Collingwood's Idea of History & Speculum Mentis

Juba

Dagobah Resident
I finished reading Collingwood's Idea of History and I like it. While reading the first part of the book I felt like something in me "clicked" with presented information because I did not give a serious thought how did the people of the past relate to history and its meaning or how historians arranged history according to "scissors and paste." Second part of the book - Epilegomena, is awesome, it is unbelievable that Collingwood wrote it almost 80 years ago.

I guess the most important part of Collingwood teaching is: "questioning activity":

1: Every step in the research process requires a new question.
2: These questions are not random nor haphazardly arranged. They must be asked in the right order.
3: These questions must be formulated by the historian who must search for evidence to answer them in the historical record.
4: In looking for evidence to answer these questions, the historian must look beyond the testimony and treat everything as possible evidence.
If I should explain the philosophy of history according to the Collingwood in couple of sentences I would use his quote:

"History is for human self-knowledge. Knowing yourself means knowing, first, what it is to be a person; secondly, knowing what it is to be the kind of person you are; and thirdly, knowing what it is to be the person you are and nobody else is. Knowing yourself means knowing what you can do; and since nobody knows what they can do until they try, the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is."
PS: It was weird without Cass forum while "under construction", but it was worth it, kudos to the new design.:clap::headbanger:
 
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herondancer

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
If anyone hasn't read Collingwood yet, and would like a quick-fire introduction to what Collingwood means by 'historical thinking', check out the first ten minutes of this lecturer's talk on the pre-Socratics.

He's quite manic, and even drops an F-bomb at one point; but to his credit, he nails 'historical thinking'.


https://youtu.be/SI9zZu9aOY8

After a summation of the previous lecture, he says:



And he goes on. I'd recommend it, FWIW.
I've been watching the lecture series. It's a great introduction to the ancient philosophers (up to Aristotle now). He is a little manic, but I think it's because he loves his subject so much. Thanks so much for posting it.
 
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dantem

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Thanks Thomas C for the video, that teacher is great! I would have had one like him back in the days... :cry:
Just entering in the second half of Collingwood's book, the crescendo of insights and the wide angle he has on historians and philosophers struggling to define the idea of history is priceless.
 

josev

Padawan Learner
Hi to everyone, first of all, I thank Laura and all those who shared their reflections here since the last year. I'm sorry I could not follow all the readings from the beginning.

I finished reading Idea of History, I think I'm not very capable of debating it in depth, which tells me about my undeveloped reflective capacity but it helps me see important things.

I would have liked to read it during my mirror last year, which ended closed and with the suggestion that maybe the forum is not for me :) just now I realize that the dilemmas I had could be clarified with the topics and the books that were being discussed at that time in the forum. I'd have liked someone to have said: "ey moron, look at these post/books and stop turning round" :D almost a year later I'm here anyway, trying to keep learning.

What I see more clearly with Idea of History is how I should be more reflective about everything, partly has to do with the work in oneself but explained in a way I see how immature I am and how I can grow as a person. However, I am very cheeky so as not to feel so bad but excited about the work, even if it seems to me something I do not know if I can achieve it.

Before knowing the history to learn or teach, if it is possible, it seems that the main thing is to show the irrationality that surrounds it, most of us do not have the capacity to discover it but the important thing or what we can do is act and spread the importance of doing things as if we were writing a history book, with reflection, acting consciously so that our actions contribute something to the future in a clear manner as Collingwood explains. Is it more or less the consciousness that the hero of the myths had when he talked about his deeds being remembered for thousands of years? :)

I am very late with the books Laura recommended last year, and I do not know if I grasp the true intention for which she recommended them.

I was listening to entrepreneurship books because I think they pack important knowlegde from almost every field about acting and it seems that everything fits with what is said in this post, with what C's say about learning, what Jordan Peterson says, Christian philosophy, to do the best that one can, taking advantage of the circumstances that surrounds you, do it in a network with the same objectives and in a creative, reflective, conscious and synchronized way, is it all about that or is there something else?

