Bradley was born at Clapham, Surrey, England (now part of the Greater London area). He was the child of Charles Bradley, an evangelical preacher, and Emma Linton, Charles's second wife. A. C. Bradley was his brother. Educated at Cheltenham College and Marlborough College, he read, as a teenager, some of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. In 1865, he entered University College, Oxford. In 1870, he was elected to a fellowship at Oxford's Merton College where he remained until his death in 1924. Bradley is buried in Holywell Cemetery in Oxford.
Bradley's philosophical reputation declined greatly after his death. British idealism was practically eliminated by G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell in the early 1900s. Bradley was also famously criticised in A. J. Ayer's logical positivist work Language, Truth and Logic for making statements that do not meet the requirements of positivist verification principle; e.g., statements such as "The Absolute enters into, but is itself incapable of, evolution and progress." There has in recent years, however, been a resurgence of interest in Bradley's and other idealist philosophers' work in the Anglo-American academic community.
In 1909, Bradley published an essay entitled "On Truth and Coherence" in the journal Mind (reprinted in Essays on Truth and Reality). The essay criticises a form of infallibilist foundationalism in epistemology. The Philosopher Robert Stern has argued that in this paper Bradley defends coherence not as an account of justification but as a criterion or test for truth.
In 1914, a then-unknown T. S. Eliot wrote his dissertation for a PhD from the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University on Bradley. It was entitled Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley. Due to tensions leading up to and starting the First World War, Eliot was unable to return to Harvard for his oral defence, resulting in the University never conferring the degree.