Jun 10, 2018
THOMAS HILL GREEN'S POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
Hume and Locke. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1968).Pp. xxi, 371. $2.45.
Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation. (Ann Arbor: TheUniversity of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor Paperbacks, 1967).Pp. xxxvi, 252..$2.25.
Prolegomena to Ethics. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company,1969). Pp. lvii, 427. $2.95.
The political philosophy of Thomas Hill Green is of historical1 importance because it was influential in establishing the Idealist
movement at the University of Oxford, and that movement ultimate-ly came to dominate English university education. Melvin Richterwrites that because of Green the universities of England, Scotlandand Wales were on the whole Idealist in their teaching of philos-ophy."' Anyone who is familiar with the English, and has studiedIdealist philosophy, anyone, that is, who has attempted to digest theponderous prose of Green in addition to the Phenomenologie desGeistes and Wissenschaft der Logik of Hegel, the principal works ofKant, and the discourses of Fichte, will find this an almost unachiev
able accomplishment. Yet there must be some truth in Richter'sclaims. Even today English political philosophers feel it necessary toreject Bosanquet or Hegel before getting on with their immediatetasks which they interpret are conscious advances beyond a mor-ibund Idealism.
There was undoubtedly some measure of success of philosophicIdealism, and this has to a great degree been attributed to Green.But there was a greater success of political "idealism," a movementwhich we in the United States would recognize as a form of "Liberal-ism," and of this movement Green became the patron saint, muchas John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt are considered pa-tron saints of contemporary Liberalism. It is this lower case "ideal-ism" which Mulford Q. Sibley has indicated is reflected today in theLiberalism of such contemporary American political figures as Ches
? Melvin Richter, The Politics of Conscience: T. H. Green and His Age (Cam-bridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964), 294.
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ter Bowles and Eugene McCarthy. 2 The "new" Liberalism which wein America associate with the Democratic Party, was greatly assistedin its transition from the "old" Liberalism of the Manchester Schoolof Economics and the individualistic psychology of Locke and Mill byT. H. Green's thought. Green gave to Nineteenth Century Liberalswhat Liberalism today is lacking: a consistent view of politics, na-ture, society, and history, in short a view of order. He took this viewfrom a very unliberal tradition, but he was sensitive to strains of lib-eralism which have much in common with more authoritarian poli -
tics. About this aspect of Green's thought Mulford Q. Sibley haswritten that Green maintained the individualism of English Liberal-ism while showing that individualism is dependent on organicre-lations with the group." 3
T. H. Green was born in 1836 and died in 1882 at the age of forty-five. His works were almost entirely posthumously published. Hisstyle of writing, closely wedded to textual analysis, seldom carriesthe reader to brilliant insights, but rather plods along in a web ofmeticulous detail which can exhaust even the most devoted scholar.Green's works are not hastily devoured by those who consider politi-cal theory their hobby: And those who by inclination or professioncommence to read his works must be motivated by an interest ofsome specialized cast. Yet Green should be more widely read becausehe symbolized the crystallization of three simultaneous developmentsin English intellectual culture. The first development was the rejec-tion in England of the empiricist utilitarian tradition, a negativemovement which commenced with Coleridge, erupted in the out-pouringsof Carlyle, and culminated in Green's critique of Lockeand Hume. The second development was religious. Early Nine-teenth Century intellectuals could only with difficulty accept thedogma and teachings of the Christian churches into which they wereborn, and found it necessary to replace what they rejected with thatwhich they could accept. Newman turned to Rome, Carlyle to his-tory and literature. Green found his religion in philosophy. Thethird movement was social. It was not enough, men of Green's stampbelieved, to master an intellectual discipline and transmit that dis-cipline to the next generation. There were important and neces-sary things to be done in society itself. Massive social problems were
' Mulford Q. Sibley, Political Ideas and Ideologies: A History of PoliticalThought (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970), 500.8
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present to remind them of their obligation for the welfare of theirfellow men. Green 's own busy political schedule was representative ofthis. In 1876 he was elected to the Oxford town council and throughhis devotion to the movement to abolish alcoholic beverages he be-came Vice President of the United Kingdom Alliance, established acoffee tavern, and became President of the Oxford Board of HopeTemperance Union. 4
His development which reflects these intellectual elements canbe traced in three of his works: his critique of Locke and Hume, thelectures on the principles of political obligation, and the Prolego-mena to Ethics. A review of these works and the problems of politicalorder they represent will constitute the subject of this essay.
