Printer Friendly

Mander, William J.: British Idealism: A History.

MANDER, William J. British Idealism: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. xix + 605pp. Cloth, $160.00--The British Idealists form an important chapter in intellectual history. They have been the subject of anthologies and scholarly treatises for decades and are featured in the distinguished monograph series, British Idealist Studies as well as the journal, Collingwood and British Idealism Studies. Against this venerable and very active background, the book under review is likely to stand out as the scholarly study of record. William Mander has provided a treatise that is at once authoritative and accessible, examining idealist influences in philosophy, religion, logic, ethics, politics and metaphysics. The notes, bibliographies, and richly informing Chronology will stand as valuable aids to further study of this highly variegated movement of thought and practice.

The fifteen chapters begin with a statement of the importance of the tradition, and a justification for the chronology marking out the boundaries of the work. Mander states early that the idealism that grounds the subjects of this work dates to 1865. Reading this, scholars will then understanding why there is no reference in the work to the Cambridge Platonists, or to George Berkeley or to any of those British empiricists (including Locke and Hume) judged by Thomas Reid to be defenders of that "ideal" theory that would render them metaphysical cousins of Descartes.

The year 1865 or, better, the decade beginning in 1860 will find the importation of Hegelian thought into British religious, philosophical and social thought. Sterling's The Secret of Hegel was published in 1865, the path to it well prepared by Kant, whose influence on Coleridge was transformative. What the German philosophers offered was, as Mander notes, "a potential way through the impasse between intuitionism and skepticism." Against the backdrop of poverty and political distraction, the adopted idealism provided a social philosophy as well as the impulse to establish clubs and societies devoted to reform. Philosophy now could, as it were, "go public."

Just how well Green or Caird and the rest understood Kant is a question Mander need not consider, noting instead how their interpretations created an openness to Hegelian and related correctives. (It would not be ungenerous to mention here that serious Kant scholarship would find very little of an authoritative nature in the way the British idealists of the mid-nineteenth century read Kant). It was sufficient that they understood the revealing light Kant's critical philosophy trained on the textbook empiricists; sufficient to leave no doubt bur that sensationism in any philosophical idiom is not likely to reach lived life. This does not prevent Bradley from insisting that all judgments of reality are judgments of perception, bur it does find him moving from the particular sample of reality to cognitions of the world at large. The same commitment to have theory reach the facts of life as it is lived accounts as well for the rather tentative (and often hostile) reaction of the idealists to the theory of evolution. It also explains a nearly jaunty impatience with those who might seek to impose philosophy as the last word on life's most meaningful attachments. In this connection, Bosanquet's insistente that religious experience neither requires nor is likely to be understood by way of purely rational appraisal is suggestive: "The religious consciousness stands on its own foundation and needs no support from philosophical theory."

The most detailed treatments in the book focus on Green, Bradley, Bosanquet and Caird. The reader is able to reflect on what these leaders of thought took to be important and is able without much prodding to see just how far removed are contemporary philosophical concerns from much that arrested the attention of the idealists. Whether this reflects more negatively on the past than on the present is a matter of importance, and it is in the first lines of Chapter 9, "Aesthetics and Literature," that Mander points to the importance: "One of the features which most distinguishes British Idealism from any philosophy today was that it offered a comprehensive Weltanschauung, or worldview; a universal scheme capable of application to any sphere upon which the human mind might latch." Thus, in the later chapters on "Personalism," "Absolutism," and "International Relations," figures within the tradition of British idealism engage Kant, Hegel, and the entire history of ideas in an attempt to bring closure to questions of immortality, truth, and human relations.

What of its fate? Alas, Mander answers this chiefly by exploding the notion that there was ever a stable enough "it" to have an all-encompassing fate. Whatever Russell, Moore, and other moderns were setting out to replace or refute or defeat, they could only miss the mark if they thought there was some unified and stationary target. "Idealism," Mander says, "was never some kind of homogeneous doctrine and the effect of realizing this is to blunt many of the classic attacks."--Daniel N. Robinson, Oxford University.
COPYRIGHT 2011 Philosophy Education Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Robinson, Daniel N.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2011
Previous Article:Levinson, Jerrold. Music, Art, and Metaphysics.
Next Article:Marcel, Gabriel. Homo Viator: Introduction to the Metaphysic of Hope.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters