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On Collingwood's Philosophy of History

Author(s): Leo Strauss


Reviewed work(s):
Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Jun., 1952), pp. 559-586
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The

Review

of Metaphysics,

Vol.

V, No.

4,

June

1952.

Studies

Critical

ON COLLINGWOOD'S

PHILOSOPHY

OF HISTORY

I
R.

G.

The
Idea of History
(Clarendon
Collingwood's
an
in
"is
the
of history." Philos
1946)
essay
philosophy
understood
it, is of very recent
ophy of history, as Collingwood
a
as
to
It
rise
the
of
"scientific
origin.
emerged
sequel
history"
in the latter part of the nineteenth
which
took place
century
is the highest
If one assumes
that "scientific
(254).
history"
or final form of man's concern with his past, the understanding
Press,

or epistemology
of
does,
interest. And
if the older
history, may become of philosophic
or traditional
cannot make
branches
of philosophy
intelligible
or solve the problems
the "new historical
"created
technique"
the existence
historical
of organized
and
by
systematized
"the traditional philosophies
research";
if, in other words,
carry
of what

the

"scientific

historian"

is impos
that historical
implication
knowledge
a
of history
becomes
of necessity
epistemology
concern or a philosophic
But philosophy
philosophic
discipline.
of history must be more
In the
than epistemology
of history.
first place, epistemology
of history is likely to be of vital concern

with

them

sible"

only

the

(5-6),

to

certain

technicians,

and

not

to men

as men.

Above

all,

about historical
about
the
thought
thought must be thought
of history
object of historical
thought as well. Hence
philosophy
must be both epistemology
of history and metaphysics
of history
of history comes then first to sight as an
(3, 184). Philosophy
to the traditional
of philosophy.
addition
branches
But philos
ophy hardly permits of mere additions.
Certainly
philosophy
a mere addition:
of history
philosophy
"a
conceived
from an
complete
necessarily
philosophy
on
of
view"
For
historical
the
which
(7, 147).
point
discovery
concerns
is
of
based
the
character
of all
philosophy
history
an
new
to
it
human
leads
therefore
under
thought;
entirely
In other words,
itwas always admitted
standing of philosophy.
is the question
theme of philosophy
that the central
of what
of history

cannot

be

entails

[559]

560

Leo Strauss

man

is the knowledge
of what men have
is, and that history
that man is what he can do,
done; but now it has been realized
and "the only clue to what man can do" is what he has done
science of human nature or of
"the so-called
(10); therefore,
itself into history"
the human mind resolves
Philos
(220, 209).
as
is
with
of
identical
which
has
such,
ophy
history
philosophy
a
as
historical:
become
disci
separate
radically
"philosophy

into history"
(x).
by being converted
was
his
from elabo
death
prevented
by
Collingwood
in the full sense of the term.
of history
rating his philosophy
no
more
than to attempt "a philo
that he could do
He believed
as a special
sophic inquiry into the nature of history
regarded
pline

is liquidated

with a special type of object"


(7).
type or form of knowledge
sense admittedly
in the narrower
of history
Since philosophy
in the comprehensive
to philosophy
of history
sense,
points
seem that Collingwood
it might
the
postponed
unjustifiably
issue. But it is perhaps
fairer to
discussion
of the fundamental
sense
in the comprehensive
of history
say that philosophy
or
narrower
in
the
of
sense,
presupposes
philosophy
history
the sound
and history presupposes
that the fusion of philosophy
ness or adequacy
if
the
under
of "scientific
historical
history":
or
not
is
five
of
last
the
four
generations
decisively
standing
in
to the historical
that was
superior
possible
understanding
into history
of philosophy
loses its most
the past, the conversion
convincing,

or

at

least

its most

persuasive,

justification.

