L’idéalisme britannique / British Idealism Hors-série n° 1

Sous la direction de Jean-Paul Rosaye & Catherine Marshall

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Today, there are plenty of studies on the subject of British Idealism, especially in comparison to the historiographical wasteland that lasted from the 1940s all the way to the 1970s. It is no longer possible to neglect the importance of Idealism in the history of philosophy in Great Britain: a genuine debate on British Idealism has now taken place.

This historiographical renewal in Anglo-Saxon countries has even accelerated in recent years with the publication of a few key works, apparently confirming that the discipline is no longer lagging behind as it did during the 20th century. In France, this renewal did not go unnoticed although publications are still relatively scarce. This volume, in both English and French, aims to present British Idealism and its issues to a French readership – especially the introduction in French – and to bring together comprehensive studies written in English by the greatest specialists on the subject.

It is essential to question the reasons and consequences of this renewed interest in British Idealism. Such enthusiasm is clearly not only meant to repair an injustice or to create a potential niche for specialised academics in the study of British Idealism. What, therefore, might be the underlying issue at stake here? Going back to the Victorian period today is far from insignificant and reveals a strong desire to rediscover an abandoned intellectual paradigm, which could, thanks to a ‘mirror effect’, produce some vital ideas.

There are two possible ways of comparing contemporary Britain and Victorian Britain. The Victorian period evokes first and foremost a glorious period in British history and it is sometimes seen as a remedy to contemporary afflictions. But the Victorian era was also the age of the Empire’s relative decline – a declinist literature appeared in the second half of the 19th century and a particularly ‘decadent’ English type of Kulturkritik during the Nineties. These representations were very close to those of British civilisation just before the 1980s: they painfully remind us of the terrible 1970s in England which ended with the infamous ‘Winter of Discontent’. The comparison with the context of ‘British civilisation’ since the Thatcher years sheds light on the two periods of the rise and maturity of Victorian Idealism: considerations on Victorian intellectual life and its legacy emerge through the study of British Idealism, taking us back to a time when ideas were still ‘culturally consequential’ and could indeed have an impact on real life.

Studying British Idealism, explaining how it was forged throughout the 19th century and how it eventually dominated the later Victorian era, is hence meaningful today in Great Britain. All aspects of this philosophical movement – its ethics, metaphysics, political philosophy, or social and political thought – are interesting insofar as they help us understand the world we live in and can be used in speculative debates. The key problem is how we use Idealism. This, however, leads to a question of an entirely different dimension: should we not acknowledge the trans-historical quality of Idealism? British Idealism would not then be exclusively steeped in the Victorian era but would refer to an underlying tradition of thinking in British culture, which would (re)emerge on a regular basis and adapt to the spirit of the times. The question has already been examined: it associates British Idealism with the tradition of (neo)Platonism in England and plays a crucial part in thinking through the Idealism of Victorian philosophers, and Idealism in Anglo-Saxon countries in general.

This volume opens by examining the Idealism of Victorian thinkers and the way in which the tension between the Platonist-idealist tradition and Anglo-Hegelian Idealism makes it impossible to generalise or simplify the existence of one single Idealism at the end of the 19th century.

This publication includes nine articles divided into two sections: the first considers the difficulty of defining a ‘single and unique’ Victorian Idealism; the second evokes the movements and ideas that opposed these different forms of Idealism through caricatures and fantasies.

These articles open up interesting perspectives for future research and show that a contextualised history of idealisms is yet to be written. Such a history would help us understand a movement that is much more than a neglected philosophical parenthesis of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and that cannot be assessed in any definitive or final way.

