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Hume Studies Volume XX, Number 2, November 1994, pp. 261-287 Collingwood's Understanding of Hume S. K. WERTZ What was David Hume's reception in the British idealistic tradition? In this paper, I shall contribute a short chapter on this question by examining Hume's place in R. G. Collingwood's thought.1 Such an examination has been lacking in the literature, so what follows is a comprehensive study of Collingwood's use of Hume throughout all of R.G.'s writings. I shall mainly focus on two main, unrelated discussions of Hume: first is the theory of the imagination which primarily occurs in The Principles of Art, and second is the set of relations between human nature and human history which is principally found in The Idea of History. These sections will be followed by a section on minor discussions and omissions and a conclusion. It is a common misconception that Collingwood (1889-1943) has little to offer Hume scholarship , and I wish to amend that here. Actually, Collingwood has good insights into the nature of the imagination and its role in human understanding, besides instructive thoughts on Hume on human nature and history, even though his discussion of the latter is flawed. This essay serves both historical and philosophical purposes. It is to sample Hume's place in early twentieth century British idealism at a time when he began to emerge as an important philosophical figure worthy of careful study. (By "idealism," I mean the philosophical movement which takes ideas to be an irreducible part of the world and whose program is opposed to both materialism and realism.) So Collingwood's portrait is historically interesting. But over and above this, it carries significant philosophical amendments, S. K. Wertz is at the Department of Philosophy, Texas Christian University, Box 30781, Fort Worth, TX 76129 USA. e-mail: rfollph@tcuamus.bitnet 262 S. K. Wertz criticisms, and suggestions about Hume's thought and the eighteenth century intellectual climate. Collingwood has mostly been studied as a philosopher of history or as an aesthetician, but not in toto from the perspective of one of the historical figures to whom he is deeply indebted. Such a view affords a portrait of Hume that is instructive and rewarding. The comparison of Hume and Collingwood lead us to finer appreciation of both philosophers. Let us first look at Collingwood's positive contribution. Imagination Collingwood begins his analysis by declaring his intentions: I shall...try to show that there are such things, to be with what Hume (whose account of them I shall take as my starting-point) called 'ideas' as distinct from 'impressions'. I shall try to show that there is a special activity of mind correlative to them, and that this is what we generally call imagination, as distinct from sensation on the one hand and intellect on the other. (PA 170-71, emphasis added) Why would Collingwood start with Hume's distinction between impressions and ideas? Undoubtedly, this means that Collingwood is willing to accept the validity of the distinction and to build on it. Isn't this a strange place for an idealist to begin? Not really. When we look at British philosophy at the turn of this century, we find idealists preoccupied with the distinction,2 so it is not extraordinary to find Collingwood utilizing it to some extent. Like most Oxford students of the time, Collingwood read Locke, Berkeley, and Hume in his undergraduate program. Consequently we find them in the problems he addresses. "It was Hume who first perceived the [Lockean] problem [of confusing sensation with imagination]," Collingwood attributes, "and tried to solve it by distinguishing ideas from impressions" (PA 200). In detail: He [Hume] was right when he laid it down that the immediate concern of thought is not with impressions but with ideas; that it is ideas, not impressions, that are associated with one another and thus built up into the fabric of knowledge; and that ideas, though 'derived' from impressions, are not mere relics of them like an after-taste of onions or an after-image of the sun (as Lockeans like Condillac supposed), but something different in kind: different, if not in what he...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 261-287
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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