a thing within
the compass
being
is the cooperative
effort of a very
of everyone"
large
is directed
which
toward the acqui
number of contemporaries
as "ideally"
sition of such knowledge
forms part of "a universal
Scientific

history,
(320),

"now

or of knowledge
of "the human
history"
it is
It is a theoretical
(27, 209).
pursuit;
no
concern
other
desire for truth" and by
tude of the scientific
historian,
however,
tator. Knowledge
of what men have done

past in its entirety"


"actuated
by a sheer
The atti
(60-61).
is not that of a spec

is knowledge
of what
is the history
"All history
of thought"
thought:
is thought about thought.
Scientific
Past
(215, 304).
history
as
cannot
known
such
be
except
thought
by being re-thought,
or re-lived, or re-produced
or re-enacted,
For
(97, 115, 218).
or
the scientific
the past is not something
historian,
foreign,
the human past is living in his mind,
dead, or outside his mind:

men

have

s Philosophy

On Collingwood

561

of History

that the entire past


though living as past. This does not mean
can be re-enacted
there must be
scientific
historian;
every
by
a kind of sympathy
between
the historian's
and his
thought
in
to
order
be
"the
and
historian's
alive,
object;
truly
thought
must spring from the organic unity of his total experience,
and
as well
its practical
be a function of his entire personality
with
as

is crit
interests"
Since "all thinking
(305).
to the object of thought,
and not a mere surrender
is identical with
of earlier
criticism
of
thought

its theoretical

ical thinking"

re-thinking
earlier
from
The
300-01).
(215-16,
point of view
thought
which
the scientific
historian
criticizes
the past is that of the
is then the effort
Scientific
present of his civilization.
history
to see the human past in its entirety
as it appears
from the
of
the
the
of
historian's
civilization
present
standpoint
(60,
Yet
not be self-knowledge
if the
108, 215).
history will
sees the past in the light of the present of his civiliza
historian
tion without
that present
his primary
theme.
The
making
is
scientific
to
historian's
task
therefore
show how the present
or the mind
or that
of his civilization,
of the present-day,
is his civilization,
"determinate
human nature" which
has come
into existence
Since
scientific
169, 175, 181, 226).
(104,
is a peculiarity
of modern Western
it may be
history
thought,
as the effort of present-day Western
described
man to under
stand

his peculiar

humanity

and

thus

to preserve

it or enrich

it.

Since genuine
cism and evaluation
present,

it

is

of the past is necessarily


knowledge
of the past from the point of view

of

the

to

to

the

necessarily

"relative"

the

present,

i.e.,

criti

The
present of a given country or civilization.
point of view
of a given historian
is "valid only for him and people situated
new generation
like him"
must
rewrite
(60, 108).
"Every
in its own way"
in
sense
the
of
history
(248).
Objectivity
universal
then seem to be impossible.
validity would
Colling
wood was not disturbed
to "scientific"
by this danger
history
two reasons
There were
for his confidence.
In the
(cf. 265).
first place, the belief
in progress,
in the superiority
and hence
to the past, still lingered on in his
of the present
thought. He
could therefore believe
that if historical
is relative
knowledge
to the present,
it is relative
to the highest
which
standpoint
has ever existed. To see that the belief in progress
in
survived

562

Leo Strauss

it almost suffices
to look at the Table
thought,
more
to
of his book: he devoted
space to Croce,
to
than
Herodotus
of other present-day
thinkers,
say nothing
can
and Thucydides.
He took it for granted
that the historian
"between
and progressive
and must
retrograde
distinguish
in the phenomena which he is studying
elements"
(135). More
to a comparison
of the modern
than half of his book is devoted

