Bradley, Francis Herbert (1846–1924)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC008-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2020
Retrieved April 15, 2021, from

1. History

Francis Herbert Bradley was born on 30 January 1846 in Clapham, the son of an Evangelical preacher. After having studied classics at University College, he was elected to a fellowship at Merton College, Oxford, in 1870. The fellowship, which he retained until his death on 18 September 1924, came with no teaching duties, which gave him plenty of time to devote himself to writing. King George V honoured him with the Order of Merit, a clear sign of the high esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries.

Bradley’s first philosophical publication is a pamphlet entitled The Presuppositions of Critical History (1874). Bradley raises here the difficult question as to what we ought to believe about so-called historical facts, given that the past is gone forever. In answering this question, he remarks that a basic requirement for any interpretation of the past is that it be intelligible to the mind of the historian who produces it. Specifically, he contends, an interpretation of the past that makes it appear wholly different from the world we now live in, is not likely to be convincing. All sound historical reconstruction must be based on a kind of analogy and presuppose a substantial uniformity between past and present experience.

These epistemological concerns are not purely theoretical, as they immediately undermine any belief in reports of exceptional happenings such as miracles. As a matter of fact, they articulate highly disturbing sceptical thoughts in an age already shaken by Darwin’s theory of evolution and by the corrosive biblical criticism of the Tübingen School.

Citing this article:
Basile, Pierfrancesco. History. Bradley, Francis Herbert (1846–1924), 2020, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC008-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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