was unable to reconcile harmoniously except on the hypothesis that the universe was subject to divine moral governance. At a personal level, unable ever to satisfy himself on such religious questions, he found himself pushed into an interest in spiritualism. In this (it should be noted) he was far from alone among late nineteenth-century thinkers in Britain.31

(p. 15) Philosophy does not proceed in a vacuum, and the nineteenth century was a period of very rapid social change, which inevitably shaped its intellectual development also. Two areas which illustrate this very well are the growth and development of socialism and that of feminism. If the nineteenth century appears to us in retrospect a period of political stability and steady progress, that was not how it seemed at the time. The ever-developing forces of industrialization and modernization generated immense social tension as pressures grew year on year for a more inclusive and egalitarian form of society; pressures whose occasional explosion into social disturbance—the Peterloo massacre, the Tolpuddle martyrs, the Sheffield outrages—created also a constant fear of social collapse or revolution. It was from these origins that British socialism emerged, beginning with the pioneering efforts of Robert Owen, and continuing through the development of trades unions, the Chartist movement, and the formation of groups such as the Christian Socialists. The role in this story of the most celebrated of all nineteenth-century socialists, Karl Marx (1818–83) has been ignored by past scholarship, which has treated him as a Continental thinker with Continental concerns who just happened to live in London. But as Leopold shows in his chapter that is far from the truth. Fully meriting his place in a history of nineteenth-century British philosophy, Marx was much engaged in British socialism, influenced in particular by Robert Owen (his own socialism he was proud to think of as descended from Owen’s), as well as being himself an important influence on British socialists who followed him such as Hyndman, Belfort Bax, and William Morris.

Another undeservedly neglected part of the history of social and political philosophy in nineteenth-century Britain is feminist thinking; for although the long intellectual effort to diagnose, analyse, and counter the forces which oppress women in political, social, and family life is not one which has much engaged historians of nineteenth-century philosophy, it was in fact a vital period for the emergence of feminist philosophy. As Caine demonstrates in her essay, the tale to be told is a complex one. We find many different voices, from the radical Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–97) through the more conservative Josephine Butler (1828–1906) to the activism of Millicent Fawcett (1847–1929). Drawing upon a variety of traditions, including that of rights and nonconformist religion, contributions were sparked by different issues (such as women’s education, married women’s property rights, suffrage, and the sexual double standard) and not always in agreement; there was for example disagreement between these for whom the case for women’s inclusion in society lay in the lack of difference and those for whom it lay in the intrinsic difference and consequent moral quality they could bring to bear. From all this variety, however, there emerges a new perspective as the previously silenced speak out and in doing so highlight the limitations of the previous conversation.

Religious Philosophy

Unlike today where, except with respect to certain specific topics, philosophy is pursued quite independently of religious questions, there are but few parts of nineteenth-century philosophy which may be adequately understood without an appreciation of their religious context and implications. However, that context is diverse and complicated, for while there occurred a growth in ‘religiosity’, as compared with the preceding century, matters became at the same time more complex and contentious than ever before.

(p. 16) A vital spur to the growth of religion was the Evangelical movement. Evangelicalism was not a system to produce its own philosophy, but it did prompt it, most notably in the work of S. T. Coleridge (1772–1834). Probably no one did more in the first third of the nineteenth century than Coleridge to counter the Evangelical emphasis on feeling and the Bible and, defending traditional Anglicanism and the idea of the Church, to reassert the place of reason in religion. While Coleridge’s poetical star has remained consistently high, his philosophical reputation has met with a more varied fortune. Lauded in his day as a great Christian philosopher who broke from deterministic or necessitarian materialism in order to make room for a kind of faith which was intellectually robust but at the same time profoundly spiritual, there can be no doubt that his writings did contribute greatly to the reawakening of serious religious thought in Britain, but lack of system, charges of misunderstanding the Kantian ideas he employed in that task (especially his curious distinction between reason and understanding), not to mention accusations of outright plagiarism, all served to undermine that status. But as Vigus argues in his contribution, it is possible to take a more sympathetic reading and think of Coleridge as one who, fully aware of the limitations of a system in which religious ideas could claim to be no more than ‘regulative’, cultivates those ‘hints’ which Kant dropped into a more positive direction, for example developing thoughts from the Critique of Judgement about the faculty of Imagination. These post-Kantian reflections were of course laid on top of an earlier deep-set Platonism. Plato’s works, Coleridge suggested, are ‘preparatory exercises’ for the mind, leading it beyond appearances to a higher logic—that of ideas.32

