Re-Enactment: A Study in RG Collingwood’s Philosophy of History

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Re-Enactment: A Study in RG Collingwood’s Philosophy of History

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4. THE IDENTITY OF THO UG HTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Copy -theory of Identity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.3. Criteria of Identity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 .3 .1. Empirical Criteria of Identity . . . . . . . . . . 4 .3 .2. Subjective Criteria of Identity . . . . . . . . . . 4 .3 .3 . Conce ptual Criteri a of Identity . . . . . . . . . 4.2.

...... ... ... ... ... ...... ... ... ... ... ................ .. .................. .................. ..................

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The Objectivity of Thought . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. 1.1. Thought in its Imm ediacy and in its Mediation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 .1 .1.1. Introd uction .. . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 3 .1.1 .2. The Subjective-temporal Context of Thought: Thought in its Immed iacy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 .l.1.3 . The Logical Co ntext of Thought: Thought in its Medi.......................... ation . . . . . . . 3. 1.2. Do Past Acts of Thought Survive?. ..... .. . . . . ... .. . . ... . . . 3 .2 . R e-enactmen t as Critical R e- thinking of Past Thoughts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 .2 .1 . Introdu ction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.2.2. Tw o Aspects of Re-enactment as Critical Re -thinking of Past Thoughts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

73 73 77 79



46 49 56 56



3. THE NATURE OF RE-ENAC TME NT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. 1.


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1.1. Collingwood's Background, Production and Position in the Modern Philosophy of History and his Relation to Vico, Kant, Hegel and Croce . . 1.2. Some Introductory R emarks on Col!ingwood's Conception of History.. . 1.3. Presentation of the Th esis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



85 85 89 89 95 99


133 139 140

5 .1. The Methodologica l Interpretation of R e-enactment .............. . . 5. 1.1. Introduct ion 5 .1 .2. The Intuitionist Interpretati on of Re-enac tment . .. ... . .. ... . 5 .1 .2 .l . Re-enac tment , In tuition and Empathy . ..... . ...... . 5. 1.2.2. Why is Understanding not an Inner , Mental Process? ... . 5. 1.3. Why is Re -enactment not an Historical Method ? . . . . . . ..... .. . 5.2 . Th e Conceptual Interpretation of R e-enactment .. . . . .... . .. . . .... . 5 .2 .!. In troduction ......... . ... . . . ... . .... . .. . . . . . .. .. . . . . 5.2.2 . Re -enactm ent as Activity .. . .... .. ... . ........ . . . . . . . .. . 5 .2 .2 .l. Re -enac tment in the Practice of Hi storians . . . . . . ... . . 5 .2 .2 .2 . How does Collingwood himse lf Re -enact Past Thoughts in his own Historical Studies? . . . .. ....... ........ . 5.2 .3. Re- enac tment as a Transcendental Concept .... . ........... . 5 .2 .3 .1 . The Concept of a Transcenden ta! Pre co ndition . ...... . 5 .2 .3 .2. The Historian 's Imaginary Pict ure of the Past as a Transcendental Preco ndition of his Study

BIBLIOGRAPHY . ...... . . ... . .. .... . . .. ...... .. . . . ..... . .. .. ... . .

I IDEX OF NAMES ... .. .. .. .. . .. .... ....... .. . . . . . . .. ... . . .... . . .

INDEX OF SUBJECTS ....... . .. . .... . ... . . . . ..... . ... ..... . . ... . .


12 1

11 6


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TERPRETATIO S OF RE-ENACTME T .. .. .. .. .. .. . . .. . . . . .. . . .




Debbins 1965, p. x.

Robin George Collingwood was born in 1889 in Lan cashire , England. Hi s father . who was an artist and an archaelogist , was a close friend of the famous Bri tish philosopher of art , John Ruskin . Rusk in 's ideas abou t art may also have influen ced Co llingwood 's own conce ption of art to some degree. Co llingwood actually wrote a paper on Ruskin 's phi losophy wh ich he delivered at the Ru skin CentenaLy Con Ference in I 9 19 . Collingwood began hi s university studies in 1908 at Oxford. He took his B.A . degree in 19 12, taki ng first class honours in Greek. Latin language and literature , anc ient history , and philosophy. At that time he was also elected Fellow of Pembroke College , Oxford , where he continued to give lec ture s in phil osophy and Roman history until he was appointed Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy in 1935. In 1915 he received an M.A. degree from St. An drews Un iversity .1 As early as 1930 Coll ingwood 's health began to suffer from teaching , writing and continu ous ove rwork. In 1932 he suffered the first of a series of strokes , which little by little led to a fun ctional [email protected] of his brilliant mind . He died of pneumonia on January 9. 1943. Collingwood 's writings on the philosophy of hi story probably form his most last ing contribution to phi losophy, but his writings about the phil osophy of art are also important. His first conce rn in philosophy was in fact with the phil osophy of religi on , for his first book R eligion and Philo sophy (191 6 ) dealt espec ially with the relation between religion and philosophy. Throughout his life Collingwood was keenly interested in the philo sophy of art , and he wrote two books and several articles on this subject. In 1925 he published Outlin es of a Philosophy of Art in which he put fo rward his own philosophy of art , ideas which he de veloped further in Th e Principles of Art ( 193 8 ). In the lat ter book , which was in its own right an important contributi on to the phil os ophy of art at that time , Collingwood claims that art proper must be carefully distinguished from craft and magic. He rejects what he calls the 'technical' view of art according to which the function of art is to arouse ce rt ain emotions in the public. On his view. although the artist gives express ion to his own emotions in creating his work of art , these emotions are not his alone , fo r he share s them with the audience. In other words ,

1.I . Collingwood 's Background , Production and Position in the Modern Philosophy of History and his Relation to Vico, Kant , Hegel and Croce


By abso lute presup positions Collingwoo d mean s presupp os itio n s th at are not p ropo sitions, although they are ex press ed in th e fo rm of m et aphysical prop ositi on s. This means th at the y are no t subject to verifi cati on o r fal sification. F or in stance th e propo sitio ns 'God ex ists' and 'Man has a free ,,·ill ' express absolu te presup positio ns. However, we sh all not take up his theo ry of absolute presuppo sition s in this stu dy . be cau se it fa ll s be yo nd the scope of ou r d isc uss io n of his re -enac tm ent d oc tri ne . For th e co ncept o f an ab so lute presuppo sition , see EM , pp. 25 ff.




Van de r Du ssen 1979 , p. 309. Vo n Wright 197 1 , pp. 1- 33. For a discussion of th e co ncept 'herm eneu tics', see Palmer 1969 , pp. 12-45. Von Wright 19 7 1 , pp. 1- 33 . It is a we ll-known fact that for all of his life Co llingwood was a lo ne wolf amo ng the British reali sts who were hosti le towards him , especiall y becau se of hi s affi nities with Hege l's philoso phy o f history. They labelled him simp ly a Hege lian idea li st , even if Co llingwood him self d id no t accept thi s class ification (c f. A , pp. 44 ff.).

of History was to become his opus magnum in which he would finally present the results of his studies in philosophy ofhistory. 3 (See also IH , p. vi.) It is not easy to define Co llingwood 's place among the philosophical tradition s of his own time, for his philosophical ideas cannot neatl y be arranged int o any given philosophical categories . According to G.H. von Wright we may distinguish between two main tradition s in the Western philosophy of science. 4 He calls the first tradition the 'Continental tradition ', which t_races back to Vico and Aristotle and goes via Kant and the German idealists (Fichte , Schelling , Herder) to Hege l. In the 20th ce ntury this Continental tradition has deve loped further into what is rather loose ly called 'hermeneutics'. 5 In a general se nse the term 'herm eneuti cs ' cove rs such neo-Hegelians as Croce , Ge ntile and Collin gwood as well as such non- Hege lian s as Dilth ey , Simmel , Weber , and Gadam~ r. The seco nd main traditi on traces back to Galilei , Bacon and to logical positivi sm . This is called the 'Galilean tradition' by von Wright. It differs from the Continen tal tradition mainly in that its representatives reje ct the view that history and the ot her humanities are different in kind from the natural sc iences .6 Since Coll in gwood himself was educated in the realist spirit of Cook Wilso n and Samuel Alexander. he has his roots in this tradition, too. Hi s continu ous fight against realism and logi cal positi vism can thu s be seen as an attempt to get rid of the habit s of thought characteristi c of the Galilean tradition .7 On th e other hand , Collingwoo d 's cri ti cisms of Hegel 's conception of history clearl y show that he feels close affinity_ with the non-Hege lian hermeneutical tradition as well. To conclude , we might say that eve n if Collingwoo d has his roots in both tradition s, his philoso phy of hi story belongs more to the hermeneu tical than to th e Galilean tradition which has , howeve r, profo undly in Ou enced the modern analytical philoso phy of history . It is not , of co urse , easy to demonstrat e the extent to which other philosophers have influence d Collingwood 's conception of history , but there are at least four important philoso phers who have affe cted his philoso phy of history to a co nsid erab le degree. To begin with , it is quite obvious that Giambattista Yico 's ( 166 8- 1744) view of history as an ind ependent human study has influence d his concepti on of history. In Th e Idea of History Collingwoo d claim s th at Yico was th e first historian to realize that historians are not entirely depen dent on th e ~st im o n y of their so -call ed histori cal authorities. fo r they can ask their ow n questions about the past (IH , p. 259 ). Yico wo rked hard to rid himself of a view of history which Collingwood call s 'scisso rs-and- J1!!Ste history ' (for thi s view of hi sto ry, see ibid ., pp. 257 -260) . Scissors-and-paste hi storians are , he says ,

art se rves primarily a _~ogniii.Y-e fun ction because the artist makes the community aware of its own emo ti ons by creating hi s work of art. In Specu lum Mentis ( 1924) Collingwood for the first time put fo rw ard hi s own co nce ption of history as an indepen dent human study. the task of whi ch is to give an accoun t of the dialectical development of the human consciousness (sp irit) in Hegelian term s. In 1933 Collingwood published An Essay on Philosophical Method. In thi s work he still accepts the traditional view of philosophy as an independent human study with its own methods and object of stud y , and he makes a sharp distin ct ion between philosophy and history. Between 1933 and 1934 Collingwood wrote Th e Idea of Nature (published pos thum ously in 1945) wh ich was meant to be the first book ofa se rie s which he was pl anning to write. (The seco nd book was Th e Prin ciples of Art. and Th e Principles of History was to become the third book in that se ries (A, p. 11 8 ). ) In Th e Idea ofNa ture he seeks to give an account of th e hi sto rical deve lopment of cosmological ideas from the Greeks' cosmological views to modern cosmological concepti ons. In 1939 Collingwood , awa re of the fact that he had onl y a few more yea rs to li ve because of his seri ous illn ess, publi shed his Auto biography, where he briefly presents his intellectual development and the main results of his later studies in the phil osophy of history. In his next book . An Essay 0 11 Metaphysics ( 1940 ), Collingwood attacks especially the logical positivists' view of metaphysics. see king to show that "science and metaphysics are .inextricab ly united , and stand or fall together" (EM , pp. 40-41 ). ln this book he tries to show that metaphysics is an historical scie nce which studies abso lute pre suppositions 2 mad e at different times in sc ientifi c th ought. Co llin gwood's las t book Th e New Leviathan ( 1942 ) is writte n essentiall y in the same somewhat p.!_ovoca ti v~ spirit as An Essay on Metap hysics. In Th e New J,eviathan he tries to demonstrate th e possibilit y of gi vin g a rational fo undation for our Western civili za tion, be se t by irrati onalism and lack of fa ith, in the best id eas of its own politi cal and philoso phical tradition s. Th e Idea of History (published posthumously in 1946) is the book on whi ch Collingwood's reputat ion as a phil osopher of histo ry mainly rests . This book was edit ed by his friend and pupil T.M. Knox . and it consists of th e fo ll owi ng element s: Collingwood 's lectures on the hi sto ry of id ea s of 193 6 , three essay s on history (taken from his lec tures of 1936 ), two ea rlier publi shed essays ("Human Nature and Human History " (1936) and ''Historical Imaginati on" ( 1935)) , and part s of Th e Prin ciples of History (he wrote only about 90 page s of thi s book ) Accordi ng to W.J. van der Du ssen there is ev id ence in Collingw ood's unpublished writin gs for assumin g that he thought that Th e Principles


Re- enactment: A Study in R .G. Gollingwood's Philosophy of Histmy

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Cf. also Vico 19 70, § 120, § 12 1 and § 12 2. Van d er Du ssen 198 1, p. 3 13. See al so ibid ., p. 169 . Vico 1982 , pp.51-54. Cf. Berlin 1980 , pp. xvi -xvi i.

Vico thought th at it is only what hum an bein gs themselves do that they can thoroughl y know , whereas only God as the Crea tor of the universe can completely understand the nature of physical things and processes .10 But Collingwood does not share Vi co 's view that we cann ot obtain thorough knowledge of physical entities and processes , even if he does agree with him th at it is because people make their own hi sto ry that we can understand histori cal age nts' actio ns in terms of what they thought about the rele vant facts of the hi sto ri cal situ ati on in which they acted. In this respect he accepts Vico 's cla im that historical processes are distinguished from processes in nature primarily by the fact that they are intelligible thought-processes that can be reconstructed by historians. 11

The historian's true business is to detect the se processes of thought , and re-think them somehow in hi s own mind. This is not only the essential feature of all his torical knowledge, but it marks it off decisively from eve ry kind of natural science .9





See Rubinoff 19 70, pp. 210-211. Cf. also van der Dussen 1981 , pp. 314-315. Cf. Hurup Nielsen 1980 , p. 228. Cf. Walsh 1972, pp. 137-138 . Cf. Kant 1958 , pp. 78 ff.

As some interpreters of Collingwood 's philosophy of history have rightly pointed out Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) has also influenced his thinking .12 Collingwood admits that Kant is right in thinking that all history shows progress and that historical processes are by their very nature rational processes (thought-processes), but he nevertheless criticizes him for assuming that the historian is "a mere spectator of the events he describes" (IH , p. 97; cf. ibid ., pp . 103-104). It is not , however , Kant's philosophy of history as such, but rather his conception of the a priori and its relation to the a posteriori, as well as his view that all empirical knowledge is ultimately based on certain a priori principles or laws , that have mostly influenced Collingwood. First , even if Collingwood does not share Kant 's view that the relation between the a priori and the a posteriori is given once and for all , he accepts his view that there must be some a priori principles that are prior to empirical knowledge. It must be stressed , however , that Collingwood does not use the term 'a priori' in the same sense as Kant , for he does not mean any a priori laws or categories in Kant's sense (cf. IH , p. 110; EPH , p . 128 ). 13 When he talks about a priori principles of interpretation and historical thinking, he only means that these principles are a priori in the sense that they cannot meaningfully be called into question: they must stand fast for historians , if they want to gain historical knowledge about the past. Second , Kant's transcendental analysis of the foundations of our empirical knowledge possibly inspired Collingwood to attempt to analyze certain transcendental preconditions of historical thinking and knowledge . By the term 'transcendental precondition ' we mean a condition that is a priori in the sense that it has not been derived from experience because it is prior to gaining empirical knowledge. (Collingwood uses the term 'a priori principle' in the same sense.) When we use the term 'transcendental precondition' i_!:!_ the se uel we do not mean absolute presuppositions but rather such preconditions (presuppositions) as 'History is the re-enactment of past thought in the historian 's mind ', 'The past is knowable', 'Most historical documents are genuine', etc. (For our discussion of the reenactment doctrine as a description of certain transcendental preconditions of hi storical thinking and knowing , see pp. 121-127 .) However , even if there are certain similarities between Kant's Transcendental Analytics and Collingwood's analysis of the a priori principles of history , it is not selfevident that they are doing the same thing , as he himself believes (EM, pp . 243 ff.). 14 Collingwood does not , for example , try to perform any sort of transcendental deduction of the a priori principles of history in Kant's sense, since he is only interested in clarifying those transcendental preconditions that make historical knowledge possible .15 Kant seems to use the term 'transcendental condition' in a slightly different sense, for he says

wholly dependent on written authorities whose statements they use as their criteria of historical truth. They are unable to ask their own questions about the object of their study (ibid ., pp. 257-260). But Collingwood neve rtheless thinks that Vico could only reach the level of critical hi story , which is simply a more developed form of scissorsan d-paste hi story . Vico 's major achievement was that he realized that "historical thought can be Cilll.S.1.Ll.LeliY..e as well as critical, cutting it loose from its dependence on written authorities and making it genuinely original or self-dependent " (IH , pp. 70- 71; cf. EPH , pp. 127 -1 28 ). And , second , that he was able to deliver " a counter-attack on the scientific and metaphysical philosophy of Cartesianism , demanding a broader basis for the theory of knowledge " (IH , p . 71; cf. ibid ., pp. 259 -260) . There are many interesting similarities between Collingwood 's and Vi co 's conception of history , but we can only touch upon some of them in this co ntext. First , he fully share s Vico's view that human nature is not given once and for all, be cause it is itself a product of certain historical conditions and thus continuously in the state of becom in g. Collingwood criticizes Kant for assuming that human nature is unchangeable and thus ahi storical (IH , pp. 205-20 7). 8 Second , he readily agrees with Vi co that history is different in kind from the natural sciences , sin ce he is convinced that all history is ultimately the hi story of th ought (IH , p. 2 15; A, pp. 110 ff.). Thi s me ans that it is !.!! the last ieso.rt what hi storical agents thought (their inten tions and motives as well as their interpretation of the facts of their situation) that explains why they performed their deeds in a particular histori cal situation . And , furthermore , that no external causal factors can determine their ac tions, or the course of hi story in a ce rtain given direction (cf. EM , pp. 292-294) . Co llin gwood puts hi s view in an unpubli shed manuscript (1936), as follows:


