The Platonic Tradition in Anglo-Saxon Philosophy: Studies in the History of Idealism in England and America

The Platonic Tradition in Anglo-Saxon Philosophy: Studies in the History of Idealism in England and America

The Platonic Tradition in Anglo-Saxon Philosophy: Studies in the History of Idealism in England and America

The Platonic Tradition in Anglo-Saxon Philosophy: Studies in the History of Idealism in England and America

Excerpt

It is a common view of the course of British philosophy that, starting from the empirical basis laid down by Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke, its chief and characteristic contribution to Western thought has been the development this received from their time to that of Mill, Spencer, and Sidgwick; that in the 'sixties of last century this tradition was broken into by an influx of foreign ideas which diverted it for a generation from its own natural bed into that of Kantian and post-Kantian idealism; finally, that the paradoxes of the absolutism to which it has thus been led have created a strong counter-current under the influence of which it is returning repentantly to the older, safer, and more national lines.

The present Studies were undertaken in the conviction that, if not wholly mistaken, this view gives a very one-sided picture of the work of the national genius in the department of philosophy and of its contribution to Western thought. Long before the time of Bacon, and before the freer manner of thought inherited from Greece had passed under bondage to Mediæval Scholasticism, the seeds of quite another order of thought had been planted in England by John Scotus Erigena. In the early part of the century of Hobbes and Locke, the influence of the Platonic revival that had taken place in Italy was making itself powerfully felt in Oxford and Cambridge, and had issued in the latter University in a movement which gave expression to Neo-Platonic ideas with a freedom, an energy, and a grace unequalled anywhere else at the time in Europe.

If, in the century that followed, the seed thus replanted and copiously watered by the Cambridge writers failed to show above the ground except in the pale form of the later speculations of Bishop Berkeley, this was owing partly to the mixture with it of elements derived from a form of Malebranchean mysticism to which English soil was essentially uncongenial, partly to the growing domination of the mind of the time by Locke's "new way of ideas" as more in harmony with its secular interests, but most of all to the fertility in the physical sciences of the Cartesian idea of mechanical law. If this was valid for matter, why not for life? And if valid for life, why not for mind? The credit of breaking the spell both of Lockean empiricism and Cartesian materialism is usually given to Kant, and it is impossible to exaggerate the influence of his Critique on contemporary and later thought. But Kant's merit . . .

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