R. G. Collingwood on the “school of Green”

“When I began to read philosophy there in 1910, Oxford was still obsessed by what I will call the school of Green: a philosophical movement whose leader was Thomas Hill Green and whose other chief members were Francis Herbert Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, William Wallace, and Robert Lewis Nettleship … The philosophical tendencies common to this school were described by its contemporary opponents as Hegelianism. This title was repudiated by the school itself, and rightly. Their philosophy, so far as they had one single philosophy, was a continuation and criticism of the indigenous English and Scottish philosophies of the middle nineteenth century. It is true that, unlike most of their compatriots, they had some knowledge of Hegel, and a good deal more of Kant. The fact of their having this knowledge was used by their opponents, more through ignorance than through deliberate dishonesty, to discredit them in the eyes of a public always contemptuous of foreigners … This movement never in any sense dominated philosophical thought and teaching in Oxford. In its most flourishing period it comprised only a few young men … The ‘Greats’ school was not meant as a training for professional scholars and philosophers; it was meant as a training for public life in the Church, at the Bar, in the Civil Service, and in Parliament. The school of Green sent out into public life a stream of ex-pupils who carried with them the conviction that philosophy, and in particular the philosophy they had learnt at Oxford, was an important thing, and that their vocation was to put it into practice. This conviction was common to politicians so diverse in their creeds as Asquith and Milner, churchmen like Gore and Scott Holland, social reformers like Arnold Toynbee, and a host of other public men whose names it would be tedious to repeat. Through this effect on the minds of its pupils, the philosophy of Green’s school might be found, from about 1880 to about 1910, penetrating and fertilizing every part of national life.”

R. G. Collingwood, An Autobiography [1939], pp. 15–17.

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