Re-enactment: A Study in R.G. Collingwood 's Philosophy of History

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Heikki Saari




lM 19



lb id.,p .85 . Ibid ., p. 86 . Ibid ., p . 86 . Cf. Walsh 19 72, pp. 135 ff. Cf. Mink 196 9 , pp. 21-2 3. Cf. van der Du ssen 198 1, p. 274.

that " [a] II necessity , without exception , is grounded in a transcendental condition[ ... ] This original and transcendental condition is no other than transcendental apperception " 16 by which he mean s "pure original unchangeable consciousness " . 17 Kant says that a transcendental condition "must be a condition which precedes all experience, and which makes experience itself possible". 1M But although Collingwood agrees with Kant that historical knowing is necessarily based on certain transcendental preconditions that are prior to all experience, he is not committed to Kant's view that there are transcendental laws that are given a priori once and for all. The main difference between Kant and Collingwood in this respect seems to be that for Collingwood the relation between the a priori and the a posteriori is itself historically determined , whereas Kant assumes that it is given once and fo r all in the sense that what belongs to the a priori cannot at a later moment turn into empirical and be subjected to the test of experience . Collingwood 's relation to G .W .F. Hegel ( 1770-1831) was somewhat problematic throughout his career , Despite the fact that he came to reject his earlier Hegelian view of the dialectical de velopment of the consciousness or the spirit through different phases (in Speculum Mentis) , it is no exaggeration to say that his historical thinking nevertheless remained in many resp ec ts Hegelian in a Collingwoodian disguise. 19 One feature which Co llingwood shares with Hegel, and which distinguishes his conception of history from that of the realists, is what we might call his holism. This is opposed to the realists' atomisti c view o f the past as a to tality of particular historical facts which can be analyzed into atomistic con stituents (c f. EPH , pp. 3 7-3 8). Collingwood summarizes his holism in the the sis that " thought and action , truth and freedom [ . .. ] are inseparable , and are in fact co rrelative aspects o f an indivisible reality " (SM , p. 169; see also EPH, p. 38 ). Collingw ood 's position in Sp eculum Mentis was, to a considerable degree , based on Hegel's notion of dialectics. But in his later philosophy he uses the term 'dialectics ' more freely to refer to hi sto ry as a dynamic pro cess in which thoughts and systems of thought are continuously changing into something else (cf. IH , pp. 113-122 and 248 ; see al so EM , pp . 74- 75 ).2 0 The essential concept which Collingwood shares with Hegel in this respect is th e latt er's pro cessual con ception of histo ry as a dialectical process , the attributes o f which canno t be studied independently , sin ce they are internally related. 21 Collingwood rejects Hegel 's view that the historian can go beyond the historical perspective of hi s own time and culture. For. as he sees it , every new generation of historians , which occupies a different position within the historical process , "must rewrite history in its own way ," (IH , p . 24 8; cf. IN , pp. 174-1 75) because

18 19





Cf. ibid., pp. 2 7 3 and 280-281. For Croce's impact on Collingwood's thinking , see Johnston 1967, pp . 66-90 . Cf. Harris 1957, pp. 45-49. See also Harris 1966, pp. 202-207. Cf. van der Dussen 1981, pp . 182 and 193-194.

As to Collingwood 's alleged historicism it is true that he claims in An Essay on Metaphysics that " [ t] he problems of metaphysics are historical problems; its methods 25 are historical methods" (EM , p . 62; see also ibid ., pp. 63-75 and IN , p. 177). Thus , he may be committed to some sort of historicism concerning the relation between history and philosophy in his later philosophy , but he does not maintain that one of the humanities or of the social sciences is actually part of history , or can be reduced , partly or entirely, to it (cf. IH , p. 209) . We shall not take up Collingwood's alleged historicism in this context , since it falls beyond the scope of our discussion ofhis re-enactment doctrine . It is also clear that Collingwood finds himself in agreement with Croce 's famous thesis that all history is contemporary history, if his thesis is interpreted as meaning that "[h]istory is thus the self-knowledge of the living mind ," (ibid., p. 202) i.e. it is only by analyzing the present that the historian comes to understand the past , because he cannot but study the past from the vantage point he himself occupies within the historical process itself (cf. ibid ., p . 248) . Collingwood makes this point when he remarks

8) .24

and 227). 22 Even if Collingwood disagrees with Benedetto Croce's (1866-1952) view of history on many points , it is obvious that Croce has influenced his historical thinking to at least some extent. 2 3 He praises Croce especially for realizing that history as an autonomous human discipline studies thoughts as they are expressed in the conscious and rational actions of historical agents. Second , Collingwood agrees with Croce that philosophy and history are very closely related to each other , but he does not himself go so far as Croce who actually reduces philosophy to history (cf. EPH, pp. 21-22). According to Collingwood , philosophers have to think historically, at least in the sense that when they are thinking about the history of their subject-matter they should "think about it in ways which did not disgrace the contemporary standards of histori cal thinking" (A, p . 77 ). On the other hand, historians must think philosophically in subjecting their own or others' historical thinking to critical scrutiny , correcting whatever errors or faults they can discern in it. He concedes that someone may be quite an accomplished historian without thinking philosophically , but "not an historian of the highest order " (IH , p .

Collingwood also thinks , like Hegel , that thought is rational and universal by its very nature , and that historical agents seek to perform rational actions (IH, pp . 116-117

the historian himself, together with the here-and-now which forms the total body of evidence available to him , is part of the process he is studying, has his own place in that process , and can see it only from the point of view which at this present moment he occupies within it (IH, p. 248) .

Re-enactment: A Study in R.G. Collingwood's Philosophy of History

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26 27 28 29

lbid., p. 370. Mink 1969,pp. 16 -2 3. Knox 19 70, p. xi; Donagan 1962 , p. 10 . VanderDussen1981,p.158.

Collingwood 's conception of history changed in some respects over the years from his earlier Hegelian and realist view towards one which was anti-realist and more independent, and viewed history as an autonomous human study. He came to see that the task of historians is to render the past intelligible to us by re-enacting the thoughts of historical agents. (For our discussion of the concept of re-enactment , see pp. 32-36.) But despite certain changes in Collingwood 's conception of history , of which his rejection of realism in 1926 is perhaps the most striking, we cannot talk about his earlier and later view of history in the same sense as we can talk about Wittgenstein 's earlier and later philosophy , for example. As Louis 0. Mink rightly emphasizes Collingwood was to a considerable exte nt a dialectical thinker who in his later philosophy further developed many of the elements which were already inherent in his earlier writings on history .27 For instance Collingwood 's view that history is essentially a dialectical process in which everything is con tinuously changing into something else, as well as his view that history and natural science are different in kind , can be discerned in his earlier writings . As to the development of Collingwood's conception of history , we need not here go into the diffi culties connected with interpreting the changes undergone by his view of history over the years. But we may , nevertheless , point out , in passing that commentators on the development of Collingwood's view of history disagree about the extent to which his ideas on history actually changed after 1930. According to the first interpretation , which is endorsed for instance by T .M. Knox and Alan Donagan , Collingwood radically altered his conception of history after 1930 . especially his view of the relation between hj story and phil oso phy, accepting some sort of historicism .28 ·This interpretation is not. however , very convincing. since there is evidence in Collingwood's writings supporting the view that he developed the main ideas of his later philosophy of history, and thus, also his doctrine of re-enactment , as early as the period between 1926 and 1930 ( EPH , pp.136-139). 29 The second. more plausible interpretation is, therefore , that Collingwood did not radically change his co nce ption of history after 1930 , but only developed his ideas on history further. We agree with Li onel Rubinoff when he writes that:

1.2. Some Introductory Remarks on Collingwood 's Conception of History

in an unpublished manuscript of 1926 that "[h )istory is nothing but the attempt to understand the present by analysing it into its logical components of necessity, or the past , and possibility , or the future". 26

20 21

30 31 32 33 34 35 36

Rubin o ff 1970, p. 23. Ibid., pp. 25-31. Cf. van der Du ssen 1981 , p. 13. I hid. , p. 4 1. Ibid ., p. 15 8. Ibid. , p. 158. Cf. van der Dussen 1979, p. 309.

Rubinoff maintains , however , that Collingwood 's later philosophy of history can only be understood in terms of the 'phenomenology of mind ' which he developed in Speculum Mentis. 31 But we claim that even though it is true that Collingwood is to a considerabl e degree a dialectical thinker , there is no need to put his later philosophy in the phen omenological terms of Speculum Mentis. For , as we shall sub sequently demonstrate he is not attempti ng to realize the program he laid down in Speculum Mentis in hi s later philosophy of history .32 Van der Dussen , too , holds , referring to Collingwood 's unpublished manuscri pts, that ''i n 1930 the basic principles of Collingwood 's ideas on history had been developed. What appeared afterwards on the subject may be considered elaborations of these basic principles". 33 Van der Dussen refers to Co llingwood 's report of 193 2 to the " Fac ulty of Literae Humani ores", in which he says about his article "The Phil osophy of Hi story" (1930) that it is "in effect the synopsis of a complete treatise , but I do not in tend to begin writing such a treatise until I have done several years' work on variou s aspects of the subject''. 34 (Cf. EPH , pp. 136-139.) In "The Phil osophy of History" Collingwood briefly discusses the development of the conception of history from Bacon to Croce ending his article with a sketch for a philosophy of history. We may conclude that Collingwood had formulated the basi c principles of hi s philosophy of history in "The Philosophy of History" , though he says that he had only come to "a provisional solution of most of the chief problems" .35 In his Autobiography Coll ingwood refers to his plan to finally begin writing his opus magnum called Th e Principles of History, when he says that " I am publishing this short summary because the main problems are now so lved , and publishing them in full is only a question of time and healt h" (A , p. 11 7). 36 It is neve rtheless useful to distinguish , for our purposes. between Collingwood 's earlier realist view of hist ory (1916-1925) and his later anti-realist and in some respe cts idealist conception of history as the re-enactment of past thoughts in the historian's

I will therefore argue , against the many supporters of the radical conversion hypothesis and in support of the dissenting voices, that Collingwood 's thought_can be viewed as a system , that his later thought is a dialectical outgrowth of his early thought , and that at no time did he subscribe to the doctrines of radical historicism. 30

Re-enactment: A Study in R.G. Collingwood's Philosophy of History


Heikki Saari

It i' o ur aim here o nl y to , ke tl'i1 b rie Oy a bac kgro und fo r o ur d isc uss io n of his re-e nac tm ent do ctri ne \\'itho ut a t tem pting to give a co mplet e acco unt o f the d iffe re nt aspec ts o f his philoso ph y o f history. Ne ith er do \\'e try to provide an y c riti cal rev iew o f his ideas on hi sto ry no r o f the deve lo pm ent of hi s idea s. because this wo uld be impossib le in the few p ages available here .

I- o r C o llin g\\'ood \ earli er vie\\' of histo ry , see va n de r Du sse n 198 1, pp . 13 -4 7, R oten strei ch 1976, pp . 1- 16, and Rubin o ff 1970 pp . 35 -132. 39 Cf. van der Du sse n 198 1. p. 179.


17 ·

On Co llin gwood 's account. it is only philoso phers who are ab le to achie ve what historian s can not do. because philosop hy superse de s hi sto ry in th e de ve lopment of the human

the real iza ti on that hi story or perce pti on is an act ivity which affects it s own obje ct in such a way that the hope of discoverin g was eigentlich geschehen ist is foredoo med to failure. is th e brea kdow n of hi sto ry. it s collapse before an historical scepti cism to whi ch there is no an swer (i bid ., p. 246; cf. ibid ., p. 238 ).

own mind ( 1926 -1943 ). 37 He fo rmulated his earlier conception of history in Sp eculum Mentis ( 19 24 ), which was written essentially in the Hegelian and realist spirit. We co uld brie fl y summ ari ze hi s view of history in Speculum Mentis as follows. 3 M Starting from the realists' view that there exists a given world of particular histori cal fact s that historian s at temp t to understand as they ac tually occurred, Co llingwood claim s that the task of hi storian s is to reco nst ruct the past wie es eigentlich ge\.vesen. This is clear when he co ntends that "[ t] he object of history is fact as such," (SM , p . 2 11 ) "fa]n histo rian mu st state facts as they happened ." (ibid ., p. 2 16 ) and that "[h] istory is the kn ow ledge of the in finite world of fact s" (ibid .. p. 231) . On his earl ier view. the real m of particular hist orica l fac ts exists independently of the hi storian 's activities qua hi storian. He mai ntai ns th at eve n th ough historical facts exp ress th e th oughts of historical age nt s. the object of the histo rian 's histo rical knowledge is not past thoughts (as he claims in hi s later philosoph y ) but histori cal facts as such , as they occurred independently of the histori cal agent s. In oth er wo rd s. the historian does not have to account for their acti ons in terms of what they thought about the relevant fac ts of their situation , as Co llin gwood's re-enactment do ctrine presupposes. 39 On Co llingwood's realist premises. the hi storian can neve r co me to know the pas t wie es eigentlich gewesen. Thi s is so because havin g at his disposal only more or le ss fr agmentary and incompl ete eviden ce his picture of the past will always inevitably remain in complete implying that "(h]istory as a fo rm ·of kno wl edge cannot ex ist .. (SM , p. 23 8; cf. EPH . p. 55 ). On the ot her hand. the reali sts' atomistic view of history is in conflict with Collingwood 's Hegelia n holi sm. beca use he holds that hi sto ri cal fa cts for m an inse parab le whole whi ch is "presupposed by eve ry part. No part can therefo re be known first[ . .. ] We must ha ve know n it all from the beginning . have kn ow n it as a whole before we began to learn any given part" (SM. p. 239; cf. ibid .. p. 23 1 ). But realizing that "[t]his whole, universa l hi story. is neve r achieved." (ibid ., p. 23 l) because hi storians can ne ve r know histo rica l facts in th eir en tirety . he arrives at histo ri cal sce pti cism. He draws the con clu sion th at

22 23




Ibid ., pp. 144-149. Ibid.,p . 178; seealso ibid ., pp . 179-181 .

