British Contributors to Personalist Philosophy
See also for all of the following either the Dictionary of Nineteenth Century British Philosophers (Bristol, Thoemmes Press, 2002) or the Dictionary of Twentieth Century British Philosophers (2 Vols., Thoemmes Continuum, 2005), and those active in the 19th C and up to c. 1930, are mentioned in Bengtsson’s The World View of Personalism. Articles on at least some of them, especially Michael Polanyi and John Macmurray, will be found in Appraisal: go to Appraisal/Contents of all issues, and especially to Vol. 11.
1. 18th C and Early and Mid-19th C
Thomas Reid (1710-90)
Professor, King's College Aberdeen (1752-1764), Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow (1764-80), then retired to devote himself to writing.
Principal Philosophical Publications:
An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (1764).
Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1785).
Essays on the Active Powers of Man (1788).
These and the other works of Reid are being published by Edinburgh University Press and Pennsylvania State University Press.
Reid, the leading figure in the Scottish ‘Common Sense’ reaction against Hume’s scepticism, stands, in several ways, at the head of personalist philosophy, not only in Britain but also in Germany and Sweden. For as well as Hamilton and thence Coleridge, John Grote and Henry Mansel in Britain, F. Jacobi in Germany and the Swedish school of ‘speculative theism’ or ‘idealism of personality’ looked back to him. He thereby stands at the head of modern personalist philosophy.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
Sir William Hamilton (1778-1856)
James Frederick Ferrier (1808-1864)
Studied at Edinburgh (1825-1827), and then at Magdalen College, Oxford, BA. (1831). Friend of Hamilton; studied German philosophy at Heidelberg (1834). Professor of Civil History of Edinburgh (1842), Professor of Moral Philosophy and Political Economy at St. Andrews (1845 to death).
Introduction to the Philosophy of Consciousness, articles in Blackwood’s Magazine (1838-9).
Lectures on Greek Philosophy and other philosophical remains. Institutes of Metaphysic (1854).
Scottish Philosophy, the Old and New (pamphlet: reply to critics of Institutes of Metaphysic) (1856).
Lectures on Greek Philosophy and other philosophical remains (1866).
Opposing Thomas Reid for his continuation of ‘representationalism’ and Hamilton for his agnosticism regarding ultimate reality, and turning to Berkeley, Ferrier developed his ‘objective’ but non-monist Idealist philosophy. The ego cannot know objects without knowing itself and vice-versa: subject and object form an indissoluble union. But ‘Representationalism’ ignores the self-conscious self and thus concludes that we know only ‘phenomena’ and not the real objects. Conversely, the universe and finite selves cannot exist by themselves without an other that knows them, and so we must think, whether we know it or not, that God exists and that we and the universe exist because we are known by God.
John Grote (1813-66)
(John Grote is not to be confused with his ‘hard-line Old Utilitarian’ elder half-brother, George.) BA First Class in the Classics Tripos (1835); Fellow of Trinity Coll., Cambridge (1835); Vicar of Trumpington (1847 to his death); Knightsbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy (1855 to his death).
Exploratio Philosophica: Rough Notes on Modern Intellectual Science, Vol. I, (1865).
An Examination of the Utilitarian Philosophy (1870).
Treatise on Moral Ideals, ed. J. B. Mayor (1876).
Exploratio Philosophica, Vol. II, ed. J. B. Mayor (1900).
H. L. Mansel (1820-71)
Double First at St John’s Coll., Oxford (1843); tutor at St John’s; Reader in moral and metaphysical philosophy at Magdalen Coll. (1855); Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy (1859); Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical Philosophy (1867); Dean of St Paul’s, London (1868).
Prolegomena Logica: An inquiry into the psychological character of logical processes (1851, 2nd.ed. 1860).
The Philosophy of the Conditioned (1866): on Sir William Hamilton’s philosophy and J. S. Mill’s Examination of it. Available free from manybooks.net.
The Limits of Religious Thought (1858, 5th ed. 1867), Bampton Lectures (at Oxford).
Letters, Lectures and Reviews (1873).
The Gnostic Heresies of the First and Second Centuries (1875).
Following Hamilton, Thomas Reid and F. H. Jacobi, Mansel argued that human knowledge is inevitably limited and that reason itself is based on faith. Nevertheless, we do know ourselves to be free and responsible agents, and among other persons in the world, and that God is the unconditioned, infinite and holy Person, whom we know in a personal relation, even though we cannot know how this is possible. He was opposed both to Mill’s naturalistic philosophy and to the growing influence of Hegel at Oxford.
James Martineau (1805-1900)
Martineau was a Unitarian minister; Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy and Political Economy at Manchester New College in Manchester and then in London (1840-1885).
A Study of Spinoza (1882).
Types of Ethical Theory (1885).
A Study of Religion (1888).
In these books he opposed both pantheism and its monism, and also naturalism, and developed a personalist theism, emphasising the personal nature and activity of God, with whom we can have a personal relationship, and the freedom of finite persons against determinism. In Types of Ethical Theory he especially cited Jacobi.
2. ‘Personal Idealism’
See separate page for A.S. Pringle-Pattison, also W.R. Sorley; Bengtsson, in The World View of Personalism deals in some detail with Pringle-Pattison, C.B. Upton (1831-1910), J.R. Illingworth (1848-1915) and C.C.J. Webb (1865-1954), and has several passages on J. Seth, to which the reader is referred.
