Collingwood, Bradley, and historical knowledge

History and Theory 45 (2):178–203 (2006)
The central feature of the narrative structure of Collingwood’s The Idea of History is the pivotal role accorded to Bradley, evident in the table of contents and in the two discussions of him. Few readers have noticed that, confusingly, the book’s first discussion of Bradley is a revision of the Inaugural Lecture “The Historical Imagination,” which constitutes the book’s second discussion of Bradley . The differences between these two presentations of Bradley are significant. The 1935 account seeks to portray the Bradley of the Presuppositions of Critical History as a Copernican revolutionary in historical thought, even though the neo-Kantian transcendentalism promoted in the Lecture had been the core of Collingwood’s approach to philosophy of history from the mid-1920s, many years before he encountered Bradley’s essay. By 1935 this transcendentalism was in the process of self-destructing because of inner contradictions. By 1936, once Collingwood’s narrative and his criticisms of Bradley left the 1935 claims unsustainable, Collingwood shifted attention to Bradley’s later works, in an unsuccessful attempt to sustain the notion of his originality . Hitherto neglected Collingwood manuscripts held in the Bodleian prove that by 1940 Collingwood recognized this, so that the prominence Knox gave to Bradley in his editing of the IH is demonstrably not in accord with Collingwood’s views and plans for The Idea of History. Knox’s much-disputed claim that there was a radical shift to historicism in the later Collingwood is, however, confirmed, clear proof being adduced that in the later 1930s the attempt transcendentally to deduce universal and necessary presuppositions of historical knowledge is abandoned for a radically historicist account, paralleled by a demotion of “critical history” as the final form of “history proper” in favor of “scientific history.”
Keywords Collingwood   Philosophy of History
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DOI 10.1111/j.1468-2303.2006.00356.x
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