It sound a cliche, but I think the most difficult thing is acting and take advantage of what the universe gives you in the best way without dying or losing your mind
 

goyacobol

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
It sound a cliche, but I think the most difficult thing is acting and take advantage of what the universe gives you in the best way without dying or losing your mind
josev,

Thanks for saying that. I think it encapsulates much of the meaning of what we are trying to learn. It has to do with our intentions as well as just paying attention to the details and trying to do our best while networking here with others who are learning similar lessons.

After all the Cs say "all there is is lessons". Hang in here with us and try not to loose your mind.

The Cs also say:

(Galatea) I've been thinking lately that too much intellect is a bad thing. Is that true?

A: No

Q: (Galatea) Why not?

A: The brain is your greatest gift if you learn how to use it.
It's nice to know you are finding some benefits in continuing to learn here as I that is how I am seeing all this reading and feeding my brain to learn more about myself and others. It certainly is like Work but it also has it's rewards I think.
 

Approaching Infinity

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
I want to share another passage from Collingwood's "Principles of Art" (already posted another one here). While the first third of the book is a description of what art is and isn't, the middle third doesn't deal with art at all. Rather, Collingwood focuses on the subjects that will become relevant for his final theory of art which he will give in the third part of the book. This middle section is all about sensation, feeling, emotion, consciousness, imagination, thinking, and language. (As such, it has some interesting parallels with Damasio's Strange Order of Things.) The whole thing is good, but here's one section that stood out. It's about the relation of consciousness to truth, and thus also the corruption of consciousness. It's basically another description of self-lying, to go alongside those of Lobaczewski (blocking, selection and substitution of data) and Wilson (adaptive unconscious). What makes it difference is Collingwood's typical precision:

§ 7. Consciousness and Truth
The activity of consciousness, we have seen, converts
impression into idea, that is, crude sensation into imagination. {E.g., the perception of red in your visual field as modified by consciousness to become the 'idea' of that sensation, which can carry over into your awareness while still directing your attention at that colorful thing, but also after you've stopped looking at it. When we become conscious of a sensation, it ceases to be a pure/crude sensation. Consciousness 'dominates' and 'perpetuates' sense impressions.}
Regarded as names for a certain kind or level of experience,
the words consciousness and imagination are synonymous:
they stand for the same thing, namely, the level of experience
at which this conversion occurs. But within a single experi-
ence of this kind there is a distinction between that which
effects the conversion and that which has undergone it.
Consciousness is the first of these, imagination is the second.
Imagination is thus the new form which feeling takes when
transformed by the activity of consciousness.


This makes good the suggestion thrown out at the end of
Chapter VIII, that imagination is a distinct level of experi-
ence intermediate between sensation and intellect, the point
at which the life of thought makes contact with the life of
purely psychical experience {for Collingwood, psychical experience means experience at the level of crude sensation/feeling}.
As we should now restate that
suggestion : it is not sensa as such that provide the data for
intellect, it is sensa transformed into ideas of imagination by
the work of consciousness.


In Chapter VIII, I gave a preliminary account of the
structure of experience based on a two-term distinction
between feeling and thought. I now seem to have retracted
this and substituted a three-term distinction in which con-
sciousness appears as an intermediate level of experience
connecting the two. But that is not my intention. Conscious-
ness is not something other than thought; it is thought
itself; but it is a level of thought which is not yet intellect.
What I was describing under the name of thought in Chapter
VIII was, we can now see, not thought in the widest sense,
which includes consciousness, but thought in a narrower
sense, thought par excellence, or intellection. Everything
which was said about thought, however, in the first section of
that chapter applies not only to intellection but to thought
generally and therefore to consciousness. The aim of this
section is to develop this point.