Collingwood's
of Contents

"the medieval
scientific
of history with
conception
conception
of history with all its errors"
(56) and the classical
conception
reason why
its grave
The
second
with
"defects"
(41-42).
was not disturbed
of all histor
by the "relativity"
Collingwood
was his belief
in the equality of all ages.
"The
ical knowledge
sense
in
it
that
is
the
succeeds
present
perfect
always
always
it is trying to be," or the present has no standard
in being what
are no ages of decline
or of
itself
There
(109).
at
164
Roman
from
the
looked
(
). Augustine
history
decay
an
so
view
Gibbon
from
and
did
of
of
Christian,
point
early
"there
that of an enlightened
century Englishman:
eighteenth
higher

than

is no point in asking which was


the right point of view. Each
was
it" (xii). The
for the man who adopted
the only possible
historian who sees the past from the point of view of a present
must not be worried
of a future progress
of
by the prospect
a
is
"the
historian's
historical
present
problem
knowledge:
now
not a future one:
it is to interpret the material
problem,
not to anticipate
future discoveries"
available,
(180).
Being
the surprises which
the future may have
against
can be satisfied
scientific
that the
historian
to
is
which
relative
the
and is
historical
present,
knowledge
on the material
at present,
all the
accessible
fulfills
based
fact that all historical
of certainty or science. The
requirements
thus protected
in store,
the

to the present means


that it is relative
is possible
which
now, to a standpoint
to any standpoint
was
which
inferior
in
or
will
in
be
the
which
future.
the past
possible
possible
or not Collingwood
of whether
found a way
for
Regardless
reasons
each of them, if
the two different
indicated,
reconciling
that understanding
of
sound, would
justify him in assuming

is relative
knowledge
to the only standpoint
is in no way
which

is unobjection
the past from the point of view of the present
and in fact inevitable.
is characteristic
The procedure which we have just outlined
moved
of The Idea of History.
and
Collingwood
consciously
able,

On Collingwood's

Philosophy

563

of History

toward a goal which most of his contemporaries


or less unconsciously
more
and haltingly,
approaching
But he
and history.
the fusion of philosophy
that goal being
means
was
not very much
with
the
concerned
examining
by
two
between
he tried to reach his goal. He vacillated
which
view of Hegel,
and
views of history,
the rationalistic
different
with
were

enthusiasm

non-rationalistic

view.

He

never

clearly

are mutually
The
incompatible.
for this failure was his lack of acquaintance
critique of "scientific
history."
epoch-making
two

views

realized

that

these

reason
historical
with Nietzsche's

is a tension between
the idea of universal
history
of the present
"the mind
that in history
the view
day
come
which
this
mind
itself
has
the
process
by
apprehends
into existence
of the past"
the mental
development
through
There

and

historian
If the modern Western
studies Greek civiliza
(169).
the genesis of his own civiliza
tion, he may be said to re-enact
its own
within
has formed itself "by reconstructing
tion, which
and thus to enter upon
world"
mind the mind of the Hellenic
he may be said
the possession
of his inheritance
(163, 226-27);
to attempt to understand
himself as modern Western
man, or to
But the case of the modern Western
mind his own business.
or Inca civilization
is obviously
historian who
studies Chinese
on
not
this
different.
did
reflect
difference.
He
Collingwood
no
is
that
"there
view
relation
possible
justly rejected Spengler's
one culture and another."
But he failed to
whatever
between
have no actual
the fact that there are cultures which
consider
of this fact:
and the implications
relations with one another,
of "separate,
he dogmatically
the possibility
denied
discrete"
it would
the
cultures
because
assumed
destroy
dogmatically
as
of
universal
(161-64,
183).
history"
"continuity
history
?
to one view held by Collingwood,
the idea of
According
"the idea of an imaginary
scientific
of the
picture
history,
a priori...
it is an idea which
[is], in Kantian
language,
man
as
of
the
furniture of his mind, and
possesses
every
part
in so far as he becomes
to possess
himself
discovers
conscious
it is to have a mind"
is there
of what
(248); scientific
history
nature.
the actualization
of a potentiality
fore
of human
past

to another
view
one
also held by Collingwood,
According
cannot
of the human mind,
and not
speak of the furniture
as such would
even of the human mind, which
be subject
to

