J. A. Smith, Human Imperfection and the Strange Afterlife of British Idealism

History of European Ideas 41 (6):771-787 (2015)

SummaryThe purpose of this article is to critically undermine two commonly held and closely related contentions regarding the British idealist tradition. The first is that the British idealist tradition went into rapid and terminal decline shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. The second is that J. A. Smith was largely responsible for it. These aims are achieved through a diachronic analysis of Smith's conception of human imperfection as well as an assessment of Smith's intellectual legacy. As this article will show, contrary to the received view, Smith was a philosophical innovator who instigated an intellectual evolution within the British idealist. In particular, this article shows that Smith substituted aspects of his early Greenian philosophy with elements of Italian idealism. As a result, Smith was instrumental in moving British idealism away from its traditional underpinnings and towards more a Croce–Gentilian foundation. It is this neglected philosophical innovation which has given scholars the false impression of the tradition's collapse. By establishing Smith's intellectual innovation this article intends to show that Smith made a much more significant intellectual contribution to the philosophical tradition to which he belongs than has so far been recognised.
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DOI 10.1080/01916599.2014.990295
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