Monday, April 05, 2010

Blackburn, Simon. "Being and Time." THE NEW REPUBLIC April 3, 2010.

Inglis, Fred. History Man: the Life of R. G. Collingwood. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2009. Most contemporary philosophers think of their subject in an entirely unhistorical way. They conceive of themselves as investigating things such as the nature of thought, or truth, or reason, or meaning. They wonder what a language, or a mind, or a world is that thought and reason and the rest are possible. This conception of the investigation is entirely “a priori”: the problem would be the same as it perplexes us and as it perplexed Plato or Descartes. For Collingwood, this is all self-deception. What we may think of as a priori and timeless will be no such thing. It will be simply an application of the “absolute presuppositions” of our own period of thought. Those are the presuppositions that lie so far underneath the edifices we build that we cannot dig down to them. They remain invisible, if only because they would be at work determining the shape our digging would take, or what we could notice as we conducted it. We can never step on our own shadow. The only power that can reveal these presuppositions is that of time: later generations will see them, but we cannot. . . . Collingwood hated the dominant philosophy of his time because of its unhistorical nature. It is not possible even to do science, in his view, without presupposing history, since it is only through their records and their results that scientists can pick up and profit from the labors of their colleagues. But in principle, at least, it is possible to be a good scientist, at the cutting edge of a field, with little historical sense. Philosophy, by contrast, is concerned with thought--and as we have seen, Collingwood held that you cannot identify a thought unless you know to what question it was supposed to be an answer. The history of philosophy is therefore not a somewhat down-market curriculum option of no great interest to contemporary practitioners, just as the history of physics might exist alongside physics as something for retirement or bedtime. Instead Collingwood sees thought as something that is historically embodied: the idea of a worthwhile philosophy with no reflection on its own historical situation would be a contradiction. We can understand where we are only by understanding where we have been: how we got there, and the thoughts of those who would wish us to have got somewhere else. . . . Read the whole review here:

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