British Idealism: A Guide for the Perplexed by David Boucher

By David Boucher

A concise creation to the information and writings of the British Idealists.


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In the language of modern communitarianism, the moral self is seen to be constituted through a community. There are no ‘unencumbered selves’ standing outside a community frame. There is thus no sense that moral issues or moral vocabularies can be addressed independently of a community. Morality and politics are not invented, but interpreted from within a particular community. We therefore read off an existing tradition of moral discourse. 107 As F. H. 108 The community thus represents what Hegel called “objective mind”.

For Idealists, knowledge of the experiential world (and nature) could not explain the nature of knowledge. Utilitarianism – a philosophy focused largely on empiricism and a form of sensationalism – was thus considered to be epistemically defective from its very inception. Morally, utilitarianism was also seen as a deeply problematic doctrine insofar as it was linked, once again, in the minds of most Idealists, to the same unsubstantiated abstract atomism. Utilitarianism was thus seen to treat human individuals as, more or less, selfenclosed homogeneous moral atoms, with similar feelings which could be mechanically quantified, and among whom a quantity of pleasures could be distributed.

They saw scientific theories as hypothetico-deductive systems. This entails a distinction between fundamental, or universal, laws, and derived or empirical laws. 53 The hypothetico-deductive model and the attempt to explain disparate phenomena by means of one overarching cause are features evident in Darwin’s methodology throughout his scientific endeavours. 54 Natural selection was the fundamental cause or mechanism by which problems in diverse field could be related and explained from geology, classification and comparative anatomy to embryology and so on.

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