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The Later Collingwood's Alleged Historicism and Relativism TARIQ MODOOD IN HIS Autobiography (Oxford, 1938 ) and Essay on Metaphysics (Oxford, x94o) R. G. Collingwood declared that philosophy was a study of historical facts, that its subject matter was an aspect of the historical process.' T. M. Knox, writing shortly after Collingwood's death in 194 3, claimed that, contrary to Coilingwood 's own protestations that he had developed such views in his youth and been guided by them since, such declarations marked a radical change from his earlier work, the Essay of Philosophical Method (Oxford, 1933), and, moreover , constituted a historical relativism.~ I think that Knox is wrong on both I thank David Boucher, James Connelly, and Alan Milne for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper. i A shorter version of this paper was presented to the Politics Staff Seminar, University College, Swansea in 1979. It was written without knowledge of Collingwood'sunpublished manuscripts , recently made available to the Bodleian Library, Universityof Oxford, by his family. The manuscripts strengthen my argument and I have accordingly included reference to them though I believethat it is a virtue of my interpretation that it is sustainable by reference to Collingwood's publications alone. This is perhaps of some importance, for Collingwood in his will of December 21, 1942 forbade publication of all manuscripts other than those prepared by himself for publication . A full Iist of the Bodleian manuscripts can be found in W.J. Van Der Dussen, Historyas a Science:ThePhilosophyofR. G. CoUingwood(The Hague, 198l), 445-54. The most inportant of the manuscripts relevant to philosophy of history are copiously quoted and summarized therein, making it a useful source-book.James Connelly does the same for those manuscripts relevant to social and political theory in his Ph.D. thesis "Metaphysics, Method and Politics: Unity in the Political Philosophy of R. G. Collingwood" (University of Southampton, 1984). The bibliography compiled by Donald S. Taylor (Historyand Theory, Beiheft 24, vol. 24 [1985]), with selective annotation on works of particular relevance to philosophy of history and of art, is the most comprehensive now available. I would like to thank Ms. Theresa Smith for permission to quote from these manuscripts. See Knox's Preface to R. G. Collingwood, IdeaofHistory(Oxford, 1946) (hereafter IH), xi, xiii. Knox's views on these two points have been accepted by many, most importantly by Alan [lol] 102 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 27: ~ JANUARY ~989 counts; however, I do not intend to argue that Collingwood's own account of his intellectual development is the correct one, nor, as Mink does, that Coilingwood 's major works must be seen as lines of a single pattern,~ let alone, as Rubinoff holds, that they form a "systematic unity in which every moment has been systematically anticipated from the very beginning."4 My argument will be that despite some inconsistencies and some variation in terminology, Collingwood 's later views on philosophy are not an abandonment, but a critical modification of his earlier views principally because of a new focus of interest and do not involve him in any form of relativism.5 To understand what Collingwood could have meant by insisting that the subject matter of philosophy was historical, one has to remember that such a position (and especially such a formula) was a response to what he took to be prevailing and increasingly influential distortions of the nature of philosophy and metaphysics at the time. The Autobiography(hereafter A) was such a response to those whom Collingwood called 'realists'6and the EssayofMetaphysics (hereafter EOM) to the logical positivists, especially to A. J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic(London, 1936). The views of the 'realists', according to him, were not only false but dangerous, not least because by believing that the "problems with which philosophy is concerned were unchanging,"7 they gave rise to confused but plausible attacks on philosophy and metaphysics, such as Ayer's. Ayer's attack on metaphysics is premised on the view that metaphysics is about a special category of objects such as the Absolute. Not being able to find such objects in the world of observed experience, he concludes that metaphysical propositions such as...


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