Collingwood’s philosophical project was elaborated against the background of two philosophical views of which he was equally critical: realism and naturalism. Collingwood thus assumed the difficult role of criticising metaphysics against the realists while defending it against the naturalists. He performed this delicate balancing act by pursuing a critical reform of the metaphysical tradition. Collingwood, in other words, reformed metaphysics by recasting it in an epistemological key, i.e. through the elaboration of a descriptive metaphysics or metaphysics of experience. It is this recasting of the metaphysical task that allows Collingwood to present himself both as a critic of (dogmatic) metaphysics against the realists and a supporter of (descriptive) metaphysics against the naturalists. This chapter focuses on one horn of Collingwood’s dual critique, namely on his critical engagement with the philosophical naturalism exemplified by the neo-empiricist revival of the early and mid-twentieth century.
Let me begin by providing a brief definition of what I take naturalism and anti-naturalism to mean. Negatively speaking, philosophical naturalism may be described as a critique of transcendentalism or as the denial of any form of transcendence. Anti-naturalism, by contrast, is, in the broadest sense, a defence of the notion of transcendence. Such a defence can take two forms. Anti-naturalism can be of an ontological or of an epistemic nature. Theism and Platonic metaphysics are instances of the former in so far as they defend, respectively, the existence of a transcendent deity and the existence of entities in a supersensible realm. Collingwood’s descriptive metaphysics is anti-naturalism of an epistemic rather than ontological nature. As anti-naturalism of an epistemological nature, it takes the form of a defence not of the existence of transcendent entities but of different domains of inquiry, with distinctive goals, methods and subject-matters: philosophical analysis, for Collingwood, is concerned with, say, Goodness or Beauty, not as Platonic forms, but as the subject matter of morality and aesthetics.
The chapter is divided in two sections. I consider Collingwood’s engagement with naturalism in An Essay on Philosophical Method (EPM) in the first section and his engagement with naturalism in An Essay on Metaphysics (EM) in the second.