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Collingwood, Robin George (1889–1943)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD014-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved February 26, 2024, from

Article Summary

Collingwood was the greatest British philosopher of history of the twentieth century. His experience as a practising historian of Roman Britain led him to believe that the besetting vice of philosophy is to abstract propositions away from the context of the practical problems and questions that gave rise to them. Until we know the practical context of problems and questions to which a proposition is supposed to be an answer, we do not know what it means. In this respect his concern with the living activities of language users parallels that of the later Wittgenstein. Collingwood also believed that the interpretation of others was not a scientific exercise of fitting their behaviour into a network of generalizations, but a matter of rethinking their thoughts for oneself. His conviction that this ability, which he identified with historical thinking, was the neglected and crucial component of all human thought stamped him as original, or even a maverick, during his own lifetime. He also shared with Wittgenstein the belief that quite apart from containing propositions that can be evaluated as true or false, systems of thought depend upon ‘absolute presuppositions’, or a framework or scaffolding of ideas that may change with time. The business of metaphysics is to reconstruct the framework that operated at particular periods of history. Collingwood had extensive moral and political interests, and his writings on art, religion and science confirm his stature as one of the greatest polymaths of twentieth-century British philosophy.

Citing this article:
Blackburn, Simon. Collingwood, Robin George (1889–1943), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD014-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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