Home  »  Volume XIV: English THE VICTORIAN AGE Part Two The Nineteenth Century, III  »  § 13. George Grote; Alexander Bain

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

I. Philosophers

§ 13. George Grote; Alexander Bain

George Grote, the historian of Greece, an older contemporary and early associate of Mill, deserves mention here not only for his works on the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, but, also, for some independent contributions to ethics, published together under the title Fragments on Ethical Subjects (1876). He had little sympathy with Mill’s approximations to types of thought opposed to the traditional utilitarianism. In this respect he agreed with Alexander Bain, professor at Aberdeen, a writer of far greater importance in a philosophical regard. Bain was younger than Mill and long outlived him; he assisted him in some of his works, especially the Logic; he wrote numerous works himself; but his pre-eminence was in psychology, to which his chief contributions were two elaborate books, The Senses and the Intellect (1855) and The Emotions and the Will (1859). The psychology of James Mill and of J. S. Mill was, in the main, derived from Hartley; but it was Hartley as expurgated by Priestley, Hartley with the physiology left out. Bain reinstated the physiological factor, not in Hartley’s rather speculative manner, but by introducing facts of nerve and muscle whenever they could serve to elucidate mental process. That came to be, as a rule, whenever the mental process itself was obscure or difficult. The result is sometimes confusing, because it mixes two different orders of scientific conceptions. But Bain’s work is wonderfully complete as a treatment of the principle of the association of ideas; and, perhaps, he has said the last word that can be said in favour of this principle as the ultimate explanation of mind. His range of vision may have been narrow, but he had a keen eye for everything within that range. He was persistent in his search for facts and shrewd in examining them; and he had no illusions—except the great illusion that mind is a bundle of sensations tied together by laws of association. It is interesting to note how this clear-sighted and unimaginative writer made observations which suggest doctrines, different from his own, which have gained prominence later. His observations on spontaneous movement and his teaching as to fixed ideas strike at the roots of the analysis of volition to which he adhered, and might lead naturally to a view of mind as essentially active and no mere grouping of sensations or feelings. He offered, also, a new analysis of belief (though he subsequently withdrew it) which resolved it into a preparedness to act; and, here, the latent “activism” in his thinking might have led, if developed, to something of the nature of pragmatism.