564

Leo Strauss

and unchanging
laws"; the idea of scientific history
"permanent
is not, in principle,
the human mind but is itself
coeval with
man on the basis
it has been acquired by Western
"historical";
in partic
Christian
the
of his unique experience
experience
(of
its
in
is
it
rooted
and
modern
Western
needs;
ular);
thought
it is meaningful
modern
for
Western
(xii, 12,
thought
only
48-49, 82, 224, 226, 255). ? Collingwood
regarded history as a
theoretical
pursuit, but he also said that the historian's
thought
its practical
must be "a function of his entire personality
with
as well as its theoretical
interests." ? All history, Collingwood
is
the
said,
history of thought or of rational activity
repeatedly
one cannot
abandon
(215, 304, 315, 318):
is
that history
belief
rational" without
abandoning
"Hegel's
of history,"
history itself ( 122) ;by speaking of "the contingency
final collapse
of his thought"
the historian
[the]
"expresses
held that understanding
of
(151).
Collingwood
Accordingly,
the thought of the past is not only compatible with criticism of
thought of the past from the point of view of the present, but
or

of

freedom

from it. On
the other hand, however,
he tended
inseparable
are free choices
to believe
that the ultimate
facts of history
which are not justifiable by rational activity; or that the ultimate
is not
and hence that history
facts of history are mere beliefs;
or that it is, so to
rational or that it is radically
contingent
a sequel
sins. Accordingly,
of different
he
speak,
original
cannot criticize
the thought
tended to hold that the historian
remain satisfied with
of the past but must
it
understanding
(cf. 316-18).
to clarify
his position
failure
Collingwood's
sufficiently
can be explained
in part by the need which
he felt "to engage
or naturalism
in a running
positivism
(i.e., "the
fight" with
confusion
between
historical
and
natural
process
process")
was with vindicating
His main preoccupation
(228, 181-82).
"the autonomy
of history" against
the claims of modern
natural
view
The
science.
that historical
is partly dependent
knowledge
on modern
science was based on the fact that man's
natural
on nature;
life is dependent
historical
and man's
knowledge
of nature is not identical with modern
natural science.
Colling
therefore driven to assert "the autonomy
wood was
of history"
without
"the historian
in his own
is master
any qualification:
to the scientist or to anyone
house; he owes nothing
else," for

On Collingwood's

Philosophy

of History

565

"contains
understood,
"ordinary
history,"
rightly
philosophy
inside itself" ( 155, 201 ). History
does not depend upon author
". . . in history,
ity nor on memory
(236-38).
just as there are
no
so there are properly
authorities,
properly
speaking
speaking
no data"
on fixed points
from its dependence
"Freed
(243).
is
the historian's
from without,
supplied
picture of the past
is
thus in every detail an imaginary
picture, and its necessity
at every point the necessity
of the a priori imagination. What
ever goes into it, goes into it not because
his imagination
pas
it
but
because
demands
it"
it,
accepts
(245).
sively
actively
It is because of its "autonomy"
that history must be universal
truth is totality.
should not have
(246):
history
Collingwood
to call this view "idealistic"
hesitated
It is indeed
(cf. 159).
not a solipsistic
view:
is
autonomous
historical
both
thought
and objective;
the historian's
house "is inhabited by all histo
it is inhabited
More
(155).
precisely,
by all present
a
It
is
historians.
house
without
mind of the
windows:
the
day
or
own
is
master
in
autonomous
its
house because
present day
it cannot understand
the thought of the past without
criticizing
it into a modification
it, i.e., without
of present
transforming
it is not disturbed
day thought, or because
by problems which
it cannot
solve
of
you see no prospect
("To ask questions
is the fundamental
sin in science" ? 281 ) or because
answering
it is not disturbed
of the future ("the only
by the possibilities
clue to what man can do is what man has done" ?
10, 180).
rians"

A particularly
of Collingwood's
ideal
consequence
noteworthy
ism is the banishment
of biography
from history:
the limits
are "biological
of biography
the birth and death of a
events,
its framework
is thus a framework
human organism:
not of
This decision
had the
(304).
thought but of natural process"
the
additional
of
of
scientific
advantage
keeping
subjectivity
were
for Collingwood,
limits which,
reasonable.
history within
is sub-historical,
it will as little go into
If the "biographical"
the making

of the subject which


as it will
become

historical
acquires or possesses
an element
of the object
of
not
will
become
knowledge

knowledge,
historical
Historical
knowledge.
relative to the individual historian.

