restricted access An unsigned review of A Defence of Idealism: Some Questions and Conclusions, by May Sinclair
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[ 585 An unsigned review of A Defence of Idealism: Some Questions and Conclusions, by May Sinclair New York: Macmillan, 1917. Pp. xxi + 355.1 The New Statesman, 9 (22 Sept 1917) 596 Miss Sinclair’s book has all the charm which the fresh and interested mind of an outsider, turned upon the achievements of a technical art or science, cangive.SheapproachesphilosophysomewhatasSamuelButlerapproached biology; perhaps partly for this reason, her essay on Butler is the most successful in the book.2 She considers in turn the constructions of Vitalism, Pragmatism, Neo-Realism, and the “New Mysticism” of Evelyn Underhill and others.3 At her best in criticising the spirit of philosophies, rather than in attacking their technical defences, Miss Sinclair writes very much to the point in discussing Butler, Pragmatism and Mysticism; she comes off very well in her discussion of the animism of Mr. McDougall, which she treats sympathetically;4 she is at her weakest in her analysis of the New Realism. We may instance the fact that she consistently refers to the Principles of Mathematics as the Principia Mathematica; to the latter work she makes no reference at all.5 At times the author appears to impose her prejudices rather than to unfold an argument. She objects to both Bradley’s and Russell’s logic as “thin,” without adducing any very satisfactory reasons why a logic ought to be “thick.”6 (Mr. E. B. Holt’s realistic logic is certainly thick enough.)7 She objects to the Idealism “of Balliol” for the same reason.8 Her accord with Hegel is contained in the statement that Ultimate Reality must be Spirit– where definitions of both Reality and Spirit are much to seek. The same lack of definition is found in her use of the word “Consciousness,” her examination of the realistic theory of illusions of sense. We have the right (and the desire) to hear from her about the relation of Existence to Value. But it is to be hoped that she will write more such essays; the book displays critical clairvoyance, and it is both intelligent and interestingly written; in fact, it is one of the most interesting books of philosophy that have appeared for several years. 1917: Journalism 586 ] Notes 1. “I have been trying to read May Sinclair’s Defence of Idealism for the Statesman and Jordain,” TSE wrote to his mother on 12 Sept, “She is better known as a novelist. . . . I have met her several times” (L1 216). May Sinclair (1863-1946) was one of the first to appreciate modernist poetry. In Dec 1917, she wrote a substantial review of Prufrock and Other Observations (Contemporary Reviews, 10-13),whichTSEdescribedinaJan1918lettertohismotheras“veryflattering” (L1 248). 2. The first essay in Sinclair’s book is “The Pan-Psychism of Samuel Butler.” An admirer of Darwin,Butlerdeveloped“Pan-Psychism”asascientificallygroundedalternativetoChristianity. 3. Sinclair has chapters on Bergson’s Vitalism, James’s Pragmatism, Holt’s Neo-Realism, and the New Mysticism of Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), whose Mysticism (1911) TSE had read at Harvard in 1913-14. 4. In Body and Mind: A History and a Defense of Animism (1911), William McDougall maintainedthatanimism,definedasthebeliefinanonmaterialandspiritualanimatingprinciple, is the foundation of all religion, ancient and modern. 5. In The Principles of Mathematics (1903), Russell argues that mathematics is a branch of logic; in the Principia Mathematica (3 vols, 1910), Russell and Whitehead examine the foundations of mathematics. 6. The Absolute of Bradley “holds its thin prestige of Godhead or of cosmic unity at the cost of all god-like or cosmic attributes; . . . [it] is the most flagrant instance of an empty, impotent, adjectival abstraction” (132). The Absolute of Hegel, however, is an “Absolute Spirit which is God. An Absolute as thick, as concrete as the universe itself” (201). “The Logic of Hegel has a thickness you could cut with a knife, and beside it the Logic of Mr. Russell has the consistency of fine dust or of a thin gruel” (236). 7. Holt was the editor and main author of The New Realism (1912), a rebuttal of the NeoIdealism of Bradley and Royce. TSE discussed the New Realists in his graduate essays and dissertation (90; 173, n. 8; 731, n. 2). 8. The Idealism of Balliol College, Oxford, was established in the 1860s and 1870s, primarily by T. H. Green, who combined Greek and German idealism with various strands of British idealism. In 1914, TSE wrote a long paper on the ethics of Green and H. Sidgwick (147). ...