We have devoted a good deal of space to that purely indirect criticism of the Supra-rational Absolute which is implied in the positive Idealist arguments for Mind as the ultimate principle of Reality. It will be remembered, however, that the philosophical position which I am trying to recommend in this study has been arrived at along a line of thought which is in its origin traditionally Idealist. The fact of this genealogy has seemed to make it desirable, if not indeed obligatory, to throw into relief the points of difference which compel me, in spite of an Idealist starting-point, to develop a metaphysical conclusion which is in somewhat drastic conflict with Idealism.
Let us turn now to criticisms of a more direct order. I have already hinted that in my opinion a good many of the current denunciations of the Bradleian Absolute would be not unjustly described as frivolous. Those with which I shall first deal can hardly fail, I think, to support that judgment in the mind of the impartial reader.
What, for example, are we to make of the criticism, all too typical, that Bradley's Absolute 'explains nothing'? Such an Absolute, it is urged, throws no light upon anything in the universe, and as such stands self-condemned as an essay in metaphysical theory. It is, as Signor Ruggiero (to the mortification of the present writer, who confesses the greatest admiration for Signor Ruggiero's historical judgments in general) has explicitly termed it, an 'absolute of straw.'1
The reply to this is, in the first place, that it is not true that the doctrine of the Supra-rational Absolute throws no light upon anything in the universe. It is surely an important contribution to our understanding of the universe to be led to see that the world which reveals itself through the intellect fails in principle to express the nature of the ultimately real. But, in the second place, if what the critic is desirous of insisting upon is that such an Absolute furnishes no insight into the final 'how' of things, then I should be ready to agree with him, but would beg to point out that this is not, in itself, a 'criticism.' As it stands, it is a plain statement of fact. If it claims to be more, if it claims also to be a condemnation of the Bradleian Absolute, then that claim rests quite evidently on the assumption that an ultimate explanation of things is possible. But this assumption is precisely what it is the main business of Bradley's philosophy to disprove. In other words, the 'criticism' is just a particularly glaring instance of petitio principii.
1 Modern Philosophy, p. 275 (English edition).
Of a similar calibre is the contemptuous rejection of the'unknowable' Absolute on the score that it is 'meaningless'.
'Meaningless' is a dangerous adjective, with boomerang potentialities which it is tempting to exploit. But (if one must take it seriously) of course the Supra-rational Absolute is 'meaningless,' if by that we mean that its positive nature is impenetrable by mind. And, equally of course, this is not an indictment of the doctrine in question, save on the assumption that the Absolute - Reality as a whole - is intelligible. Yet in no other way, so far as I can see, can the Supra-rational Absolute be held to be 'meaningless.' If the critic means only that the doctrine which maintains it contains no meaning for him, then there are more modest ways of expressing this situation than by the forthright declaration that the doctrine is 'meaningless'.
The next criticism with which we are to deal cannot, however, be dismissed in so summary a fashion. It can claim distinguished names among its advocates, notably that of Professor Pringle-Pattison. This criticism aims at the root of the Supra-rationalist philosophy, viz. its epistemology. It argues that it is only through the adoption of a false logic, the logic of abstract identity, that Bradley finds himself compelled to reject the world which the intelligence articulates, and compelled to erect as the ultimate reality this 'unknowable' Absolute. In Professor Pringle-Pattison's words, Bradley 'adopts this logic of abstract identity apparently without reserve, and because he finds it brings him to a deadlock he pronounces the actual world to be "unintelligible"... "self-contradictory"'... "illusory."'1
With great respect for the author of this criticism, I must nevertheless deem it to rest upon a serious misunderstanding. Even on general grounds, indeed, a misunderstanding might be suspected. For Bradley has himself lashed most mercilessly, in season and out of season, the folly of a logic which would take 'A is A' as its ideal of truth. It is fair to say, I think, that there has been no philosopher of recent times who has been more urgent in driving home the lesson of Hegel, that differences apart from identity and identity apart from differences are the sheerest abstractions. It is at least exceedingly improbable that he should be himself a victim of the fallacy which he has so roundly denounced.
But apart from general probabilities, what do we in fact find to be the basis of Bradley's rejection of the world of the intellect? Bradley condemns as not giving ultimate reality all connections of differences by the intellect. This is agreed. But why? Is it because the ideal of the intellect is, in his view, abstract self-identity, which ideal is not satisfied in any such proposition? Not for a moment. A proposition of the form 'A is A' he would condemn even more vigorously, on the ground that it does not express a thought at all. Bradley condemns the connection of differences as carried out by the intellect only because, as he understands the matter, the intellect cannot connect differences intrinsically, but only through a partially external 'ground' which inevitably sets a fresh problem. Intellectual connections are thus incapable of achieving a genuine unity in difference, and it is for this reason that they are for Bradley metaphysically defective. To repeat, the fault is not that they do not realise a supposed ideal of abstract identity, but that they do not, and can not, realise the ideal of identity in difference. Bradley may of course be wrong in this view. But until it is understood that this is his view, criticism is beside the mark.
1 Man's place in the Cosmos (1st ed.), pp. 151-2.