See ibid ., pp . 26 ff. and 133 -143 .

spirit (see ibid ., pp . 41 ff.) . He notes that " [t]he world of fact which is explicitly studied in history is [ .. .] implicitly nothing but the knowing mind as such," (ibid ., p. 245) which implies that it is only philosophers who can come to know history as "the knowing mind as such" or as historical consciousness. Though historians fail to achieve the ideal of a universal history , Collingwood thinks that philosophers are able to gain an understanding of the development of the human spirit in the histo rical process and of history as a whole, as a form of experience. This is his solution to the problem of fitting together the realists' atomistic view of hi;tory , his Hegelian holism and his own scepticism about history qua mode of experience which is superseded by philosophy. To conclude , we might say that Collingwood 's view of hi story in Speculum Men tis, as well as his earlier philosophy of history before 1926, is esse ntially realist in natu re in spite of the fact that he explicitly attacks the realists ' conception of history (see ibid ., pp. 281-287) . In Speculum Mentis he is primarily interested in getting clear about the possibility of history as a form of experience in the development of the human spirit toward higher rationality and self-consciousness , and not so much in history qua hi storiography. In this sense he is analyzing history as historical consciousness or as a mode of experience that forms a necessary part of people 's thinking about the past and the present (cf. EPH , p. 124 ). Irr The Idea of History Collingwood remarks that "historical thinking is an original and fundamental activity of the human mind " (IH , p . 24 7). Though Collingwood criticized the realist conception of history already in Speculum Mentis, it was not until 1926 that he finally came to the insight that there was simply no need for him to accept the realists ' view that the past co nsists of the totality of historical facts which historians attempt to re const ruct. 40 Having thus rejec ted the realist view of history as early as 1928 he was able to formulate his doc trine of re-en actment in the lectures he delivered on the philosophy of history .41 After 1928 Collingwood probably developed his doctrine of re-enactment further in his unpublished lectures. He notes in an unpublished manuscript of 1936 that "the formula [the notion of reenactment] needs a good deal of clearing up ". 42 However , it is in his article " Human Nature and Human History " (1936), and in the posthumously published "History as Re-enactment of Past Experience" and "The Subject-mat ter of History" (in The Idea of History) that Collingwood deals more extensively with the notion of re-enactment trying systematically to work out its implications for historical studies. It is no exaggeration to say that re-enactment is the Leitmo tif of Collingwood 's later philosophy of history ( 1926-1943) that goes through all his later writings and binds together the various elements in his conception of history . We must have a firm grasp of the role of re-enactment in history in order to be able to ~nderstand what he mea ns by his claim that all history is the history of thought , and th at all history is ultimately

Re-enactment: A Study in R .G. Collingwood's Philosophy of History


Ibid ., p. 14 8; cf. ibid ., pp. 141-142 .

Cf. ibid., p. 17 9.

s Ibid .. p. 352.



Colli ngwood summarizes his new conception of history as the re-enactment of past thoughts in the form of three propositions in his Autobiography. The first proposition says that " all history is the history of thought " (A , p. 110) by which he means that the proper objec t of all historical knowledge is not historical facts as such in the realists ' sense , but rather past thoughts, since "there is nothing else except thought that can be the object of histo ri cal knowledge" (A , p. 110; cf. IH , p . 304). 44 The second proposition says that "histo ri cal knowledge is the re-enactment in the historian 's mind of the thought whose history he is studying" (A , p. 112). According to his third proposition "(h]istoricai knowledge is the re-enactment of a past thought incapsulated in a context of present thoughts " (ibid .. p . 114 ). (For our discussion of past thoughts surviving 'incapsulated' in the conte xt of present thoughts . see pp . 54-56.) We cannot here deal more extensively with these central tenets of Collingwood , but their sense as we ll as their implications for historical studies will become clear in the course of our discussion of his re-enactment doctrine in the sequel. Second, Collingwood thinks that historical scepticism can be refuted, because it is possible to gain ce rtain hi storical knowledge about the past within the historical perspective of the historian 's ow n time and culture (cf. IH , p . xii). He remarks in an unpublished manuscript (192 8 ) that "[t]he certain ty of history, then , is the cer tainty that the eviden ce in our possession points to one particular answer to the question we ask of it".

asserts that the past as past has no existence whatever, consisting as it does of occurren ces no longe r occurring , events that have finished happening: and it holds that these events can be historically known not by anything in the least analogous to perception , observation , or any process or act intelligibly describable as 'app rehension ', but by their re-enactment in the mind of the historian. 43


For commentato rs who att ri bute historical sceptic ism to Co llingwood , see Knox 19 70 , p. xii , Ca rr 1978, p. 26, Walsh 196 7, pp. 107- 108 and Mandelbaum 194 7, pp. 184 - 188 . 47 Mink1972 , pp.160-1 67;vand erD ussen 198 1, pp .38-39and 133 -143. 48 Vander Du ssen 1981 , p.1 34. 49 It may be noted here , in passing, that Co llingwood also uses the term 'history ' to refer to th e totality of past eve nt s that fonn the historian 's object of study. We shall not , however, take up thi s sense of 'history' because it is not relevant to our discussion of the re-enactment doc trin e in the seq uel. For th is sense of 'history'. see Dray 196 4 , pp. 1-3.


Having rid him self of the realist view of history, Co llingwood arrives at the insight that it depends to a great extent on the ideal which historians set for themselves . whether they draw sceptical concl usions from the fact that it is impossible to reconstruct the past wie es eigentlich gewesen, and from the fact that "every new generation must rewrite history in its own way; every new historian not content with giving new answers to old questions , must revise the questions themselves" (IH , p. 248; cf. EPH , pp. 54 and 9798 ). Collingwood adds that "[t]his is no argument for histo rical sce pticism " (IH, p. 248 ). He is not propounding historical scepticism, but rather a kind of historical perspectivism , if by the term 'histo rical perspectivism ' we mean the view that hist orians cannot go beyond the historical perspective of their own time and culture . because they can make the past intelligible on ly in terms of the historical perspective pe culiar to their own time. To use Collingwood 's ow n example, it is not possib le to raise the question whether the historical perspecti ve from which St. Augustine , Tillem ont , Gibbon , and Mommsen studied Roman history was in acco rdance with an 'objective' historical reality , because , he says , "[t]here is no point in asking which was the right point of view. Each ~as the onl one ossiblejor t):ie man who adopted it " (IH , p. xii) .4 6 On our interpretati on. Collingwood's refutation of historical scepticism is not. however, conclusive because he is unable to make his own 'perspectivist' view of history watertight against sceptical arguments. But we shall not take up the problems connected with his attempt to refute historical scepticism in this context , because they are not ce ntral to our discussion of his re-enactment doctrine. It is important to notice, as scholars such as Mink and van der Dussen rightly em phasize , that ~o llingw ood operates throughout his career with at least two different con cepts of history , an empirical one and a philosophical one . These mu st be kept apart fro m one anothe r-.47 In the empirical sense , by the term 'his fory' Co llingwoo d means history as it is actually practi ced by historians. He says in an unpublished manusc ript ( 19 27) that " [h]istory in this sense , as an empirical concept , mean s the investigation of certain arbitrarily defined problems known as historical problems " .48 In this empiri cal sense , then, history fo r Collingwood means the study of concrete historical problems to be solved by applying historical methods, which involves re-enacting the historical agents ' thoughts lrehind their deeds (cf. IH , p. 326). 49 In the philosophical, or 'transcendental ' sense of 'history ', as Collingwood pre fe rs to call it (in an unpublished manuscript of 192 7) , he uses the term 'histo ry ' to refer to

the re-enactment of past thoughts in the historian's own mind. We might briefly sum up the main aspects of Collingwood's later view of history , with regard to the theme of the present study , as fo llows . First , he rejects the realists ' view that it is the task of historians to reconstruct the past wie es eigentlich gewesen. The past as such is gone for ever , and our picture of the Pi!St will always inevitab ly remain inore or less incomplete because the historical evidence at ou r disposal is fragmentary and incomplete. He arrives at the conclusion that the past does not exist as such in the realists' sense , that is , as a realm of particular historical facts , but ideally insofar as historians are able to re-think for themselves past thoughts ex pressed in historical documents. In an unpublished manuscript (1928) Collingwood states that unlike the realist view of history , the prin ciple of the ideality of the past , as he calls it ,


Re-enactment: A Study in R .G. Col!ingwood's Philosophy of History

Heikki Saari



so Van der Dussen 1981 , p. 143. 51 Ibid., p. 135. 52 Ibid., p. 311. 53 Cf. ibid., pp. 169 and 313 .

be able to think historically, if we want to do history at all. Finally , a brief remark on Collingwood's conception of action may be in place , since this concept plays an important role in his conception of history in general , and in his doctrine of re-enactment in particular , as we shall see later on. It is a well-known fact that he regards all historical events as human actions , because " history is the science of res gestae, the attempt to answer questions about human actions done in the past" (IH, p . 9; cf. ibid. , p . 2 16). Collingwood emphasizes that the historian has as his object human actions that express the agents' thoughts that he must re -enact for himself, while the scientist studies events in nature that can be accounted for in causal terms. 53 In discussing the relation between the 'thought '-side of historical agents' actions and their actions as events in nature , Collingwood makes his famous distinction between

by re -thinking historical agents' thoughts . ! ~c alling history 'transcendental' Collingwood means that it is a priori in the sense that it precedes empirical knowledge : we have tQ

History as a form of knowledge , or as a transcendental conception , is , therefore , for Collingwood the same thing as our historical consciousness or awareness of history as a general idea of what the past is and what it means to us who are living in the present. He notes in an unpublished manuscript (1934) that " the past is the substantial being of the present: to know the past is to know not how the present came to be what it is but what it is " .5 2 In this transcendental sense of 'history' we do not have to be professional historians in order to be able to think historically , because we are all familiar with history as a 'habit of mind ', or as a 'mode of thought ' when we render the past intelligible to us

If on the other hand history means the acquisition or possession of historical knowledge , and not merely the retailing of certain parts of it to others , it must be a transcendental conception. For the object of this knowledge is not the history of England or the history of this or that particular empirical thing, but history as such , whatever history there is, everything historically knowable ; and this is a perfectly universal conception. Moreover it is a necessary conception , in the sense that it is implied as a condition in all mental activity. 51

cally. Collingwood explicates history as a transcendental concept in an unpublished manuscript (192 7) as follows :

professional historians , but rather is common to all who are capable of thinking histori-

" one of the necessary and transcendental modes of mind 's activity, and the common

and causa quad are closely dependent on each other , for , Collingwood says. " [n] eithe r of these could be a cause if the o ther were absent " (ibid., p. 292). On this re adi ng, fo r ex ample Brutus' causa ut in con nec ti on with the assassination of Caesa r was hi s intention to co ntribute to the achievement of the aims of the conspiracy by stabbing him . Brutus·

" is not a mere situation o r state of things. it is a situatio n or state of things kn own or beli eved by the age nt in question to exist " (EM, p . 292). The cau sa ut "is no t a mere dc:sire o r wish. it is an intention. The cau sa ut of a m an 's actin g in a ce rtain way is not hi s wa nting to act in. t hat way , but hi s meaning to act in that way" (ibid ., p. 293) . Causa ut

causa ut (final cause ) and causa quad (e ffi cient cause). He says that the causa quad

Colli ngwoo d ho ld s that a cause in histo ry is made up of two elements whi ch he calls

When an hi sto rian asks 'Why did Brutu s stab Caesar?' he means 'What did Brutu s think , which made him decide to stab Caesa r?' The cau se of the event , for him. means the thought in the mind of the pe rson by whose agency the event came abo ut: and this is not som ething other than the eve nt , it is the inside of the event itself( ibid , pp . 2 14-2 15).

we may poi nt out that he rejects causal explanations in histo ry , because he is convi nced that the co nditions for explaining histori cal events in causal terms cann o t be satisfied in history. But he nevertheless con tends that the conce pt of 'cau se' can be used in history . tho ugh in a spec ific se nse th at differs greatly fr om the se nse in which thi s concept is used in the natural sc iences (cf. ibid ., pp. 2 14-2 15 ). Co llingwoo d ex plains the meaning o f 'cau se ' in th e historical sense as fo ll ows:

Without go ing into the m any intricate problems connec ted with Co llingwood's position.

may begi n by discovering the outsid e of an eve nt , but it can ne ve r end there: [ .. .] his main task is to think himse lf int o this action , to discern th e though t of it s agent (ibid ., p. 2 13) .

cannot study some hi storical event in the same way in which the scientist st udies an eve nt in nature . fo r the hi sto rian 's work

publican law, or the clash o f co nstitutional policy between himself an d his assassins" (ibid .. p. 2 13). But he stresses that the historian always studies bo th the in side and the outside of the hi sto rical event , for he studie s actions, and "an action is the unity of the outside and the in side of an event " (ibid ., p. 2 13 ). Co llin gwood st resses that the hi storian

called Rubicon at o ne date , o r the spilling of his bloo d o n the fl oor of the sena te-ho use at anot her" (ibid., p. 213 ). By the 'in sid e' of an hi storical eve nt Co llingwood means '' that in it whi ch can only be described in te rms of thought: Caesar 's defiance of Re-

the 'inside ' and the 'outside ' of hi sto ri cal events. By the 'out side' of an hist orical even t he means "eve rything belonging to it which can be described in terms of bodies and their moveme nt s" (IH , p. 2 13); fo r instance " the passage of Caesar [ .. .] across the river

property of all minds". 50 He stresses that in this philosophical sense history is" a universal and necessary human interest " (EPH , p. 124) which is not merely a concern of


R e-enactm ent: A Study in R.G. Co llingwood 's Philosophy of History

Heikki Saari





See von Wrigh t 1969 , pp. 18 ff., von Wright 19 7 1. Chapter Ill " Intention al ity a nd Teleological 1:.xp!anation", and vo n Wright 1978 . pp. 46-61. For c ritical commen tators on t he re-enactment doct rin e, see S trau ss 1952, p. 56 1 and Popp er 1972 , p. 188. See va n der Du ssen 198 1, pp. 14 8 and 3 15. Dray 195 7b, p. 432 , Dray 1958 , pp. 2 11-21 2 and Dray I 980b, pp . 9-26.

Collingwood ·s doctrine of re-enactment. which forms the very co re of his later conce ption of history as an independent human study, is perhaps hi s mos t difficult and controve rsial doc trine. It has been widely di scussed and also criti cized by many of his commentat ors . but no general agreement has yet been reached concerning the correct way of interpreting it. 55 The present thesis is an attemp t to study Coll ingwood's doctrine of re .. enactment and it s role in historical studie s. We are not presenting any radical ly new interpretation of re -e nactment in the pre sent study. For our int erpretation co mes quite close to the interpretation s of such comme ntato rs as W.J. van der Du sse n and William H. Dray. wh o both reject the view that re-enactment is an historical meth od to be applied in historical studie s and that it provides historians with methodological rules as to how to re-enact past though ts in practice .56 However. our study is motivated at le as t by the following factors. First. it is no exagge rati on to say that the conce pt of 're-enactment' has not been sufficiently clarified in the pre se nt literature on Coll ingwood's doc trine of re-enactment , although a number of val uable attempts to elucidate it have been made. It is, therefo re , one of our aims in the present st udy to try to elucidate this undeniably elusive concept and to clarify the role it plays in histori cal studies. This in volves elucidating the conce ptual connections linking the co ncept of 're-enactment ' to th e oth e r concepts that Co llingwood uses in describing ce rtain nece ssary condition s of re·thinking past thoughts.

