Collingwood and the Metaphysics of Experience

By Giuseppina D’oro | Go to book overview

10

Conclusion

Collingwood and the nature of philosophical knowledge

By way of a conclusion I would like to add a few remarks about the importance of Collingwood’s philosophical project. Collingwood’s work occupies a significant place in the history of philosophy because it provides a systematic attempt to delineate the subject matter and method of philosophical inquiry and to defend the autonomy of philosophical discourse in the face of the decline of traditional metaphysics. Collingwood denies both that the subject matter of philosophy is to be identified with a transcendent realm of real entities and that philosophy is left with no subject matter of its own once it is no longer identified with a study of the supersensible. For Collingwood, immemorial metaphysical problems, such as those concerning the relationship between the mind and the body, freedom and determinism, still persist in spite of the decline of traditional metaphysics. They persist because they are not merely the result of errors into which the metaphysicians of the past have foolishly fallen. Metaphysicians such as Descartes may have been mistaken in hypostatising the concepts of mind and body, but the problem of mind-body dualism does not simply disappear even if the concepts of mind and body are not reified.

An example of what Collingwood would regard as a quintessentially philosophical problem is to be found in his account of the criteria of the identity of thought in the context of his discussion of re-enactment. As we saw in Chapter 9, Collingwood raises the question as to how it is possible for two agents to share the same thought. He points out that if the criteria employed for determining the identity of thought were the same as those employed for determining the identity of brain processes, it would be in principle impossible for two agents to have the same thought, since different brain states (or as Collingwood puts it, feelings/sensations) have different spatial and temporal locations. Collingwood argues that the paradoxical conclusion that two agents cannot have the same thought is the result of conflating the concept of mind with the concept of body and the subsequent application of criteria of bodily identity to issues pertaining to the identity of thought or mind. The reason why Collingwood’s discussion of re-enactment is a discussion of a paradigmatically philosophical problem is that it deals with a situation in which two philosophical con-

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