The work of intellect is to apprehend or construct rela-
tions.
This work, as I explained in Chapter VIII, takes two
shapes, one primary and the other secondary. Intellect in
its primary function apprehends relations between terms
which in Chapter VIII were called feelings
; but we now
know that this was inaccurate; they are not the crude feelings
of purely psychical experience which I am now calling
impressions, they are these feelings as modified by conscious-
ness and so converted into ideas. Intellect in its secondary
function apprehends relations between acts of primary
intellection or between what in such acts we think.


Consciousness is the activity of thought without which we
should have no terms between which intellect in its primary
form could detect or construct relations.
Thus consciousness
is thought in its absolutely fundamental and original shape.

As thought, it must have that bipolarity which belongs to
thought as such. It is an activity which may be well or ill
done; what it thinks may be true or false. But this seems
paradoxical; for since it is not concerned with the relations
between things, and hence does not think in terms of concepts
or generalizations, it cannot err, as intellect can, by referring
things to the wrong concepts. It cannot, for instance, think
‘This is a dog’, when the object before it is a cat. If, as we
said above, the kind of phrase which expresses what it thinks
is something like ‘This is how I feel’, such a statement might
seem incapable of being false, in which case consciousness
would have the peculiar privilege of being a kind of thought
not liable to error, and this would amount to saying that it
was not a kind of thought at all.

But the statement ‘This is how I feel’ does imply bipola-
rity. It has an opposite: ‘This is not how I feel’; and to
assert it is to deny this opposite. Even if consciousness
never actually erred, it would still have this in common with
all forms of thought, that it lives by rejecting error.
A true
consciousness is the confession to ourselves of our feelings;
a false consciousness would be disowning them, i.e. thinking
about one of them ‘That feeling is not mine’.


The possibility of such disowning is already implicit in
the division of sensuous-emotional experience into what is
attended to and what is not attended to, and the recognition
of the former as ‘mine’. If a given feeling is thus recognized,
it is converted from impression into idea, and thus dominated
or domesticated by consciousness. If it is not recognized, it
is simply relegated to the other side of the dividing line : left
unattended to, or ignored.
But there is a third alternative. The
recognition may take place abortively.
It may be attempted,
but prove a failure. It is as if we should bring a wild animal
indoors, hoping to domesticate it, and then, when it bites,
lose our nerve and let go. Instead of becoming a friend, what
we have brought into the house has become an enemy.


I must try to pay cash for the paper money of that simile.
First, we direct our attention towards a certain feeling, or
become conscious of it. Then we take fright at what we have
recognized: not because the feeling, as an impression, is an
alarming impression, but because the idea into which we are
converting it proves an alarming idea.
We cannot see our
way to dominate it, and shrink from persevering in the
attempt. We therefore give it up, and turn our attention to
something less intimidating.

I call this the ‘corruption’ of consciousness; because con-
sciousness permits itself to be bribed or corrupted in the
discharge of its function, being distracted from a formidable
task towards an easier one.
So far from being a bare possi-
bility, it is an extremely common fact. Let us return to the
case of a child who, after howling automatically from mere
rage, becomes conscious of himself and recognizes the rage
as a feeling of his own. This new state of things, if properly
developed, makes him able to dominate the rage. But if all
that is desired is to escape being dominated by it, there are
two ways in which this may come about. The nettle may be
either dodged or grasped. In the first case, we avoid the
domination of one feeling by attending to a different feeling.
The child’s attention is distracted from his rage, and the
howls cease. In the second, we avoid being dominated by
fixing our attention on the very feeling which threatens to
dominate us, and so learn to dominate it.


The feeling from which attention is distracted, whether
by a foolish parent or nurse or by our own self-mismanage-
ment, does not lapse from attention altogether. Conscious-
ness does not ignore it; it disowns it. Very soon we learn to
bolster up this self-deceit by attributing the disowned ex-
perience to other people.
Coming down to breakfast out of
temper, but refusing to allow that the ill humour so evident
in the atmosphere is our own, we are distressed to find the
whole family suffering agonies of crossness.