1.3. Presentation of the Thesis

Second, it is interesting to notice that most commentators touch very briefly upon problems inherent in Collingwood 's view that the historian has to think exactly the same thought as the historical agent , and not merely a copy of his 'original' thought , in order to re-enact his thought. Hence , we shall discuss rather extensively some problems connected with establishing the identity of acts of thought , or of other mental occurrences, and the question of defining criteria of identity for mental events. Third , it is our aim to show that Collingwood 's re-enactment doctrine should not be interpreted in methodological terms , because re-enactment is not any kind of historical method or technique to be used in reconstructing historical events . We shall argue for the view that his approach is a conceptual one , i.e. he is trying to clarify the conceptual preconditions that have to be satisfied for us to be able to talk about rendering the actions of historical agents intelligible. In this sense , he is in fact analyzing the 'grammar' of such concepts as 'to know what someone has thought in the past ', 'to understand a past thought ', and 'to think the same thought as someone else ', etc. Collingwood attempts to show in his transcendental analysis of historical thinking and knowing in The Idea of History that , as we actually use our concepts , it is co nceptually necessary for the historian to presuppose that acts of thought do have an objective , re-enactable content , that he can think the same thought as the historical agent , and that the actions of historical agents express their thoughts , etc. , in order to be able to understand past actions. It is our claim that if the re-enactment doctrine is interpreted in this way , it is much easier to understand why Collingwood does not give us any methodological recommendations or procedural rules as to how the thoughts of historical agents should be re -e nacted in practice. Moreover , this conceptual interpretati on of re-enactment makes his standpoint more defensible against claims to the effect that we can never know with certainty that we are thinking the same thought as the historical agent, and that re -enacting past thoughts presupposes that the historian enters into the mind of the agent and 're-lives ' his subjective experience in an act of intuitive insight. First we shall try to clarify the concept of 're-enactment ', which Collingwood use s interchangeably with the concept 're-thinking' (cf. IH , p. 288) (Chapter 2 ). After this brief conceptual clarification we shall attempt to elucidate the nature of re-enactment itself. The objectivity of thought is , in Collingwood's view , a necessary precondition for re-enactment , at least in the sense that it is only because acts of thought have an objective content that they can be re-enacted as opposed to feelings , emotions , sensations , and the like that cannot be re-enacted (Chapter 3 ). The topic discussed in Section 3 .1.1 . concerns the relation between the subjective and objective aspects of thought to which Collingwood refers as 'thought in its immediacy ' and 'thought in its mediation' . (For our discussion of these terms , see pp. 37-49.) The next Section (3 .1.2 .) is closely related to the former section , because in this section we shall discuss Collingwood 's view that past acts of thought must somehow survive as acts in order to be re-enacted by the historian . In Section 3 .2. Collingwood 's view that reenactment is necessarily reflective and critical thinking , is briefly considered.

causa quad consis ted of what he believed or knew about the relevant facts of the histori cal situation in question. When we use these terms in the sequel we do not commit ourselves to Collingwood's view of hist ori cal causation which will not be taken up here, because it is too muddled and only of seco ndary importance for our di scussion of his reen actment doctri ne. It may be added th at Co ll ingwood's view that historical agents' actions can be accounted fo r in terms of their causa ut and causa quad is closely related to C.H. von Wright's Practical Inference Model (or Intentional Explanation Model , as he calls it in his later writings). 5 4 For if we put Collingwood ·s view o f hi storical explanation in von Wright 's terms, he means that the hi storian has explain ed the agent 's action , if he has bee n able to show that his deed fo ll owed as a practical in ference from the epistemi c and motivational premises of hi s actio n (cf. IH , pp. 215 and 283 ).


Re-enactment: A Study in R.G. Callingwood 's Philosophy of History

Heikki Saari


Heikki Saari

enactment seems to run between those who take it to be a specific historical method to be applied in historical studies, and those who agree with us that it has rather to do , on the one hand , with historians ' critical re-thinking of historical agents' thoughts behind their actions, and , on the other hand, with certain necessary conditions for gaining historical knowledge. In the final chapter (Chapter 5) two interpretations of re-enactment are discussed. First , the intuitionist interpretation, which is the most commonly accepted version of the methodological interpretation of re-enactment , is criticized and rejected as untenable. We shall show that re-enactment is not an historical method or a suggestion for a methodology , though there are certain methodological aspects involved in the re-enactment doctrine (Sec. 5 .1.3. ). Furthermore , the intuitionists' view that re-enacting past thoughts presupposes that the historian enters into the historical agent's mind through his intuition and empathetic understanding is discussed and shown to be based on a misconception about re-enactment (Sec. 5 .1 .2 .1. ). The view that understanding is an inner , mental process in the agent's mind is also criticized and rejected as untenable (Sec. 5. l .2 .2 .). After this we shall present an alternative , conceptual interpretation of Collingwood 's re-enactment doctrine starting from the assumption that he refers by the term 're-enactment' both to the historian 's activity of re-thinking past thoughts and to certain transcendental preconditions of historical thinking and knowing. In the Sections 5 .2 .2 .1 . and 5 .2 .2 .2 . the role of re-enactment in historians' practice of explaining historical agents' actions by re-thinking their thoughts is discussed . Re-enactment as activity is also illustrated by our discussion of some examples of how Collingwood himself re-enacts

The discussion about the relation between acts of thought qua immediate, subjective experience and their content is closely related to the question about the identity of thoughts. Basically it is a question of whether an historical agent's thought and the historian's reconstruction of it can be the same in spite of the fact that each thinks his thought in a unique subjective-temporal context. These problems connected with the identity of acts of thought are tackled in Chapter 4. After some introductory comments on the notion of identity , an attempt is made to clarify why Collingwood thinks that the 'copy'-theory of identity must be rejected as inadequate (Sec. 4.2.). His standpoint is defensible in principle , but it is muddled by the fact that he does not clearly distinguish empirical , subjective , and conceptual criteria of identity (Sec . 4.3.1. , Sec. 4.3.2 . and Sec. 4 .3 .3 . ). One of the things that we shall try to demonstrate is that the empirical criteria of identity cannot be taken as the paradigm for what identity amounts to , as a consequence of which we cannot establish the identity of mental occurrences merely by using e.g. subjective criteria of identity. For subjective criteria of identity stand in need of the outward conceptual criteria provided by our common language . On our interpretation , Collingwood is not dealing with the empirical question of how the identity of the historical agent 's act of thought and the historian's reconstruction of it can be established in practice , but rather he is dealing with the conceptual question of what preconditions must be satisfied for their though ts to be identical. The great dividing line between commentators on Collingwood 's doctrine of re-



past thoughts in his own historical studies. Finally, we shall discuss the transcendental aspect of the re-enactment doctrine aiming at showing that Collingwood is trying to elucidate certain conceptual and other transcendental preconditions that have to be satisfied for the historian to be able to gain knowledge about the actions of historical agents by re-thinking their thoughts. (Sec. We shall illustrate this transcendental aspect of re-enactment by discussing the historian's imaginary picture of the past as a transcendental precondition for gaining knowledge about the 'thought' -side of historical events (Sec . 5.2.3 .2.) .

Re-enactment: A Study in R.G. Collingwood s Philosophy of History

lt is a striking fact that Collingwood uses several different terms to refer to the re-enactment of past thoughts , mostly as synonyms for 're-enactment ' . He uses the terms 're-discover' (IH, pp . 295 -296), 'revive ' (ibid., pp. 284 , 286, 289, 297 , 300 , 303-304

But there are , on the other hand , also substantial difficulties which have their roots in the very content of his re-enactment doctrine. It is no exaggeration to say that although the main idea behind re-enactment is relatively clear , Collingwood nevertheless leaves a host of issues unsettled and many questions unanswered . He does not explain more closely to his readers what re-enactment really is , an d what necessary conditions must be satisfied for the historian to be able to re-enac t the thought which was behind the deed of some historical agent in a specific situation.

The difficulties in elucidating Collingwood's re-enactment doctrine are, on the one hand , conceptual o nes that have to do with the fact that he uses his concepts differently from the way in which they are usually used in the Anglo-Saxon tradition . For it is o bvious that his conceptual framework is rooted in the Continental rather than in the Anglo-Saxon tra 11ion . n us:-;e must take into accounf111is act, if we want to understand his way of co~ceptualizing the phenomenon of re-thinking past thoughts. But conceptual difficulties in understanding Collingwood 's doctrine of re-enactment are admittedly also partially due to the fact that he often uses his concepts rather elusively in many different senses without taking the effort to point out in what specific sense he is using them in a particular case, if he thinks that their meaning should be fairly clear from the context. The lack of conceptual clarity in his use of the term 'reenactment', especially in Th e Idea of History , is a t least partly connected with the fact that he is still struggling with the problem of clarifying for himself the nature of reenactment and the implications it has for historical thinking and understanding .

First we must briefly look at the difficult concept of re-enactment which plays so important a role in Collingwood 's re-enactment doctrine . To put his doctrine of reenactment in a nutshell , we could say that the re-enactment of an historical agent's thought consists in the fact that the historian critically re-thinks it for himself, going through the process of argument through which the agent arrived at his decision to perform his deed in that particular historical situation. The historian has succeeded in reenacting the agent's thought , if he has demonstrated himself capable of explaining his deed by showing that it followed as a practical inferen ce from the epistemic and motivational premises of his action.





Cf. Hurup Nielsen who contend s th at " (i)n his early published essays, the term "re-enact" does not appear, but Collingwood u sed a number of synonym s for it : "re-think", "re-create" , "reconstruct", and the like, which are used interchangeably in all his works" (1981, p. 2.). See also Hurup Nielsen 1980 , pp . 62-63. Hurup Nie lsen 1980,p. 238.

Collingwood uses the terms 're-think' (ibid ., pp. 283, 293 and 300-301 ), 're -create' (ibid., p . 296), 're-argue' (ibid. , p . 301 ), and 're construct ' (ibid. , pp . 58 , 65 , 69-70 , 115 , 117 , 138, 163 , 170 and 202-203) when he wants to stress the fact that the historian 's re-enactment of the histori cal agent's thought involves reconstructing the prem ises of his action and going through the same process of argument through which he arrived at his decision to perform his deed in the historical situation in question . 1 We may conclude that Collingwood uses tpe above terms mostly interchangeably when he talks about re -thinking past thoughts. He often pays quite little attention to his choice of terms as long as their meaning is clear from the context. Neither does Collingwood try to give an exhaustive definition of the concep t 're-en ac tment ', for he seems to think that the meaning of this undeniably elusive concept can best be clarified by giving concrete examples of how past thoughts are re-enacted . We could perhaps say that the different senses in which Collingwood uses the concept 're-enactment' in his writings form a family of meanings in Wittgenstein 's sense. On this view , it is impossible to pick out a certain meaning and claim that it is the sense in which the concept of 're-enactment' should be interpreted interpreted in different con texts . Similarly , it is at least possible to think that the reason why he uses so many different terms mo re or less synonymously with 're-enactment' is that they all cover different important aspects of re-enactment. They are , therefore , conceptually very closely linked with each o ther , but there need not be any 'essence' that would be common to all of them . But although Collingwood does not give us any exhaustive definition of the co ncept of 're-enactment ', it is nevertheless a useful concept that he uses to co nce ptualize the phenomeno n of rethinking past thoughts in one's mind . Finally, a conceptual note on Collingwood 's use of the terms 're-enactment ' and 're-thinking' is perhaps needed in this context. As noted a moment ago , it is clear from his writings that he mostly uses the terms 're-enactment' and 're -thinking ' interchangeably , which implies that we could equally well talk about re -thinking past tho ughts . Collingwood equates re-enactment and re- thinking in an unpublished manuscript (1936) when he says that " (h ]isto ry means not re-thinking what has been thought before but thinking about yourself as re-thinking it " .2 In The Idea of History he writes: " But how does

and 308), 'recover ' (ibid., p. 296), and 're-live ' (ibid., pp . 296, 327 and 334) to refer to the 're-living' aspect of re-enactment which has to do with the fact that the historian must , as it were, 're-live' or 'revive' the thought of the historical age nt in his own act of thought in which he critically studies it. Re-living the agent's act of thought in one's mind does not consist of re-experiencing his subject ive experience (his feelings, emotions , etc .), but rather , it is a matter of envisaging his situation as he saw it (c f. ibid. , pp . 215, 283 and 312-313). (For our discussion of this aspect of re-enactment , see pp . 92-95 .)

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~:;or~a~ti~h~~:~~~;~a~=r~~~~n a~isatoctr1·aonf .thltought wt hi ch anhot her has perfo rmed cann o . m sue a case be ·d th t . .

there is some evidence in Co llingwood 's wri tings fo r assuming that he the term 're-e nactment ' in a wider sense than the term 're-thinkin , meaning. that to re -enact some histori cal agent's thought is exact] t~e' re- thmk it critically fo r onese lf (cf. ibid .. pp. 2 15 and 288 ). y

c:ll~. ah~ ~~s~o;~a~i~~ti~ounnowing it : he that he is thi~kin~a~isto~. f . g. hi stoncally. H1 stoncal thmkm g 1s an ac ti vity [ ] h. h · a un ctwn of self-wnsc1ousn ess , a fo nn of th ought possible onl to a . . ·. w ic. _is knows Itself to be thmkm g in that way (ibid. , p. 289 ). y mmd whi ch

h .

Although sometimes. uses we take hun as same th mg as to


It fol lows from his .above sta tement that we cannot know someone's thought with out :.ctu~ly re~enactmg 11 , i.e. re-enactment and re -thinking as an epistemological precondi~on or o taming knowledge about othe r pe ople 's acts of thought are exactly one and t e same thmg. This implies that the view that only hi storians re-enact while other pe ollple mere~y re-thin~ thoughts must be reje cted as unten able , be cause it ,foll ows from Co mgwood s standpoint that · k J d I .. we gam now e ge about other people 's acts of thought on y on the co nd1t1on that we re-enact their thoughts If I fo 1 h . h.I h. · · rexampe, ave to rev1ew a p I oso p ica l work. this means that I mu st go very carefully through the chain of argu7ents whi ch the ph!l osopher in question used in o rder to arrive at hi s philosophi ca l /' :o:c u~1ons about Im subjec t-matter. and co rrec t any possi ble errors in his arguments 1 t ~ .already presupposes that I ha ve learnt some abi lities that are constituti ve of p 11 oso p 11cal thm kmg , such as the ability to understand philosophical arguments and the ab1hty to evaluate their relevance and coge ncy. Similarly ' if I am reading an historical novel w1tho.ut trying to check the histo ri cal cre dibility of the author 's description b _,appea l to h1 stonrn l facts I am by definition re-e nacting the author's th ought because~ can understand his thoughts only by re-thinking th em fo r myself. On thi s readin . th d1~ference between re-e nact ment in history and re-en actme nt in everyday think~~g i: ~~I y one of degree.' be cause we do not need any methodological training in orde r to be a e to correc t log1cal or other erro rs in our own arguments or in those of other people m everyday. s1tuat1 ons. '.n any case , there is a difference betwe en histori cal thin king and everyday thmkmg to whic h Co llin gwood refers when he remarks that

the di sce rn the thoughts which he is tryi ng to discover ? There is only one way m w 11c it can be done: by re-thinking them in his own mind ,, (IH , p. 2 15 ). That Collin h g wood really uses the terms 're-e nactment ' an d 're th1· k. ' . - n mg mterc angeably is als 0 clea r from the following state ment:

34 35


Cf. va n der Du ssen 19 8 1, pp. 314-315 .

As we shall deal more extensively with the different aspects of re-enactment later on , it may suffice to point out here only that Collingwood uses the term 're-enactment ' in two main se nses . First , by the term 're -enactmen t' he refers to the historian 's activity of re-thinking the thoughts of historical agents. In this sense 're -enac tment ' cove rs all those necessary activities that the historian has to perform in re-thinking the thought which stood behind an historical agent's action. To re-enact the agent's thought means, briefly , that the historian goes through his process of argument step by step , correc ting whatever errors or faults he can disce rn in his arguments or in his appraisal of the facts of his situation , re constru cting the premises of his action . This also involves filling in the ' gaps in the evidence in such a way that the historian is able to construct a ~o n vi n c ing and internally coherent picture of what happened . The hi storian has succeeded in reenacting the agent's thought if he can show , on the basis of hi s reconstruction of what happened , that the agent's action followed as a practical inference from the epistemic and motivational premises of his deed . (For our discussion of this aspect of re-enac tment , see pp . 108-12 1.) Second , Collingwood refers by the term 're-enactment ' to certain necessary tran sce ndental preconditi ons fo r hi storical thinking and knowledge that mu st be satisfied fo r historical knowledge to be possible about the past. 3 In thi s sense his re-enactment do ctrine can be seen as an attempt to elucidate both ce rtain ne cessary presuppositions that historians have to make in order to be in a position to render the actions of hi storical agents intelligible by re-thinking their thoughts , as well as certain conce ptual preconditions that must be sati sfied for them to be ab le to talk about understanding past thoughts an d actions. For example , being able to re-think exac tly the same thought as the hi stori- I cal agent , rather th an a mere copy of his thought , is a conceptual precondition fo r gaining knowledge about the agent's thought without which hi storical thinking would be impossible . Similarly , one important transcendental precondition for hi storical thin king ., is , on Collingwood's account , that " [t]he history of thought , and therefore all history , is the re-enactment of past thought in the hi storian's own mind " (IH , p. 2 15). Thi s is no t an empirical generalization derived from experience , but rather a necessary preco ndition for gaining historical knowledge about the past , since it is only by re-enacting the thoughts of historical age nt s th at historians come to understand the motives underlyi ng their deeds. (For our discussion of the transcendental aspect of re-enactment , see pp . 12 1132.) As Collingwood sees it , historians have , in fac t , re-enacted past th.oughts all along in so fa r as they have been thinking histori cally. However , he hints that Vico was the first historian who really tried to re-enact the thoughts of agents , while Tacitus "never tried to do thi s: hi s characters are seen not from inside , with understanding and sympathy , but from outside , as mere spectacles of virtue or vice" (IH , p. 39 ; cf. ibid ., pp. 63 -71). From this point of view it is obvious that Co llingwood's re-enactment doctrine

R e-enactm en t: A Study in R .G. Collingwood's Philosophy of History




c \


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Dilthey 1969b, pp . 114-1 36.

