R. G. Collingwood’s Overlapping Ideas of History

Journal of the Philosophy of History 16 (1):1-21 (2020)
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Abstract

Does R. G. Collingwood’s theory that concepts in philosophy are organized as “scales of forms” apply to his own work on the nature of history? Or is there some inconsistency between Collingwood’s work as a philosopher of history and as a theorist of philosophical method? This article surveys existing views among Collingwood specialists concerning the applicability of Collingwood’s “scale of forms” thesis to his own philosophy of history – especially the accounts of Leon Goldstein and Lionel Rubinoff – and outlines the obvious objections to such an application. These objections however are found to be answerable. It is shown that Collingwood did indeed think that the scale of forms thesis should apply to the philosophy of history, and even that he identified the “highest” form in history as a kind of scientific research or inquiry. But it is not claimed that Collingwood identified the “lower” forms explicitly. An account is provided of the three distinct forms that can be identified in Collingwood’s philosophy of history, and of the “critical points” by which lower forms are negated and incorporated by higher forms. But it is also explained that these forms are not neatly coterminous with the stages in Western philosophical thinking about history as Collingwood narrates them in The Idea of History.

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