It will retain its objectivity


the
present day." A diffi
by being
is
circumstance
created
the
that
"the historian's
culty
by
thought
must
from
the
of
his total experience,"
spring
organic
unity
relative

to "the mind

of

566

Leo Strauss

to include his
total, could be thought
experience,
being
its flow of sensations
and feelings"
"immediate
experience with
are bound up with
and those "human emotions
the
[which]
:
life"
of
"total
would
[his]
(304)
spectacle
bodily
experience"
seem to include the most "personal"
experiences.

which

one must
do justice to Collingwood's
idea of history,
as a historian.
his practice
The
largest part of his
to a history
is devoted
book
of historical
That
knowledge.
on
In
is
whole
conventional.
the
earlier
history
studying
never
considered
the possibility
that
thinkers,
Collingwood
the point of view from which
the present day reader approaches
to them, might
which
he addresses
be
them, or the questions
in need of a fundamental
set
out
to
He
praise or
change.
To
examine

to whether
blame
thinkers according
the earlier
they helped
or hindered
the emergence
of scientific
He did not
history.
to look at scientific
for once,
from the point
attempt
history,
is not quite conventional
of view of the earlier thinkers. What
are some of his judgments:
in Collingwood's
he had
history,
to
the courage
wonder whether Thucydides
and Tacitus
deserve
the title of historians
his history of
Furthermore,
(29, 38-39).
is somewhat
historical
obscured
knowledge
by an ambiguity
which he did not consistently
avoid. His discussion
of "Human
nature
in the assertion
human
and
culminated
that
history"
is

coeval with
the historical
process,
in which man inherits
is a process
because
process
the achievements
of the past, and historical
is the
knowledge
in which man enters upon the possession
of that inheritance
way
In this crucial context Collingwood
cf. 333-34).
thus
(226-27;
a tradition
or
historical
with
identified
accepting
knowledge
a
a
in
tradition.
As
he
assumed
that
rule,
however,
living
historical

knowledge
the historical

is not coeval with historical


life but is an
knowledge
made at a certain time in Greece
(19) and devel
later on by the heirs of the Greeks.

historical

"invention"
oped

most

section
of Collingwood's
of
revealing
history
is
statement
con
his
about
the
Greek
knowledge
The Greeks
created
scientific
ception of history.
history. This
was
fact is paradoxical,
for Greek
based
"on a rig
thought
The

historical

orously
egory"

anti-historical
The
"chief
(18-20).
metaphysics"
of that metaphysics
"is the category
of substance,"

cat
and

On Collingwood's

567

of History

Philosophy

"a substantialist
metaphysics
implies a theory of knowledge
to which only what
is unchanging
is knowable"
(42).
according
to be impossible,"
"Therefore
i.e., impossible
history
ought
as a science; history must be relegated
to the realm of "opinion."
is truly, or what
Yet the very view that what
is truly knowable,
a
the
is the permanent,
fundamental
between
distinction
implied
and the changeable,
and hence
the insight
that
is
the
Greeks'
of
the
eternal
pre
necessary:
pursuit
change
"an unusually
vivid sense of the temporal."
In addi
supposed
hence
tion, they lived in a period of rapid and violent change:
to history."
their "peculiar
sensitiveness
For this reason how
ever "their historical
was
consciousness"
of a peculiar
kind:
it was
of age-long
"not a consciousness
the
tradition molding
life of one generation
into a uniform
after another
pattern;

permanent

it was

consciousness

of

violent

Trepnrtreiai,

catastrophic

. . ." (22; cf.