,To conclude, we might say that the most plausible way of interpreting Collingwood s re-enactment doctrine is to regard it , on the one hand , as an attempt to show that h1stonans can render historical agents ' actions intelligible only by re-thinking their thoughts that explain why they performed their deeds in the historical situation in question. (Re -enactment as ac ti vity.) On the other hand his doctri·ne of t b , re-enac ment can e. se_en as an attempt to describe certain transcendental preconditions that must be sat1sf1ed for histori cal knowledge to be possible. (The re-enactment doctrine as statin ce rtain tran scendental pre conditions of historical thinking and knowing .) g

is not. to be taken as a theory about the nature of historical understanding in the same sense m w~1c~ for instance Wilh_elm Dilthey puts forward his own theory of historical understanding. Thus , seeing as his primary task in The Idea of History the elucidation of certain transcendental preconditions of historical understanding and knowing c 11 · _ 0 wood does not a k 'Wh t · h ' mg . s a is t e nature of historical understanding?' Instead , he proffers a quest10n posed in Kantian terms: 'What conditions must be satisfied for historical knowledge to be possible ?'


Thought in its mediation , as Co llingwood prefers to call it , falls under what we might call the logical conte xt of thought. This is the same for all who thin k the same th ought , because it is in no way dependent on the specific subjective-temporal context in which we perfo rm our ac ts of th ought. We might preliminarily state that the logical

An act of thought is ce rtainly a part of the thinker 's experience. It occurs at a ce rtain time , and in a certain context of other ac ts ofthought ,emotion s, se nsations, and so for th. It s prese nce in this conte xt I call it s immediacy; for although thought is no t mere imm ediacy it is not devoid of immediacy. The peculiarity of thought is that, in additi on to occurrin g here and now in this context , it can sus tain itse lf thro ugh a change of contex t and revive in a different one (ibid ., p. 29 7).

Collin gwood 's discussio n about the relation between the subje ctive and objective aspec ts of acts of th ought is based on th e assumption that acts of thought are not merely subjective, mental occurre nces in an agent's mind , fo r the reason that they have an objective content that can be re-enacted by the historian (IH , pp . 29 1- 292 ). Hi s distin cti on between thought in its immediacy and in its mediation is meant to distinguish the subjective elements of acts of thought (=acts of thought qua mental occurrences in an agent's mind) from their obje ctive content. On the other hand , Collingwood emphasizes that acts of th ought are both subj ec tive and obje ctive , sin ce th ought is "both immediacy and medi ation" (ibid ., p. 300). By the term 'thought in its immediacy' he means th ought as immediate, subj ec ti ve experience that cannot be re-enac ted. He says that "the imm ediacy of thought consists not only in its conte xt of emotions[ ... ] but in its co ntext of other thoughts" (ibid., p. 29 8). Collingwood 's term 'thought in its immediacy ' refers both to the immediate , subjective experience o f the thinker (his fee lin g of exci teme nt. se nsations of pain , et c .) and to the unique tempora l context in which he performs his act of thought. Or to put it in hi s own words:

3. i.i.i. introduction

3. i. i . Thought in its immediacy and in its Mediation

3. I. The Objectivity of Thought


Heikki Saari


Cf. Dray 1957b, p. 429.

. To co nclude , we might my that the issue of the objectivity of thought , which Co llmgwood tnes to analyze m terms of thought in its immediacy and mediation , is relevant to re-enact ment in the following sense: (i) the historian can re-enact the historica l agent 's thought only on t_he ·co ndition that acts of thought are not merely subjecti ve , mental occurren ces in the agent's mind, but have an objective , re-enactable content (cf. ibid ., p. 297); (ii) the thoughts of individual thinkers become understandable only in rela tion to the tradition within which they think: our common language and culture guarantee , in the last resort, the objectivity of acts of thought. In what follows, we shall try to clar ify these two main as pec ts of the obje cti vity of thought. The latter aspect is only 1mphc1tly presupposed in Co llingwood 's discussion of the objectivity of thought , smce he tends to ignore the fact that the content of acts of thought can be understood on ly in a comm on language within a certain tradition of thought. ,But we have to pause here fo r a moment to make a conceptual note on Collingwood s use of the terms 'act of thought' and 'thought ' (he uses them interchangeably) , because these rather elusive terms play an important role in his doctrine of re-enactment. The term 'act of thought' is his technical term for thinking a thought , which has both a subj ec ti ve and an objec tive as pect (IH , pp . 291-292 ). 1 Collingwood is aware of the fact th at we mu st distinguish betw ee n the act of thought itself qua mental act and its content fo r he says in an unpublished manuscript ( 1936) that 'thought ' can mean "the act of

His point is a conce ptual one , fo r he only reminds us of the fact that , as we actually use our co ncept s in talking about thinking a thought , or the same thought as someone else, we presuppose that the content of the agent's thought is not dependent on his subje c_t1 ve act of thought in which he thinks it. And that it in this sense. as it were, stands outside time. Collingw oo d 's discuss ion about thought in its immediacy and in its mediation in Th e Idea of History revolves around these two different contexts , but his discussio n is unfortunately to so me degree muddled by the fact that he fails to maintain a clear distin ction between them.

It is not only the object of thought that somehow stands outside time · the act of th ought does so too: in this sense at least , that one and the same act 'of thought may endure through a lap se of time and revive after a time when it has been in abeyance (ibid., p. 287).

context of thought pertains to the fact that thoughts (arguments) are not private mental occurrences in the agent's mind which are accessi ble only to the thinker himself, but rather they are public and therefore accessible to all who are able to think them for themselves. Co llingwood says that " the argument as it can be developed either in Plato's mind or mine or. anyone else's , is what I call the thought in its mediation" (ibid. , p. 30 I). It 1s thi s logical context that he has in mind when he claims that :

38 39


Va n d~r Du sse n 198 1, p. 178.


If the discove ry of Pythagoras concern ing the square on the hypothenuse is a thought which we to- day can think for ourselves , a thought that consti tutes a _

thinking or the obje ct (content) of thought" .2 But as we shall see in a moment. there is a ce rtain ambiguity in his conception of thought. fo r even if he is aware of this distinction, he sometimes tends to confu se an act of thought qua mental occurrence with the act of making inferences , which cannot be se parate d from the content of the age nt 's act of thought. The main difference between the conten t of an act of thought and this act qua mental act is that men tal acts cann ot be true or false, rational or irrational: we just have them , whereas thoughts expre sse d in proposi tional form can be true or false. consisten t or co ntradictory , rational or irrati onal. etc. (We do not of course claim that understanding peopl e's th oughts always presupposes that they are expressed in pro pos itional fo rm . For example, we und erstand the thoughts th at an artist exp resses thro ugh his painting by carefu lly studying his painting as a work of art.) Collingwood uses the term 'ac t of thought ' in at least two different , though related ' se nses. In the first sense , which we may call the objective se nse . he re fers by this term not to any inner. mental occurrences in the agent's mind , but to the content of his act of thought, wh ich cann ot be se para ted from the pro cess of argument th ro ugh which he arrived at his co nclu sion. If I see people walking in the st reet with their umbrellas , I draw the co nclusi on that it is raining outsid e. I am thin ki ng of the relation between peopl e's having umbrellas and the rain . Th e co ntent of my ac t o f thought is the proposition ' It is raining outside be cause those peo ple are walking wi th their umbrellas'. In this se nse the content of my act of thought cannot be se para ted from the process of argument through which I arrived at the co nclu sion that it mu st be raining outside. Collingwood uses the term s ·~rocess of argument ' and 'act of tho ught' interchangeably, which means that th e co ntent of th e age nt 's act of thought is the same thing as the content of hi s process of argument (cf. IH , p. 30 1 ). This is the primary sense in whi ch he uses the term 'act of th ought ' in talking abo ut the re -enactment of past thoughts. It is in this obje cti ve se nse that we have to take Collingwood 's claim that acts of thought have an g_bjective con tent Jhat can be re-en acted by anybody who is able to understand' th ose tho ~ghts (ibid ., pp . 288 and 290-29 1). To avoid misunderstandin gs of Collingw ood 's use of the term 'act of thought' it may be ad ded that when he suggests that acts of thought are arguments (processes of argument) , he does not claim that all acts of thought are argument~ (cf. ibid .. pp . 300301 ). What he mean s is that only such ac ts of thought in which the agent consc iously ' tri ed to so lve some practical or th eo ret ical problems co nn ected with the performance of his ac tion in the historical situati on in question are hi storica lly relevant to the historian I (cf. A, pp . 69 -70). Collingwood points to this fact when he notes that:

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Heikki Saari

perm anent addition to mathematical knowledge , the discovery of Augustus , that a monarch_y co_uld _be grafted upon the Republican constitution of Rome by developing the 1mphcat1ons of proconsulare imperium and tribunicia potestas, is equally a th_ought which _the _s tudent of Roman history can think for himself, a permanent add1t1on to political ideas (IH , pp. 217-21 8; cf. ibid. , p . 283; A, pp. 70 and 114).



C'f. ibid ., pp. 178-179.

To co nclude: Collingwood 's use of the term 'ac t of thought' in this subjective sense is only of secondary importance to our discussion of re-enactment , because acts of thought

even thought itself, in its immediacy as the unique act of thought with its unique context m the life of an individual thinker , is not the object of historical knowledge. It cannot be re-enacted (IH , p. 303; cf. ibid. , pp . 294 and 302).

. But Collingwood also uses the term 'ac t of thought ', admittedly rather elusively , m what we might call the subjective sense to refer to acts of thought qua inner , mental occurrences in the agent's mind . This subjective aspect of acts of thought has to do with the fact that thinking a thought involves performing some sort of mental act in one's mind. It must be stressed that acts of thought in this subjective sense are not arguments, because ~s mental occurrences in the agent's mind they are part of his subjective, immediate expenence. Collingwood po in ts to this fact when he remarks that

What Collingwood means is that the re-enactment of Caesar's thought behind his crossing of the Rubicon involves reconstructing the steps by which Caesar attempted to solve his spec1f1c problems in that historical situation. Every step in Caesar's process of argument denves its sense from the way in which he tried to solve his problem of getting the u~per hand on his enemies in Rome. It is in this sense that we can understand Collingwood s claim that the acts of thought of an historical agent are arguments that derive their se nse from the way in which he understood the facts of his situation and tried to solve his specific problems (cf. A, pp . 70 and 112-113 ). 3

All that is ne cessary is that there should be evidence of how such thinking has been done and t_hat _the h1stonan should be able to interpret it , that is , should be able to re-enact m his own mind the thought he is studying, envisaging the problem from which 1t started and re constructing the steps by which its solution was attempted (IH , pp . 312-313 ).

. _If, for e_xample, Caesar at one time rather distractedly looked at some painting , thmkmg for himself 'That's a beautiful pain ting', he did not try to argue for anything, or to solve any aesthetic problems concerning this painting as a work of art. But his action of crossing the Rubicon at a certain time does show that he had gone through a process of argument m making up his strategical plan for his action , and his act of thought as an argument 1s und oubtedly rele vant to the historian whose task is to re-enact it. Collingwood puts this point clearly when he says that :

40 41


For this view , see Meiland 1965 , pp . 73 -77.

As noted in the foregoing. the temporal uniqueness of acts of thought forms part of what Collingwood calls thought in its immediacy. His attempt to come to grips with the temporal uniqueness of acts of thought is at least partly motivated by his convicti on that history is "knowledge of the past in the present. the self-knowledge of the historian 's own mind as the present revival and reliving of past experiences" (ibid., p. 175 ). We shall only briefly touch upon the temporal aspect of the re-enactment of pas t th oughts here . because we shall later (in Sec. 3 .1.2 .) comment on Collingwood 's view that past acts of thought must somehow 'su rvive ' over the time gap between the past and the present in order to be re-enacted by the historian (see ibid ., p. 287). It seems that acts of thought may be temporally unique at least in two different respects. First, it is a conceptual truth that our acts of thought inevitably occur in a certain temporally unique context , which implies that it is logically impossible for the historian to cancel time and re-think the historical agent's thought in its unique temporal context (cf. ibid ., p. 303). Some commentators have suggested that it is a problem for Collingwood to show how the historian can bridge the time gap between the past and the present , that is , how the historian can re-enact the historical agent's thought , which is gone for ever as an act of thought , in the present temporal context , and , as it were , 'revive' it in his own mind. 4 Second, acts of thought are temporally uniqu e also in the sense that the states of affairs that actually obtained when the historical agent performed his act of thought in the past are , in many respects , different from the states of affairs which obtain when the historian re-enacts his thought in the present. But , on Collingwood 's account, to claim that the temporal difference between the historian 's thought and that of the historical agent implies that the historian cannot reenact his thought is to fail to see that , as we actually use our concepts , we presuppose that the content of an act of thought (o r the logical structure of the argument which the agent develops) is not dependent on the parti cular temporally unique context in which the agent thinks that thought. Or to put it in Collingwood's own terms , ~ is to confuse thought in its immediacy with thought in its mediati on. If the historian re-enacts , say , Aristotle's thought 'Man is a rational animal' he re-thinks it in his own temporally unique context. But the temporal difference between Aristotle's thought and his own thought and the fact that different states of affairs obtained when Aristotle performed his act of thought do not of course prevent him from thinking exactly the same thought as Aristotle (cf. IH , pp . 286-287). The Subjective-temporal Context of Thought: Thought in its Immediacy

as mental occurrences form no part of the historical agent's process of argument which has an objective , re-enactable thought-content.

Re-enactment: A Study in R .G. Collingwood's Philosophy of History













Heikki Saari

Collingwood makes a fundamental distin ctio n between thought , on the one hand . and feelings , emotions, and sensa ti ons, on the other hand. Th e aim of his distinction is to distinguish the rational elem ents (thoughts) of the human mind from its 'irrational ' element s (feelings, emotions , desires , etc.) (ib id ., p. 23 l ). He is convi nced that onl y the th oughts of hist orical agents are relevant to the historian. For, on hi s account , the ir fee lings. emotions, desires or sensat ions, which fonn the very core of thought in its immediacy . can play no part in history , since they have no expl anatory val ue whatsoever due to their subje cti ve nature: they cann ot be re-enacted (ibid ., p . 297). Acco rding to Co llingwood "(e ]very feeling is both se nsuous and emotional " (PA, p. 22 1; cf. L, § 4 . l.). Thi s mean s th at a feeling qua physical state is a se nsation , but qua su bj ec tive experience an em otion. If. for examp le, I am angry in a particular sit uation , I will have certain sensatio ns of anger at the ph ysical le vel (e.g. tensions in the muscles ). But as a subj ective experien ce my ange r is an emotio n that I can express in a number of di fferen t ways depending , among other things , on the context in whi ch I am angry , or at whom I am angry , etc . As an emo tion my anger lasts only a certain period of time and is then carried away by the stream of consciousness, as Co llingwood puts it (IH , p. 293 ). It is only by perform ing some act of th ought th at I can remember that I was angry at someo ne at that particular mome nt (cf. N L ,~ 5.54 .). Co llingwood does not accept the view that feelings can be id entified with mere physical occurrences in the age nt 's body; rather he stresses that they are also emot ions that we become awa re of in giving expression to our fee lin gs (PA, p. 282). Collingw ood hold s - again st Freud - that "no feelings can be un conscious" (N L, § 5.83. ) by wh ich he seems to mean that one cannot have a feeling without being awa re of having it. Hi s argument is that if all we can know ab out our feelings is derived from our consciousness of them . this implies that "no man can know (and a fortiori no other can know about him) that he has feelings of which he is unconscious" (ibid. , ~ 5.82 .). He also claims that we cann ot have a feeling without actuall y exp ressin g it because "expressing an emoti on is the same thing as becoming consc ious of it " (PA, p. 282) . It may be noted , in passing , that we have to distinguish at least between the fo ll owin g aspects when we are ta lkin g abo ut someone 's being aware of his feelings and emo tions. First , someone may be aware of being in love with a girl without yet expre ssing his love to others or to the object of his love, say, by perfo nning an action that shows his feelings fo r her. Second. the person in question may be aware of the fac t that there are ex pressions of love in hi s thoughts, feelings and co nduct in some parti cular situati on, though he does not intend to exp ress his love to o thers or to her. Third , he may be aware that he in ten -

As noted a moment ago , Co llingwood sometime s tends to confuse the subjective context of thought (thought in its immediacy) with the logical context of thought (thought in it s mediation) . This is at least partly due to the fact that he at tempts to reconcile his general view that since acts of thought have an objec tive content they cannot be identified with any mental acts , with his co ntention that the hi storical agent 's ac t of th ought mu st somehow become th e historian's own subj ective experience when he re -enacts it (cf. ibid. , p. 292) .




