Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

F. H. Bradley wrote with the confidence of a leader in the mainstream of British philosophy between the 1870’s and the 1920’s. His speculation, strongly influenced by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, was highly metaphysical; and his intention was to arrive at ultimate truths about the universe as a whole. His general method was to show that the world regarded as made up of discrete objects is self-contradictory and, therefore, a world of appearances. The real is one, a world in which there are no separate objects and in which all differences disappear. Curiously enough, Bradley’s conclusions about reality have not been of primary interest to philosophers in the latter half of the twentieth century. It is, rather, his critical method that they have found important, his destruction of the world of appearance.

In the preface to Appearance and Reality, Bradley describes metaphysics as “the finding of bad reasons for what we believe on instinct, but to find these reasons is no less an instinct.” He warns the reader that many of the ideas he presents must certainly be wrong, but because he is unable to discover how they are wrong, others will have to be critical of his conclusions.

If metaphysics is so liable to error, why should Bradley bother to study it, much less write more than six hundred pages about it? He reminds readers that they have all had experiences of something beyond the material world and that they need metaphysics to understand these experiences, at least insofar as they admit of being understood. Metaphysical speculation on its constructive and critical side protects people from the extremes of crass materialism and dogmatic orthodoxy. The study of metaphysics teaches that either of these solutions is too simple, that both are peremptory. “There is no sin, however prone to it the philosopher may be,” Bradley says, “which philosophy can justify so little as spiritual pride.”