Bradley, Francis Herbert (1846–1924)

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

5. Mysticism

Bradley’s critique of relations is throughout based upon the Principle of Non-Contradiction, according to which what contradicts itself cannot be regarded as true. Logically speaking, Bradley argues, the Principle of Non-Contradiction is a negative judgement of the sort ‘This rose is not yellow’, since it denies that the property ‘being self-contradictory’ holds of reality. Bradley thinks, however, that there is also a positive side to all negative judgements. The ultimate reason why ‘This rose is not yellow’ is true, is that the rose in question possesses some other colour, such as for example red. Equally, the reason why the Principle of Non-Contradiction holds true of the Real, is that it possesses a positive quality Bradley refers to as ‘harmoniousness’. The One or the ‘Absolute’, as Bradley refers to it, is therefore to be conceived as an ‘harmonious unity’, a unified whole in all ways ‘consistent’ and ‘perfect’.

A distinctive aspect of Bradley’s metaphysics is the way this monistic conception is combined with a peculiar form of mystical scepticism. Bradley depicts human thought as deeply paradoxical. Fundamental to human thought is the act of judgement, which Bradley had described in his Logic as having the entire Reality as its proper subject. In Appearance and Reality Bradley gives a new turn to this conception, raising the question of a judgement’s truth-conditions. Since the content predicated in the act of judgement is by its nature abstract, there will be aspects of Reality that the predicated content fails to grasp. This makes it possible for Bradley to argue that there may be different degrees of truth, according to how much sides of Reality are represented within the judgement’s predicated content. The greatest possible degree of truth will obviously be achieved by a judgement that contains all aspects of reality. This means that, in the attempt to achieve ultimate truth, human thought is striving to become identical with the reality it seeks to describe. If successful, however, such identification would issue in the dissolution of thought itself, for while Reality is concrete and individual, our thought always works by means of concepts that are abstract and general. The full possession of truth would therefore mean the vanishing of thought itself, a result that Bradley passionately describes as thought’s ‘happy suicide’, a joyous evaporation of our intellectual life into the larger ocean of the one cosmic Experience.

This mystical conclusion explains Bradley’s characterisation of metaphysics at the very beginning of Appearance and Reality as a way of experiencing the Deity; it also clarifies the final goal of the moral ascent still incompletely described in Ethical Studies. Whether we realise it or not, our inner life – the theoretical as well as the practical – always aims at the Absolute as its ever-present object of desire.

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