The Cambridge Mind and the Claim for ‘Knowableness’

The Cambridge Mind and the Claim for ‘Knowableness’

Many theories, and their abridgements, seek to describe the character and identity of the Cambridge Mind. The engagement is essentially contested, meaning that the alternatives are so dependent upon such diverse, but committed foundational beliefs, narratives and values, that agreement is impossible.

Yet the endeavour is of great importance when we consider the goal, an answer to why Cambridge University since 1830, has produced many of the greatest thinkers, theories and inventions of the modern world.

My contribution here is that Cambridge intellectuals between 1830 and 1880, produced and reproduced radical hypothesis with dramatic effects: that the universe was knowable, that nothing within the human cognitive framework excluded complete rational knowledge, and that religions should not be allowed to govern, nor censor, research exploration.

My own list of factors, which have engaged my published work, include two essential ingredients: that intellectuals are fashioned, and leaders reproduced, within vigorous ‘knowledge networks’, and that a knowledge is ‘organized’ in structures, institutions and practices to reproduce the achieved  knowledge.

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John Grote: Victorian Philosophy in the Modern World

John Grote: Victorian Philosophy in the Modern World

Simon Cook and Chris Donohue have brought an audience to, and focus upon, the Grote Cub for good reason: it played a crucial role in developing the emerging social sciences in Cambridge, Britain and America in particular. Here I wish to focus on, and explore, the man who founded, grounded and expounded the Club’s ethos and practices – Professor John Grote (1813-1866). In future blog posts we will explore several crucial elements of his life and corpus: the family and networks that grounded him; the unique methods he learned from the Cambridge Network; the intense analysis of his experience of Being in the term ‘personalism’ he coined; the recognition that as thinking was conducted in language, that conversation was core to knowing the world; a brilliant critique of Mill’s dominant utilitarian thinking, and his own unique ethical and political theories. Latter we can explore some of the many Montaignian insights on human nature and conduct.

A brilliant student member of the Club, Henry Sidgwick, aged 22, wrote to a friend that John Grote retained an eclecticism, ‘certainly retained, with the freshness, indecisiveness of youth till the day of his death…’This was attractive to young scholars. In later reviews of Grote’s posthumous publications, he uses a similar vocabulary, littered with ‘friendly’, ‘eager’, ‘astute’, ‘independent’, ‘thoughtful’, ‘effective’ and ‘good sense’. He notes that John neither intended, nor achieved the foundation of a new ‘school’ of philosophy, and indeed opposed in all ways possible to the ‘odium ethicum’ or ‘warfare’ that purveyed intellectual debate in mid-nineteenth century Britain.

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