Henry Sturt (1863-1946)
Edited Personal Idealism: Philosophical Essays by Eight members of the University of Oxford (1902), the first time ‘Personal Idealism’ was used in Britain.
Idola Theatri: A Criticism of Oxford Thought and Thinkers from the Standpoint of Personal Idealism (1906).
The Principles of Understanding (1915).
Human Value: an Ethical Study (reprinted 2012).
In his Preface to Personal Idealism, Sturt says that personality (i.e. personhood) is attacked by both Naturalism as a ‘transitory resultant of physical processes’ and Absolute Idealism as an ‘unreal appearance of the Absolute’, and that Personal Idealism therefore continues against Naturalism the Oxford defence of human freedom, the limits of evolutionary theory, moral evaluation and working for ideals. But it is Absolute Idealism.which is the target of the contributors, because, as Sturt continues, it is more insidious because Personal Idealism seems to be closer to it. The two points on which Personal Idealism is most critical of Absolute Idealism are the latter’s ‘visionary and impracticable standard for human experience’ and its refusal adequately to recognise the ‘volitional side of human nature’. F.C.S. Schiller, a Pragmatist, dealt with the former in his contribution, W.R. Boyce Gibson with the latter, and G.F. Stout with both. (See below items on Boyce Gibson, Stout and also Hastings Rashdall.) Sturt, like
Schiller, developed a pragmatist and humanist version of Personal Idealism.
Hastings Rashdall (1858-1914)
Principal Philosophical Publications:
The Theory of Good and Evil (1907). Available at fair-use.org/hastings-rashdall/the-theory-of-good-and-evil
Philosophy and Religion (1911).
Is Conscience an Emotion ? Three lectures on recent ethical theories (1916).
The Moral Argument for Personal Immortality (1920).
Ideas and Ideals (1928).
Rashdall, an Anglican modernist theologian, philosopher and historian of universities in the Middle Ages, graduated from New College, Oxford. Having taught philosophy at Lampeter and Durham, he became a Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford, and then of New College. In The Theory of Good and Evil he expounded his ‘ideal utilitarianism’ in which the utilitarianism of Henry Sidgwick is combined with goals similar to those of T.H. Green, so that the good to be achieved is ‘a whole in which each good is made different by the presence of others’. But, unlike Green, he was completely open about his determinism. His metaphysics was a Berkeleyan Idealism with God as finite because of the existence of evil in the world. In an article on the religious philosophy of Pringle-Pattison (Mind, July 1918, pp. 281-3) he argues that Pringle-Pattison was more of a realist, failed to appreciate the real uniqueness of each finite mind, and did not explain how God can ‘contain’ finite minds even though he regards the idea of an ‘all-inclusive Deity’ to be erroneous. If there must be an Absolute, it would have to be ‘God and the finite centres of consciousness’. That would not be an ultimate ‘pluralism’ (as in Howison and McTaggart) because the finite centres have a beginning.
George Frederick Stout (1860-1944)
Analytic Psychology (1886).
Manual of Psychology (1898-99).
Studies in Philosophy and Psychology (1930).
Mind and Matter (1931), Vol. I of Gifford Lectures, 1919, 1921.
God and Nature (1952), Vol. II.
Stout studied psychology at Cambridge University under James Ward. Fellow at St. John’s College Cambridge (1884-96), Lecturer in Comparative Psychology at Aberdeen (1896) and Reader in Mental Philosophy at Oxford (1898-1902), Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at St. Andrews (1902-1936). Editor of Mind, 1891-1920. President of the Aristotelian Society from 1899 to 1904.
William Ralph Boyce Gibson (1869-1935)
‘The problem of freedom’ in Personal Idealism (1902).
Translation, with Lucy Judge Gibson, of Eucken’s The Meaning and Value of Human Life (1902).
A Philosophical Introduction to Ethics: an advocacy of the spiritual principle from the point of view of Personal Idealism (1904).
‘A peace policy for Idealists’, Hibbert Journal, Vol. 5, pp. 407-224. Available at: https://archive.org/details/hibbertjournal05londuoft/
The Problem of Logic with Augusta Klein, (1908).
God with Us: A Study in Religious Idealism (1908).
Translation, with W. Hough, of Eucken’s The Problem of Human Life as Viewed by the Great Thinkers (1909).
Translation, with Lucy Judge Gibson, of Eucken’s Christianity and the New Idealism: a Study in the Religious Philosophy of Today (1909).
Rudolph Eucken’s Philosophy of Life (1915).
Translation of Husserl’s Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (1931).
W.R. Boyce Gibson read mathematics at Oxford (BA 1892, MA 1895, D.Sc 1911). Later studied philosophy under Rudolf Eucken at Jena (1893), then also at Paris and Glasgow. Lectured in logic, psychology and ethics at colleges in London (1898-9), then temporary lecturer in philosophy at the University of Liverpool, and Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy at the University of Melbourne (1911-1934). President of Section J of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (1931). (His son, A.K. Boyce Gibson, was a later holder of the Chair at Melbourne.) Boyce Gibson had wide interests within and beyond philosophy: in Eucken, Bergson, the phenomenology of Husserl, and the value ethics of Nicolai von Hartmann; and in mathematics and natural science, especially physics.
