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R. G. Collingwood

R. G. Collingwood
Idea of History

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

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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 manifold world".

and again,

"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."

Both these quotes being sourced from Ralph Waldo Emerson's most famous essay - History.

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 fundamental relations.

Victor Cousin
Introduction to the History of Philosophy

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Is Human Being more truly Metaphysical than Physical?

Darwin and Metaphysics


Plato, Socrates AND Shakespeare endorse
a "Tripartite Soul" view of Human Nature.

Where this could, possibly, lead ...

graphical speculation on individual Human Nature shaping Society

N. B. The page mentioned in the graphic ~ roots.asp ~
has been replaced by this page

This 'knot of roots' insight features in:

Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous essay ~ 'History'

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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."

Related Link Pages

We strongly recommend:

Europe in 1848 : A seed-plot of History?

In relation to the European Revolutions of 1848 the historian Eric Hobsbawm has written:

"There have been plenty of greater revolutions in the history of the modern world, and certainly plenty of more successful ones. Yet there has been none which spread more rapidly and widely, running like a bushfire across frontiers, countries and even oceans."

In 1806 the Habsburg Emperor, who held the "Holy Roman" Imperial title and exercised direct dynastic authority over many lands stretching from Poland to the Mediterranean, was hard-pressed by the activities of Napoleon Bonaparte, and accepted the termination of the Holy Roman Empire (due to sweeping reforms instituted by Napoleon in western parts of Germanic Europe), and adopted the title of Emperor of Austria.
By late spring 1848, the Habsburg Empire looked like a hopeless case: the monarchy's northern Italian possessions in revolt, invaded by a Piedmontese army and largely cleared of Austrian troops; three different "national" governments in Vienna, Budapest and Zagreb each claiming sovereign authority; Polish, Romanian, Slovenian, Serb, Czech, and Slovak national movements aspiring to a similar sovereign status; a mentally incompetent monarch and his court in flight from the capital to the provinces; a state treasury completely bare.
Jonathan Sperber, The European Revolutions, 1848-1851, p. 203

In February 1948, the British historian Lewis Namier delivered a lecture commemorating the centennial of the European Revolutions of 1848.

In this lecture Namier presented facts about the historical developments, themes, and events evident in 1848 and reached the conclusion that:
"1848 remains a seed-plot of history. It crystallized ideas and projected the pattern of things to come; it determined the course of the following century."

We are pleased to make available a series of informative pages about the highly significant and, we would venture to suggest, the prodigiously historically instructive European Revolutions of 1848:

1 The European Revolutions of 1848 begin
A broad outline of the background to the onset of the turmoils and a consideration of some of the early events in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest and Prague.

2 The French Revolution of 1848
A particular focus on France - as an Austrian foreign minister said "When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".

3 The "Italian" Revolution of 1848
A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.

4 The Revolution of 1848 in the German Lands and central Europe
"Germany" had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted to promote a distinct existence for their "nationality".

5 The European Revolutions - reactionary aftermath 1848-1849
Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform liberal elements to join conservative elements in supporting the return of traditional authority. Such nationalities living within the Habsburg Empire as the Czechs, Croats, Slovaks, Serbs and Roumanians, find it more credible to look to the Emperor, rather than to the democratised assemblies recently established in Vienna and in Budapest as a result of populist aspiration, for the future protection of their nationality.
The Austrian Emperor and many Kings and Dukes regain political powers. Louis Napoleon, (who was a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte), was elected as President in France offering social stability at home but ultimately followed policies which resulted in dramatic changes to the wider European structure of states and their sovereignty.
The events of 1848-1849 arose from the strong emergence into the Socio-Politico-Economic History of nineteenth-century Europe of populist forces such as Liberalism, Constitutionalism, Nationalism and Socialism.
These populist forces were promoted by various interest groups within and between the pre-existing dynastic Empires and Kingdoms of Europe, often challenging the continuance of dynastic authority and governance and proving to be competitive, in that popular aspirations expressed by some interest groups often proved unpalatable to other interest groups within and between the pre-existing dynastic states of Europe.

Radical socialist reformers sought justice for the "disinherited" classes, the peasants and the factory workers, while more moderate political reformers were concerned with protecting and increasing the influence of the middle classes, the bourgeoisie and the professional groups. The radicals in general favoured a republican form of government while many moderates were prepared to accept constitutional monarchy as a satisfactory substitute …
… Many of the revolutionaries, especially in the German Confederation and Italy, wanted to transform their homeland into a strong and united country, but their aims contradicted the nationalist aspirations of minority groups.
From the opening chapter to "Revolution and Reaction 1848-1852" by Geoffrey Brunn

Middle class liberals, who had favoured constitutional rather than dynastic governance, were amongst the first of the previously pro-reform aspirational groups to return to supporting dynastic authority when it became plain that other populist interest groups favoured wider extensions of democracy than they themselves wished to see adopted.
Rural dwellers were often largely satisfied with reforms to systems of land tenure and the reduction of obligations to provide assistance, through labour-services, to their landlords. Once such reforms were put in place in the Austrian Empire, country dwellers, although often relatively materially poor, tended accept the suppression of urban radicalism and the re-establishment of dynastic authorities.
All in all a "united front" failed to become established amongst those seeking reform and gradually proved possible for dynastic authorities to re-assert themselves often with the aid of their pre-revolutionary military forces.

The historian A. J. P. Taylor later referred to the events of 1848 as being "a turning-point when history failed to turn" nevertheless "The Future" was put on notice that such populist-aspirational forces were capable of making pressing claims in relation to Socio-Politico-Economic developments.