Values of Liberalism

Values of Liberalism

One of the great British scholars of the twentieth century, R. G. Collingwood is chiefly remembered today as the author of three books: The Idea of History, The Idea of Nature, and The Principles of Art. All are remarkable works of philosophical inquiry. Yet Collingwood was also a historian, the author, with J. N. L. Myres, of Roman Britain and the English Settlements; and in the argument he was advancing all his life, the two vocations were deeply connected. Thought has a history: it is always an attempt to answer certain questions which themselves are posed in the language of a certain time and place. It follows that all ideas grow out of human needs. Ideas, however, are not therefore reducible to an expression of human needs. A thought is not a counter in a game—not even in the great game of culture—and to decode the game is not to exhaust the uses of a given thought. Here Collingwood, who may have looked like an ally, ends as a principled opponent of modern historicism and relativism. Societies come and go, but the habits of human self-reflection evolve, and those habits matter just because they build upon the discoveries of earlier epochs. Collingwood believed it was the task of history and philosophy together to separate the regressive elements in a legacy of ideas from the elements that ought to be preserved.

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels