Collingwoodian toolbox

Philosopher Robin G. Collingwood (1889-1943) proposes a powerful conceptual system that, according to him, forms the basis of Metaphysics. He proposes the following "tools":
  • Questions & Answers: 'assertions are only answers to questions... Information, when it is not ground to a keen edge of inquiry, is not knowledge... Information may be the body of knowledge, but questioning is its soul'. Speculum Mentis, 76-80. The 'unit of though' is not the proposition. This "was a mistake due to an early partnership between the logic and grammar" Autob. 34...  the logicians took it from the grammarian's 'sentence'. The unit of thought is really a question & answer compound "a body of knowledge consists not of 'propositions,' 'statements,' 'judgments,' or whatever name logicians use in order to designate assertive acts of thought ... but of these together with the questions they are meant to answer; and that a logic in which the answers are attended to and the questions neglected is a false logic." Autob., 30-31.
  • Relative presuppositions: these are propositions, true-or-false, and are answers to questions (in the chain of the 'unit of though'). By going back, from answers to questions, one eventually arrives at the absolute presuppositions.
  • Absolute presuppositions: can't be true or false. They're also called by R.G.C.: beliefs, articles of faith, fundamental convictions, matter of faith, and (first principles) by some paper that I read. As a predecessor idea, Arnauld (1674, p. 261) (or Pascal actually) states that "fidem rationem praessuponere" (faith presupposes reason).
  • Constellation of absolute presuppositions: An absolute presupposition might be actually made up by a constellation of smaller absolute presuppositions. The relationship in which these stand to each other is revealed by a degree of strain, as it were. 
  • Strain: e.g. in Kant's system of causation, absolute presuppositions which turn out to be logically incompatible, subject the entire constellation to severe strain, and the "the entire fabric of the science built upon a dangerously unstable condition." Metaphysics, 332. 
    • "People are not ordinarily aware of their absolute presuppositions..., and are not, therefore, thus aware of changes in them; such a change, therefore, cannot be a matter of choice. Nor is there anything superficial or frivolous about it....Why, asks my friend, do such changes happen? Briefly, because the absolute presuppositions of any given society, at any given phase of its history, form a structure which is subject to 'strains' of greater or less intensity, which are 'taken up' i various ways, but never annihilated. If the strains are too great, the structure collapses and is replaced by another, which will be a modification of the old with the destructive strain removed; a modification not consciously devised but created by a process of unconscious thought." Metaph. 48.
  • Logical efficacy: the power of causing questions to arise, i.e. logically following from question. Logical efficacy does not depend on a supposition being true but only on its being supposed. 
  • Metaphysical rubric: "In such and such a phase of scientific thought it is (or was) absolutely presupposed that . . .”

Collingwood, R. (1940), An Essay on Metaphysics. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Collingwood, R. (1939), An Autobiography. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Connelly, J., (2003) Metaphysics, Method And Politics: The Political Philosophy of R.G. Collingwood. Imprint Academic.

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