In ‘A peace programme for Idealists’ Boyce Gibson urged the need for the different streams of philosophy to come together, and set out the essentials of Personalism Idealism (hereafter ‘PI’), mostly in relation to Absolute Idealism: namely, to support ‘what is central in the claim of Absolute Idealism from the point of view of the personal experient’. He states that both trust the power of reason to answer any question that can be stated in a reasonable form. In the following paragraphs he summarises what is distinctive of PI.
(1.) Citing Eucken, he states that any theory knowledge depends on its view of life, and so PI requires a spiritual theory of knowledge from the point of view of the personal experient, which has three main essentials:
(a) immediacy or being-for-oneself, what we are is what we for ourselves and not for others;
(b) internal and indigenous oppositions necessary for personal growth: e.g. self and not-self, subject and object, freedom and order;
(c) these oppositions are transcended by our aspirations expressed in our actions.
(2) PI is a teleological and therefore a religious Idealism, especially in respect of the ‘most concrete standpoint of all’, the religious consciousness, interpreted as the power of God in man, faith expressed in works and our freedom becoming complete only in a ‘profoundest dependence on God’.
(3) PI ‘demands a reconstruction of psychology from the experient’s point of view’, and not as a mechanical process of assembling originally discontinuous states as in associationism nor a random one as a ‘stream of consciousness’ which omits the subject’s attention and interest which breaks off and resumes although it is not a ‘time-continuity’.
(4) Personal experience is that of a person. PI is ‘just a reasoned presentation of personal experience’, a philosophy of man’s spiritual life. The person has a certain ‘imperviousness’ but this, especially in relation to God, does not amount to ‘impenetrability’.
He then turns to a recent address by Sir Henry Jones, to whom Personal Idealists felt nearer than to Bradley and Bosanquet, in which Jones imputes ‘incomplete Idealists’, i.e. Personal ones, with recognising that the object of knowledge is nothing without the subject but not that the subject is also nothing without the object, nor that in morality we are united with the systems in which we live. Boyce Gibson accepts this provided it does not deny our spiritual freedom nor bars ‘the free intercourse of minds’. It is spiritual freedom and love which link us with each other and God. Hence both groups of Idealists are ‘anti-individualist’ (in the sense of individuals as isolated selves) and so can and should work together in mutual respect and under the same name.
James Ward (1843-1925)
‘Psychology’, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th edition, Vol. 20, Edinburgh, Black, 37–85, (1886).
Naturalism and Agnosticism. The Gifford Lectures, 1896–1898, 2 volumes, London: Adam and Charles Black. (1899).
Philosophical Orientation and Scientific Standpoints, Berkeley: University of California Press (1904).
The Realm of Ends or Pluralism and Theism. The Gifford Lectures 1907–10, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1911).
Psychological Principles, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1918 (1918).
A Study of Kant, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1922).
Essays in Philosophy: with a Memoir by Olwen Ward Campbell, W. R. Sorley and G. F. Stout (eds.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (1927).
Ward, because of his family’s financial difficulties, came late to university life, not gaining his degree, a First, until he was 31, and a year later a Fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge. He studied physiology at Carl Ludwig’s physiological institute in Germany (1876-7) and then under Michael Foster in Cambridge, but moved to psychology and then to philosophy. He was elected to the new Chair in Mental Philosophy and Logic in 1897. President of the Aristotelian Society (1919-20).
His article on psychology in 1886 attracted much attention. In it he criticised the associationism of such as J.S. Mill and Alexander Bain. Similarly in the first set of his Gifford Lectures, Naturalism and Agnosticism, he effectively attacked current forms of scientistic reductionism, a task which the Personal Idealists of the time generally neglected but which was much more necessary because of the growing impact, upon the educated public, of reductionism, seemingly based upon the obvious progress of the natural sciences. In The Realm of Ends he sets forth his theistic monadology.
William Ritche Sorley (1855-1935)
Principal Philosophical Publications:
Jewish Christians and Judaism : a study in the history of the first two centuries, Cambridge,
Deighton Bell ; London : George Bell, (1881).
The development of modern philosophy, with other lectures and essays, Edinburgh and London,
W. Blackwood and sons, (1903).
The ethics of naturalism:, a criticism, Edinburgh : William Blackwood, (1904).
Recent tendencies in ethics; three lectures to clergy, given at Cambridge, Edinburgh, W.
The moral life and moral worth, Cambridge: The University Press, (1911, 1921).
A history of English philosophy, New York, London, G.P. Putnam's Sons, (c. 1921).
On the ethics of naturalism, Edinburgh, London, W. Blackwood and Sons.
Reconstruction and the renewal of life; three lay sermons, Cambridge: The University Press,
William Ritchie Sorley was born in Selkirk, Scotland, the son of a Free Church of Scotland minister. At the University of Edinburgh, he took a degree in philosophy and mathematics. Next he went to New College, Edinburgh where he studied theology as also at Turbigen but turned to philosophy and took Part II of the Moral Sciences Tripos, and became a lecturer and in 1883 a Fellow at Trinity. In 1886, he moved to University College London. In 1888 he became Professor of Philosophy at University College Cardiff; then in 1894 Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen; and in 1900 he took up the Knightbridge Professorship of at the University of Cambridge, retiring in 1933.
