In this chapter I would like to consider a lively debate that took place between Collingwood and Ryle in the aftermath of the publication of An Essay on Philosophical Method (EPM). The debate was prompted by Collingwood’s reappropriation of the ontological argument in Chapter 6 of EPM where he defended what he regarded as a neglected kernel of truth in the traditional proof. Ryle launched a fierce attack on Collingwood’s attempted rehabilitation of the ontological argument in the pages of Mind, 1 where he accused Collingwood of ignoring crucial philosophical developments which had occurred in the last two hundred years, in particular the thesis that all existential propositions are knowable a posteriori and the corollary that there can be no necessary existential judgements. Collingwood never took up Ryle’s challenge publicly, but did attempt to clarify his own position in a number of private letters. 2 It was Errol Harris who replied to Ryle publicly on Collingwood’s behalf, 3 locating Collingwood’s defence of the ontological argument in the tradition of Hegel’s objective or speculative idealism, thereby adding further fuel to the controversy. As a result of Harris’s reply on behalf of Collingwood and the private exchange with Collingwood himself Ryle responded with a further article 4 aimed at reasserting his original position that there can be no necessary existential propositions.
Ryle’s attack on Collingwood’s rehabilitation of the ontological proof was closely focused on the question as to whether there can be necessary existential propositions, something that he vehemently denied, protesting that all judgements of experience are propositions about matters of fact and therefore contingent. 5 Ryle did not explore the implications of Collingwood’s endorsement of the ontological proof for Collingwood’s more general philosophical project, the project of revitalising metaphysics. Perhaps Ryle simply assumed that if it could be shown that the ontological proof had failed, this would inevitably cast doubt on the viability of Collingwood’s attempt to revitalise the metaphysical tradition.
It is important to point out that Collingwood’s reappropriation of the ontological proof constitutes a problem or a puzzle not only for those who, like Ryle, have no interest in Collingwood’s overall project, but also