Interpretation in History: Collingwood and Historical Understanding: Patrick Gardiner


Abstract
When considering a suitable topic for inclusion in this collection, it occurred to me that it might be worth discussing a writer whose interests were largely centred on themes directly related to those cited in the collection's title, and who throughout most of his philosophical career remained particularly insistent upon the need to define the boundaries separating humanistic modes of understanding from ones associated with the physical sciences. The writer in question was R. G. Collingwood. Although Collingwood has justly been credited with perceptive insights into the metaphysical origins and presuppositions of natural science, as well as with raising pointed questions concerning the nature of conceptual change in scientific thought, he had in fact little first-hand knowledge of the subject and it is not in this sphere that his chief claims to importance and originality lie. Rather, they are to be found in an area with which he was certainly intimately acquainted and in which as a practitioner he helped to make significant discoveries on the ground. That was history, a discipline requiring in his view a type of thinking that had either been ignored by his philosophical contemporaries or else misconceived and distorted by those who had troubled to consider it. Thus, as a result of making a serious effort on his own account to come to terms with what it involved, he became—in his own words at the time—‘more and more conscious of being an outlaw’.
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DOI 10.1017/S135824610000607X
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