Political History

British Idealism: A Guide for the Perplexed by David Boucher

By David Boucher

A concise advent to the information and writings of the British Idealists.


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How the modes arise and their relationship to each other and the Absolute or the whole of experience is a matter of contestation among the Idealists. What is important, however, is that the modes are the arbiters of truth and falsity. It is not only their coherence that gives rise to the veracity of the truthfulness of our statements, but also their comprehensiveness. It was Bradley who most systematically formulated this view of the criterion of truth as the union of coherence and comprehensiveness.

80 It was Huxley’s view that the survival of the fittest could not constitute an ethical standard, because fitness is circumstantially related to the variability of nature. 81 The evolution of Nature and moral evolution were for him two different and discontinuous processes. Within the cosmic process, which governs the evolution of nature and human organisms, the idea of the survival of the fittest was appropriate. The attributes and capacities required for success in nature (red in tooth and claw) are exactly those that destroy social existence.

To reject the principle of self-determination, and the implication of freedom is to deny the world of practice, and its foundational postulate, namely, the ‘separateness and uniqueness’ of the individual. 26 Andrew Seth was the first of the British Idealists to voice concerns about the implications for the individual of Absolutism. 27 In 1888, Seth indicated his central concerns. The defect in Hegel, Seth contends, is that he treats the individual simply as a universal or perceptive consciousness, a spectator of things and merged into the universal, occupying a universal standpoint, indifferent to the issue as to whether it is my Ego, or another, that comprehends the world.

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