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R. G. Collingwood “The Idea of History”

November 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Collingwood, R.G. 1994 [1946]. The Idea of History. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Human Nature and Human History

The historian is never concerned with either of these [inside and outside] to the exclusion of the other. He is investigating not mere events (where by a mere event I mean one which has only an outside and no inside) but actions, and an action is the unity of the outside and inside [movement of bodies and modes of thought] of an event. (213)

The events of nature are mere events, not the acts of agents whose thought the scientist endeavours to trace. (214)

The history of thought, and therefore all history, is the re-enactment of past thought in the historian’s own mind. […] criticism of the thought whose history he traces is not something secondary to tracing the history of it. (215)

A science which generalizes from historical facts is in a very different position. Here the facts, in order to serve as data, must first be historically known; and historical knowledge is not perception, it is the discerning of the thought which is the inner side of the event. (222)

The idea of a science of human nature, as entertained in the eighteenth century, belonged to a time when it was still believed that the human species, like every other, was a special creation with unalterable characteristics. (224)

Thought is therefore not the presupposition of an historical process which is in turn the presupposition of historical knowledge. It is only in the historical process, the process of thoughts, that thought exists at all; and it is only in so far as this process is known for a process of thoughts that it is one. The self-knowledge of reason is not an accident; it belongs to its essence. (227)

The Historical Imagination

[…] if our construction involves nothing that is not necessitated by the evidence, it is a legitimate historical construction of a kind without which there can be no history at all. Secondly, what is in this way inferred is essentially something imagined. […] This activity, with this double character, I shall call a priori imagination [a priori from evidence plus imagination of event-thoughts]; […] however unconscious we may be of its operation, it is this activity which, bridging the gaps between what our authorities tell us, gives the historical narrative or description its continuity. (242)

The a priori imagination which does the work of historical construction supplies the means of historical criticism as well. (245)

Both the novel and the history must both of them make sense; nothing is admissible in either except what is necessary, and the judge of this necessity is in both cases the imagination. Both the novel and the history are self-explanatory, self-justifying, the product of an autonomous or self-authorizing [selection, construction, criticism] activity; and in both cases this activity is the a priori imagination. (246)

[…] the historian himself, together with the here-and-now which forms the total body of evidence available to him, is a part of the process he is studying, […] and can see it only from the point of view which at this present moment he occupies within it. (248)

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