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

I. Philosophers

§ 32. Thomas Hill Green

Stirling was first in the field, and, although cut off from any academic position, he continued to exercise a strong intellectual influence. Independently of him, and soon after he began to publish, the influence of Hegel was shown by a number of other writers, most of whom were connected with Oxford or Glasgow. Like Stirling, they brought out the ideas in Kant which pointed to Hegel’s view; but, on the other hand, most of them paid little attention to, or altogether disregarded, the details of the Hegelian method. Of these writers one of the earliest and, in some respects, the most important, was Thomas Hill Green, professor of moral philosophy at Oxford. His work was constructive in aim and, to a large extent, in achievement; and it was inspired by a belief in the importance of right-thinking for life. The latter characteristic Green shared with most of the writers who sympathised with his philosophical views, and it accounted for much of the enthusiasm with which these views were received. His constructive work, however, was preceded by a very thorough criticism. He saw that it was necessary, first of all, to expose the assumptions and inconsistencies underlying the systems of Mill and Spencer, and that these systems were really based upon the philosophy of Hume. Green’s dissection of the latter appeared, in 1874, in the form of two elaborate “introductions” to a new edition of Hume’s Treatise. This work, as he confesses, was “an irksome labour.” He deals at length with Locke and Hume, more shortly with Berkeley and some of the moralists; and he follows these writers from point to point of their argument with unwearying, though sometimes wearisome, persistence. But he was an unsympathetic critic. Locke and Hume were rather careless of the niceties of terminology, and some of the contradictions which he finds are, perhaps, only verbal and might have been avoided by a change of expression. Enough remain, however, amply to justify his accusation that their thought was full of incoherences; and, if these had been brought into clearer relief, and distinguished from merely verbal inconsistencies, the effectiveness of his criticism might have been increased. But he did succeed in showing “that the philosophy based on the abstraction of feeling, in regard to morals, no less than to nature, was with Hume played out.” He appealed to “Englishmen under five-and-twenty” to close their Mill and Spencer and open their Kant and Hegel; and this appeal marks an epoch in English thought in the nineteenth century.