Reality as the Absolute
Bernard Bosanquet’s Philosophy
Mr. Bernard Bosanquet, whose death is announced on another page, may be said to have been the central figure in English philosophy during the last decade of the last century and the first of the new. He was in a sense the most representative English philosopher of his time. When it was proposed to hold the International Congress of Philosophy in 1915 (impossible when the time came by reason of the war) he was appointed acting-president.
philosophy itself he stands out as the type of the courtly scholar, chivalrous
in his bearing, tolerant of criticism, sympathetic in controversy, and at the
same time firm and unyielding as a rock in the defence of his philosophical
position. He stood for a definite
principle, yet one for which he did not claim the honour of discovery. He learnt it from Mr. F. H. Bradley, his
doctrine is that reality is a system, and that the metaphysical basis of
anything that exists, as a particular or as an individual, is to be sought in
its relation to a whole, this whole being conceived as an experience which
transcends individual experience. In
logic it meant that the ultimate subject in every judgment, whether in outward
form the judgment be categorical, hypothetical, or disjunctive, is reality as a
whole, the Absolute. The force of the
logical inference rests on this, and every proposition implies as its condition
an affirmation about reality in the form, “Reality is such that…” Whatever falls short of the whole, he was
fond of saying, reveals its partiality and incompleteness by its torn edges. He came to be regarded, therefore, as the
representative of orthodox intellectualism – orthodox because it was of pure
Hegelian descent; intellectualism because it allowed no rival to reason such as
will, no opposite to logic such as intuition.
He called himself and Bradley Hegelians of the Left, to distinguish them
from the other
descended from the ancient Huguenot family of Bosanquet of Dingestow,
and was the youngest son of the Rev. R. W. Bosanquet, of Rock Hall,
Northumberland, the brother of Admiral Sir Day H. Bosanquet, and uncle of
Professor R. Carr Bosanquet, of
About this time the University Extension movement began. Bosanquet took an active interest in it from the first and discovered by it that he possessed an extraordinary power of interesting popular audiences in subjects which had hitherto been confined to college classrooms. Some of his best work – “Essentials of Logic,” “Psychology of the Moral Self,” “Companion to Plato’s Republic for English Readers,” – was University Extension courses delivered at Essex Hall. He was also associated with the short lived Ethical Society movement.
The Aristotelian Society
1885, he became a member of the Aristotelian Society, and took a leading part
in its discussion. He always spoke of
this society as having been one of the valuable influences in his life, for it
brought him into close personal relations with other philosophers whose methods
and teaching were divergent from his own.
In those days, the meetings were small, but they were very serious
discussions, and generally followed by an adjournment to the President, Shadworth Hodgson’s, rooms in Conduit-street. When Shadworth Hodgson retired from the
presidency in 1894, Bosanquet was elected to succeed him. In 1903 he was appointed to the chair of
Moral Philosophy at
Bosanquet’s philosophical writings were numerous and belong to every period of his life. The most important are his early work “Logic or Morphology of Knowledge,” and his mature work, the two courses of Gillford Lectures, “The Value and Destiny of the Individual” and “The Principle of Individuality and value.” In the “Logic” he adopted the principle which Mr. Bradley had championed against Mill and the Associationists, but he applied it in a systematic and complete manner to the science of logic in its whole range. The Gifford Lectures were the attempt to present his philosophy in a complete form. The essential doctrine was that reality is the absolute, and that the individual, therefore, can possess no more than what he termed an “adjectival,” as distinct from a substantive, mode of being. “The universe,” he said, “is not a place of pleasure, nor even compounded of probation and justice; it is from the highest point of view concerned with finite beings, a place of soul-making.”
The “adjectival” theory proved a
veritable crux philosophorum. The last occasion on which Bosanquet appeared in public was at a discussion of the
Aristotelian Society in the summer of 1918.
In a symposium he vigorously defended his theory against the attacks of
Professor Pringle Pattison, Lord Haldane,
and Professor Stout. When his health
obliged him to give up meetings and public discussions he still continued to
follow with intense interest every development of philosophical theory; in
particular he devoted special attention to the neo-idealist movement in
1895 Bosanquet married Helen Dendy.
Before her marriage Miss Dendy had already done valuable work in
philosophy, and in particular, had translated Sigwart’s “Logic.” Bosanquet was an original Fellow of the
A Great English Philosopher
Death of Mr. Bosanquet
We regret to announce that Mr. Bernard Bosanquet, one of the most representative English philosophers of his time, died at Golders Green on Thursday, aged 74. The funeral will be at Golders Green Crematorium on Monday at . A memoir appears on page 11.