He was primarily a moral philosopher who was among the first to tackle business ethics, also wrote on
political philosophy, and in his Moral Values and the Idea of God (the Gifford Lectures, 1913-15), presented outlines and some more substantive parts not only of his ethics and philosophical theism but also of metaphysics generally and epistemology.
3. The Inter-War Years
The 1920s and ’30s were by no means devoid of constructive philosophy. A.E. Taylor and R.G. Collingwood contributed to personalist ways of thinking at that time, and another, John Macmurray, began his work.
Alfred Edward Taylor (1869-1945)
Principal philosophical publications:
Elements of Metaphysics, Allen & Unwin, 1903, 7th ed. 1924, in print into the 1960s.
The Problem of Conduct : a study in the phenomenology of ethics, London, Macmillan and Co.,
‘The freedom of man’, in Contemporary British Philosophy, 2nd Series, ed. J. Muirhead, Allen &
Unwin, 1924, plus short autobiography.
Plato: The Man and his Work, Methuen, 1926, 7th ed. 1960.
The Faith of a Moralist, 2 Vols, Macmillan, 1930, combined reprints 1937-51.
Philosophical Studies, London, Macmillan, 1934.
Does God Exist?, London, Macmillan, 1945.
A.E. Taylor, the son of a Congregationalist minister, went to Oxford in 1887 and began to read philosophy seriously in 1889, looking for ‘a sane defence of convictions which I felt were essential for the conduct of life against what seemed to be the disintegrating influences of scholarship and biological science’, and fell under the spell of Green and then especially of Bradley, with whom he remained in close contact from his own election to a three-year Junior Fellowship at Merton College in 1891 until Bradley’s death, and for whom he always retained the deepest respect, and wrote the obituaries for Mind and The British Academy. His Elements of Metaphysics is a shorter and rather less monist restatement of Bradley’s Appearance and Reality. In the 7th ed. of Elements of Metaphysics he said that by ‘Idealism’ he meant only the rejection of ‘an outré realism’ which holds that the existence of mind makes no difference to the world, and he did not wish to deny the reality of finite persons.
From Oxford he went to Owens College, Manchester, as assistant to Samuel Alexander in 1896, and then to McGill University, Montreal, 1903-8. During these years he reacted against the detachment of ‘eternal verities’ from ‘historical’ actuality in Hegel and the Absolute Idealists, and was in danger of becoming ‘a sort of Positivist’. He also developed an interest in the principles of natural science, and, under the influence of James Ward, more fully appreciated the ‘historical’ and the contingency of the world. He also returned to Plato, and studied the Neo-Platonists and Scholastic philosophers. He became an Anglo-Catholic, a leading proponent of philosophical theology and prominent in Platonic scholarship, and was Professor of Moral Philosophy, first at St Andrews, and then at Edinburgh.
In his contribution to Contemporary British Philosophers, is a defence of free will, especially against Green, Bradley and Bosanquet, who tended to minimise genuinely free will, and to think of it as indeterminism, that is, motiveless choosing, in favour of determination by character. Thus they ignored the real and original meaning of liberum arbitrium as the minimum necessary for being a moraI being, one capable of being moral or immoral. That is, the capacity to make impartial choices free of non-rational bias, and therefore to make reasonable choices and to act responsibly. And this entails real contingency in the world, as in fact natural science can remove ‘brute fact’ in one place only to introduce at another.
Apart from his work on Plato, his most important book is The Faith of a Moralist, based on his Gifford Lectures: Vol. I, The Theological Implications of Morality, and Vol. II, Natural Theology and the Positive Religions. In Vol. I, instead of the usual formal and abstract treatments of moral laws as commands of God, he takes the living substance of a truly moral life as his theme, and the ethics on which his argument is based is thoroughly personalist: the supreme value of each person in himself, the demand for complete purity of heart and mind, and truly personal fulfilment. This is not formally and separately set out beforehand, but is drawn upon as the overall argument requires. And the moral life requires and presupposes the reality of the great themes of classical theism: God, grace and eternal life.
In Vol. II he argues against any rationalist metaphysics which eliminates the real historicity of the world and human life (in particular that of Absolute Idealism), and so would, at best, support only a purely ‘natural’ religion without a basis in history, that is, without revelation, the supernatural and miraculous, authority, institutions, and sacraments, the forms of all of which are to be found in the rest of human life. Even apart from the theological implications and applications, these are fundamental features of human life in the world, in which we are necessarily cultural and historical beings, and never mere instances and events of unchanging laws.
Robin George Collingwood (1889-1943)
Principal Philosophical Publications:
Religion and Philosophy, London, Macmillan, 1916.
Speculum Mentis, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1924.
Outlines of a Philosophy of Art, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1925.An Essay on Philosophical
Method, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1933; 2nd ed. with editors’ I and additional material, 2005.
The Principles of Art, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1938.
An Autobiography, London, Oxford University Press, 1939.
An Essay on Metaphysics, 1940; revised edition with editor’s Introduction and additional material,
The New Leviathan or Man, Society, Civilization and Barbarism, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1942;
revised ed. with editor’s Introduction and additional material, 1992.