The bipolarity which belongs to consciousness as a form
of thought, infects the imaginations which it constructs.
When consciousness is corrupted, imagination shares the
corruption. In the mere imagining of something, whatever
it may be, this corruption cannot exist. An imagination is
merely an element in my sensuous-emotional experience
upon which I fix my attention, and thus stabilize and per-
petuate it as an idea. There can be no element in my ex-
perience which has not a right to be so treated, and hence
imagination as such can never be corrupt.
But whenever
some element in experience is disowned by consciousness,
that other element upon which attention is fixed, and which
consciousness claims as its own, becomes a sham. In itself,
it does genuinely belong to the consciousness that claims it;
in saying ‘This is how I feel’, consciousness is telling the
truth; but the disowned element, with its corresponding
statement ‘And that is how I do not feel’, infects this truth
with error. The picture which consciousness has painted of
its own experience is not only a selected picture (that is, a
true one so far as it goes), it is a bowdlerized picture, or one
whose omissions are falsifications.


This corruption of consciousness has already been de-
scribed by psychologists in their own way. The disowning
of experiences they call repression; the ascription of these
to other persons, projection; their consolidation into a mass
of experience, homogeneous in itself (as it well may be, if the
disowning is systematically done), dissociation; and the
building-up of a bowdlerized experience which we will
admit to be our own, fantasy-building. They have shown,
too, the disastrous effect which these corruptions of con-
sciousness have, if they become habitual, on the person
suffering from them. The same lesson was taught long ago
by Spinoza, who has expounded better than any other man
the conception of the truthful consciousness and its impor-
tance as a foundation for a healthy mental life. The problem
of ethics, for him, is the question how man, being ridden by
feelings, can so master them that his life, from being a
continuous passio, an undergoing of things, can become
a continuous actio, or doing of things. The answer he gives
is a curiously simple one. ‘Affectus qui passio est, desinit
esse passio, simulatque eius claram et distinctam formamus
ideam’ {Ethics, part v, prop. 3). As soon as we form a clear
and distinct idea of a passion, it ceases to be a passion.


The untruth of a corrupt consciousness belongs to neither
of the commonly recognized species of untruth. We divide
untruths into two kinds, errors and lies. When experience
reaches the intellectual level, the distinction is valid. Con-
cealment of the truth is one thing, a bona fide mistake is
another. But at the level of consciousness the distinction
between these two things does not exist: what exists is the
protoplasm of untruth out of which, when further developed,
they are to grow
. The untruthful consciousness, in disown-
ing certain features of its own experience, is not making
a bona fide mistake, for its faith is not good; it is shirking
something which its business is to face
. But it is not con-
cealing the truth, for there is no truth which it knows
and is concealing. Paradoxically, we may say that it is
deceiving itself; but this is only a clumsy attempt to explain
what is happening within a single consciousness on the
analogy of what may happen as between one intellect and
another. 1

1 The untruthful consciousness is, I suppose, what Plato means in the
phrase which is unhappily translated ‘the lie in the soul* (Republic, 382 a-c).

The condition of a corrupt consciousness is not only an
example of untruth, it is an example of evil. The detailed
tracing of particular evils to this source by psycho-analysts
is one of the most remarkable and valuable lines of investiga-
tion initiated by modern science
, bearing the same relation
to the general principles of mental hygiene laid down by
Spinoza that the detailed inquiries of relativistic physics
bear to the project for a ‘universal science’ of mathematical
physics as laid down by Descartes.

Now, just as we divide untruths into errors and lies, so we
divide evils into those a man suffers and those he does.
Where they affect not his relation to his surroundings but
his own condition, whether bodily or mental, this division
becomes one between disease and wrongdoing.

