Bradley’s Earthy Absolute Idealism

Thus, for the absolutists, the Absolute is not far removed from us; on the contrary, it is everywhere present to us, the all-encompassing totality with which we are constantly in touch in all our intellectual activities and which, as Bosanquet says, persistently drives us from pillar to post.  It is not, as William James mistakenly supposed, “a marble temple shining on a hill”; it is, rather, as James would have it, inextricably involved in the dust and dirt of things.  And, it may be added, the argument to which the absolutists all alike in the end appeal is designed to show precisely this. –G. Watts Cunningham

One of the chief ironies of Bradley’s work is the upside-down way it is typically understood.  Cunningham’s complaint about James certainly captures the irony.  Whatever may be true of the other ‘absolutists’, there is no doubt that Bradley took the Absolute to be dusty and dirty, all up in our face, brawny and inescapable, our goodly fere.  It is no weirdly irradiated glop, alien, distant, and vaguely threatening. Bradley understood himself as panning philosophy’s ballet of bloodless categories, as stomping through the Palace Theater in muddy boots, tracking the Absolute all over the place.  Bradley deplores the reduction of reality to thought, even if it sometimes seems as if he is engaged in just such a reduction.  He is not.  Bradley is the most doggedly anti-reductionist philosopher I can think of, other than Wittgenstein.  (That Wittgenstein is himself often taken to be an idealist, albeit of the linguistic and not the Absolute ilk, is worth considering, but I will simply note that it is, and move on.)  Bradley insistently forces his reader toward the real; he will not relent.  He does not browbeat the reader.  He does not beleaguer.  But he does not stop.  Bradley works to redintegrate thought and feeling, but in a way that puts the accent mark darkly and unmistakably above feeling, feeling dusty and dirty.


3 responses

  1. indeed, my sense tho is that we wait for Dewey to get the beginnings of a Darwinian (worms and all) account of evolution in philosophy.

    • Bradley traffics in such talk, but his traffic isn’t particularly heavy. His responses to Dewey are certainly of interest, although they go in many directions other than the evolutionary one.

      • sure and of course Dewey can’t help but to put his own desire for Progress into evolution (as do our analytic fellows), hard to come to terms with I suppose.

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