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From Idealism to Communitarianism: The Inheritance and Legacy of John Macmurray” (with David O’Brien)


Macmurray provides a conceptual and personal reference point around which we can locate a tradition of social humanism that unfolds from the British idealists to the communitarians. Some communitarian themes appear in the thought of the idealists: these include a vitalist analysis of behaviour, a ‘thick’ view of the person, and a positive concept of freedom defined in relation to others. Macmurray developed these themes and introduced others largely as a result of reworking idealism so as to come to terms with the crisis of reason associated with the First World War. He rejected objective idealism with its concept of absolute mind for a personal idealism that incorporated an action-based metaphysics. Doing so prompted him to adopt other communitarian themes: these include an appeal to friendship and love, a contrast between society and community, and an appeal to religion to transcend the limits of justice. While contemporary communitarians have inherited much from philosophers such as Macmurray, they have also developed the tradition of social humanism. Philosophers such as Sandel, Taylor, and Walzer have done so through grappling with the implications of multiculturalism for the idea of a cosmopolitan community. Ethical socialists like Prime Minister Blair and Lord Plant have done so through grappling with issues such as a decline in solidarity as it influences the welfare state.

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