The symptoms and consequences of a corrupt conscious-
ness come under neither of these headings. They are not
exactly crimes or vices, because their victim does not choose
to involve himself in them, and cannot escape from them by
deciding to amend his conduct. They are not exactly
diseases, because they are due not to functional disorder or
to the impact of hostile forces upon the sufferer, but to his
own self-mismanagement. As compared with disease, they
are more like vice; as compared with vice, they are more like
disease.


The truth is that they are a kind of sheer or undifferentiated
evil, evil in itself, as yet undifferentiated into evil suffered
or misfortune and evil done or wickedness.
The question
whether a man in whom they exist suffers through his mis-
fortune or through his fault is a question that does not arise.
He is in a worse state than either of these alternatives would
imply; for an unfortunate man may still have integrity of
character, and a wicked man may still be fortunate.
A man
whose consciousness is corrupt has no mitigations, either
within or without. So far as that corruption masters him, he
is a lost soul, concerning whom hell is no fable.
And
whether or no the psycho-analysts have found the means to
rescue him, or to save those in whom this evil has advanced
less far, their attempt to do so is an enterprise that has
already won a great place in the history of man’s warfare
with the powers of darkness
.
A bit later on, he restates the idea:

...certain feelings are not ignored, they are disowned; the conscious
self disclaims responsibility for them, and thus tries to
escape being dominated by them without the trouble of
dominating them. This is the ‘corrupt consciousness’,
which is the source of what psychologists call repression.
Its imaginations share in its corruption ; they are ‘fantasies’,
sentimentalized or bowdlerized pictures of experience
,
Spinoza’s ‘inadequate ideas of affections’ ; and the mind that
takes refuge in them from the facts of experience delivers
itself into the power of the feelings it has refused to face
.
And a bit further after that, he states the implication of this in regard to language (as the expression of feeling between speaker and hearer):

The possibility of such understanding depends on the
hearer’s ability to reconstruct in his own consciousness the
idea expressed by the words he hears. This reconstruction
is an act of imagination; and it cannot be performed unless
the hearer’s experience has been such as to equip him for it.

We have already seen (Chapter X, § 4, end) that, as all ideas
are derived from impressions, no idea can be formed as such
in consciousness except by a mind whose sensuous-emotional
experience contains the corresponding impression, at least
in a faint and submerged shape, at that very moment. If
words, however eloquent and well chosen, are addressed to a
hearer in whose mind there is no impression corresponding to
the idea they are meant to convey, he will either treat them as
nonsense, or will attribute to them (possibly with the caution
that the speaker has not expressed himself very well) a mean-
ing derived from his own experience and forced upon them
in spite of an obvious misfit. The same thing will happen if,
although the hearer has the right impression in his mind, he
suffers from a corruption of consciousness (Chapter X, § 6)
which will not allow him to attend to it.


Misunderstanding is not necessarily the hearer’s fault; it
may be the speaker’s. This will be the case if through
corruption in his own consciousness the idea which he
expresses is a falsified one; certain elements, which are in
fact essential to the expressed idea, being disowned. Any
attempt on the hearer’s part to reconstruct the idea for himself
will (unless his own consciousness happens to be similarly
corrupted) result in his rediscovering, as an integral part of
the idea, this disowned element
; and thus speaker and hearer
will be again at cross-purposes.
 

Anthony

Dagobah Resident
FOTCM Member
I was rereading this thread, along with reading Collingwood's An Autobiography and a book by Jan van der Dussen, which brought to mind somethign Joe wrote in the Jordan Peterson thread:

Listening to Peterson's talks with Harris from Vancouver, with Weinstein as the mod. JB comes out with some great one liners. His response to the question from Harris "what is this God you talk of":

Peterson: "God is a transcendent reality that is observable only over the longest of iterated time frames"

In which case, uncovering and studying the truth of history would be necessary to 'know God'.
These parts struck me as especially relevant for this topic. Collingwood essentially conceives history as being a study of the mind, a collective mind if you will (which is God/transcendent reality in Peterson's terminology). So it is by learning about human nature and deeds/actions and the thoughts that lead to those actions (which is history) that we come closer to understanding mind/God. This seems to be what the C's were implying (at least in part) with "all there is is lessons".

