Saturday, 28 April 2007

RG Collingwood


Robin George Collingwood (February 22, 1889 – January 9, 1943) was a British philosopher and historian. He was the son of W. G. Collingwood. Collingwood was born at Cartmel Fell in Lancashire, and educated at Rugby School and the University of Oxford.
Collingwood was a latter day idealist (though he disliked the label), a Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at the University of Oxford. He was the only pupil of F. J. Haverfield to survive World War I. Important influences were the Italian Idealists of the time, Croce, Gentile and de Ruggiero, the last of whom in particular was a close friend as well. Other important influences were Kant, Vico, F. H. Bradley, J. A. Smith, and Ruskin, who was a mentor to his father W. G. Collingwood, professor of fine arts at Reading University, also an important influence.
Collingwood is most famous for The Idea of History, a work collated soon after his death from various sources by his pupil, T. M. Knox. The book came to be a major inspiration for postwar philosophy of history in the English-speaking world. It is extensively cited in works on historiography, leading one commentator to ironically remark that Collingwood is coming to be "the best known neglected thinker of our time".[1]
Collingwood held that historical understanding occurs when an Historian undergoes the very same thought processes as did the historical personage whom he or she is studying and that in some sense, "recollection" of past thought by an Historian is the very same "thinking" as that of the historical personage. This doctrine, presented in the section of "The Idea of History" entitled "History as the Recollection of Past Experience" invites examination of the act/object distinction for thought. That is, Collingwood considered whether two different people can have the same thought qua act of thinking and not just qua content, writing that "there is no tenable theory of personal identity" preventing such a doctrine.
In aesthetics, Collingwood held that any artwork is essentially an expression of emotion. His principal contribution is The Principles of Art. In arguing for the expression theory he followed Croce. He portrayed art as a necessary function of the human mind, and considered it collaborative, i.e., a collective and social activity. In politics Collingwood was a liberal (in a British, centrist sense), ready to defend an over-idealised image of nineteenth-century liberal practice.
Collingwood was a serious historian and archaeologist of Roman Britain, a leading authority on the subject. In Oxford he refused to specialize in either of the two areas of philosophy or history, taking an honours degree in both areas. His philosophy of history was completely integrated as part of his actual historical work, and his classic "Roman Britain" is very instructive when read as an example of his philosophy of history.

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