Authors Catherine Marshall, Françoise Orazi, Noël O’Sullivan, Jean-Paul Rosaye
Title L’idéalisme britannique / British Idealism
Subtitle Hors-série n° 1
Edition 1re
Published Septembre 2018
Editors Jean-Paul Rosaye & Catherine Marshall
ISSN 2648-191X
ISBN 978-2-37361-180-9
eISBN 978-2-37361-181-6
Support Papier et ebook pdf
EAN13 paperback 9782373611809
EAN13 ebook 9782373611816
Number of pages 216
Dimensions 16,4 x 24 cm
Paperback price 20 €
Ebook price 14,99 €

Introduction. Jean-Paul Rosaye & Catherine Marshall, Une relecture de l’idéalisme victorien (page 5)

Part I. An Attempt to Define British Idealism and British Idealists

W. J. Mander, The Idealism of the British Idealists (page 23)

Abstract : In philosophical terms, Britain is usually regarded as the home of empiricism, common sense and ordinary language, but from the 1860s through to the 1930s there flourished in Britain a creative school of idealism which, until the turn of the century, dominated philosophical debate and which, even afterwards, remained very influential. That idealist tradition has now been almost entirely forgotten and this paper aims to reintroduce readers to it. After an introductory section setting out the general character of the movement and the reasons for its success, closer attention is focused on one specific issue – the metaphysical idealism of these idealists. This it turns out is a far from simple or homogenous quality, and briefly discussing the four most famous figures of the school – T. H. Green, Edward Caird, F. H. Bradley and J. M. E. McTaggart – the paper shows how each of them argued by a significantly different route for what were significantly different kinds of idealism.

W. J. Mander is Professor of History of Modern Philosophy at Oxford University, where he is also a Fellow of Harris Manchester College. He has published extensively on the history of nineteenth-century British philosophy, among other things, authoring British Idealism. A History (Oxford, OUP, 2011) and editing The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Nineteenth-Century (Oxford, OUP, 2014). He is currently writing a history of metaphysics in Britain during the first half of the nineteenth Century.

Guillaume LejeuneThe Fight against Logical Atomism and Pluralism (page 43)

Abstract : Bradley is often regarded as an Hegelian, but his references to Hegel in his work are far from being as pregnant as imagined. Moreover, they are frequently criticised, as Bradley seems to blame Hegel for some kind of intellectualism. Overall, a few themes of the Hegelian philosophy of mind, more than Hegel’s Logik, are likely to have influenced Bradley. Besides, what he shares with Hegel is less the joint project of an organic reconstruction of finite knowledge than an opposition to common ennemies, those who consider finite and isolated knowledge as the only measure of the real. To oppose the atomist vision stemming from empiricism, Bradley was looking for a holistic and systematic framework, which he found in German thought. But then, he was less preoccupied with reconstituting this thought than with using it to answer the problems of his age. His proximity with Hegel regarding how thought originates knowledge helps him foster his opposition to pluralism. Admittedly, Hegel is a first choice critical ressource for Bradley, while the Hegelian dialectic and its pretense for being the real is ruled out.

Guillaume Lejeune is currently a research fellow of the FNRS at the University of Liege (Belgium). He received his PhD from the Free University of Brussels and is a former laureate of the Alexander von Humboldt Fund. He is the author of many books : Sens et usage du langage chez Hegel (Hermann, 2014), Hegel anthropologue (CNRS-éditions, 2016), Hume (Ellipses, 2018), and De la relation au processus : l’idéalisme britannique et ses enjeux (forthcoming). His research focuses on German Idealism (notably Kant and Hegel) and its legacy in British Idealism and the American Pragmatism of James and Dewey.

Jean-Paul Rosaye, Bradley’s Monism and the Bifurcation of British Idealism (page 79)

Abstract : Bertrand Russell has for a long time been credited with operating a philosophical revolution responsible for the neglect, if not the demise, of British Idealism in the Twentieth century. As it is neither possible nor desirable to disprove Idealism, the contention should be rather shifted to his well-contrived effort to redefine the terms of the problems debated by the Idealists, as well as his strategic use of a conflict perceptible within British Idealism, on the issues of Hegel’s influence and of monism. The Russell/Bradley dispute is of necessity central in the disrepute of British Idealism, but this fate must also be contextualised to be better apprehended.

