Collingwood and the Metaphysics of Experience

By Giuseppina D’oro | Go to book overview

8

The Idea of History as a branch of descriptive metaphysics

In this chapter I wish to examine Collingwood’s philosophy of history 1 and the relationship in which it stands to his metaphysics. Having defended, in the previous chapters, Collingwood’s later philosophy against the accusation of historicism I will now suggest an account of the relationship between metaphysics and history that is not premised on the assumption that the later Collingwood collapsed the two together. I will argue that Collingwood’s philosophy of history is best described as a branch of his descriptive metaphysics. By this I mean that Collingwood’s philosophy of history is a study of the a priori concepts or categories that are brought to the study of history, i.e. of the concepts that structure historical understanding. On this understanding of the philosophy of history, the relationship between Collingwood’s metaphysics and philosophy of history can be described as follows. An Essay on Philosophical Method (EPM) and An Essay on Metaphysics (EM) are primarily concerned with defining philosophical method and the nature of metaphysical analysis. In these works, Collingwood is concerned not with the specific principles that govern the domain of inquiry of, say, historical, aesthetic, religious experience, etc., but with the claim that there are such principles and that an appeal to them is necessary in order to delineate the domain of inquiry of their respective disciplines. The Idea of History (IH), by contrast, focuses on the a priori concepts or presuppositions that govern historical knowledge as opposed to, say, knowledge of nature and seeks to defend the claim that history has a distinctive method and subject matter that differs from the method and subject matter of the natural sciences. Collingwood’s philosophy of history is an extended argument that aims to defend the autonomy of history against any form of scientism, or the use of the methods of natural science beyond their appropriate sphere of application. On this account of the relationship between the metaphysics and the philosophy of history, the philosophy of history presupposes the notion of philosophical method that Collingwood outlines in his general writings on the task and subject matter of philosophical analysis. The chapter is divided in two sections. In the first I explain in what sense IH may be understood as a branch of descriptive metaphysics engaged in a form of categorial analysis. In doing

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