But Evangelicalism and conservative Anglicanism were not the only religious forces at work in the nineteenth century; a strong alternative to them both making itself felt in the Dissenting tradition, most particularly in Unitarianism. With roots in such figures as Richard Price (1723–91) and Joseph Priestley (1733–1804) this intellectually robust lineage reached its apex in the thought of James Martineau (1805–1900). Breaking away from the associationist, hedonist, and necessitarian legacy that hitherto characterized Unitarian thought and in which he had been educated, Martineau was another key figure in the introduction into Britain of Kantian ideas, but if (contra the egoistic consequentialism of Bentham) he embraced an ethic of conscientious allegiance to duty, he could sign up to neither the autonomy of ethics nor the view that God’s existence was only a ‘practical postulate’. For Martineau conscience is an immediate encounter with an external ‘higher than ourselves’, the ground of our direct and personal knowledge of God. Martineau’s case for the existence of God was not just ethical but metaphysical also, though the epistemology remained intuitive. Opposing all materialism, as well as Spencer’s (and others’) retreat into the ‘unknowable’, Martineau suggests that there can be no understanding of causality except that which we find in our own case, that is, as a species of volition or willing. From this point the progressive unification of causal forces under scientific law encourages him to posit an eternal will on whom the world depends for its existence, that is, to posit the existence of God. Nationally Martineau was a figure of great repute during his long career―he would in 1866 have been appointed to the chair of philosophy at University College London, had it not been for the lobbying of parties determined to resist religious influence in that institution—but soon after his death that repute went into a sharp decline, from which it has yet to recover.

(p. 17) For all that interest in religious matters experienced a time of growth, as the century progressed a variety of factors including biblical criticism, philosophical criticism, the advance of science, and increased knowledge of other cultures and religions all came together to put more and more pressure on traditional religious belief, making that growth an uneasy one and culminating in what has been called the Victorian ‘crisis of faith’. Falling between such thinkers such as the mathematician William Kingdom Clifford who urged that it was morally wrong for belief to go beyond evidence and the engineer William Froude who protested that no honest mind could be certain of any dogma, the painful vice in which many Victorians found themselves is all too apparent.33 Nor was the concern merely personal, for in ways which to modern thinking now seems very strange, there was a genuine and widespread belief that morality depends upon religion, and hence that a weakening of traditional faith might precipitate moral and social disaster. This period of religious uncertainty produced a variety of different reactions of philosophical note.

One early response can be seen in the thought of John Henry Newman (1801–90) who attempted to defend the certainty of faith even in the absence of perfect logical demonstration. Although his Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, which contains his final reflections on the matter, was not published until 1870, most its ideas go back to the Oxford Sermons of 1843 before his conversion to Catholicism. Writing from within a faith position, rather than as one who suspends belief, Newman’s concern is with the real way in which people come to believe in God, rather than with abstract philosophical constructions never employed by anyone. Such faith he argues is not only rational, but something absolute. This point he makes by drawing a contrast between assent and inference. Assent is unconditional, while in inference one proposition is held depending on another. Moreover assent is certain, while inference is only probable. In arguing that unconditional assent does not require demonstration, Newman insists that religious belief is no different from everyday belief. (We all believe unconditionally that ‘Great Britain is an island’ though we none of us have, and it would be absurd to demand, conclusive proof of the matter.) For critics this might seem a desperate leap into blind faith but Newman is not suggesting that belief formation be allowed wholly without intellectual licence; simply that instead of formal proofs we must look to what he calls the illative sense, the way people actually reason. Influenced by antecedent beliefs and personal measures, this is largely a question of the convergence of probabilities and although assent is intellectual, it does also involve emotion and will; it is a response of the whole person. Looking to Newman’s own application of this sense we see that for him traditional arguments (such as that from design) played but a small role, and more dominant were the history of the Church and fact of conscience which he suggests, ‘vaguely reaches forward to something beyond self, and dimly discerns a sanction higher than self for its decisions, as is evidenced in that keen sense of obligation’.34 This last links him to Martineau.

Philosophy of religion in Scotland took a somewhat different course, often influenced by local religious politics,35 as the common-sense tradition of Reid and Hamilton provided the (p. 18) intellectual backdrop for a sequence of ethical theists ― including such figures as Alexander Campbell Fraser (1819–1914), James Iverach (1839–1922), James Orr (1844–1913), and Robert Macintosh (1858–1933). Perhaps chief among these was Robert Flint (1838–1910) who, unwilling to base faith on mere feeling, was determined to demonstrate the rationality of belief in God. Though no single argument for God’s existence is logically conclusive, he argued, they all stem from a unified theistic perspective and together amass a cumulative power which critics attempt to evade by dividing them.