The Idea of Nature, ed. T.M. Knox, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1945.
The Idea of History, ed. T.M. Knox, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1946; revised edition, ed. Jan vander
Dussen, with editor’s Introduction and additional material, 1993.
Essays in the Philosophy of Art by R.G. Collingwood, ed., ed. A. Donagan, Indiana University Press,
Essays in the Philosophy of History by R.G. Collingwood, ed. W. Debbins, University of Texas Press,
Faith and Reason: Essays in the Philosophy of Religion by R.G. Collingwood, ed., M.L. Rubinoff,
Chicago, Quadrangle Press, 1967.
R.G. Collingwood’s Essays in Political Philosophy, ed. D. Boucher, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989.
The Principles of History and Other writings in the Philosophy of History, ed. W.H. Dray and Jan van
der Dussen, with editors’ Introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999.
The Philosophy of Enchantment: Studies in folktale, cultural criticism and anthropology by R.G.
Collingwood; ed. David Boucher, Wendy James, and Philip Smallwood, Oxford, Clarendon Press,
The greatest influence on Collingwood’s life and thinking was his father, W.G. Collingwood, secretary to John Ruskin, then a Professor at the Slade School of Art, a painter, archaeologist , historian, translator of the Icelandic Sagas, and works in other languages, who taught R.G. until he went to Rugby, and then to University College, Oxford, W.G.’s old college, where W.G. had obtain a First in Greats and was tutored by Bosenquet and influenced by T.H. Green. During the First World War, both father and son worked in London for Naval Intelligence. On returning to Oxford, R.G. continued teaching philosophy and began to lecture on Roman Britain and continued his archaeological excavations. These were not separate studies for he treated his archaeological work as a ‘philosophical laboratory’. In 1935 he was elected to the Chair in Metaphysical and Moral Philosophy, but his health had already declined and in 1938 he suffered a severe stroke. He took a year’s leave, which his doctor advised him to spend writing. He wrote the Autobiography, somewhat sharper in tone than previous works, and then took a long trip to the Dutch East Indies during which he wrote the Essay on Metaphysics and began, but never completed, The Principles of History. More strokes followed, and The New Leviathan was written with numbered paragraphs. He died in 1943. T.M. Knox edited for publication The Idea of Nature and The Idea of History. Other collections of published and unpublished material have since been published, plus revised versions of other books with additional unpublished material.
Collingwood was a philosopher, historian, archaeologist and versed in the arts. Though grossly neglected until recent decades, he was the most productive and original British philosopher in this period. There were three strands in his thinking which varied in prominence from time to time: the Christian-historical, the Hegelianidealist and the empiricist-‘realist’. It is the first of these which is relevant here, though it should be noted that in Speculum Mentis, written at the time of his most ‘Hegelian’ period or soon afterwards, although he argues that mind creates the world as a mirror of itself in order to know itself, ends with ‘absolute mind’ as the achievement by the individual person in seeing everyone as absolute mind and thus as co-workers for good, and so is more of a pluralist than a monist idealism. After Speculum Mentis there is nothing of idealism, in the narrow sense, in his work.
His life’s work was to achieve a rapprochement of philosophy and history, against a background of Absolute Idealism for which the universe and human life within it is an ‘appearance’ of a timeless Absolute, and a scientistic reductionism which would subject them both to the operations of timeless laws. This has led such as Knox (Editor’s Introduction to The Idea of History) and Alan Donagan (The Later Philosophy of R.G. Collingwood) to interpret his work from 1935 onwards as ‘historicist’. But this pays too much attention to some hasty remarks in The Autobiography and elsewhere, and proceeds from a failure to understand what he took history really to be.
A key event in his thinking occurred in the late 1920s when he realised that the knowledge of history is
not one of detached observation of mere events but a ‘re-enactment’ of the ‘inside’, the thinking—the beliefs, perceptions, emotions, desires, policies, assumptions, plans, intentions, decisions—which determine, inform and shape the perceptible ‘outside’ of a free agent’s actions. Hence actions need no external ‘explanations’, unlike natural events, but are inherently intelligible. Moreover, he went beyond Weber’s and Rickert’s further insistence that, while the valuations and judgments made by the agent must be taken into account, the human sciences must remain ‘value-free’ and not themselves evaluate them. On the contrary, he maintained, all human action is ‘criteriological’, self-evaluating, and the student of it evaluates it (tacitly or explicitly) in the context of his own knowledge and standards (The Idea of History, Part V, §4). Thus the human-historical sciences deal with individual persons, actions and situations, and at most form generalisations applicable to specific times and places, and so cannot be assimilated to the methods and explanations of physics and chemistry. At the same time he published two articles, ‘Faith and Reason’ and ‘Reason is Faith Cultivating Itself’ (both reprinted in Faith and Reason: Essays in the Philosophy of Religion by R. G. Collingwood), in which he argued for an Augustianian and Anselmian fiduciary epistemology in which faith or belief is primary and reason depends upon it. Thus an unreasoned faith is not faith, for it lacks faith in its capacity to articulate and develop itself, while a reason that does not acknowledge that it is based on faith, is a reason that explicitly holds that it has no faith in reason.
