Social evolution

The Principle of Individuality and Value

  • Bernard Bosanquet
1910 to 1912
University of Edinburgh

Bernard Bosanquet follows Plato in arguing that human life is a ‘finite’ expression of an infinite Mind underlying all of reality. The ‘world’ is a community of experiences, all of which point to a transcendent Mind within which we can expect to find our complete existence fulfilled. We get a hint of this through science, which seeks to establish ‘general rules’ governing many particular instances. Those general rules indicate that our ‘experience’ constantly tends toward the ‘universal’. The same goes for religious experience. Bosanquet theorizes that religion, or ‘religious consciousness’, as he calls it, cannot ‘prove’ the existence of God, but it can direct our minds toward the ‘infinite’. Even in ‘evil’ and ‘pain’ we can find something of the Absolute. Pain and evil are necessarily a part of our finite beings because they help us to realise the ‘good’ by contrasting with it. For Bosanquet, the ‘good’ is perfection and harmony within the universe, and human life is most valuable when we seek this ‘perfection’ intellectually and spiritually. ‘Evils’ and ‘suffering’ are the phenomena and sentiments that lead us away from this harmony. By resisting such pains, we come closer to harmony with the Absolute, and move away from the material satisfaction we are often led to pursue in our hedonistic lives.

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