Collingwood seems to mean here by the uniqueness of contexts of thought ~ot h the \ temporal and subjective uniqueness, which fonn the ve ry essence of thought in its im- ( mediacy. We may use Collingwood 's own example to illustrate his standp oint. Archimedes discovered hi s idea of spe cific gravity while bathing . The immediacy, or the emotional-sensational (subjective) context of his act of thought , consisted, among other things , of the buoyance of his body in the bath , and of the feeling of excitement he experienced in finding his idea of specific gravity as well as of "the shock of its nove lty , the liberation of perplexing problems , the triumph of achieving a desired result " (ibid. , p . 298). So far so good , for Collingwood is of course right in saying that the hi storian

The immediate, as such , cannot be re-enacted . Co nsequently , those elements in experience whose being is just their immediacy (se nsati ons, feelings , &c. as such) cannot be re-enacted ; not only that , but thought itself can neve r be re-enac ted in its immediacy (ibid. , p. 297).

tionally expresses his love to his beloved , say , by writing a love-letter to her. Fourth , it is also possible that others may be aware of expressions of love in his conduct without his being aware of them . These cases must be kept apart from each other , because they are independent of one another. The fact that the above aspects of being aware of one's feelings and emotions must be taken into consideration suggests that Collingwood has to qualify his thesis that "expressing an emotion is the same thing as becoming co nscious of it " , be cause there are many cases where we may express our emotions without being aware of giving expression to them (see above ). There are admittedly a host of problems conne cted with Collingwood's conception of the nature of feelings , emotions , and sensations and , of th eir relation to thinking . But since feelings , emotions , and sensation s are not relevant to our discussion of the re-enactment doctrine , we need not go into these problems here. Jn contradistinction to our subjective feelings and emotions thought is objective and universal , because the content of our acts of thought is available to anybod y who is capable of understanding our thoughts. We may use Collingwood 's own example to illustrate his view of the objectivity of thought. Assume that a hundred people are walking in the street feeling very co ld and everybody is thinking that the thermometer read s - 22 ° Celsius. He maintains , on co nceptual grounds , that " they are all thinking the same thought: this thought is public to them all" (ibid. , p. 158). Collingwood only reminds us of the conceptual truth that even though each performs his act of thought in his own subjective context , we may nevertheless say that they think exactly the same thought because they are thinking about the same thing. (F or our disc ussion of the identity of thoughts , see pp. 63-84.) But let us return to the subjective context of thought , or thought in its immediacy . Collingwood maintains that "even thought itself, in its immediacy as the unique ac t of \ thought with its unique context in the life of an individual thinker. is not the object of historical knowledge. It cannot be re-enacted " (IH , p . 303). Furthennore , he hol ds that:

Re-enactment: A Study in R.G. Co llingwood 's Philosophy of History


Heikki Saari


6 7

See van de r Du ssen 198 1, p . 146. Ibid., p . 14 9.

Cf. Walsh 1967, p . 58.

To thin k at all about th at pas t ac ti vit of th . . for the ac t of thinking can be studie~ o l ought , I mu st revive It in my own mind , n y as an ac t. But what is so re vived is no t

. The seco nd , most plausible interpretati on of Collin ' .. mmd s us of th e fact that the h . t . gwood s pos1t1on is that he re. IS onan can re -enac t th h · · , I his own subjec ti ve act of th ought ( f lH e Is tonca l age nt s thought only in ' histo ri an coul d no t know that 't le! . . ' pp . 289 , 292 and 303 ). For o therwi se th e " I rea y is the age nt 's tho ht C0 11 · we mu st be able not on ly t ug · mgwood st resses th at o re-e nac t another's though b thought we are re-enac ting is his" (ib'd 289 t, ut also to kn ow that the ~ not a mere sensation or feeling. It i~ ~~~~led ~.~~d. he adds that "an ac t of thought that: g (ibid ., P· 287 ). Collingwood remarks

We may , and mu st , recognise that the histo . . heat with whi ch the charac ters i h . . nan is un abl e to share th e emoti onal that his emoti onal heat attach n is ~ arra t1 ve did the things narra ted of them and di scoveries made and hi stori cal pees ol n Yt. to fea ts of7 historical research hi st; ri cal rp ex1 1es removed . '

Now, it seems th at we can interpret Collin w d, . . ent ways. The fi rs t alte rn ative is that h bg oo s standpom t m at leas t two di ffe r. e means y his conte t' th h . . n ion at t e h1ston an has to study an hi storical agent 's act of th gh . . . . ou t rn its subJ·ect' ·t h h occurrence , i.e. that he m t h , . IVI y, t at e studies 1t as a ment al us some ow re-expenen , ' ' I' ' experience, which presupposes that h h . ce or re- ive the agent 's subjec ti ve this interpretati on is not ve . .e :_mp at et1cally enters into hi s mental life .s But ry convmcmg becaus ·t · 1 1 . wood's view th at only the co nte t f f e I is c ear y mcomp atibl e with Colling. n. o acts o thought b can e re -en ac ted by the histori an implying that ac ts -of thought qua men ta! occurrenc d . ' analysis. 6 In oth er wo rds sin tl es ro p out as in esse ntial fro m hi s , , ce 1e re-e nac tment of th h . . as an argument does not presuppose tl t h h . . e isto nca 1 age nt 's ac t of thought 1a t e 1sto nan deal ·h I a mental occurrence the re is si I . s wit t 1e age nt's thought as . . ' mp y no nee d fo rh1 mtot t ' 1. , . m its subjectivi ty in this se nse C0 11 ' . ry o re- ive hi s ac t of thought . · mgwood himse lf po· t h· m an arti cl e ( 1923) th at : m s to t is fac t when he remarks

has to be studied as it ac tually exists [ . . .] a . t1 v1ty (th ough no t mere subjec ti vity ) o , s an ac t. And because this ac t is subjecsubj ec tive bein g [.. .] by the thinker w~ ex penence. It can be studi ed only in it s 292 ). ose act1VI ty or experi ence it is (ibid ., p.

cann ot and need not re-enac t the subjec tive eleme . . But there is neve rtheless a certain b. . . nts In Archim edes' ac t of thought. am 1gu1ty Inherent m hi s positi on , fo r he claims that an act of thought

44 45


Cf . Donagan who sugge sts that Co llingwood sees his task prim arily as a conceptual o ne "exploring what Wittgenstein w ould have called th e 'grammar ' of ' think a thought"' (19 56 , p . 204 ).

According to Collingwood , this view is based on the fal se assumption that acts of thought are merely part of the agent 's subjective , immediate experience (thought in it s immediacy). For once it is realized that ac ts of thought have an objective , re-enactable conte nt , he says , it is clear that "the ac t of thought in becoming subje ctive does not cease to be objective" (ibid ., p . 292; cf. ibid ., p . 174 ). He adds that " [t Jo say that an act of thought cannot be objective is to say that it cannot be known " (ibid ., p. 291 ; see also ibid ., pp. 297 · 298 ). Collingwood is not here putting fo rward any philosophical hypothe ses ab out the 'essence ' of thinking, for he is just making remarks on the grammar of such concepts as 'to think a thought ' and 'to think the same thought as someone else'. 8 He only reminds us of the fact that , as we actu ally use our con cepts in talking about thinking a thought , or the same thought as someone else , we presuppose that the content of the hi storical agent's act of thought does not be come subjective when the historian re -enac ts it in hi s own subjective act of thought. To conclude , we might say that Collingwood is right in maintaining , on conceptual grounds , that the hi sto rian can re -enac t (re-think) the historical agent 's thought , be cause the co ntent of the agent 's act of thought is not dependent on the unique subj ectivetemporal context in which he perfo rmed it in the past . He is, in fac t , primarily stru ggling with clarifying the conceptual question of what is conceptually in volved when we talk about thinking a thought , or the same thought as some one else , when he is trying to

the knowledge th at we are re -enacting a past thought , is in the nature of the case impossible; sin ce the thought as re -en acted is now our own , and our knowl edge of it is limited to our own present awareness of it as an element in our own experience (ibid ., p. 289 ; see also ibid ., pp . 290 -292 ).

From this point of view we can easily understand Collingwood's contention that the historical agent 's act of th ought can "never be studied 'objective ly', in the se nse in which 'objectively ' excludes 'subje ctively"' (ibid ., p. 292; cf. ibid ., p . 2 18 ). On this interpretation , we may take him to mean that in so far as the historian is able to go throu gh the same process of argument th rough which Plato arrived at his view, that mere se nsa tion cannot yet be kn owledge , Plato's thought become s his own subj ec tive experience in the sense required (cf. ibid .. pp. 300 -3 01 ). Collingwood emphasizes that the re-enacted past act of thought does not lose its obje ctive content in becoming the historian 's subje ctive experience . He attacks the view that

a mere echo of the old activity, another of the same kind ; it is that same activity taken up again and re-enacted , perhaps in order that , doing it over again under my own critical inspection (ibid ., p. 293 ).

Re-enactment: A Study in R .G. Collingwood 's Philosophy of Histo ry

Heikki Saari

We may still take Collingwood 's own example to illustrate this logical aspect of thought in its mediation. Assume that I read in the Theaetetus Plato's argument against the view that knowledge is mere sensation. Plato 's argument must have grown out of a certain philosophi cal context in which he argued against those who claimed that know-

This implies, consequently, that an act of thought can occur in different contexts without losing its identity, because , he says, "[a]n act is more than a mere unique individual; it is something having a universal character" (ibid., p . 309). We may distinguish , for our purposes, between two different , though related aspects in the logical co ntext , or thought · in its medi at ion . Although Collingwood does not explicitly distinguish these two aspects from each other when discussing his concep ti on of thought in its mediation , it is obvious that his argument presupposes that both these aspects must be taken into consideration. The first , logical aspect of thought in its mediation has to do with the fact that we must actually re-argue the agent 's argument for ourselves step by step , drawing the same co nclusions from the premises , checking whether his conclusions did follow from the premises , etc., in order to understand his argument and its implications. Thus , if we want to re -enact, say, Descartes ' argument 'Cogito , ergo sum', we have to re-argue it step by step and reconstruct the premises from which his argument followed as an answer to a specific epistemological question which he posed for himself, draw the same conclusions which he drew from the premises and subject them to critical scrutiny , etc . In brief, we go through all the logically necessary steps in his argument when we re-argue it , for otherwise we could not be said to think the same thought (argument) as he. And because we can re-argue Descartes ' argument without having to accept it, or the presuppositions on which it is based , we may call into question his claim that the proposition 'Cogito , ergo sum' expresses a necessary truth (cf. ibid ., pp . 301-302).

The peculiarity of thought is that , in addition to occurring here and now in this context, it can sustain itself through a change of context and revive in a different one (IH , p. 297).

As noted in the foregoing section, by thought in its mediation Collingwood means that the content of an historical agent's act of thought as an argument is not dependent on the unique subjective-temporal context in which he once performed it in the past. He has this logical context of thought (thought in its mediation) in mind when he says that:

3.1.1 .3. The Logical Context of Thought: Thought in its Mediation

elucidate the subjective and objective aspects of acts of thought. However , he does not fully succeed in clarifying the nature of thought in its immediacy . This is at least partly due to the fact th at he sometimes tends to confuse the conceptual question of what conceptual preconditions must be satisfied for us to be able to talk about re-thinking past thoughts with the question of what acts of thought really are 'in their subjectivity'.








Cf. Skagestad 1977, P. 3 3. Van d er Dusse n 1981 , p . 14 6.

The second aspect of the logical con text of thought , or thought in its med.iation. has to do with language and the tradition of thought from which the presuppos1t1 on~ of the historical agent 's thought (argument) get their sense. It is important to noti1ce t.1at much more is involved in re-enacting the histo ri cal agent 's thought than mere y go111g through his argument , or perfo rming a subjective act of thought in which th e h1stona~ re-thinks it. Although Collingwood is vaguely aware of this. he does not stress enoug the importance of language and a common cultural background (comm on customs ,

thought which we .can without difficulty \~efi~ea ts~~: c:~~l u;iao:1snrr:~r t~e same cl usions from ce rtam data , ahn.d \bve tcap d;a are to write the history of Hellenistic data Not only can we do t is u I w . A h d 's . .ce we m ust do i·t , and must do it knowing that we are re pea tmg re ime es scien . d .10 th ought in our ow n mm

When Archimedes discovered the idea of specific gravity he /erformed

:~nt~: s~me



led e is mere sensation. As subjective experiences, in their immediacy ' both Plato.'s tho:ght and mine are in a sense different , being different acts of thought that occur Ill subje cti ve-temporal contexts. But , as Collingwood nghtly pomts out. we can uniqueh 1 that "in their mediation they are the same " (ibid., p. 301 ). On his acnevert e ess say . d · yone t "the ar ument as it can be developed either in Pl ato's m111 or m111e or an . coun ' . cal l though t in its mediation " (ibid ., p . 301). Hen ce. Pla to's tho ught m else 's, 1s . . b. b body who 1s its mediation (in it s logi cal conte xt) is objective and pu he ecause any. . Wh n 1 ab le to understand his argument can re ·argue it for himself and check its validity.. eh. t Plato's argument against the view that knowledge is merely se nsation, t IS re-enacthat if 1 reconstruct hi s argument Ill . my own m111 · d "by re -arguing it with and for means . Pl ' m self the process of argument which 1 go through is not a process resemblm g ato s, . Pl a to's"(1.b1·d ., p · 301) ' i.e. ! gothroughexactlythesameprocessofargument 1t. yactua,11 y 1s . k. 9 which Plato went through in developing his argument against the view he was attac Ill~. Having thus re-enacted Plato's thought we can maint.ain, on conceptual groun s, th t I have thought exactly the same thought as he. for Ill then co ntent and logical a . 1y one an d the same thought '. This seems structure our thoughts (arguments) are ce rtam f hto only reminds us o t e boil down to saying , as noted a moment ago , t h at Co11·ngwood I . . t al truth that as we actually use our co nce pts in talking about thmkmg a thought. thought some one else , we presuppose that the logical structure and ts are in no way dependent on the unique subJect1 ve-temporal context f tent o argumen h t ·f I refuted in which we develop them. He makes this clear when he points out t a eve.n I . . ' t "it would still be the same argument and the act of fo ll owmg its logical p Iato s argumen k h int structure would be t h e same ac t " ( IH , pp. 30 1- 302 ). Col lingwood ma es t e same po when he remarks in an unpublished manuscript (192 8 ) that:

Re-enactment: A Study in R .G. Collingwood's Philosophy of History

Heikki Saari



Ibid., p. 149 . Ibid ., pp . 325-326.

