Philosophy British Idealism
by
Thom Brooks
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0015

Introduction

British idealism flourished in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. It was a movement with a lasting influence on the social and political thought of its time in particular. British idealists helped popularize the work of Immanuel Kant and G. W. F. Hegel in the Anglophone world, but they also sought to use insights from the philosophies of Kant and Hegel to help create a new idealism to address the many pressing issues of the Victorian period in Britain and its aftermath. These contributions related to theories of freedom, the common good, political obligation, the state, and punishment. The British idealists also made important contributions in areas other than Hegelian scholarship and ethics, including logic, metaphysics, and the philosophy of religion. The movement declined by the start of World War I. This entry will highlight the most important work by British idealists themselves and by their best interpreters. Thus this entry will be grouped by individuals rather than by theme.

General Overviews

There are several highly useful general overviews on British idealism. A classic overview that also includes the wider context within which British idealism arose is in Barker 1928. Quinton 1971 offers the best introduction to British idealism. Den Otter 1996 provides a highly useful analysis of British idealism and the wider philosophical context as well. An excellent and comprehensive general overview focusing on the work of several British idealists in the area of political theory is Boucher and Vincent 2000. Most of the attention on British idealism has focused on ethics and political thought. Nicholson 1990 is the leading monograph on British idealism and political philosophy, with several seminal essays. Boucher and Vincent 2000 is the leading collection on British idealism and political thought, which is wide-ranging. Sweet 2009 is perhaps the most comprehensive analysis of British idealism and ethics, with essays on all the most important figures in British idealism as well as more minor members. Brooks 2011 defends a theory of punishment grounded in the general approach of British idealists. Both of these works offer wide-ranging discussions of several British idealists on law and punishment. Simhony and Weinstein 2001 offers an excellent general overview of British idealism and new liberalism. Stove 1991 presents an important critique of British idealism. Connelly and Panagakou 2009 delivers a useful collection of essays covering a wide range of British idealists and their philosophical contributions.

  • Barker, Ernest. Political Thought in England, 1848–1914. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1928.

    E-mail Citation »

    A classic overview of political thought in England but also of British idealism as a movement in political thought. It is especially useful in providing the wider context within which British idealism arose.

  • Boucher, David, and Andrew Vincent. British Idealism and Political Theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.

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    A leading collection of essays on British idealism and political thought that is excellent and comprehensive. All major figures are represented, and it is highly useful for both those coming to the subject for the first time and others more familiar with British idealism.

  • Brooks, Thom. Punishment. London: Routledge, 2011.

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    This monograph offers a defense of a theory of punishment grounded in the general approach of several leading British idealists. This approach is the “unified theory of punishment,” bringing together elements of retribution, deterrence, and rehabilitation within a single, unified, and coherent theory of punishment.

  • Connelly, James, and Stamatoula Panagakou. Anglo-American Idealism: Thinkers and Ideas. New York: Peter Lang, 2009.

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    A useful collection of essays covering a wide range of British idealists and their philosophical contributions.

  • den Otter, Sandra M. British Idealism and Social Explanation: A Study in Late Victorian Thought. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

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    This is a highly useful general overview of British idealism aimed at more advanced readers, with a rich analysis of British idealism and its wider context.

  • Nicholson, Peter. P. The Political Philosophy of the British Idealists: Selected Studies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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    This is the leading monograph on British idealism and political philosophy, with seminal essays on several figures, including F. H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, and T. H. Green.

  • Quinton, Anthony. “Absolute Idealism.” Proceedings of the British Academy 57 (1971): 303–329.

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    This is the best introductory article on British idealism aimed at readers coming to the subject for the first time. Reprinted in A. Kenny, ed., Rationalism, Empiricism, Idealism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 124–150.

  • Simhony, Avital, and D. Weinstein, eds. The New Liberalism: Reconciling Liberty and Community. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511558337E-mail Citation »

    This is an excellent overview of British idealism and new liberalism by several leading scholars in the field on all major figures, with a focus on social and political philosophy. Idealists discussed include F. H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, and T. H. Green.

  • Stove, David. “Idealism: A Victorian Horror-Story.” In The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies. By David Stove, 83–177. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

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    This work presents an important criticism of British idealism and the (philosophical) dangers that it does not address satisfactorily. A widely debated and controversial article.

  • Sweet, William, ed. The Moral, Social, and Political Philosophy of the British Idealists. Exeter, UK: Academic, 2009.

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    Offers perhaps the single most comprehensive analysis of British idealism and British idealists available, with contributions on all major figures and a considerable number of more minor figures. It is recommended that anyone interested in learning about major and minor figures alike in British idealism consider this text.

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