November 24, 1994

All there is is lessons. This is one infinite school. There is no other reason for anything to exist. Even inanimate matter learns it is all an “Illusion”. Each individual possesses all of creation within their minds. Now, contemplate for a moment. Each soul is all-powerful and can create or destroy all existence if [they] know how. You and us and all others are interconnected by our mutual possession of all there is. You may create alternative universes if you wish and dwell within. You are all a duplicate of the universe within which you dwell. Your mind represents all that exists. It is “fun” to see how much you can access.
Mind learning about itself. We are a particular that is also the universal at the same time, which is why Collingwood said that science was based on the error of abstraction, you can't really separate the particular from the whole, it would be like removing the spokes from the wheel, the whole thing would crumble and you'd be left with nothing.

He obviously doesn't limit his answers to one line, so here's how he expanded (in part)

"God is how we imaginatively and collectively represent the existence and action of consciousness across time as the most real aspects of existence manifest themselves across the longest of time frames but are not necessarily apprehensible as objects in the here and now.
Which is why Collingwood criticized a conception of history based on natural sciences. Human thoughts, actions done in the past are not apprehensible as objects in the here and now.
What that means is that you have conceptions of reality built into your biological and metaphysical structure that are a consequence of processes of evolution that occurred over unbelievably vast expanses of time and that structure your perception of reality in ways that it wouldn't be structured if you only lived only for the amount of time you're going to live. And that is also part of the problem of only deriving values from facts because you are evanescent and you can't derive the right values from facts that portray themselves to you in your lifespan.

God is that which eternally dies and is reborn in the pursuit of higher being and truth. God is the future to which we make sacrifices. "
And the Work is all about future and making sacrifices.
 

SMM

The Living Force
I finished reading The Idea of History back in January, and thoroughingly enjoyed it. I found the structure of the book useful, working chronologically. The ideas contained were developed and explained in such detail that it is on my list to re-read, at least in part if not entirely.

I am about 28% of the way through Speculum Mentis, I took a pause to read Healing Developmental Trauma and some of the psychology books and started Speculum in August. It is fascinating! Collingwood's take on art and play and philosophy are written in a very common sense way and has made me think deeper and differently about how creativity, logic and intuition work together. His works are great, thanks for recommending them!
 

Anthony

Dagobah Resident
FOTCM Member
David Ray Griffin in his book Whitehead's Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy touches on the thinking errors of abstract systems of science which Collingwood wrote about, so I thought it's worthwhile to post it here:

The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness

The thesis of the present chapter is that this picture is false, being based upon
what Whitehead called “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” This fallacy, as
we have seen in previous chapters, involves mistaking an abstraction from con-
crete realities—an abstraction that may be very useful for certain purposes—for
the concrete realities themselves.
Sometimes called the “confusion of the map with the territory,” this fallacy
involves, in the case at hand, the assumption that the real electrons, protons,
neutrons, photons, and other “elementary particles” at the base of nature are
adequately described by the abstractions that physicists have found generally
adequate for their (limited) purposes
. Whitehead’s view was that these abstrac-
tions, while they are adequate for most questions of interest to physicists, do not
describe these entities in their concreteness
. Just as the externalist concepts of
psychological behaviorism abstract from what human beings are in themselves—
namely, conscious individuals—the concepts of the physicist abstract from what
the most elementary entities are in themselves.

One result of this fallacy is the materialistic view of the ultimate units of
nature. It is this view of the objects studied by physics that leads to the conclu-
sion that time does not exist for them. This chapter shows, accordingly, that
like many of the other apparent conflicts of science with religion and morality,
this one is due to the contingent fact that science is still largely associated with
the materialistic view of the ultimate units of nature—-which was adopted in
the seventeenth century, as we saw in chapter 2, for social, political, and theo-
logical reasons
.
 
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