Jean-Paul Rosaye is Full Professor in British studies and the history of ideas at the Université d’Artois (textes et cultures, EA 4028). He is the author of three books on the philosophical foundations of modernity and post-modernity (T. S. Eliot, poète-philosophe : essai de typologie génétique [2000], Autour de l’idéalisme britannique : recherches et réflexions méthodologiques sur l’histoire des idées en Grande-Bretagne [2010], F. H. Bradley et l’idéalisme britannique : les années de formation (1865-1876) [2012]). He is currently translating in French F. H. Bradley’s famous metaphysical treatise Appearance and Reality (Second Edition, 1897).

James Connelly, Bradley and Secular Religious Debates in the Philosophy of History (page 97)

Abstract : This paper considers F. H. Bradley’s The Presuppositions of Critical History as a foundational document in philosophy of history, and its origin in debates in church history triggered by claims that biblical stories should be subject to the constraints of historical inquiry. Bradley asked by what criterion the historian should judge claims about the past, in particular, those contemporaneous with the events they report. He argues that history requires judgement which rests on absolute presuppositions, specifically the assumption of the uniformity of nature. Bradley asserts that, in historical testimony, we cannot accept any claim invoking causes or effects for which we have no present day analogy. The critical historian should thus discount whatever is contrary to natural law, and this implies ruling out the possibility of taking reports of the miraculous seriously. The paper concludes with an evaluation of Bradley’s claims in the light of Collingwood’s criticisms.

James Connelly is Professor of Political Theory at the University of Hull, UK where he teaches political theory, environmental politics and electoral systems. He has written extensively on environmental politics, British Idealism and the philosophy of R. G. Collingwood.

Part II. The Challenges to British Idealism

Catherine Marshall, Sidgwick’s Utilitarianism in the Context of the Rise of British Idealism : A Reappraisal (page 119)

Abstract : Henry Sidgwick’s great work, The Methods of Ethics (1874), was an attempt to give Utilitarianism an intuitional basis. The six papers he gave at the Metaphysical Society (1869-1880) on nearly the same subject throw a new light on his ideas and how he revised his work several times in the light of religious, scientific and political changes which were taking place at the time. His criticism of what was to become Idealism and the criticism he was subjected to from an Idealist such as Bradley were also of influence on his work. By trying to bring together Utilitarianism and Intuitionism – two opposed ethical methods – he was seeking to defend a revamped form of “Utilitarianism”, that is a form of Utilitarianism which would incorporate a self-effacing morality. That he failed to do so is not the point, but he did try and the six papers he gave at The Metaphysical Society help understanding his own version of Utilitarianism.

Catherine Marshall is Full Professor in British Studies and the History of Ideas at the University of Cergy-Pontoise and a member of the AGORA research centre. She has co edited with Bernard Lightman and Richard England, a critical edition of The Papers of the Metaphysical Society (OUP, 2015, 3 vols) and, with Stéphane Guy, The Victorian Legacy in Political Thought (Peter Lang, 2014) as well as an issue of the Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique, « Economic Crisis in the UK Today : Causes and Consequences » (2016). She is currently working on a collective book on the Metaphysical Society (1869-1880) to be published by OUP in 2019.

Andrew Vincent, Epistemology and the Refutation of Idealism (page 139)

Abstract : Epistemology often stands in an occasionally hostile relation with certain prominent versions of idealism. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to indicate that the decline of the fortunes of idealism coincides with the rise of the discipline of epistemology during the twentieth century. Certain key questions figure in this paper : first, where did this debate over epistemology derive from ? Second, how far was epistemology conscious of an opposition to idealism ? Thirdly, how coherent was the basic epistemological argument ? Finally, how far have the fortunes of epistemology prospered or declined in recent decades ? The discussion suggests that Idealist reservations about the status of epistemology in the 1890’s and early 1900’s are very much in tune with powerful currents within both non-foundational and hermeneutic philosophies, as well as aspects of late twentieth century analytic thought.

