BRADLEY'S Ethical Studies first appeared in 1876, when its author, who had been elected to a fellowship at Merton College, Oxford, six years earlier, was 30. The reception it received was far from enthusiastic. Henry Sidgwick, reviewing it in the first volume of Mind, described it as 'rhetorical' and 'vehemently propagandist': he found it deficient in 'lucid exposition', the product of an 'uncritical dogmatism': and in his opinion the awareness it displayed of opposing views was 'always rather superficial and sometimes even unintelligent'. But it is the concluding sentence of Sidgwick's Critical Notice that is really revealing: 'On the whole his [ Bradley's] book, though crude and immature, is certainly interesting and suggestive: perhaps all the more from its marked antagonism to current philosophical opinion.'
For it is important to realize that Bradley Ethical Studies was in its day a highly heterodox book. So apt are we to identify nineteenth-century Oxford with its own peculiar variant of Idealist metaphysics, that it comes as something of a shock when we realize how late--and for that matter how short-lived--was the triumph of this particular tradition. When Bradley wrote, in ethics, in logic, in political thought, in the philosophy of mind Utilitarianism was still the dominant mode of thought. And in all these different fields Bradley thought it to be wrong, and viciously wrong. In its conception of knowledge as the accumulation of singular facts, in its attachment to the individual and in the equation of his ultimate good with the attainment of pleasure, in its commitment to democracy and to generalized humanitarian sentiment, and in its contented optimistic belief in the forces of Progress and of secular advance,