They are naturally and, as it were, organically related; they support and strengthen one another. It is therefore an arbitrary and illegitimate procedure to separate them any further than may be necessary for the purpose of clear and orderly exposition. It is sophistry to attempt to destroy them separately by assailing each as if it had no connection with the other, and as if each isolated fragmentary argument were bound to yield as large a conclusion as all the arguments combined. A man quite unable to break a bundle of rods firmly bound together may be strong enough to break each rod separately. But before proceeding to deal with the bundle in that way, he may be required to establish his right to untie it, and to decline putting forth his strength upon it as it is presented to him.36

For those unpersuaded that reason could take them to an absolute or even to a modest conviction alternative routes were needed, and developing the ideas of Hamilton, H. L. Mansel (1820–71) sought refuge in a doctrine of the limitations of human reason; rather in the manner of Kant, denying knowledge to make room for faith. His Bampton lectures on The Limits of Religious Thought (1858) were immensely popular at the time, but historically more important for the way in which they unwittingly laid the foundations for something more sceptical. Although substantially the same doctrine occurs with the ‘unknowable’ of Spencer’s First Principles (1862) the name by which this position ultimately became known, ‘agnosticism’, was in fact coined at about the same time by Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–95) for whom it became a methodological principle that in matters of intellect: ‘do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable’. 37 Less negative than they tend to be today, it has been argued that the majority of nineteenth-century agnostic thinkers were far from hostile to religion, their scepticism leaving room for a neo-Kantian God behind nature.38 For some few however the only option was outright atheism. But in taking this path, figures such as Richard Carlile (1790–1843), George Grote (1794–1871), G. J. Holyoake (1817–1906), and Charles Bradlaugh (1833–91) were the exception rather than the rule.

The century saw one further move with respect to religious philosophy. If most nineteenth-century thinkers concerned with religion sought to find ways in which philosophical reason might be accommodated with traditional religious belief, the Idealists took the opposite course of modifying religious faith to make it fit with philosophical reason. If advances in biblical scholarship and in natural science made the traditional doctrines of religion no longer tenable, that was no reason to throw in the towel, for as John Caird put it, the project of rational criticism, once begun, must be carried through to the end—‘If you begin with reason and criticism you must go on with them…the wounds of reason can only be healed by reason.’39 To the Idealists, philosophy was able to show that traditional religious doctrines were the partial expressions of deeper philosophical truths—a project in natural theology which they played out in a series of imaginative Gifford Lectures—but even these truths they portrayed as ancillary to (p. 19) the true heart of religion, which was ethical. As Sweet demonstrates in his contribution, within this umbrella there was room for a variety of different positions. Absolute idealism portrayed the universe as a unitary spiritual whole whose maximally coherent and comprehensive grasp encompasses the whole of reality while its main rival, personal idealism (which owed a keen debt to Martineau), stressed the metaphysical autonomy of distinct minds. The majority of Idealists were explicitly religious, but even those who ostensibly opposed religion remained deeply spiritual in their philosophy. Bradley and Bosanquet may have thought of God as but an appearance, but the Absolute plays in their philosophical systems much the same role as God. Similarly, the personal idealist J. M. E. McTaggart (1866–1925), though openly atheistic, was led as much by his mystical experience as by his reason to posit a universe in which, behind the appearance of time, reality consists in a community of immortal spirits bound together by relations of loving perception—a sort of communitarian version of the beatific vision.

The Practice of Philosophy

It was during the course of the nineteenth century that philosophy became the professional academic discipline that we know today, and it is this vital transition which forms the subject of Stuart Brown’s contribution. It is important to realize that this transition cannot simply be relegated to the level of ‘interesting history’ for it affects the body of philosophy itself. For example, today original philosophy is found in professional journals or monographs written for other professionals. In the nineteenth century, by contrast, it was written in literary reviews of other works intended for a general lay audience.40 Again, debate now found in papers and replies or in published symposia, was then often conducted through privately circulated pamphlets (such as those of the Metaphysical Society41) and through further editions of already published works. The range of sources in which philosophy found outlet was greater than today—in her discussion of feminist literature, for instance, Caine draws attention to the importance of novels―but all such organs placed their own constraints. Another interesting aspect of the professionalization process which should not go unrecorded is the emergence of textbooks and histories of philosophy, such as those (already noted) of G. H. Lewes and Leslie Stephen, and of the Idealists. Part of the growing sense of self-awareness of an autonomous discipline, these new forms of writing became very influential and changed the very nature of reader’s encounter with philosophy.

