My first encounter with Collingwood was, very much by chance, through the pages of An Essay on Philosophical Method (EPM). I was so struck by the elegance of the prose and the insights into the nature of the method and task of philosophy contained within it, that I could not understand how such a book could possibly have escaped my attention until then. To this day, I keep wondering why such a jewel of philosophical reflection has received so little attention. My admiration for EPM is, to some extent, reflected in the present book, as it has coloured my approach to Collingwood’s work as a whole. Often, it was Collingwood’s account of the subject matter, method and task of philosophical inquiry, as outlined in EPM, that guided me through the reading of his later philosophy. It was Collingwood’s claims concerning the nature of philosophical concepts and distinctions, and how they differ from empirical concepts and classifications, which made my understanding of both An Essay on Metaphysics (EM) and The Idea of History (IH) so much easier.
As I believe Collingwood’s conception of the nature and task of philosophical inquiry to be, in essence, correct, this book is not so much a commentary, as a philosophical reconstruction, reinterpretation and defence of his thought. The approach of the book is thematic rather than chronological. The main texts considered are EPM and EM and the focus is on Collingwood’s conception of philosophy. The choice of a thematic approach partially reflects my belief that there is a fundamental continuity between Collingwood’s early and later work, that, in its essentials, and despite substantial terminological changes, Collingwood’s account of the nature of philosophical reflection remains constant. This, of course, is a controversial claim, as many would maintain that EPM and EM belong to two distinct periods, that the later Collingwood clearly departs from the conception of the method and task of philosophy as outlined in EPM. It is an assumption of this book that the idea of a fundamental discontinuity between an early and later Collingwood is bogus and that the so-called radical conversion hypothesis, according to which the later Collingwood underwent an historicist turn, is mistaken.
My main goal, however, in providing a reconstruction of Collingwood’s