Green's strength as a scholar first appeared in two excellent es-says, The Philosophy of Aristotle," and "Popular Philosophy in ItsRelation to Life," both published in the North British Review in 1866and 1868 respectively. The former is the most abstruse and yet themost characteristic of his works. Ostensibly a review of Sir AlexanderGrant's edition of the Ethics, there is very little commentary andmuch argument of his own thesis that God is in us as our thought,and we are the means by which the divine is in development. This isnot offered as Aristotle's thought because Green indicates his aware-ness of the partial similarity of his thesis to the immoral heresies ofearly Christendom." Aristotle is for him the necessary beginningpoint for any Idealist metaphysics, the creator of the vocabulary andthe method of analysis from which a true metaphysics must begin.This essay is only the beginning of Green's thought, but because itdoes contain the nucleus of his mature reflections it is important tonote that Green is aware of the points at which his own metaphysicsbears a similarity to Christian heresies. The difficulty he confrontshere, and which he never resolves, is the distinction between meta-physics and religion. There is evidence, as we shall see, which in-dicates that Green could not solve the difficulty, and in fact for himphilosophy was religion.
' This biographical information is found in R. L. Nettleship's "Memoir" inThomas Hill Green, Works of Thomas Hill Green, R. L. Nettleship, ed., 3 vols.(London: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1891-1894), 3:xi-clxi (further refer-ences to this edition cited as Green, Works).
5 Green, Works, 3:86.:
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The essay, "Popular Philosophy in Its Relation to Life," is lessdifficult and perhaps a more positive contribution. Green argues thatjust as the Sophistic subjection of philosophy to rhetoric survived thecriticism of Plato and Aristotle, so it is not surprising that Locke andHume still survive in popular consciousness after their criticism byKant. Nevertheless, he is concerned for the consequence of theirinfluence. If, as Hume argued, virtue is ultimately traceable only tothe impression of pleasure, and vice that of pain, then no act can ofitself be said to be virtuous. Moreover, if feeling represents nothingbeyond itself, then the public dimension of such moral acts as dutyis lost. How, he asks, can Hume explain or account for those un-pleasant deeds which we perform out of a sense of obligation? Trac-ing Hume's reasoning to its logical conclusion in public attitudes,Green sees it in the modern conviction that moral obligation isreducible to self-satisfaction. In opposition to such attitudes, Greensaw three influences seeking to moderate the moral anarchy whichwas the product of the Enlightenment: Burke,Kant, and Wordsworth.
Between 1868, the date of the publication of his essay on "Popu-lar Philosophy and 1874, when he published two "Introductions"to a new edition of Hume's works, he lectured on English philosophy.More than any other influence, Green's own lecture experienceformed the character of his published works. He seems to have usedthe obligation to lecture as a dry run for the research and writingthat would go into his published works. For that reason, his works al-ways contain sustained analyses of the principal texts dealing withhis subject. There are few textual critiques of Hobbes, Locke, andRousseau better than Green's own study of political obligation. Thesame quality of scholarship is sustained in his lectures on Kant, Mill,and Spencer.
Green's "Introductions" were written for a four-volume editionof Hume's philosophical works which Green co-edited with T. H.Grose. The first of the "Introductions" appeared in volume onewhich contained Book I of Hume's Treatise of Human Nature. Thesecond and smaller of the two appeared in volume two which con-tained Books II and III of the Treatise. Apparently, he decided thatthe best way to gain an audience for his own massive criticism ofempiricism was to publish a new edition of Hume's works. Green sessays were not labors of love. It has been said that his purpose inthe two "Introductions" was not to praise Hume, but to bury him.Green apparently had a large spade for the digging of Hume 's in-
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