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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The Grote Club and Beyond

The Grote Club and Beyond

Welcome to our first Grote Club posting.

In future posts John Gibbins will be writing about all aspects of the mid-Victorian philosopher John Grote. John regards Grote as the most overlooked thinker of the last few centuries; and I suspect he has a point. But my own concern is with Grote’s institutional and intellectual legacy.

Grote took over the newly instituted Moral Sciences Tripos in 1855. This was a new venture at the University of Cambridge, at which a liberal education had traditionally consisted of Classics and Mathematics (Oxford did not even have Mathematics). In its first few years the new tripos had been under the guidance of the great Victorian polymath and conservative William Whewell, who had sought to bring moral philosophy into harmony with history and law in order to present a systematic refutation of what he took to be the godless and industrial radicalism of metropolitan moralists like J.S. Mill.

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