The vicissitude of completeness: Gadamer's criticism of Collingwood

The purpose of this article is to examine Gadamer's criticism of Collingwood's re-enactment. A parallel concern is the evaluation of Collingwood's hermeneutics of history. Given that Collingwood can be read as a hermeneutic thinker, what is the impact of Gadamer's critique of re-enactment? My response to this question focuses on the dual significance of completeness for hermeneutics. The fore-conception of completeness, on the one hand, presupposes meaningfulness. The incompleteness of meaning, on the other hand, shows that the finite human can never arrive at a perfect explanation. The fusion of horizons is created by the tension that exists between completeness and incompleteness. According to Gadamer, the lack of a clear distinction between the two notions of completeness leads Collingwood to a historicist position exemplified by re-enactment. I review Collingwood's books to demonstrate that, pace Gadamer, both notions of completeness are central to Collingwood's philosophy, guaranteeing the hermeneutical stance of his thought. However, what substantiates Gadamer's dissatisfaction with re-enactment is Collingwood's insufficient grasp of the difference between human historicity and the practice of professional history. I argue that while Collingwood is correct to indicate the inferential procedure of the writing of a political history, he nevertheless forgets that the historian is still a finite human being conditioned by historical situatedness.
Keywords Collingwood   Philosophy of History
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DOI 10.1080/0967255032000172119
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