British, b: 14 June 1848, Alnwick, Northumberland, d: 8 February 1923, Hampstead, London. Cat: Idealist. Ints: Metaphysics; political philosophy; aesthetics. Educ: Harrow School and Balliol College, Oxford. Infls: Hegel, T.H.Green and Bradley. Appts: Fellow of University College, Oxford 1871–81; Professor of Moral Philosophy, St Andrews 1903–8.
Bosanquet was much influenced by Bradley (and, in return, had some influence upon him) but the two men were very different. Bradley spent his entire career in his college, neither teaching nor lecturing. Bosanquet, after ten years as an active college tutor, left for London to work in the organization of charities and in adult education, spending only five of his post-Oxford years in an academic post. Bradley’s metaphysics ended in a kind of nebulously hopeful mysticism, in which reason or the intellect is transcended by something called ‘absolute experience’. Bosanquet had his feet firmly on the ground of the social and cultural life of mankind. Against Bradley’s view that the intellect, the instrument of discursive thought, inevitably misrepresents reality, Bosanquet saw it as the only mode of access to reality. Thought is not, as in Bradley, doomed to traffic in abstractions; it seeks to apprehend the concrete universal or system. Approximate concrete universals are finite selves and, above them, social and cultural institutions: the state, art, religion and philosophy. The only true concrete universal is the absolute, the all-inclusive system. The work of thought is to develop the judgements which are its elements into rationally articulated systems. The inferences by which this is brought about are not the ‘linear inferences’ of formal logic, but spread out in all directions to take in all its conditions so as to reveal the place of the judgement in a comprehensive system. Every judgement always implicitly refers to reality, so hypothetical judgements embody a categorical assertion about some relation of connectedness. In the same ample spirit he maintains that hypothetical judgements are reciprocal. Less peculiar is his claim that judgement and inference are only superficially distinct: every judgement rests on inference and is the starting-point of further inferences. Bradley accepted much of Bosanquet’s criticism of his own account of logic with uncharacteristic meekness. Since the person, or finite self, is only an approximation to the true concrete universal it is not wholly real. The absolute is not the God of theism since it is beyond personality. The finite human self, furthermore, is not the abstract self-sufficient, self-interested individual of traditional liberal and utilitarian doctrine. Human beings are constituted as such by their involvement in society and culture with others. That conception of the essentially social nature of human beings is the basis of Bosanquet’s theory of the state. He follows Rousseau in taking it to express the real will of its citizens, who are made what they are by membership of it. Compulsion is the essence of the state; enforcing citizens to obey the law it enables their real natures to overcome their baser impulses. But a residue of Green’s more liberal outlook is present in his view that state’s main task is the removal of obstacles to human self-perfection. He conceives the state as inevitably national; the human community in general is not sufficiently ‘actual’ to serve as the domain of a single world-state. Bosanquet’s influence was most notable in the field of political theory. It came in for severe criticism from L.T.Hobhouse in 1918 after Hobhouse had lost a son in the war. Hobhouse argues persuasively that Bosanquet fails to distinguish society, which does humanize us, from the state, which has a humbler role. His larger inquiries contributed to the generally edifying and anti-scientific mood of the age. But while his contemporaries were arguing for various forms of personal idealism against the pure doctrine of Hegel, Bosanquet remained loyal to the old faith.
Sources: Metz; Passmore 1957; Edwards.
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