Bradley, Francis Herbert (1846–1924)

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

3. Logic

Before turning to an examination of ultimate questions, Bradley devotes his attention to the nature of human thinking. The result is a large, polemical, idiosyncratic, at times even obscure book published in 1883, the Principles of Logic. The book appeared before the rise of formal logic in the works of G. Frege, B. Russell, and A.N. Whitehead, and is in many respects obviously obsolete. Despite this, it contains many interesting insights, and sometimes even anticipates later developments in logical theory.

Bradley begins his analysis of the nature of thought by subjecting to a severe criticism the traditional empiricist conception of our ideas. In his view, philosophers such as Locke, Hume, and their followers have failed to distinguish between the idea conceived as a mere psychological entity and the idea conceived as a logical content. Whereas psychological ideas are particular mental states, having a fleeting existence in time and a private existence in the mind of the person who entertains them, logical ideas (the meanings we grasp in thinking and share in ordinary communication) are universal in nature and such that more than one mind can be acquainted with them. According to Bradley, the failure to recognise this difference has led British empiricism astray, leading to a fatal confusion of logic with psychology. This anti-psychologist stance has become a commonplace today, but it wasn’t when Bradley published his Logic.

After these preliminary remarks, Bradley goes on to discuss the role played by logical ideas in our thinking. They are used, he contends, to qualify Reality in the act of judgement. On this view, a proposition like ‘This rose is red’ is only superficially about a rose, the judgement’s actual subject being in fact Reality as a whole. What may be called the logical form of this judgement, as opposed to its merely grammatical form, is ‘Reality is such that “This rose is red”’. This analysis is extended by Bradley to all types of judgement, including judgements about non-existent things. Accordingly, a judgement such as ‘There are no ghosts’ turns out to mean, sensibly enough, ‘Reality is such that it contains no ghosts’.

Bradley has been accused by early analytic critics such as Bertrand Russell to reduce all propositions to the subject-predicate-scheme. This accusation is surprising, as Bradley explicitly denies in his Logic that all propositions can be analysed in terms of the grammatical concepts of subject and predicate. He even lists a series of propositions with respect to which it would be unnatural (‘B follows A’, ‘A and B are equal’, ‘A is south of B’) or impossible (‘The soul exists’, ‘There is a sea-serpent’, ‘There is nothing here’) to distinguish between subject and predicate. Bradley does make use of the terms ‘subject’ and ‘predicate’ in his Logic, but they obviously mean something quite different from the grammatical concepts, as it is the entire proposition that in Bradley’s theory is now said to be ‘predicated’ of the Real, which on his theory is the one logical subject common to all judgements.

The explicit rejection of the subject-predicate-analysis as a way of articulating the internal content of a sentence and the critique of psychologism are not the only respects in which Bradley’s logical theory strikes an unexpectedly modern note. A universal proposition such as ‘All men are mortal’, Bradley contends, is really a disguised hypothetical, meaning as much as ‘If something is a man, then it is mortal’. This analysis, which was later picked up and popularised by Russell, has now become standard in textbooks about logic. But Bradley’s argument doesn’t stop here. If one considers that all logical ideas used in thinking are abstractions and therefore general in nature, he says, then one must conclude that all propositions are hypothetical in form.

As one sees, already in his logical inquiries Bradley displays the frame of mind of the pure, Platonic metaphysician, always intent at detecting the (logical) reality lurking beyond the misleading (grammatical) appearance.

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