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

I. Philosophers

§ 38. Robert Adamson

The reaction from idealism is most strikingly illustrated in the writings of Robert Adamson. The most learned of his contemporary philosophers, his earlier works are written from the standpoint of a neo-Hegelian idealism. These works are a small volume On the Philosophy of Kant (1879), a monograph on Fichte (1861), and an article on logic (1882), long afterwards (1911) republished in book form. The fundamental opposition of philosophical doctrines he regarded as “the opposition between Hegelianism on the one hand and scientific naturalism or realism on the other”; and he rejected the latter doctrine because its explanation of thought as the product of antecedent conditions was incompetent to explain thought as self-consciousness. The problem which he set himself was to re-think from the former point of view the new material concerning nature, mind and history provided by modern science. He came gradually to the opinion that this could not be done—that idealism was inadequate. His posthumously published lectures The Development of Modern Philosophy (1903) show that he was engaged in working out a reconstruction from the point of view which he had at first held incompetent—that of realism. But his suggestions do not point to a theory of mechanism or materialism. Although mind has come into being, it is as essential as nature: both are partial manifestations of reality. But he had not an opportunity fully to work out his constructive theory or to examine its adequacy and coherence.

The new tendencies which distinguish more recent philosophy illustrate also the increasing reaction of the literature of the United States of America upon English thought. The theory known as pragmatism is definitely of trans-Atlantic origin, and forms of what is called the new realism seem to have been started independently in the United States and in this country. The latter theory is, largely, a revival of older views: both the natural realism of Reid and the scholastic doctrine of the reality of universals appear to have contributed to its formation. Pragmatism is a more original doctrine; but its seeds also lie in the past: it has been connected with the prevailingly practical tone of much English thought; and more definite anticipations of its leading idea might be found in some of the later English writers of the nineteenth century.