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

I. Philosophers

§ 16. Rational and Religious Philosophers; John Grote

Although Mill’s fame overshadowed the other philosophers of his day, there were a number of contemporary writers who were not merely his followers or critics, but independent thinkers. Of note among these was John Grote, younger brother of the historian, who held the chair of moral philosophy at Cambridge from 1855 to 1866. Grote himself issued only one volume on philosophy—Exploratio Philosophica, Part 1 (1865). After his death three volumes were compiled from his manuscripts: An Examination of the Utilitarian Philosophy in 1870, A Treatise on the Moral Ideals in 1876 and the second part of Exploratio in 1900. They are all “rough notes”—as the author himself describes the first on its title-page. They have no place in literature. Grote thought and wrote simply to get at the truth of things and without any view of impressing the public. A “belief in thought” upheld him: “a feeling that things were worth thinking about, that thought was worth effort.” He did not seek reputation as a philosophical writer, and he has not gained it. His direct influence has been restricted to a limited number of other thinkers, through whom it has passed to wider circles without any definite trace of its origin. His books are largely filled with criticism of contemporary writers. But none of the criticism is merely destructive: it aims always at elucidating the core of truth in other men’s opinions, with a view to a comprehensive synthesis. Often it leads to bringing out important doctrines which, if not altogether new, are set in a new light. An instance of this is his whole doctrine of “the scale of sensation or knowledge,” and, in particular, the elaboration and application of the distinction of two kinds of knowledge or, rather, the twofold process of knowledge, which he formulated as the distinction between acquaintance with a thing and knowing about it. He sought to assign its due value to phenomenalism or positivism, at the same time as he contended for the more complete view—“rationary” or idealist—which recognised in positivism “an abstraction from the complete view of knowledge.” Similarly, in moral philosophy, there was a science of virtue, or “aretaics,” existing side by side with “eudaemonics,” or the science of happiness. Fundamentally, his theory is a doctrine of thought: “the fact that we know is prior to, and logically more comprehensive than, the fact that what we know is.” To be known, things must be knowable, or fitted for knowledge. “Knowledge is the sympathy of intelligence with intelligence, through the medium of qualified or particular existence.”