Looking back on the nineteenth century, Bosanquet suggested that in a culture where philosophical speculation had become stagnant it was inevitable that it sought to find release elsewhere, in literature and poetry.42 This volume casts doubt on his first suggestion that Victorian philosophy made no room for creation, but his second is very important and (p. 20) raises the question of the relationship between the poetic and the philosophic imagination. Few philosophers today would define their work in relation to poetry, where, as it has recently been put, the barricades between the two are vigilantly maintained.43 But to the nineteenth century there was a deep affinity between both their methods and their aims and there was nothing odd about looking to poetry for philosophical ideas. In the penultimate paper of the collection Leslie Armour traces this connection from Coleridge, for whom ‘No man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher’,44 through to Idealists such as Edward Caird for whom ‘the highest truth of philosophy is a rational and self-conscious poetry, as the highest poetry may be described as an irrational and unconscious philosophy’.45


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Bradley, F. H. (1897) Appearance and Reality, Oxford: Clarendon Press [1st published 1876].Find this resource:

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(p. 21) Lightman, B. (1990) ‘Robert Elsmere and the Agnostic Crises of Faith’, in Richard Helmstadter and Bernard Lightman (eds.), Victorian Faith in Crisis: Essays on Continuity and Change in Nineteenth Century Religious Belief, Houndmills: Macmillan, pp. 283–311.Find this resource:

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(1) Whately (1827), Preface, pp. 28–9.

(2) Even then the matter was only set out sketchily in an appendix to his edition of the works of Thomas Reid.

(3) ‘The negation of a conjunction is the disjunction of the negations’ and ‘The negation of a disjunction is the conjunction of the negations’.

(4) Kuhn (1962), ch. 1.

(6) Webb (1933), p. 97—a fate some other versions of the joke assign to good German philosophers—Wace (1888), p. 275.

(7) Mill (1875), ch. xi, p. 233.

(8) Mill (1875), ch. iii.

(9) Madden (1985), p. 839.

(10) If we include the constructive work of such figures as J. M. E. McTaggart, Samuel Alexander, and A. N. Whitehead, this period might be said to last until the 1920s.

(11) To think of either without the other, he said, was like trying to think of a stick with only one end (Caird 1893, vol. i, p. 133).

(12) The first would rule out Hume, who was long held in higher regard as a historian, and the second would exclude Berkeley, who probably never won any actual disciples.

(13) Bradley (1897), p. 5.

(14) Lewes (1892), p. 342: 1846 preface to Second Series.

(15) Lewes (1874), p. 5.

(16) Spencer (1864), vol. i, p. 444.

(18) Huxley (1894b), p. 82.

(20) Sidgwick (1901), Preface, p. xx.

(22) Mill (1924), ch. iii, p. 54.

(23) James Mill (1869), ch. 1, p. 8. By their intellectual superiority and consequent value in life Mill ranked sensations in the following increasing order: (1) Sensations of Organic life, (2) Taste, (3) Smell, (4) Touch, (5) Hearing, (6) Sight.

(24) Mill (1843), Bk. VI, ch. v.

(25) Bradley (1927), p. 96.

(26) Bradley (1927), pp. 97–8.

(27) Sidgwick (1901), pp. 416–17.

(28) Mill (1924), ch. iv, p. 120.

(29) Mill (1972), ch. 4, p. 36.

(30) Sidgwick (1901), Bk I, ch. iv.

(31) Of related interest, both Mander and Brooke in this volume note the contemporary importance of Tait and Stewart’s work, The Unseen Universe (1875).

(32) Coleridge (1917), 30 April 1830, p. 82.

(33) ‘it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence’ Clifford (1877), p. 295. Froude: ‘More strongly than I believe anything else I believe this—that [in] no subject whatever…is my mind (or as far as I can tell the mind of any human being) capable of arriving at an absolutely certain conclusion’, Harper (1933), pp. 119–20.

(34) Newman (1979), p. 99.

(35) As both Sell and Brown in this volume point out, the Scottish chairs were often a matter of intense local politics.

(36) Flint (1877), pp. 74–5.

(37) Huxley (1894a), p. 246.

(38) Lightman (1990), p. 303.

(39) John Caird (1898), p. 189.

(40) For example, Edinburgh Review (founded 1802), Quarterly Review (founded 1809), Westminster Review (founded 1823).

(41) The Metaphysical Society founded by Sir James Knowles was a philosophical debating club which ran from 1869 to 1880. Its members included such figures as J. R. Seeley, T. H. Huxley, John Tyndall, Henry Sidgwick, James Martineau, Mark Pattison, Alexander Campbell Fraser, W. K. Clifford, Leslie Stephen, A. J. Balfour, and Shadworth Hodgson. For further details, see Brown (1947).

(42) Bosanquet (1889), pp. 91–6.

(44) Coleridge (1906), ch. xv, p. 171.