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Francis Herbert Bradley

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Francis Herbert Bradley

Francis Herbert (F.H.) Bradley
Born (1846-01-30)30 January 1846
Died 18 September 1924(1924-09-18) (aged 78)
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School British idealism
Main interests Metaphysics, Ethics, Philosophy of history, Logic

Francis Herbert Bradley OM (30 January 1846 – 18 September 1924) was a British idealist philosopher. His most important work was Appearance and Reality (1893).[1]


Bradley was born at Clapham, Surrey, England (now part of the Greater London area). He was the child of Charles Bradley, an evangelical preacher, and Emma Linton, Charles's second wife. A. C. Bradley was his brother. Educated at Cheltenham College and Marlborough College, he read, as a teenager, some of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. In 1865 he entered the University College, Oxford. In 1870, he was elected to a fellowship at Oxford's Merton College where he remained until his death in 1924. Bradley is buried in Holywell Cemetery in Oxford.

During his life, Bradley was a respected philosopher and was granted honorary degrees many times. He was the first British philosopher to be awarded the Order of Merit. His fellowship at Merton College did not carry any teaching assignments and thus he was free to continue to write. He was famous for his non-pluralistic approach to philosophy. His outlook saw a monistic unity, transcending divisions between logic, metaphysics and ethics. Consistently, his own view combined monism with absolute idealism. Although Bradley did not think of himself as a Hegelian philosopher, his own unique brand of philosophy was inspired by, and contained elements of, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's dialectical method.


Bradley rejected the utilitarian and empiricist trends in English philosophy represented by John Locke, David Hume, and John Stuart Mill. Instead, Bradley was a leading member of the philosophical movement known as British idealism, which was strongly influenced by Kant and the German idealists, Johann Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, and Hegel, although Bradley tended to downplay his influences.

In 1909, Bradley published an essay entitled 'On Truth and Coherence' in the journal Mind (reprinted in Essays on Truth and Reality). The essay criticises a form of infallibilist foundationalism in epistemology. The philosopher Robert Stern has argued that in this paper Bradley defends coherence not as an account of justification but as a criterion or test for truth.[2]

One characteristic of Bradley's philosophical approach is his technique of distinguishing ambiguity within language, especially within individual words. This technique might be seen as anticipatory of later advances in the philosophy of language.

Moral philosophy

Bradley's view of morality was driven by his criticism of the idea of self used in the current utilitarian theories of ethics.[3] He addressed the central question of 'Why should I be moral?'[4]

He opposed individualism, instead defending the view of self and morality as essentially social. Bradley held that our moral duty was founded on the need to cultivate our ideal 'good self' in opposition to our 'bad self'.[5] However, he acknowledged that society could not be the source of our moral life, of our quest to realise our ideal self. Some societies for example may need moral reform from within, and this reform is based on standards which must come from elsewhere than the standards of that society.[6]

He made the best of this admission in suggesting[7] that the ideal self can be realised through following religion.

His views of the social self in his moral theorising are relevant to the views of Fichte, George Herbert Mead, and Pragmatism. They are also compatible with modern views such as those of Richard Rorty and Anti-individualism approaches.[8]


Bradley's philosophical reputation declined greatly after his death. British idealism was practically eliminated by G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell in the early 1900s. Bradley was also famously criticised in A. J. Ayer's logical positivist work, Language, Truth and Logic, for making statements that do not meet the requirements of positivist verification principle, e.g. statements such as "The Absolute enters into, but is itself incapable of, evolution and progress."

In 1914, then-unknown T. S. Eliot wrote his dissertation for a PhD from the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University on Bradley. It was entitled Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley. Due to tensions leading up to and starting the First World War, Eliot was unable to return to Harvard for his oral defense, which caused the University never to confer his degree.

In recent years, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in Bradley's and other idealist philosophers' work in the Anglo-American academic community.

Books and publications

  • Ethical Studies, (1876), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927, 1988.
  • The Presuppositions Of Critical History (1876), Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1968.
  • The Principles of Logic (1883), London: Oxford University Press, 1922. ()
  • Appearance and Reality (1893), London: S. Sonnenschein; New York: Macmillan. ()
  • , Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1914.
  • Collected Essays, vols. 1-2, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1935.

See also

  • Bradley's regress


External links

  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Encyclopædia Britannica
  • Selected essays from Ethical Studies
  • Online text of Appearance and Reality
  • Francis Herbert Bradley, An Unpublished Note on Christian Morality on
  • Summary of Bradley's arguments against hedonism
  • Summary of Bradley on 'Why should I be moral?'

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