Philosophy

Discussion

R. G. Collingwood's Philosophy of History

W. H. Walsh

Philosophy of history is not a subject which has hitherto attracted much attention in this country. Preoccupation with the methods and achievements of the natural sciences, and distaste for the sort of rationale of history as a whole which Hegel and others offered under the title in the early nineteenth century, have served to make most British philosophers accord its problems only the most casual recognition. It is therefore all the more interesting to find an English writer of unusual powers both of argument and expression, who was himself an historian of distinction in his special field, devoting a large part of his philosophical thinking to the problems of historical knowledge and their wider implications. Unfortunately, R. G. Collingwood was not able to begin the major work on philosophy of history, to writing which, as we are told in the introduction to the present book, he had looked forward for twenty-five years, until his powers were seriously affected by bad health, and he did not live to complete it. But though the full results of his thinking on the subject are lost, we are now able, thanks to the skilful work of his friend Professor T. M. Knox, to study what is in effect an extensive interim report on it. Professor Knox has produced The Idea of History largely on the basis of lectures which Collingwood prepared in 1936, supplemented by two essays already published which date from the same period and a certain amount of material from the unfinished Principles of History written in 1939.