James and Bradley: American Truth and British Reality

James and Bradley: American Truth and British Reality

James and Bradley: American Truth and British Reality

James and Bradley: American Truth and British Reality


"At the dawn of the twentieth century, William James was acknowledged as the leading American philosopher, and Francis Herbert Bradley as the leading British philosopher. Today James and Bradley are recognized as among the world's most significant thinkers of the past 100 years. Despite their enduring importance, the theoretical systems of James and Bradley are often badly misunderstood. Professor Sprigge's ambitious new comparative study freshly expounds and clarifies their arguments, demonstrating that it is wrong to think of James's pragmatism and Bradley's monistic idealism as opposite extremes. Their positions in fact display an intriguing mixture of affinities and contrasts. They share many main premisses and some main conclusions, while the contrasts between their views are all the more fascinating because they share so much. They were also insightful critics of each other's work: James described Bradley as "the bogey and bugbear" of most of his beliefs. Professor Sprigge begins with a detailed critical account of the theory behind James's notorious claim that the true is nothing more than the expedient. Sprigge defends James against many misrepresentations and unsound criticisms, but concludes that pragmatism's account of truth is incomplete. James's evolving metaphysical enquiries, from The Principles of Psychology through his later radical empiricist phase, his opposition to absolute idealism, and his religious motivation are all carefully elucidated. After outlining Bradley's metaphysical system, Sprigge scrutinizes Bradley's use of 'The Absolute', critically evaluates Russell's criticisms of Bradley, compares Bradley's phenomenology with Husserl's and considers Bradley's view of the displacement of Christian morality by Darwinism." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


William James (1842-1910) and Francis Herbert Bradley (1846-1924) were the dominating philosophers of the U.S.A. and of Britain respectively in their time. They were also, what is far from the same thing, the most important in my opinion. The two philosophers never met, but they did correspond. (I provide some account of the letters they are known to have exchanged in an Appendix.) They also commented on each other's work frequently.

There are two extremes in writing about the work of historical philosophers. One extreme is that of a book on, say, Spinoza which treats him as a contributor to the latest issue of Mind and evaluates what he says as the supposedly atemporal attempt at truth he expects there. Another extreme is that of the historian of ideas who treats his subjects simply as historical phenomena, with no suggestion that they may be addressing him or his contemporaries in any way worth responding to.

The philosophers studied in this book are much nearer in time than Spinoza and, in fact, were regular contributors to Mind. Nonetheless, the two extremes are still possible and, in fact, exemplified, sometimes in very good studies. I see this book as lying between the two. It does not assume that to get anything philosophically worthwhile out of our two thinkers one must first translate it into some more fashionable idiom; rather, it tries to understand them in their own terms (which I find very congenial). On the other hand, it is written in the belief that what they had to say was of permanent philosophical importance, and something which theorists of truth and metaphysicians should come to terms with.

This work aims to provide a comparative exposition and personal evaluation of their main views on truth and on the general nature of reality. The reasons why I think a comparative study of their work so fruitful will emerge and are adumbrated in the Introduction. Originally I planned to organize the book on a topic-by-topic basis, giving each philosopher's views on a given matter in the same chapter. However, in order to examine their two systems thoroughly, it has proved more satisfactory to devote a separate Part to each. Instead, there . . .

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