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Philosophy Metaphysics

Collingwoods and the Reform of Metaphysics

A Study in the Philosopy of Mind

by (author) Lionel Rubinoff

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Dec 1970
Metaphysics, Mind & Body, Humanism
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    Publish Date
    Dec 1970
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Most of Colingwood's critics agree that his thought is plagued by radical discontinuities. In particular they believe that, sometime between 1936 and 1939, he underwent a conversion from 'idealism' to 'radical historicism' -- represented by an unpublished but widely publicized declaration in 1939 that 'philosophy as a separate discipline is liquidated by being converted into history.'


Against this Professor Rubinoff argues that Collingwood's later thought is a dialectical outcome of his early thought, and that the rapprochement between the various forms of knowledge (philosophy, history, science, religion, and art) which it had been Collingwood's intention to achieve in his early works is not betrayed but fulfilled in his writings after 1936. He thus provides a new conceptual framework which views the whole of Collingwood's system, and in particular, his 'Reform of Metaphysics,' as an expression of the programme laid out in Speculum Mentis (1924). Colingwood's writings are represented; in accordance with his own conception of a philosophical system, as a dialectical 'scale of forms,' a scale which has its origin in the structure of consciousness, or mind, and which it its very conception admits of differences and tensions as well as of continuities. Once viewed through this new conceptual framework the apparent discrepancies emerge as systematic differences, having their origin in the very dialectical growth of philosophy as Collingwood himself conceived it.


The controversy over Collingwood's alleged conversion is further resolved by presenting his thought as a species of 'transcendental' historicism. This provides a basis for a reunification of the various forms of knowledge, action, and being. The 'reform of metaphysics' is thus an attempt to comprehend the transcendental structure of reality which manifests itself in such diverse and historically changing modes of expression as art, religion, science, and history, each of which is itself a product of continuous historical development.


The result is a concept of philosophical method as a dialectic of questioning and explicating presuppositions rather than as a methodology for the validation or verification of propositions. Collingwood's philosophy of mind is shown to derive from a transcendental metaphysic which defines truth and reality as a dialectically creative experience -- an experience which is constituted entirely within the life of mind, and which is encountered, not in propositions, but in the very activity of questioning itself. The goal of philosophy, thus, lies not so much in the discovery of answers as in the raising of new questions. This in turn occasions the possibility for distinctively new experiences of reality, and expressions of truth, and forces the dialectical development of mind toward higher and higher levels of self-realization.

About the author

LIONEL RUBINOFF studied at Queen's University (BA 1956) and the University of Toronto (MA 1957, PH D 1964). Since 1960 he has been teaching at York University and is at present professor of social science and philosophy. He is the author of Faith and Reason, an edition of Collingwood's papers in the philosophy of religion, and The Pornography of Power: A Study in the Phenomenology of Evil.

Lionel Rubinoff's profile page