These articles prefigure his Essay on Metaphysics (1940) in which, using his earlier unpublished work
on his ‘logic of question and answer’ (outlined previously in the Autobiography), he argued for a conception of metaphysics as the articulation of the ‘absolute presuppositions’, those which are not answers to further questions but are wholly presupposed by the relevant science. Metaphysics is thus an ‘historical’ science based on already achieved forms and bodies of knowledge. These make a decisive break with Cartesianism and all the following attempts, based upon doubt, to ‘ground’ and ‘justify’ what we think we know. In the somewhat neglected Part III of the Essay he argues dialectically against positivist philosophers that the modern natural sciences to which they appeal and uphold as models for all knowledge, absolutely presuppose what they profess to deny, such as the existence of God, and so he implicitly challenges them to choose between their explicit professions and their intellectual integrity. (In effect, the personalist implications of this strand in Collingwood’s thinking, were elaborated by Michael Polanyi, as shown separately.)
A further intimate connection between philosophy and history is his argument that the study of any subject-matter requires that of the history of its study. This is the task undertaken in the Idea of History and the Idea of Nature, and also in the sketches of the idea of art in the early chapters of The Principles of Art. Hence his scheme of publications on The Ideas of to be followed by The Principles of, that is, the articulation of the presuppositions of the level which the subject has now achieved. Hence, philosophy itself needs to be thoroughly historical and history to be philosophical in being criteriological in the light of current knowledge and also in including philosophy in its subject-matter.
What he offers to us is thus a thoroughly personalist conception of history, and of philosophy itself, as
the reflection upon human achievements, with an epistemology, which in his ‘logic of question and answer’, is that of an essentially active intelligence which asks questions in ordered series, explicitly or implicitly, to find the truth, and which acknowledges that all our knowledge depends upon a personal faith that rationally develops itself and becomes what it properly is.
4. 1945 onwards
British philosophy from 1945 to the 1960s was dominated, especially at Oxford and Cambridge but not in Scotland, by the later Wittgenstein and Conceptual or Linguistic Analysis, which regarded philosophy itself as the result of linguistic errors. An influential book was, and still is, Gilbert Ryle’s The Concept of Mind (1949) which presented a linguistic behaviourism, the words for mental events as actually referring to intelligent behaviour which is the working of a person’s mind and not its outward manifestation. The old ‘mind-body problem’ was also resolved by an account of ‘two languages’ about persons, as in Strawson’s Individuals (1959), any ontological dualism being roundly rejected. Generally, what is ‘public’ was emphasised and what is ‘private’ was avoided because of a fear of lapsing into phenomenalism.
Thereafter more substantial approaches to philosophy appeared but the dominant Analytic Philosophy still has a tendency to refer to propositions about things and to the logical relations among them, rather than to the things themselves and their real relations to each other. As far as persons are concerned, the default position often seems still to be that of ‘I-Him’, the other as an unknown alien whose behaviour I need to ‘explain’. Recently the ‘mind-body problem has been contracted to that of minds and brains. Nevertheless, some philosophers have tried, with alternative philosophies, to counter these trends, or, while not entirely breaking with them, have realised that they are inadequate and have sought to amend and supplement them.
Outside academic circles, J. B. Coates organised the British Personalist Group which held meetings in London. Mounier mentions it in his Le Personalisme (Personalism trans. Philip Mairet, London, Routedge, 1962) and says that it has been inspired primarily by John Macmurray, John Middleton Murry, N. Berdyaev and Buber. Mounier addressed them in 1949, and so did Macmurray, who wrote a Foreword to Coates’ A Common Faith or Synthesis, London, Allen & Unwin, 1942. Other books by Coates are: The Crisis of the Human Person, London, Longmans, Green, 1949; Ten Modern Prophets, 1944; Leaders Of Modern Thought, Essential English Library Series; A Challenge to Christianity, London, Watts, 1958.
Charles Arthur Campbell (1897-1973)
Principal philosophical publications:
Scepticism and Construction: Bradley’s sceptical principle as the basis of constructive
On Selfhood and Godhood, London, Allen and Unwin, 1957.
In Defence of Free Will and Other Philosophic Essays, London, Allen and Unwin, 1967.
Lecturer in Moral Philosophy, University of Glasgow (1924-32); Professor of Philosophy, University of North Wales (1932-8); Professor of Logic and Rhetoric, University of Glasgow (1938-61), Dean of Faculties (19647).
Campbell’s aim in On Selfhood and Godhood, is to show how impartial reasoning can validate or not the claims of religion and especially of theism. For this, in Part I he similarly examines the idea of the self or soul because it is indispensable to theology. In particular he aims to rehabilitate a ‘substantial’ self against the ‘dispositional’ and ‘serial’ ones of much contemporary philosophy. He uses the older terminology of ‘self’ and ‘soul’ and confines ‘person’ to mean oneself as functioning in terms of one’s definite and normal character.
Starting with an account of our distinctive capacity for cognition as an exercise of judgment, implicit or explicit, that something perceived is real, he shows that the self is not passive but active in a real world, independent and self-conscious to at least some degree. Its identity is that of the ‘I’ which has its experiences and is not them and so it is an ontological one, that of the ‘I’ of ‘I was not myself (or the same ‘person’ in his usage) when I did that’, meaning that then he acted ‘out of character’. Thus he can explain dual personality as one sub-set of tendencies which has become isolated from the rest in order to relieve the conflict with the others when they incompatible. But there is still one ontological self which is a spiritual substance.
