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The “Objects” Of Historical Knowledge

  • Patrick Gardiner (a1)

In this article I want to consider a short passage from R. G. Collingwood's The Idea of History. I have chosen the passage in question both because it seems to me, for reasons which will become clear later, to contain the kernel of much that Collingwood himself wished to say on the subject of historical knowledge, and also because it implies a still widely held (and, I shall maintain, incorrect) conception of the nature of such knowledge.

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page 214 note 1 Compare the case of statements about the past. It is a feature of such statements that they exclude the possibility of observing, at the times when they are made, the situations they record. This, however, is not a “limitation” upon them, but part of their function.

page 215 note 1 The Idea of History, p. 296.

page 216 note 1 The proposition that I always know better than anyone else what I want, intend, etc., is, of course, dubious, in its ordinary sense. Here, however, it is treated, not as a statement of fact, but as analytic.

page 217 note 1 The Concept of Mind(pp. 51–60) a book to which I am greatly indebted.

page 218 note 1 Appeals of this kind frequently find their way into moral and legal arguments. Thus Yevgeny Pavlovitch in The Idiotsays: “It reminds me of the celebrated defence made recently by a lawyer who, bringing forward in justification the poverty of his client as an excuse for his having murdered and robbed six people at once, suddenly finished up with something like this: ‘It was natural,’ said he, ‘that in my client's poverty the idea of murdering six people should have occurred to him; and to whom indeed would it not have occurred in his position ?’ Something of that sort, very amusing....” In moral questions the allocation of blame seems frequently to be a function of our notunderstanding-or, perhaps, of our understanding too well.

page 219 note 1 I do not want to suggest that noline can be drawn but only that the line has been drawn in the wrong place and in the wrong way.

page 220 note 1 One of the results of analysis would be to bring out the differences between types of interpretation-distinctions which Collingwood's theory unwarrantably and tendentiously obscures by bundling together various ways of accounting for human behaviour under the umbrella word “thoughts.” This is unwarrantable because it is manifest that interpretations of the kind considered do not always or only entail the existence or possibility of verbal formulation by the agent of why he is doing what he is doing: it is tendentious because it is easier with the model of thinking, which is frequently although not necessarily a “private” process, in mind to accept the “inside-outside” picture and all its queer implications.

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  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
  • URL: /core/journals/philosophy
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