Robin George Collingwood, or R. G. Collingwood as he is more usually known, was
Waynefleet Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford University from 1935 to 1941.
During his career Collingwood attempted to integrate and understand
human experience and knowledge, and to bring together history and philosophy. He considered
that worthwhile historical studies must take on board, as a key aspect of their proper function, the
goal of self-knowledge of the mind.
His major work, The Idea of History, was published posthumously in 1946.
In the introduction to The Idea of History Collingwood attempted to define a "philosophy of history" and
discussed the nature, object, method and value of history. He maintained that historical studies should be recognised
as being potentially productive of results that should be as entitled to be condidered to be knowledge as those of
the natural sciences. He sought "to vindicate history as a form of knowledge distinct from natural science and yet
valid in its own right."
"History is for human self-knowledge ... 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."
R. G. Collingwood
The above R. G. Collingwood quote is, perhaps, somewhat reminiscent of these quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson:-
"There is one mind common to all individual men.
Of the works of this mind history is the record.
Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history.
all the facts of history pre-exist as laws. Each law in
turn is made by circumstances predominant. The creation
of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome,
Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man.
Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy,
are merely the application of this manifold spirit to the
"In old Rome the public roads beginning at the Forum
proceeded north, south, east, west, to the centre of every
province of the empire, making each market-town of Persia, Spain,
and Britain pervious to the soldiers of the capital: so out of
the human heart go, as it were, highways to the heart of every
object in nature, to reduce it under the dominion of man. A man
is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and
fruitage is the world. His faculties refer to natures out of him,
and predict the world he is to inhabit, as the fins of the fish
foreshow that water exists, or the wings of an eagle in the egg
presuppose air. He cannot live without a world."
What is the business of history? What is the
stuff of which it is made? Who is the personage
of history? Man : evidently man and human
nature. There are many different elements in history. What are they?
Evidently again, the elements of human nature. History is therefore the
development of humanity, and of humanity only;
for nothing else but humanity develops itself, for
nothing else than humanity is free. ...
... Moreover, when we have all the elements, I mean
all the essential elements, their mutual relations
do, as it were, discover themselves. We draw from
the nature of these different elements, if not all
their possible relations, at least their general and
Introduction to the History of Philosophy
Is Human Being more truly Metaphysical than Physical?
According to the seriously influential philosopher Immanuel Kant, in his brief work entitled "Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View" :
"Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances,
which are human actions, like every other natural event, are determined by universal laws. However obscure their causes, history,
which is concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will
in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual
may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment."