The Idea of History

By R. G. Collingwood; J. Van Der Dussen | Go to book overview

PART II
THE INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY

§ 1. The leaven of Christian ideas

THREE great crises have occurred in the history of European historiography. The first was the crisis of the fifth century B.C. when the idea of history as a science, a form of research, an ἱστορίη, came into being. The second was the crisis of the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. when the idea of history was remodelled by the revolutionary effect of Christian thought. I have now to describe this process and to show how Christianity jettisoned two of the leading ideas in Greco-Roman historiography, namely (i) the optimistic idea of human nature and (ii) the substantialistic idea of eternal entities underlying the process of historical change.

(i) The moral experience which Christianity expressed contained as one of its most important elements a sense of human blindness in action: not a fortuitous blindness due to individual failure of insight, but a necessary blindness inherent in action itself. According to Christian doctrine, it is inevitable that man should act in the dark without knowing what will come of his action. That inability to achieve ends clearly conceived in advance, which in Greek is called ἁμαρτία, missing one's mark, is no longer regarded as accidental but as a permanent element in human nature, arising out of the condition of man as man. This is the original sin upon which St. Augustine laid such stress, and which he connected psychologically with the force of natural desire. Human action, on this view, is not designed in view of preconceived ends by the intellect; it is actuated a tergo by immediate and blind desire. It is not only the uninstructed vulgar, it is man as such, that does what he wants to do instead of thinking out a reasonable course of action. Desire is not the tamed horse of Plato's metaphor, it is a runaway horse, and the 'sin' (to use the technical term of theology) into which it leads us is not a sin which we deliberately choose to commit, it is an inherent and original sin proper to our nature. From this it follows that the achievements of man are due not to his own proper forces of will and intellect, but to something other than

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The Idea of History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • Editor's Introduction ix
  • Contents li
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I Greco-Roman Historiography 14
  • Part II the Influence of Christianity 46
  • Part III the Threshold of Scientific History 86
  • Part IV Scientific History 134
  • Part V Epilegomena 205
  • Preliminary Discussion the Idea of A Philosophy of Something, And, in Particular, A Philosophy of History (1927) 335
  • Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1926)1 359
  • Contents 360
  • Outlines of A Philosophy of History (1928) 426
  • Introductory Lecture 431
  • Contents 437
  • Iii. Relation 439
  • Index 497
  • More Oxford Paperbacks 511
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