Andrew Vincent is Professor Emeritus, Sheffield University. He is Honorary Research Professor of Cardiff University, Professorial Fellow of the Collingwood and British Idealism Centre, Cardiff University, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.

Noël O’Sullivan, A Philosophical Crisis ? Nietzsche’s Challenge to British Idealism (page 157)

Abstract : The philosophy of Nietzsche presented a major intellectual challenge to the first British idealists, and in particular to their concept of the Absolute and their related body of ethical thought. Although William Wallace responded to Nietzsche’s implied challenge on behalf of the British school, he failed to engage with Nietzsche’s concept of perspectivism as well as with his emphasis on the importance of philosophical laughter for an ethics that can offer a positive account of the art of life.

Noël O’Sullivan is Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Hull. His undergraduate and postgraduate study was at LSE and Harvard. He has published thirteen books, his most recent monograph being European Political Thought since 1945 (2004). Other monographs include Conservatism (1976), Fascism (1983) and The Philosophy of Santayana (1992).

Stéphane Guy, Sidney Webb et l’historicisme hégélien : le fabianisme comme déclinaison de l’idéalisme britannique ? (page 173)

Résumé : Théoricien majeur du socialisme britannique et membre de la Société fabienne, Sidney Webb (1859-1947) est connu pour avoir été l’un des artisans du travaillisme et, notamment, de ses objectifs collectivistes. Or, hostile à la révolution et à l’utopisme, il s’est efforcé, à maintes reprises, de justifier l’abolition de la propriété privée en invoquant son caractère historiquement inévitable, en particulier dans sa contribution aux Fabian Essays in Socialism de 1889, « The Basis of Socialism : Historic ». Prenant en compte certaines convergences entre l’idéalisme britannique et le socialisme éthique à la fin du XIXe siècle, cet article vise à comparer la dialectique webbienne à la philosophie de l’histoire de Friedrich Hegel, philosophe dont les idéalistes se disaient les héritiers, et à évaluer la compatibilité de cet historicisme avec les revendications social-démocrates des fabiens. Selon une certaine lecture de la pensée hégélienne, les principes de nécessité et de rationalité historiques pourraient contredire le gradualisme démocratique qu’on prête souvent à Sidney Webb ainsi que le réformisme même des idéalistes. Cet échec du projet historiciste peut alors en partie expliquer l’attrait qu’exerça sur Webb le régime soviétique dans les années 1930, au détriment de son engagement travailliste.

Stéphane Guy is senior lecturer at the University of Cergy-Pontoise. Since his PhD on Bernard Shaw’s political thought and practice, he has published articles on late-Victorian and Edwardian socialist in-tel-lec-tuals, and is currently working on the early Fabians. He also co-edited with Catherine Marshall The Victorian Legacy in Political Thought (Peter Lang, 2014) and, in 2016, an issue of the Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique, « Economic Crisis in the UK Today : Causes and Consequences ».

Françoise Orazi, Against Idealism ? L. T. Hobhouse’s Sociological Justification of New Liberalism (page 201)

Abstract : L.T. Hobhouse was one of the leading New Liberal theorists. Although his work unmistakably points at a strong idealist influence, with such concepts as harmony reflecting an organicist vision of reality, he became an outspoken critic of idealism during the First World War, because he believed it to be too statist and, ultimately, a threat to individual freedom. He then developed an evolutionist sociology that can be seen as an attempt to provide an alternative scientific basis to idealism, retaining much of Green’s political conclusions.

Françoise Orazi is a Professor of British civilisation at Lyon 2 University, where she has been teaching since 2001. Specializing in the history of liberalism, she has written on J. S. Mill, L. T. Hobhouse as well as on liberal feminism. Her latest book is L’Individu libre : le libéralisme anglo-saxon de John Stuart Mill à nos jours, Classiques Garnier, Paris, 2018.

By Laura Boch (Université Toulouse Jean-Jaurès), Implications philosophiques (december 2019).