Collingwood and the Metaphysics of Experience

By Giuseppina D’oro | Go to book overview

6

Collingwood and the radical conversion hypothesis

In the following I would like to return to a question which seems to remain a constant problem within Collingwood’s scholarship: the relationship between Collingwood’s early and late work and in particular between his major treatises in theoretical philosophy: An Essay on Philosophical Method (EPM) and An Essay on Metaphysics (EM). The distinction between an ‘early’ and a ‘late’ Collingwood was first proposed by Malcom Knox in his ‘Introduction’ to the posthumously published The Idea of History (IH) and has subsequently been endorsed by commentators such as Donagan, 1 Rotenstreich 2 and Toulmin. 3 Common to these commentators is the assumption that Collingwood’s late work veered in an historicist and relativist direction that was not implicit in his earlier work. It may not be an unfair generalisation to say that those who accept the existence of a rift between Collingwood’s early and late thought also claim that the late Collingwood abandoned appropriately philosophical ways of conducting an argument in favour of historical and sociological considerations that are philosophically disreputable or irrelevant. We may also fairly say that those commentators like Connelly, Modood, Martin and Oldfield, 4 who deny the presence of any vicious relativism in Collingwood’s later thought, also tend to underplay the differences between the early and the late work and to emphasise the continuities in Collingwood’s philosophical project from Speculum Mentis (SM) to EM via EPM. The question as to whether or not Collingwood was an historicist or historical relativist is therefore closely related to the question as to whether or not it is justifiable to follow Knox and speak of an early and a late Collingwood. 5

In the following I will use the terms ‘historicism’, ‘relativism’ and ‘historical relativism’ interchangeably to signify the thesis that knowledge is relative to circumstances of time and place. Understood in this way historicism is a thesis in the sociology of knowledge according to which the conditions in which knowledge originates determine both the content of knowledge (what is believed) and the epistemic validity of knowledge claims (whether what is believed is true). It is not my intention to argue that this is the only appropriate way in which the term ‘historicism’ should be used. In using the term in this way I am simply following the way in

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