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Green, Thomas Hill (1836–82)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC031-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved September 28, 2023, from

Article Summary

Green was a prominent Oxford idealist philosopher, who criticized both the epistemological and ethical implications of the dominant empiricist and utilitarian theories of the time. He contended that experience could not be explained merely as the product of sensations acting on the human mind. Like Kant, Green argued that knowledge presupposes certain a priori categories, such as substance, causation, space and time, which enable us to structure our understanding of empirical reality. Physical objects and even the most simple feelings are only intelligible as relations of ideas constituted by human consciousness. However, unlike Kant, he did not draw the conclusion that things in themselves are consequently unknowable. Rather, he argued that reality itself is ultimately spiritual, the product of an eternal consciousness operating within both the world and human reason. Green adopted a similarly anti-naturalist and holistic position in ethics, in which desires are seen as orientated towards the realization of the good – both within the individual and in society at large. In politics, this led him to criticize the laissez-faire individualist liberalism of Herbert Spencer and, to a lesser extent, of J.S. Mill, and to advocate a more collectivist liberalism in which the state seeks to promote the positive liberty of its members.

Citing this article:
Bellamy, Richard. Green, Thomas Hill (1836–82), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC031-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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