The Idea of History

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

I. Quality

History a parte objecti, the object of historical thought, is of course in some sense real, for if it were not, there would be no sense in which historical judgements could be true, or indeed false. But in what sense are historical facts (using that term to denote the objects of historical thought) real?

Realistic philosophies seem generally to equate reality with existence and subsistence. Existence is the reality of a thing which is actual, which has a determinate position in space and time and determinate characters actualised in it. Subsistence is the reality of actualised characters: or possibly (according to some theories) of any character whatever, actualised or not [that, at least, would be true of the quasi-Platonic essences of Santayana].

But the reality of historical facts falls under neither of these heads. An historical fact is rather a thing than an essence. It has characters, it is not character. Therefore it does not subsist; it ought to exist. But an historical fact does not exist. An historical fact is an event. The actuality of an event, that in it which is parallel or analogous to existence, is called occurrence. An actual thing is one which is existing: an actual event is one which is occurring. But no historical event is ever occurring at any moment when historical thought takes it as an object. Certainly a writer may compose the history of a war as the war proceeds. But in such a case the particular battles and campaigns whose history he narrates year by year are always, when he describes them, events in the past; and until the war as a whole is an event in the past, he can never be said to have written the history of the war as a whole. He has only written the history of its earlier stages--those, namely, which are now events in the past.

The object of historical thought is thus the past: that is, past events. How much of the infinite whole of past events is a legitimate or necessary object of historical thought, and what meaning can attach to the words 'infinite whole of past events', are questions belonging to a further stage in this inquiry and will be dealt with under the head of Quantity.

Now an event that is happening is actual: an event that has happened is not happening and is not actual. All events that

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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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