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“All history is the history of thought”: competing British idealist historiographies

Tyler, Colin



Along with utilitarianism, British idealism was the most important philosophical and practical movement in Britain and its Empire during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Even though the British idealists have regained some of their standing in the history of philosophy, their own historical theories still fail to receive the deserved scholarly attention. This article helps to fill that major gap in the literature. Understanding historiography as concerning the appropriate modes of enquiring into the recorded past, this article analyses the key historiographical commitments that underpin the writings of the early T.H. Green (section two), Edward Caird (section three), and F.H. Bradley (sections four and five). Section six explores the influence of Bradley’s historiography. These approaches are linked by the belief that all thought can be properly understood only by critical historians who possess the appropriate tools with which to distinguish permanently valid truths from the transient imperfections with which those truths are mixed. A crucial division between them is the invocation of a neo-Hegelian Geist by the early Green and Caird, and Bradley’s reliance on a progressive human nature. Moreover, the article establishes that R.G. Collingwood’s highly influential theories of ‘absolute presuppositions’ and ‘re -enactment’ were taken largely from Bradley’s historiography.


Tyler, C. (2020). “All history is the history of thought”: competing British idealist historiographies. British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 28(3), 573-593.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 21, 2019
Publication Date May 3, 2020
Deposit Date Oct 21, 2019
Publicly Available Date May 4, 2021
Journal British Journal for the History of Philosophy
Print ISSN 0960-8788
Electronic ISSN 1469-3526
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 28
Issue 3
Pages 573-593
Keywords British idealism; historiography; Hegel; FH Bradley; TH Green; Edward Caird
Public URL
Publisher URL


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Copyright Statement
This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in British Journal for the History of Philosophy on 17th Dec 2019, available online:

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