Francis Herbert Bradley, OM was one of the most influential British idealistic philosophers. Bradley after a number of attempts to gain a fellowship finally got into University College of Oxford University in 1865. His work showered a great impact on the British philosophy and society. He was considered the most original, decisive and theoretically vigorous idealistic amongst all. In his work “Ethical Studies”, he attempted to disclose confusions in utilitarianism. In his another work “The Principles of Logic”, he criticized the psychology of the empiricists. In his most desirous work, “Appearance and Reality”, he explained that although reality is spiritual, the thesis cannot be displayed because of the fatally concepts nature related to human thought. In his lifetime, he was honored with several awards including, Order of Merit and became the first British to receive the same.
Francis Herbert Bradley Childhood & Early Life
Francis Herbert Bradley was born on January 30, 1846 at Clapham, Surrey, England to Charles Bradley and Emma Linton. He was the fourth child of his father who was an evangelical preacher. Bradley’s mother was the second wife of Charles. Bradley also had a sibling, A.C Bradley. Bradley began his schooling at Cheltenham College, after which, in 1861, he shifted to Marlborough College. Bradley, during this time, read some of “Kant's Critique of Pure Reason”. During the same time, he suffered from severe typhoid along with pneumonia, but overcame both of them. Again in June 1861, he contracted a fatal inflammation of the kidney due to which he appeared to gain some permanent effects of the same. Following his rigorous life at Marlborough College, he left it in 1863. In 1865, Bradley got into the University College, Oxford as a scholar. He got first class in the classical moderations in 1867 and a surprising second in literae humaniores in 1869. After attempting to receive fellowship for more than once, Bradley was elected to a fellowship at Merton College, Oxford in 1870. The fellowship was a tenable for life, without any teaching duties, and could be restricted only on marriage. Thus, he never married. As his fellowship did not have any responsibilities of teachings, he had ample time to continue writing. Although he actively participated in the college running, he preferred to stay away from public occasions.
Bradley remained a respected philosopher all his life. He was popular for his non- pluralistic approach to philosophy. His views encountered a monistic unity, transcending divisions between logic, metaphysics and ethics. Generally, his own thoughts were a combination of monism and absolute idealism. Despite the fact that Bradley’s exclusive brand of philosophy was inspired by and included elements of Hegel's dialectical method, Bradley did not look himself as a Hegelian philosopher. His first important contribution to philosophy was the publication of his pamphlet “The Presuppositions of Critical History” in 1874. This work was hardly noticed but influenced the thinking of R.G. Collingwood. The views and thoughts of Bradley were also inspired by reading of German biblical critics. Bradley discarded the utilitarian and empiricist fashion in English philosophy showcased by John Locke, David Hume, and John Stuart Mill. Instead he was a chief member of the philosophical movement named as “British Idealism”.
The “British Idealism” movement was greatly influenced by Immanuel Kant and some German idealists like Johann Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, and G.W.F. Hegel, although Bradley also tried to minimize his influences. The ideology of Bradley is also sometimes compared to that of the Indian philosopher “Adi Shankar”. A unique characteristic of Bradley’s approach to philosophy was his technique of distinguishing ambiguity within language, exclusively within individual words. The thoughts of Bradley on ethics were exposed in his first largely appreciated publication, “Ethical Studies” (1876). The major reason of the work’s great acknowledgement was that the book was highly polemical. Also, his approach in a serried of related essays was to work dialectically through the defective theories towards a better understanding of ethics. The growth of this better understanding was started by studying the ‘vulgar’ notion of moral responsibility and the possible threats to it positioned by the philosophical doctrine of determinism and indeterminism.
Bradley argued that the threats would vanish after the examination of human action. Bradley’s another most appreciable treatment of logic was seen in “The Principles of Logic” which was published together with Frege's “Grundlagen”. Both the work carried a striking difference as the former looked back to the nineteenth century, the latter predicted the twentieth. This book of Bradley was difficult to consult, as there was no consistency in thoughts, which underwent several twists and turns. After finishing “The Principles of Logic”, Bradley devoted his entire time in presenting a full account of his metaphysics, which resulted in his another great work “Appearance and Reality”. The work is divided into two books, the first gives a brief description and argues that ‘the ideas by which we try to understand the universe’ all bring us finally to conflicts when we try to think about their implications. The second book displayed “Essays on Truth and Reality” provides a positive account of the Absolute.
Bradley continued his fellowship staying at Oxford's Merton College until his death on September 18, 1924. He was buried in Holywell Cemetery in Oxford.
Post his death, the reputation of Bradley’s philosophy declined considerably. In the 1900s, the British idealism was practically eliminated by G.E Moore and Bertrand Russell. Also, he was popularly criticized in the logical positivist work of A.J Ayer, “Language, Truth and Logic” for drawing statements that did not fulfill the requirements of positivist verification principle like “The Absolute enters into, but is itself incapable of, evolution and progress”. However, in latest years, interest in the Bradley’s philosophy in the Anglo-American academic community has again revived.