Bradley, Francis Herbert (1846–1924)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC008-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved February 29, 2024, from

Article Summary

Bradley was the most famous and philosophically the most influential of the British Idealists, who had a marked impact on British philosophy in the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries. They looked for inspiration less to their British predecessors than to Kant and Hegel, though Bradley owed as much to lesser German philosophers such as R.H. Lotze, J.F. Herbart and C. Sigwart.

Bradley is most famous for his metaphysics. He argued that our ordinary conceptions of the world conceal contradictions. His radical alternative can be summarized as a combination of monism (that is, reality is one, there are no real separate things) and absolute idealism (that is, reality is idea, or consists of experience – but not the experience of any one individual, for this is forbidden by the monism). This metaphysics is said to have influenced the poetry of T.S. Eliot. But he also made notable contributions to philosophy of history, to ethics and to the philosophy of logic, especially of a critical kind. His critique of hedonism – the view that the goal of morality is the maximization of pleasure – is still one of the best available. Some of his views on logic, for instance, that the grammatical subject of a sentence may not be what the sentence is really about, became standard through their acceptance by Bertrand Russell, an acceptance which survived Russell’s repudiation of idealist logic and metaphysics around the turn of the century. Russell’s and G.E. Moore’s subsequent disparaging attacks on Bradley’s views signalled the return to dominance in England of pluralist (that is, non-monist) doctrines in the tradition of Hume and J.S. Mill, and, perhaps even more significantly, the replacement in philosophy of Bradley’s richly metaphorical literary style and of his confidence in the metaphysician’s right to adjudicate on the ultimate truth with something more like plain speaking and a renewed deference to science and mathematics.

Bradley’s contemporary reputation was that of the greatest English philosopher of his generation. This status did not long survive his death, and the relative dearth of serious discussion of his work until more general interest revived in the 1970s has meant that the incidental textbook references to some of his most characteristic and significant views, for example, on relations and on truth, are often based on hostile and misleading caricatures.

    Citing this article:
    Candlish, Stewart. Bradley, Francis Herbert (1846–1924), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC008-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.