Idealism and the Absolute
THE harmonious reconciliation of difference and identity provides Bradley with the abstract skeleton or pattern which reality must possess. But there is much more to the Absolute than just this. Thus he next turns to enquire into the content of this formal structure, 'the matter which fills up [this] empty outline' ( AR127). About this he is unusually positive and certain. He claims that 'the Absolute is one system, and . . . its contents are nothing but sentient experience. It will hence be a single and all-inclusive experience' ( AR129). 'Sentient experience', he says, 'is reality, and what is not this is not real' ( AR127). He is then an idealist. But idealism is a broad church, so we need to enquire exactly what it is that he means by claiming that reality is experience. That enquiry is best furthered by considering the arguments that he advances in favour of this position, for the content of his claim is a direct function of his arguments for it.
But before we proceed with this task we need to consider one possible objection. It has been claimed by Cresswell that idealism, rather than something Bradley seriously argued for, needs to be seen as one of his initial and most basic assumptions. It is simply one side of his extreme empiricist view that we encounter reality only through experience or feeling ( PL44; ETR190). Thus, although the topic is first raised by Bradley only at the beginning of book Two, Cresswell argues 'that it is the foundation and presupposition of his whole metaphysics and that the anti-relational and anti-pluralistic arguments which occur earlier in [ Appearance and Reality] can only be understood on the assumption that we already hold the view that reality is experience'.1
From a literary point of view, it must be said that Cresswell's claim attributes to Bradley a very odd presentational strategy. If idealism is a necessary presupposition of the anti-relational____________________