F. H. Bradley
born Jan. 30, 1846, Clapham, Surrey, Eng.
died Sept. 18, 1924, Oxford
influential English philosopher of the absolute Idealist
school, which based its doctrines on the thought of G.W.F.
Hegel and considered mind to be a more fundamental feature
of the universe than matter.
Elected to a fellowship at Merton College, Oxford, in
1870, Bradley soon became ill with a kidney disease that
made him a semi-invalid for the rest of his life. Because
his fellowship involved no teaching duties and because he
never married, he was able to devote the major part of his
life to writing. He was awarded Britain’s Order of Merit,
the first English philosopher to receive the distinction.
In his early work Bradley participated in the growing
attack upon the Empiricist theories of English thinkers such
as John Stuart Mill and drew heavily on Hegel’s ideas. In
Ethical Studies (1876), Bradley’s first major work, he
sought to expose the confusions apparent in Mill’s doctrine
of Utilitarianism, which urged maximum human happiness as
the goal of ethical behaviour. In The Principles of Logic
(1883), Bradley denounced the deficient psychology of the
Empiricists, whose logic was limited, in his view, to the
doctrine of the association of ideas held in the human mind.
He gave Hegel due credit for borrowed ideas in both books,
but he never embraced Hegelianism thoroughly.
Bradley’s most ambitious work, Appearance and Reality: A
Metaphysical Essay (1893), was, in his own words, a
“critical discussion of first principles,” meant “to
stimulate inquiry and doubt.” The book disappointed his
followers, who expected a vindication of the truths of
religion. While reality is indeed spiritual, he maintained,
a detailed demonstration of the notion is beyond human
capacity. If for no other reason, the demonstration is
impossible because of the fatally abstract nature of human
thought. Instead of ideas, which could not properly contain
reality, he recommended feeling, the immediacy of which
could embrace the harmonious nature of reality. His admirers
were disappointed as well by his discussion of worship and
the soul. He declared that religion is not a “final and
ultimate” matter but, instead, a matter of practice; the
philosopher’s absolute idea is incompatible with the God of
The effect of Appearance and Reality was to encourage
rather than to dispel doubt, and the following that Bradley
had gained through his work in ethics and logic became
disenchanted. Thus, the most influential aspect of his work
has been the negative and critical one because of his skill
as a polemical writer. Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore, who
led the attack on Idealism, both benefitted from his sharp
dialectic. Modern critics value him less for his conclusions
than for the manner in which he reached them, via a ruthless
search for truth. In addition to original work in
philosophical psychology, Bradley wrote The Presuppositions
of Critical History (1874) and Essays on Truth and Reality
(1914). His psychological essays and minor writings were
combined in Collected Essays (2 vol., 1935).