In this chapter and the following two we shall investigate the importance of the “neo-Hegelian” movement in British philosophy, which flourished from the late nineteenth century before dying down significantly by the mid-twentieth century. After briefly summarizing the journey of Hegelian philosophy from Germany to England, we shall provide a discussion of six of the most important theorists of this period. This discussion will attempt to present the core metaphysical ideas of each philosopher for two reasons. First, this material is less well known than, for example, their ethical and political philosophy (see Boucher & Vincent 2000); second, this material will make it clear that “refutations” of idealism, however influential, are wide of the mark indeed.
The problems that emerge from British idealist philosophy are certainly heterogeneous, but there is one set of issues to which we shall pay particular attention. These issues revolve around the twin constraints of holism and monism. Pursuing these, for instance, leads Bradley famously to deny the reality of relations, since partiality is necessarily mere appearance. Monism therefore entailed, for Bradley, the elimination of particularity. For J. M. E. McTaggart, on the other hand, it entailed precisely the converse, to demonstrate which the philosopher undertook to correct Hegel. In general terms, this is a problem about the relation of wholes to their parts, and whether, without some form of negativity, parts are not necessarily eliminated from monistic and holistic metaphysical systems.
ABSOLUTE BEGINNINGS: BRITISH IDEALISM AND THE SECRET OF HEGEL
In the first few decades of the nineteenth century, British philosophy was highly insular and had been viciously criticized for its lack of contribution to European research.
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