With regard to the re-enactment of past thoughts , language is relevant to the objectivity of acts of thought in at least two respects . First , we could say that it is only because historical agents did follow the rules of language that they could perform their a.cts of thought and formulate their arguments at all. What is presupposed in every subjective act of thought is the common rules governing the various uses of the concepts in terms of which the agents formulated their arguments. Thus, Plato could not but formulate his argument against the view he was attacking in terms of the concepts available to him in his own linguistic community. He had to use such epistemological concepts as 'knowledge', 'sensation', 'truth', etc ., as they were actually used in his linguistic community , for otherwise he could not even have made himself understood. From this point o.f view , to claim that Plato's act of thought cannot be re-enacted because it was a subjective mental act is to fail to see that it was only because he did follow the rules governing the different uses of the concepts in terms of which he formulated his argument that he could think his thought at all. We might say that in this sense it is , in the last analysis , the common rules of our language as well as the common tradition of thought that

Folklore .meant something not invente? by original and individual thinkers [ ... ] For [ . . .]1t expressed a corporate expenence m which the eccentricities and errors of individual thought. were cancelled out: it thus achieved a profundity and universahty which no md1v1dual thmker , whatever his genius , could emulate. 12

Collingwood makes the same point when he says that "the universality , the a priori character, which belongs indefeasibly to all thought , is present in history in the form of the predicate of the historical judgement" (IH, p . 196) . What he means by his con ten ti on is that t~ere must be common habits of thought , a common tradition and cultural setting from which an md1V1dual thinker's act of thought acquires its sense: one can think only m language within a common system (tradition) of thought. And this presupposes that the agent has to follow the rules of language and share the presuppositions of the tradition of thought within which he presents his argument for a certain view. Collingwood stresses the importance of tradition in an unpublished manuscript (1936-193 7) in discussmg the notion of folklore when he remarks that:

thought is always and everywhere de jure common property , and is de facto common property wherever people at large have the intelligence to think in common .11 (Cf. IH, p. 309.)

habits of thought, shared beliefs and presuppositions , etc.) for the objectivity , and thus for the re-enactability, of past thoughts. But he has this universal aspect of thought in mind when he remarks in an unpublished manuscript (1928) that




Cf. Hurup

ielsen 19 80 , pp . 235-236.

But what does Collingwood mean by hi s claim that past ac ts of thought have the capacity of surviving ove r the time gap between the past and the present? It is not difficult to see that if he wants to stick to his claim , he is heading fo r difficulties. For. as our discussion showe d, there is simply no need to assume that past acts of thought must survi ve as acts in order to be re-enacted by the historian , since it is only the content of acts of thought that he re-enacts. From this point of view Collingwood's way of talking about the 'survival ' of past acts of th ought is in many re spects problematic , for. as we shall soon see , past thoughts survive only in a very peculiar se nse . And because arguments as such are not dependent on the unique subjective-temp oral context in which they were developed , we do not usually talk about their survival in temporal terms. It is only when we mean that , for instan ce , the ontological argument for the existence of God , or Descartes ' argument 'Cogito , ergo sum' have survived in our Western phil osophical tradi tion that we are talking about the survival of argumen ts . It seems that we can interpret Co llingwood 's 'survival ' the sis in at least two differen t ways. First , he may mean that past acts of thought themselves somehow survive as mental acts th at occurred in the agent 's mind at a certain moment in the past. The second and more plau si ble interpretation is that what Collingwood actually means is that the logical context (thought in its mediation) , since it stands ou tside time. enab les the historian to re-enact past acts of thought in so far as he has at his disposal historical evidence that shows that the agent reall y thought the thought he at tributes to him. 13 Collingw ood's 'survival' thesis is based on the assumption that past acts of thought must survive for the historian to be able to re-enact them. If we take him strictly literally he seems to be suggesting that not only th e content of past acts of thought survives ,

3.1.2. Do Past Acts of Thought Survive?

guarantee the objectivity of acts of thought: we can only think in language within a spe cific tradition of th ough t. Second, language is relevant to re-enactment also in the sense that the historian mu st master the rules governing the different uses of the concepts in terms of which the historical agent formulated hi s argument in ord er to be able to understand it. And this already presupposes that the historian has an understanding of the institutions, customs , rules , traditions , etc. , in which the concepts used in the historical agent's socie ty are deeply roo ted. If the historian is, for in stance, studying Caesar's legal thinking , it is obvious that Caesa r's legal ideas and decisions are understandable only within the syste m of Roman judicial thinking. And understanding Caesar's legal thoughts and decisions presupposes that the historian is familiar with the legal concepts as they were ac tu ally applied by the Romans in different so rt s of legal contexts.

R e-enactm ent. A Study in R.G. Collingwood's Philosophy of History

IS 16


Cf. ibid. , pp . 230-23 1. Ibid., p . 233 . Jbid. , p.2 39.

And Collin gwood adds more fu el to the fire by maintaining that "what is so revived is not a mere echo of the old ac tivity , ano ther of the same kind; it is the same activity taken up again and re- enacted" (ibid .. p. 293) . Furthermore , he contends in an unpubli shed manuscript ( 192 8) that '' (t]he re-enactment of the past in the pre sen t is the past itself so far as that is knowable to the historian ," is and in another unpublished manuscript ( I 939) th at "if history is the re-enactment of the past in the prese nt ( ... ] a past so re-enacted is not a past which has finished happening. It is happening over again " .16 It may suffice here to point out only some of the difficulties inherent in this interpretation of Co llin gwood 's position. First. one of the things his claim raises is the difficult question of the ontological status of acts of thought. If we assume that past acts of thought do survive in a literal sense as mental acts of a ce rtain kind , they mu st evidently exist somew here . But , as we saw earlier. it fo llows from Co llingwood 's reenactment doctrine that ac ts of thought as subjective experience (in their immediacy) can not survive , sin ce they are part of the contin uou s flow of our consciousness. If I perform an act of thought in which I think of the proposi ti on '2+2 == 4 ' my act of thought as a mental occurren ce lasts only a ce rtain period of time , and vanishes thereafter in the flow of my co nscio usness . We seem to arrive at the unhappy conclusion that acts of thought must survive as 'pure' acts, devoid of all subj ecti vity in some kind of Platonic worl d of ideas.

It is the act of thought itself, in its survival and revival at different times and in different perso ns: once in the hi storian 's ow n li fe, once in the li fe of the person whose history he 1s narrating (IH , p. 303 ).

On thi s re ading, he considers th e survival of past acts of thought to be a nece ssary precondition fo r obtaining historical knowledge , be cause historical knowledge is "knowledge of the past in the present , the self-know ledge of the historian 's own mind as the present revival and reliving of past ex peri ences " (IH , p . 175) .14 There is certainly at least some evid ence for interpreting Collingwood in this way, for he claims th at the historian has succeeded in re-enacting the historical agent 's act of thought on ly if the followi ng condition is satisfie d:









Cf. van der Dussen 198 1, p . 14 9 . Gardiner 195 2, pp . 212 -2 17 . Dray 1957b , p . 426. Ibid., p . 4 32. Ibid. , p . 425. Cf. Gardiner 1952, pp. 213 ff .

Gardiner 195 2, p . 2 13 . See al so Gard iner 1958, pp . 4 7-49 and Gardiner 196 7, pp . 275 -276 .

Dray's first argument against Gardiner 's inte rpre tation is that Gardin er fails to see th at Collingwood "regards th oughts neither as entities nor as occurren ces "n In other words, Dray holds th at Gardiner is mistaken in belie ving that fo 1 Co ll ingwood thought s are some sorts of mental ent ities ide ntifi ab le through introspection .23 We agree with Dray , for , as our earlier discussion showed . it is Collingwo od 's view that thought s cannot be identified wit h the mental acts that occur in our mind when we perfom1 acts of thought. He points to this fac t when he remarks in an unpublished manu sc ript (192 8) that "thought

theory of ' re -thinking' is thus not a desc ription of an esoteric encounter by the knower with his object , but the formulation of a conditi on which must be satisfied 21 for understanding to be claimed.

Gardiner's interpretation is understandable, fo r it is easy to interpret Coll ingwood as meaning that thoughts are some sort of immaterial en ti ties that somehow exist independently of human minds. But , as our earlier discussion showed , this interpretation is not comp atible with his conception of thought. 18 On Gardiner 's interpretation , the historian's re-enactment of the historical agent's act of thought presupposes that he revive s it as a timeless 'thought-entity ' that has survived in some kind of Platonic world of ideas by re -thinking it in his ow n mind. 19 This means that if I re-enact , say , Aristotl e's act of thought in which he once thought 'All men seek eudaimonia' I somehow revive his 'o riginal' act of thought , which means that I have a copy of his 'thought-entity' in my mind. But this is clearly incompatible with Collingwood 's standpoint , sin ce he rejects the 'copy-theory' of identity. Thus , this in terpretation cannot be accepted (cf. IH , pp. 285 ff.) (Fo r our discussion of the 'copy-theory' of identity , see pp . 67-73 .) William H. Dray points out , in criti cizing Ga rdin er's interpretation of Coll ingwood 's conception of th ought , that he is not committed to the view which Ga rdiner attribu tes to him. For, Dray says, "Co llingwood does not believe that thoughts are ever directly introspectible in any sense in which we could not also say they are sometimes perceivab le" .20 Accordi ngly , he arrives at the conclusion that Co lli ngwood 's

the postulation of a peculiar enti ty, a peculiar container in which this enti ty may 17 be " housed ", and a peculiar technique by whicil. the "housing" may be achieved.

Pat rick Gardiner is co nvinced that Collingwood 's 'survival' thesis presupposes

but also that the ac ts themselves as mental acts have the capacity to survive in some relevant sense. Collingw ood does say that :

It is not only the obje ct of thought that somehow stands outside time; the act of thought does so too: in this sense at least , that one and the same act .of thought may endure through a lapse of time and re vive after a time when it has bee n in abeyance (IH , p. 28 7; cf. ib id ., pp. 293 and 300 ).

Re-enactment: A Study in R .G. Co llingwood's Philosophy of History

Heikki Saari


Heikki Saari




Van der Du sse n 198 1, p . 14 9. Ibid ., p . 3 11. Cf. ib id ., p . 155.

Here we can make a di stin cti on between past thought s th at have survived in some medium (writ ings , histo ri cal documents, etc.) , and past thought s that have survived without any media , i.e. thoughts that have been transmi tted fr om one generation to another th ro ugh verb al traditi on. Collingwood stre sses that only past thought s belonging to the first catego ry can be re-enac ted , fo r we cannot , by de finit ion, re-e nact thoughts fo r which we have no evid ence (c f. IH , p. 252). 26 He points out that "in re-cre ating these th ought s [the thoughts of Epicuru s, Nietzsche, Archimedes and Mariu s] in our own minds by interpretat ion of that evidence we can know , so fa r as there is any knowledge ,

Co nsciousness lies not merely in passing th ro ugh any speci al sequence or cycle of perceptions, but in passin g through any sequence of them , no matter what , and holding th em toge ther in a prese nt act of mind fo r which the past as such as well as the present , is an objec t. This may be called a survival or revival of the past , if we like , but we mu st remember what a curious thing it is : not a survival of some thing in it s effects, or a revival in something of the same kind , but its survival in itself, alongside of it s effec ts. 25 (Cf. IH . pp . 174 -1 75, 287 -288 and 296.)

is always and everywhere de jure common property , and is de facto common property where ver pe ople at large have the intelligence to think in common " .24 Also Dray's seco nd argument again st Gardiner's interpretation , that is, that the re enac tment doctrin e is to be taken as an attempt to desc ribe certain necessary conditions of historical thinking and kn owing , hold s good, as we shall see later on . It may be added , in passing, th at Collingwoo d in fac t criticizes Dilthey and Simmel for assuming that past thought s onl y survive as immediate , subje ctive experience to be emp athetically re-li ved by the hi storian in his ow n mind , which , in turn , implies that they cannot be re-enacted (IH . pp . 174- 175 ). We might say , in co nclusion , that , if we are right , Gardiner 's interpretation does not turn out to be very convin cing. For wh at Collin gwood rather wi shes to achieve by his 'survival ' thesis is simpl y to remind us of the conceptual truth that , as we actually use our concepts when talkin g about re- thinking past thoughts , we presuppose that the acts of thought of hi sto ri cal agents as arguments are in no way dependent on the unique subjective -temporal conte xt in which the y once developed them in the past . The seco nd , more plausibl e alternative is, then , that what Co llingwood ac tu all y means by his undeni ably somew hat obscure 's urvival' thesis is th at it is only the co ntent of past ac ts of th ough t th at survives in the co ntext of the present thought in the same se nse in which we can say th at , fo r in stance , Plato's and Aristotle's thoughts still survive in the thin king of modern philoso phers. He prob ably refers to this fac t when he note s in an unpublished manu sc ript ( 1933 -1 934) that:





which his id ea of !.ogos derives its sense. Cf. van der Du ssen 198 1, p . 155.

Although we have rath er little scattered ev id ence about Heracleitu s' thinking, we can nevertheless say, in Collingwoo d 's view , th at we re-enac t hi s id ea o f I.ogos in so fa r as we are able to reco nstruc t the prem ises fr om which he arrived at his id ea, as we ll as the philoso phical pre supp os itions from

As to past thoughts that have not survived in any media (and which cannot therefo re be re-enac ted) , it is quite possible that we may thin k the same thought as some unkn own Gree k philosopher, but , having no evidence about hi s thought , we cannot reenact it . Jn this sense pas t thoughts fo r which we have no eviden ce have survived thro ugh the impact they had on people's thinkin g and on the traditi on within whi ch they lived and thought. We can , for example , thin k here of the te achings of the Stoic philosophers whose th oughts survive d not only in their writin gs, but also partly owing to the fact that they taught their ideas to their disciples, who, in turn , transmitted these thoughts further on in the traditi on . From the point of view of the survival of past thoughts, it is not very important whose thoughts the transmitted thoughts originally were , fo r the import ant thin g is th at they survived th ro ugh the impact they had on contemp ora ries. But past thought s fo r whi ch we have no eviden ce may , neverthele ss , play a part in the re -enactment of the hist ori cal agents' th oughts, even if we cannot re-enac t them. We can imagine , at least fo r the sake of argument, th at Plato inco rporated into his own philosophy not onl y Soc rates' id eas but also thoughts of some un known philosophers

Historical knowledge is the knowledge of what mind has done in the past , an d at the same time it is the redoing of this, the perpetuati on of past ac ts in the present . Its objec t is therefo re not a mere object , something outside the mind whi ch kn ows it ; it is an ac tivity of th ought , which can be known only in so fa r as the kn owing mind re -enacts it and knows itself as so doi ng (IH , p . 2 18; cf. ibid ., pp . 2 15, 2 19 and 226).

He remarks that :

that the thoughts we create were theirs" (IH , p. 296 ; cf. ibid ., p . 2 18). This implies that we can re-enact for in stance Hegel's idea of the Weltgeist, or He racleitus' idea of Logos,27 because these thoughts have survived in their writings. In thi s sense the survival of re -enactable past thoughts presupposes that they are expre ssed in some medium through which they are transmitted to the historian . Collingwood states this point cle arly when he says that "historical questi ons, mu st be answe red not by guesswo rk but on historical evidence; any one who answers them must be able to show that hi s answer is 28 . the answer which the evidence demands" ( A, p. 128; cf. also EPH , pp . 98- 102). It is possible that some historical documents may contain thoughts that we do not yet understand , because they have bee n written in an un known langu age , but they are neve rtheless potent ially re-enactable, and they survive in this se nse. But , in Collin gwood's view, pas t thoughts actually survive only in so fa r as the histori an is capable of re-enacting them .

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Heikki Saari

Cf. ibid. , p. 146 .

