History as Re-Enactment: R.G. Collingwood's Idea of History

History as Re-Enactment: R.G. Collingwood's Idea of History

History as Re-Enactment: R.G. Collingwood's Idea of History

History as Re-Enactment: R.G. Collingwood's Idea of History

Synopsis

A central motif of R. G. Collingwood's philosophy of history is the idea that historical understanding requires a re-enactment of past experience. However, there have been sharp disagreements about the acceptability of this idea, and even its meaning. This book aims to advance the critical discussion in three ways: by analysing the idea itself further, concentrating especially on the contrast which Collingwood drew between it and scientific understanding; by exploring the limits of its applicability to what historians ordinarily consider their proper subject-matter; and by clarifying the relationship between it and some other key Collingwoodian ideas, such as the place of imagination in historical inquiry, the sense in which history deals with the individual, the essential perspectivity of historical judgement, and the importance of narrative and periodization in historical thinking. Professor Dray defends Collingwood against a good deal of recent criticism, while pointing to ways in which his position requires revision or development. History as Re-enactment draws upon a wide range of Collingwood's published writings, and makes considerable use of his unpublished manuscripts. It is the most systematic study yet of this central doctrine of Collingwood's philosophy of history, and will stand as a landmark in Collingwood studies. 'For many years William Dray has been working at the task of retrieving Collingwood for contemporary philosophy. . . . It is something of an event then to have this new work, the culmination of a lifetime of thought, appear in his retirement. As one would expect, it is a deeply considered book, lucidly written, and scrupulously fair to all parties . . . a sound and serious philosophical commentary . . . anyone interested in either Collingwood or the philosophy of history should consider joining the dialogue and will learn much in the process.' Canadian Journal of History

Excerpt

If the philosophy of history is now in a flourishing state in English-speaking countries and in countries where English is read, this is due in no small measure to the stimulus provided by the writings of R. G. Collingwood. Much of the best work that has been done in this field since the posthumous publication in 1946 of his well-known book The Idea of History has been a conscious attempt to develop or to emend views which he expressed; and much of the rest has owed a good deal of its interest to its connection with those views. the extent to which Collingwood pioneered the subject in British philosophy is suggested by his own efforts in The Idea of History to name his British predecessors. His search for more remote ones yielded only passing remarks by rather unlikely figures: Bacon's assimilation of historical knowledge to memory; Locke's insistence upon a 'plain historical method' in the study of human nature; Hume's occasional observations on what is acceptable and unacceptable in historical inference (ih 58,206, 73-5). When he turned to more recent writers, he could find little more than a single essay by F. H. Bradley, which he regarded as quite a minor advance upon Hume, and some highly speculative and, in his view, fundamentally misguided theorizing by 'philosophical' historians like J. B. Bury and Arnold Toynbee (ih 134 ff., 147 ff., 159 ff.).

Only in his contemporary, Michael Oakeshott, whose Experience and its Modes, published in 1933, he characterized as 'the high-water mark of English thought upon history', did he admit to finding a true peer (ih 159). Yet it is hard to regard the single chapter devoted to historical thinking in that book as offering more than an aperitif, set against Collingwood's own voluminous writings on the subject over a period of more than twenty years. Even when ostensibly devoted to other areas of philosophical . . .

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