British Idealism became the pre-eminent philosophy in Great Britain and most of the English speaking world for four decades from the early 1870s until the First World War. Even when under attack from the new generation of Realists such as Bertrand Russell, the early Wittgenstein and G. E. Moore, it could still muster its heavyweight battalions in the form of F. H. Bradley and Bernard Bosanquet until the mid-1920s. Beyond that its philosophical in¶uence waned, but was never completely extinguished. R. G. Collingwood picked up the baton, for example, but distanced himself somewhat from the philosophical principles of the school of T. H. Green, by relying for inspiration on the critical Idealist philosophy of the Italians Giovanni Gentile, Benedetto Croce and Guido de Rugierro. Collingwood passionately opposed the Realist critics of Green, among them Moore and Russell from Cambridge, but also John Cook Wilson, E. E. Carritt, H. H. Prichard, W. D. Ross and H. W. B. Joseph from Oxford. While fundamentally it was their philosophies with which he disagreed, it was their practical consequences of which he despaired. In his view, both Prichard and Joseph had become radical sceptics, the former more so than the latter which resulted in pernicious tendency to part company with all positive doctrines by a process of critical disintegration. In relation to moral philosophy this entailed rejecting over two thousand years of believing that its purpose was to think out more clearly the issues involved in conduct in order to act better (Collingwood 1978: 47). Prichard contended that moral philosophy was purely theoretical, focusing upon the workings of the moral consciousness, without interfering with its practice, and Russell had jettisoned ethics altogether from the body of philosophy. The implication was fundamental. The generation of students brought up on T. H. Green’s idealism had been taught that clear philosophical thinking is

essential to informing and improving conduct, whereas those exposed to Realism were told that philosophical thinking is a disinterested activity with no contribution to make to practical conduct. It was, then, the separation between theory and practice to which Collingwood objected, and not least of which because it denied the role of the committed intellectual, and absolved philosophy of social responsibility. Even though the School of Green was often called British Hegelianism, it nevertheless rejected a fundamental component of his philosophy, that is, the view that the philosopher comes on the scene too late to make any practical difference to that about which he philosophises. Collingwood admired in British Idealism the crusading spirit in sending young men and women out into the world to make a practical contribution to eradicating social ills. Green’s adeptness in working through abstract issues and threading them through practical situations was a quality often remarked upon by his associates (Leighton 2004: 73). It should be cautioned, however, that the relationship between theory and practice is complex. Green believed that political and moral theories will always be slow to a catch-on and provide direct practical guidance. They may nevertheless have an indirect effect especially in providing obstacles to reform, as in Green’s view utilitarianism was doing in his own day (see Wempe 2004: 155-91). In rejecting the individualism upon which British Empiricist philosophy was posited, the British Idealists rejected the atomistic conception of society that they associated with utilitarianism, but also the metaphor of a naturalistic organism that Herbert Spencer popularized.