° C f. ibid. , p. 18 0.



to re-enact .th e past in the pre sent is to re- enact it in a new context which gives it a new quality. This co nt ex t 1s a negation of the past itself. Thus, the hi sto rian of poetry , re ading .Dante , re-enacts the medie val experience which that poem expresses; but while doing so he remains himsel f: he remains a mode m man , not

Collingwood seems to mean by the in capsulati on of past thoughts in the present thought at least two different , th ough closely related things. First , incapsulated thoughts are not the historian's 'own' th ought s, but those of historical agents, which means that the questions to which they were meant to be answers do not 'arise ' for the historian from the presuppositions of his study (A , pp. 113-114).3 ° Collingwood points out that if the hist orian is studying admiral Nelson 's actions in the context of the battle of Trafalgar. his own questi ons do not require the answer 'In honour I won them , in honour I will die with them ', which for 1elso n was an ade quate answer to hi s spe cifi c que stion . But que st ions such as 'What would I have done in Nelso n's place?', 'What did Nelson think about the enemy's plans?', etc .. are the historian 's own que sti ons be cause they arise from the presuppositions of his investigation (cf. A, p. 113 ). It is this aspect of the survival of past thoughts that Collingwood has in mind when he notes in an unpublished manuscript (I 92 8 ) that

a thought whi ch . th ough perfectly alive , fo rms no part of the question-and-an swer complex which co nstitutes what people call 'real' life , the superficial or obvious prese nt , of the mind in question (A , p. 113 ; see also ibid .. pp. 114 and 141-143 ).

Collingwood hold s that past thoughts survive , as it were , 'incapsulated' in the present thought. By an 'incapsulated ' thought he mean s

our first and chief duty to it is read in it the thoughts which those who carved it expre sse d .in their .carvings: to understand how its interlaced patterns , with their sub He design and m ten se feeling , express here as elsewhere in early English and Celtic art a dark and brooding consciousness of eternity (BC , p. 2).

whom he does not mention. This means that when we re-enact Plato 's thoughts we may think exactly the same thought as those unknown philosophers whose ideas Plato incorporated into his own philosophy . But having no evidence for identifying their thought s in Plato 's philosophy , we could not re-enact them , because "we must be able not only to re-enact another's thought but also to know that the thought we are re-enacting is his" (IH , p. 289; cf. ibid. , p. 313 ). 29 On the other hand , Collingwood admits that there are also cases where it is possible to re-enact anonymous thoughts in so far as we have evidence for them. In an article, in discussing the monument of the Bewcastle Cross , he states that

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Hurup Nielse n 1980 , p. 232 . Cf. van der Dussen 1981, pp. 178 and 3 11 .

On Collingwood 's view , history is essentially a dialecti cal process in which thoughts and systems of thought are continuously changing in to something else (cf. EM , pp. 74- 7 5 ; IH , pp. 227 and 248). This means that many earlier thoughts and modes of thought still somehow survive in a modified form in our present thinking . We may think here , for example , of the impact of Roman legal thinking on the development of Western judicial thinking , and the fact that it still survives in a modified form in modern legal thinking. In this respect there is a certain difference between past thoughts that are 'incapsulated' in the sense that we regard them as belonging to history , and past thoughts that still form part of our reality. For example , we do not take seriously the thought that the earth is the centre of the universe even though this was accepted as an absolute presupposition in the Middle Age s. Neither do we accept the idea that teleol ogy is the guiding principle of the whole universe even though this was an absolute presupposition for the Greeks. But the ide a of teleology still undeniably survives in modem hi storical thinking in the view that historical agents' actions can be explained tele ologi cally in terms of their intentions and motives. Collingwood points to this aspect of the survival of past thoughts when he says that

Our political institutions( ... ] have been evolved through a process in the course of which they have incorporated into themselves portions of primitive law , of the Greek city-state , or Roman imperialism, of feudal organisation, and so forth. All these elements have gone to make modem political life what it is (EPH , p. 120: see also IH , p. 226 ). 32

Second , the incapsulation of past thoughts seems to mean for Collingwood also that they are , as it were , contained in a modified form in the present thought roughly in the same sense in which he holds in Speculum Mentis that every prior mode of thought in the dialectical development of the human spirit is contained in the next mode of experience, which is its negation (SM , pp . 154-162 and 293 ff.). The main idea behind this view is that , for instance , the idea of democracy still lives in the present political thought , even if it has gone through a number of modifications throughout the centuries. This means that the earlier conceptions of democracy have. as it were , left their traces in our modem conception of democracy , at least in the sense that we can understand it only in relation to the historical development of the co ncept of democracy as it has been used in the political language of Western societies at different historical times. It is in this sense that we can easily understand Collingwood 's claim that:

a medieval: and this means that the medievalism of Dante , while genuinely revived and re-experienced within his mind , is accompanied by a whole world of fundamentally non-medieval habits and ideas. which balance it and hold it back in check and prevent it from ever occupying the whole field of vision. 31

Re-enactment: A Study in R.G. Collingwood 's Philosophy of History

not only do we understand Greek mathematics easily enough ( ... ] It is not the dead past of a mathematical thought once entertained by persons whose names and dates we can give , it is the living past of our own present mathematical inquiries [ .. .] Because the historical past , unlike the natural past , is a living past, kept alive by the act of historical thinking itself, the historical change from one way of thinking to another is not the death of the first , but its survival integrated in a new context involvi ng the development and criticism of its own ideas (IH , pp. 225226; cf. ibid ., p. 230). 33

Heikki Saari


Cf. ibid ., p . 173.

Before going further in o ur analysis it may be in structive to consider briefly Collingwood 's view of re-enactment as reflective and critical thought. Collingwood asserts that historical thinking is by its very nature refle ctive and actually critical thinking , this

3.2.1. Introduction

3.2. Re-enactment as Critical Re-thinking of Past Thoughts

It is easy to see, against this background , that Collingwood's 'survival' thesis arises from his failure to keep apart the logical context of thought from the subjective-temporal context. For it is misleading to talk about the survival of past acts of thought as acts in temporal terms , because acts of thought as mental acts cannot survive: we do not talk about acts of thought as temporally and numerically distinguishable entities. We may , therefore , conclude that onl y the content of past acts of thought may survive in a peculiar se nse in the context of present thoughts , as our discussion showed.

To sum up , we might say that Collingwood's view that we must distinguish the objective content of acts of thought from acts of thought as mental occurrences , and that the content of acts of thought is not dependent on the unique subjective-temporal co ntext in which age nts perform them, is acceptable. For it is part of how we actually use our concepts in talking about thinking a thought , or the same thought as someone else, that we do not mean acts of thought qua mental occurrences in the thinker 's mind , but the content of acts of thought which is accessible to anybody who is able to understand those thoughts. However , Collingwood can be criticized for not keeping clearly apart the question about the 'essence' of acts of thought from the concep tual question concerning how we actually u se our concepts in talking about re-thinking past thoughts . This leads him into difficulties in his discussion of the relation between the subjective an d objective aspects of acts of thought. Although Collingwood does not make it clear enough to himself and to his readers , his primary interest is rather in clarifying the grammar of such concepts as 'to know what someone has thought in the past', 'to understand a past thought', 'to think the same thought as someone else', etc .

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We stress that the term s 'actually critical thinking', 'potentiall y critical thinking' and 'critical scru tiny' are our term s, for Collingwood does not u se them in his writings. We shall not in this context take up the question concerning historical agents' critical thinking, because the aim of our discussion in this section is only to try to clarify Collingv;ood's view that historians mu st think critically in re-enacting past thoughts. Cf.vanderDussen1981,pp.108-109. Cf. Dray 1960 , pp . 161-162 . Mink 1969 , p . 165.

Mink's interpretation is not, however , especially convincing for two reasons. First, if Mink is right the(e are unco nscious past acts of thought that the historian cannot re-enact

The difference between "reflective" and nonreflective activity, it is clear , is not that between ratiocinative and practical thought but that between conscious and unconscious thought , the former of which can be re-enacted , the latter of which cannot. 37

But what does Collingwood mean by his contention that historical thought is reflective and critical thinking? Collingwood in fact equates thinking with reflection when he claims that "thought is not mere immediate experience but always reflection or selfknowledge , the knowledge of oneself as living in these activities" (ibid ., p. 297; see also ibid ., pp. 175, 287 and 307). 35 He says that "reflection is thinking about the act of thinking , and [ ... ] all historical thinking is of that kind " (ibid ., p. 307). And he adds that historical knowledge "has for its proper object thought: not things thought about, but the act of thinking itself" (IH, p . 305). 36 Mink claims that Collingwood does make a distinction between reflective and nonreflective thought. He contends that:

in which we know what it is that we are trying to do , so that when it is done we know that it is done by seeing that it has conformed to the standard or criterion which was our initial conception of it. It is therefore an act which we are enabled to perform by knowing in advance how to perform it (ibid ., p . 308; cf. ibid ., p. 309).

opposing it to everyday thinking that is reflective but often only potentially critical (cf. IH , pp. 215-216 and 297). 34 The concept of critical reflection plays an important role in the re-enactment of past thoughts at least for two reasons . First, the historian has to think critically in order to be able to correct whatever errors or faults he finds in the historical agent's arguments or appraisal of the facts of his situation when he re-argues them for himself step by step. And because re-enactment is self-critical, the historian must subject his own arguments and interpretation of the evidence to critical scrutiny as well. Second , the concept of critical reflection is relevant to re-enactment also because Collingwood contends that only refle ctive activities "can become the subject-matter of history " (ibid ., p. 309). By the notion of 'reflective activity' he means an activity

Re-enactment: A Study in R .G. Collingwood's Philosophy of History

Heikki Saari

We can now define the relation between critical and reflective thought by saying that all critical thinking is reflective thinking , while all reflective thinking in the above sense need not be (actually) critical thinking. ('Critical thinking' in the sense that we attempt to discern and correct possible errors in our own reasoning or in other people 's arguments.) We might say that historical thinking is actual critical reflection in which the historian subjects the historical agent's act of thought , or his own reasoning, to critical scrutiny correcting whatever errors he is able to find in the agent's or in his own arguments (cf. ibid ., p. 289). Although Collingwood maintains that all thinking is critical thinking , he seems to concede - at least implicitly - that we do not always think critically in the sense that we actually subject our own act of thought or someone else's argument to critical scrutiny (cf. ibid ., pp. 216 and 296). He points out, for example , that scissors-and-paste historians do not think critically in his sense, because they do not subject statements made by their historical authorities to critical scrutiny. Collingwood notes that for scissors-and-paste historians 'historical criticism' consists in an at tempt to answer the question:

In any case , the important thing is that Collingwood 's view that all thinking is reflection implies that all acts of thought are by definition reflective and , therefore. conscious. This , in tum , suggests that Mink's interpretation is incorrect.

unable to find out that he has misunderstood some basic facts of his own life and is thus deceiving himself.

Second , it follows from Collingwood's definition of the terms 'thought' and 'reflection' that he cannot make a distinction between reflective and non-reflective thinking , since all thinking is by definition reflective thinking (ibid., p. 297 ). This means that he uses the term 'reflection' in a sense that is wider than its usual sense. for there are cases where we do talk about unreflective thinking and acting . We may say , for instance, that someone is thinking unreflectively , if he is unable to perceive that he is deceiving himself. In Collingwood 's sense of 'reflection ' he is thinking reflectively even if he never tries to gain a deeper understanding of his own life through critical self-reflection . But in the usual sense of 'reflection' we blame him for thinking unreflectively just because he is

because the agents were not aware of performing those acts of thought. But, as our earlier discussion showed , Collingwood assumes that thoughts are always conscious, because we cannot think out, say, a solution to a mathematical problem, or re-think Descartes' thought 'Cogito, ergo sum' without being aware of performing an act of thought in which we think them. Contrary to what Mink believes it is Collingwood 's view that historical agents cannot perform unconscious acts of thought , because thought is "always reflection or self-knowledge" (IH, p . 297; cf. ibid., pp. 300-301 and 308309; NL,§ 4.3. and 4.31.) . (For our earlier discussion ofCollingwood's view of the subjective and objective aspects of acts of thought, see pp. 3 7-49 .) This implies that if the historian fails to re-enact a past act of thought it is not because the act of thought is an unconscious one, an instance of an unreflective thought-activity , but rather because he cannot make sense of it (cf. !H , pp . 218-219).

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the same sense in which the historian critically goes through their process of argument step by step . This is what we mean by saying that scientific (and philosophical) thinking

critical (cf. EM, p . 110) . Seco nd , someone 's reflection on his own argument, or on someone el se's argument may remain o nly potentially critical because he fails to discover that it is based on false premises. I may subject some philosopher 's highly sophisticated argument to critical scrutiny without noticing that his argument is invalid , because l do not have the necessary philoso phical competence , or , alternatively , because I do not know enough about the subject in order to be in a position to criticize his argument. The distin ction between actual and poten tial critical thinking is relevant to reenactment at least in the sense that the histo rian must actually think critically in o rder to be able to re-enact past thoughts. Or as Co llingwood himself puts it: the historian " not only re-enacts past thought , he re-enacts it in the co ntext of his own knowledge and therefore , in re-enacting it , criticizes it , forms his own judgement of its value , corrects whatever errors he can discern in it" (IH, p. 215). He presupposes that potentially critical thinking may become actually critical thinking when he maintains that " [a]ll thinking is critical thinking; the thought which re-enacts past toughts , therefore , criticizes them in re-enacting them " ( IH , p. 2 16; cf. EM , pp. 107- 110). We may interpret Collingwood as meaning that while historical thinking must actually be critical reflection in the above sense , we cannot require that historical agents actually subjected their own reasoning and interpretation of the facts of the situation in which they acted to critical scrutiny in

In those cases in which agents do not try to criticize their own thinking or other agents' reasoning we might talk about uncritical thinking th~t is only potentially critical thinking. But it becomes actual critical thinking if we subject our uncritical statement , or someone else's argument , to critical scrutiny at a later moment. We may , for instance, at first quite uncritically acce pt someone 's argument for his view as conclusive, but reject it later on because we come to see - after having subjected his argument to critical sc rutiny - that it is in fact invalid for the reason that it is based on false premises. However, there is a certain ambiguity involved in the view that critical thinking may be actual or potential. If the agent's potentially critical thinking does not become actual critical thinking this may be due to many different things. First , someone's thinking on some particular subject may remain only potentially critical for the reason that he does not even try to subject his ow n act of thought , or someone else's argument , to critical scrutiny. An instance of this would be the case of a believer who reflects upon the apparent contradiction between the Story of the Creation in the Bible and the Theory of Evolution without yet trying to call into question the authority of the Bible in this matter. This implies that his thinking on the conflict at hand remains only potentially

Shall we incorporate this statement in our own narrative or not? The methods of historical criticism are intended to solve this problem in one or other of two ways: affirmatively or negatively. In the first case , the excerpt is passed as fit for the scrap-book; in the second , it is consigned to the waste-paper basket (ibid., p. 259).

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Heikki Saari


Cf. Rotenstreich (1976 , p. 47) and Dray (1960, pp . 16 1-16 2) who also refer to this di stin ction.

. The historian has to think self-critical ly in order to be ab le to find ou t the crucial pomts at which his interpretation of the historical documents went wrong , or what relevant questions _he has not perhaps posed for himse lf about the objec t of his study , or why some of his hypotheses do not acco rd with the hi storical facts he es tablishes in the course of his investigation. If the hist orian re-enacts fo r instance Caesar's thought

. _By the logical aspect of critical scrutiny we mean that the historian must try to prnpomt and _co rrec t whatever logical errors he disce rn s in his own arguments , hypotheses or pre_suppos1t1ons. He must check that his conclu sions do fo llow from the premises , that his hypotheses are not inconsistent or contradictory , and th at contradictory sta tement s can not be dedu~ed fro m his theory concerning the historical eve nt under study , etc. The_second , empirical aspect of criti cal sc rutiny in re-enac tment cove rs such things as che cking whether one's hypotheses are suffi ciently supported by the available evidence checking whether one 's interpretation of the historical documents is co rrect , etc. Th: rules of logic do not help the his torian to decide this.

The notion of 'critical scrutiny ' in the context of re-enacting past thoughts has at least two _aspects. (Collingw ood does not explicitly distinguish between these two aspects m the cntical scrutiny of thoughts (arguments) , but they are presupposed in his di scuss10n of re-enactment as critical re-thinking of past thoughts .)

On Collingwood 's view , we can distinguish between a self-critical and an 'other'-critical aspect Jn the historian's re-e nac tment of past thoughts (IH , p . 21_,