History Man: The Life of R G Collingwood by Fred Inglis - review by Jonathan Derbyshire

Jonathan Derbyshire

The Questioning Life

History Man: The Life of R G Collingwood


Princeton University Press 385pp £27.95 order from our bookshop

Gilbert Ryle, the grey eminence of Oxford philosophy during its heyday in the 1950s, used to say that the correct way to read the great philosophers of the past was to treat their work as if it had appeared in the previous month's edition of the journal Mind. Read in this fashion, Plato's Parmenides, for example, turns out to have been an attempt at a theory of types of the sort perfected two millennia later by Bertrand Russell. And lurking in the ‘transcendental idealist’ undergrowth of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is a modest little essay in what Ryle's colleague Peter Strawson called ‘descriptive metaphysics’.

The widespread acceptance of this method of ‘rationally reconstructing’ philosophical classics so as to make them speak to contemporary concerns – often at considerable cost to the internal coherence of the works concerned – completed a process described by the late Bernard Williams as the ‘complete obliteration …

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