Against those who hold that a self is necessarily embodied, he cites the facts that a child learns to distinguish his body from other things and to locate sensations in it. Hence up to that point he acts as a self but not a bodily one. Against the objection that there can be no interaction between a self and its body because they would not be alike, he counters that only existence is necessary; that there is no need to require special common characteristics a priori; and that in fact body and mind are a unity because the ‘I’ shows itself in certain mental and bodily processes which therefore are modes of the same entity. Thus the substance of his thinking is personalist, and much of what he seeks to disprove is still current today. Against merely dispositional accounts of the mind or self, he argues that they make it wholly a series of events, whereas dispositions are really potentialities of an actually existing mental structure: only the actual can have dispositions.
In explicating our mental activities he stresses that they are first implicit and can become more explicit, as volition is not deliberate choice but self-identification with a conceived end, as pervasive in waking life. Expressive self-activity is the expression of character so far formed, but creative self-activity is acting morally against strongest desire.
The last point is continued in the first three lectures of Pt II which echo ‘In defence of free-will’ and limit free-will to specifically moral decisions, whereas really it is displayed in all acts of judgment, no matter how implicit, which as acts are initiated by the self (or person) and not mere reactions which push the self along. Moreover, as a person becomes more moralised he acts more freely and spontaneously from what he apprehends as good or right and with less of a conflict with contrary desires. Here Campbell does not follow through his fundamental insight. Nevertheless, and although his treatment of the self is limited by his overall aim, it constitutes an important argument for a substantial self and provides materials that can be used and augmented by others. Thus the substance of his thinking is personalist, and much of what he seeks to disprove is still current today.
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)
Sir Stuart Hampshire (1914-2004)
Principal philosophical publications :
Thought and Action (1959)
Dame Iris Murdoch (1919-99)
Fellow of St Anne’s College and Lecturer, Oxford, 1948-63.
Principal philosophical publications:
Sartre: Romantic Rationalist. London: Penguin Books, 1989. (First published Bowes & Bowes, 1953.)
The Sovereignty of Good. London, Ark Paperbacks, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985; reprinted with
Foreword by Mary Midgley. (First published London, Chatto & Windus, 1970.)
The Fire and The Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists. London: Oxford University Press, 1977. Acastos: Two Platonic Dialogues. Harmondsworth, Penguin Books Ltd, 1987. (First published London, Chatto & Windus, 1986.)
Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, London, Chatto & Windus, 1992.Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature, ed, Peter Conradi, London, Chatto & Windus, 1997.
The Sovereignty of Good (1970) is a republication of three connected articles which defend both the reality and moral centrality of the ‘inner’ self against the account of human existence and life, common both to Sartre and Analytic philosophy, which is ‘behaviourist in its connection of the meaning and being of action with the publicly observable, it is existentialist in its elimination of the substantial self and its emphasis on the solitary omnipotent will, and it is utilitarian in its assumption that morality is and can only be concerned with public acts’ (pp. 8-9). If there is such a thing as the inner self, then it is merely the ‘shadow’ of the outer self (Hampshire) or unknowable, and, in any case, irrelevant.
Against this picture Iris Murdoch relates a story of one woman having a negative opinion of another which she in no way manifests but the struggles against her biases, makes moral progress and revises her opinion. Were the other woman to move away or die, this change would never be revealed. These are actions, very important actions, which she has been performing, are to be found in every novel, cannot be the ‘shadows’ of anything ‘outer’, but, along with the loving seeing to which she comes, are wholly ignored by the Analysts. And they still try to justify an impersonal and ahistorical world of mere facts, as set up by science and logic, in which freedom is that of the agent who, identifying himself with his will, freely chooses his reasons. But our actual freedom is ‘a small piecemeal business which goes on all the time and not a grandiose leaping about unimpeded at important moments’ (p. 37). And in place of the empty self, and the emptiness of the primary and most general moral terms, ‘good’ and ‘right’, favoured by the Analysts since G.E. Moore, Murdoch suggest that the secondary , descriptive-normative terms are more important and naturally lead to action in obedience to reality. ‘Good’ is empty, but for a very different and Platonic reason, that it refers to a ‘magnetic but inexhaustible’ reality, so if its apprehension is that of real individuals, then it ‘partakes of the infinite and elusive character of reality’ (p. 42).
This takes us to the second and third articles, via what Analytic philosophy also neglects, original sin, which Freud has rediscovered in his own way, and our inherent selfish energy, for which ethics needs to seek ways of redirecting, so that in choice we can choose rightly. Therefore it needs a central concept which has the characteristics of God: ‘a single perfect, transcendent non-representable and necessarily real object of attention’ (p. 55). Like real beauty in nature and great art, which can be ways to it, the Good has authority, is ‘transcendent’ and cannot be defined and identified with any particular object, and provides an order and the light by which we can see A, superficially similar to B, as really better than B. Our freedom therefore lies in freedom from selfishness, delusion and fantasy, and the exercise of Simone Weil’s ‘loving attention’ to reality and obedience to it. It therefore requires the virtues, as do all our activities, in art, science and scholarship, and in practical arts and crafts, as well as daily life with others.
