British Idealism: A Guide for the Perplexed by David Boucher

By David Boucher

A concise advent to the guidelines and writings of the British Idealists.


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The postulate or presupposition of the self is self-determination, which entails freedom that itself requires no demonstration, because it, by definition, belongs to the practical self. To reject the principle of self-determination, and the implication of freedom is to deny the world of practice, and its foundational postulate, namely, the ‘separateness and uniqueness’ of the individual. 26 Andrew Seth was the first of the British Idealists to voice concerns about the implications for the individual of Absolutism.

It still depended for its content on an objective system of reason. The individual was thus inconceivable without society; philosophically, the individual was organic, that is integral to a universal life. 31 The individual therefore has a universal nature within the whole or universe in which souls are made. Andrew Seth PringlePattison’s position is in these respects is almost indistinguishable from Absolute Idealism. It would be unwise to exaggerate the differences between the Personalists and the Absolutists.

Mill. His utilitarianism was more eclectic, sceptical and wavering, yet still committed, in the end, to utilitarian calculation, consequentialism and policy recommendation. There are two further features to note, on the above analysis: first, utilitarianism in the nineteenth century was not one singular thing. Sidgwick, J. S. Mill and Jeremy Bentham all had markedly different perspectives, both morally and politically. Utilitarianism was a hydra-headed creature with deep and diverse allegiances among, for example, classical liberals, some new liberals, classical political economists, evolutionary theorists, anarchists, socialists and conservatives.

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