But in one respect Iris Murdoch agrees with Sartre and Analytic philosophy, viz. their secularism and the ultimate vanity of the world and human life with in it. As well as showing us the supreme importance, of virtue, the enjoyment of art as ‘a training in the love of virtue’, also manifests ‘the absolute pointlessness of virtue’ while exhibiting its a truthful image of the human condition, in pity and justice (pp. 86-7). The Good is perfection, but, it seems, we can never reach it, and she does not suggest a fuller human fulfilment than the exercise of virtue as best we can in this present and only life. Hers is a truncated Platonism.
Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals is a detailed tour d’horizon of modern thought, and with references far beyond and previous to it, not just in philosophy but also religion and literature, in respect of ‘world-and-life-views’ The many individuals and currents are not treated once and separately but often appear and reappear several times as similarities and differences, sources and influences, are traced among them. Thus there is no distinct summary and evaluation of them, though the last two chapters do offer something of one, including a defence of, and call for attention to, the richness, messiness and also unity of daily life. Over the whole hovers Plato (the Index has only ‘passim’ after his name) and the Good. Except for Buber, specifically personalist thinkers are absent, as also scientistic reductionism as a distinct current, along with its sub-forms such as evolutionism. But it does offer a refreshing range of themes and thinkers, and connections among them, in contrast to the thin gruel, lack of historical depth and isolating departmentalism of much contemporary Analytic philosophy, and it provides valuable contexts for personalist philosophy and so can repay the close attention that it requires.
Logically and temporally, The Sovereignty of Good comes between H.D. Lewis’ largely traditional defence of the substantial and self-aware self and Alasdair MacIntyre’s rehabilitation of virtue ethics in After Virtue.
Mary Midgley (1919-2018)
Senior Lecturer, Newcastle University (1962-80).
Principal philosophical publications:
Beast And Man: The Roots of Human Nature, Routledge, 1978; revised edition 1995.
Heart and Mind: The Varieties of Moral Experience, Routledge, 1981.
Animals And Why They Matter: A Journey Around the Species Barrier, University of Georgia Press,
Wickedness: A philosophical Essay, Routledge, 1984.
Evolution as a Religion: Strange Hopes and Stranger Fears, Routledge, 1985; reprinted with new
Can't We Make Moral Judgements?, Bristol Press, 1989.
Wisdom, Information and Wonder: What Is Knowledge For?, Routledge, 1989.
Science As Salvation: A Modern Myth and Its Meaning, Routledge, 1992.
The Ethical Primate: Humans, Freedom and Morality, Routledge, 1994.
Utopias, Dolphins and Computers: Problems of Philosophical Plumbing. Routledge, 1996.
Science And Poetry, Routledge, 2001.
Myths We Live By, Routledge, 2003. ISBN 0-415-34077-2
The Solitary Self: Darwin and the Selfish Gene, Acumen, 2010.
Are You an Illusion?, Acumen, 2014.
Alasdair MacIntyre (1929-)
Alaisdar MacIntyre has held far too many academic appointments, in Britain from 1951 (at the universities of Manchester, Leeds, Essex, and Oxford) and then even more from 1969 in the USA, to be listed here, and likewise too many publications. His most important contribution to personalist philosophy is his revival of virtue ethics, along with other re-orientations of philosophy, on which his publications are:
Principal philosophical publications:
After Virtue, London, Duckworth, & University of Notre Dame Press, 1981, 3rd ed. 2007.
Whose Justice? Which Rationality? University of Notre Dame Press, 1988.
Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry (The Gifford Lectures), University of Notre Dame Press, 1990.
First Principles, Final Ends, and Contemporary Philosophical Issues, Milwaukee, Marquette,
University Press, 1999.
Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues, Chicago, Open Court, 1999.
Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue, 1913–1922, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.
The Tasks of Philosophy: Selected Essays, Volume 1, Cambridge, Cambridge University, Press,
Ethics and Politics: Selected Essays, Volume 2, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Raymond Tallis (1946-):
Emeritus Professor of Geriatric Medicine, U. of Manchester; prolific author of philosophical books and
Principal philosophical publications:
Why the Mind is not a Computer: A Pocket Dictionary on Neuromythology (2004);
The Hand: A Philosophical Inquiry into Human Being (2003),
I Am: A Philosophical Inquiry into First Person Being (2004),
The Knowing Animal: A Philosophical Inquiry into Knowledge and Truth (2005);
Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity (2011);
In Defence of Wonder and Other Philosophical Reflections (2012).
Raymond Tallis’ triology fruitfully combines empirical data and philosophical reflection, employs the better parts of Heidegger, and rises above the fatal error of identifying knowledge with the words on the page apart from their comprehension and endorsement, or otherwise, by the person reading them. Yet, following the trend of Analytic philosophy and P. Strawson’s Individuals, he seeks in I Am to give substance to the empty, ‘vertical’ or instantaneous ‘I’ of immediate self-awareness, by reference to the body, despite his acknowledgement that the ‘horizontal’ ‘I’ of the history of one’s experiences, traits, characteristics, etc., cannot provide continuing personal identity. Indeed, with Strawson, he explicitly denies any individual and unique essences.