from one state of things to its opposite
changes
since
But
that only the permanent
is
26, 34).
they believed
or intelligible,
knowable
"these
they regarded
catastrophic
in the condition
of human life" as unintelligible.
changes
They
did not deny
"that in the general
of these changes
pattern
certain

antecedents

led

normally

to

certain

can be established
that these sequences
could not tell why
"certain antecedents
consequents":

"There

conception

of history

the

power
were

but

of

sequences

sary;
"thus

is here

was

no

antecedents

and

of

theory

the very

and

consequents,"

but they
by observation;
to
certain
led
normally

opposite

causation."

"This

of deterministic":

consequents

are

not

neces

know of them;
they can be modified
by the men who
had a lively and indeed a na?ve sense of the
the Greeks
to control his own destiny."
of man
Since the Greeks
to consider

compelled

a mere

aggregate
evidence
with

"historical
witnesses

of

these

at

"as,

history

of

not

they had to
of facts given

perceptions,"
the reports

facts."

bottom,

science,

identify
by

eye

not

did

They
accept
uncritically
But their criticism could not go beyond making
reports.
the eye witness
quite certain whether
really told what he had
a
as
to
and
decision
con
which
of various
seen,
reaching
to be accepted.
This
of
reports deserved
flicting
conception
those

historical
which

evidence
have

happened

limited
within

history
living

to

the

of "events
study
to
memory
people with

568

Leo Strauss

can have personal


historian]
of the remote
scientific
impossible
history
cannot be more
than "the autobiographer
(22-27).

whom

[the

it made
contact";
the
historian
past:
of his

generation"

assert
Some critical remarks seem to be necessary. When
in
terms
and
of
that
substance
ing
thinking
thinking historically
are incompatible,
that "it is meta
presupposed
Collingwood
can
an
a
axiomatic
that
substance,
agent,
physically
being
never come into being and can never undergo
of
any change
Did
then not know
that human
nature"
the Greeks
(43).
come into being ? Or
to
is it necessary
for example,
beings,
to Aristotle's
statement
is
into being simply
that coming
?Why
then should
said only of substances
the Greeks
have
to observe
into being
been unable
and to describe
the coming
? Collingwood
and their changes
of substances
asserted
that
refer

in "substantialist"
"all the agencies
classical
historiography
that appear on the stage of history have to be assumed
r^Hy
made before history begins"
there
(45) and that the classics
fore regarded nations and cities as substances,
and
"changeless
even
not
to
eternal"
He
did
that
the
prove
attempt
(44).
classics

conceived

of

cities

and

nations

as

substances.

But

even

con
if they did, their almost
would
have
experience
daily
vinced
them that cities at any rate are not "changeless
and
that they are founded and grow and decay
eternal" substances,
and perish, to say nothing of other chanqes which
thev tinde^ao.
to observe
then should
the Greeks
have been unable
Why
into being and the changes
and describe
the coming
of cities ?
men
is
it
of
the
to
To
fact
that
safe
infer
what
say nothing
even
not
could do from what
"...
did.
the
Greeks
could
they
the possibility
of raising
the problem which we
contemplate
should

call

(34). But,
thinkers who
that in the

the problem of
to take the most

the origin of the Hellenic


people"
obvious
case, were
there no Greek
taught that the human race had come into being,
men
in forests, without
roamed
social
beginning
kind and in particular without
language, and hence
? Certainly
Greek
these
did
thinkers
language

bonds of any
the
without
not merely
contemplate

the possibility
of raising
the origin of the Hellenic
but
people,
they did
to
it.
their
solved
according
lights,
Collingwood

of

the problem
it and,
did not see

raise

On Collingwood's

569

of History

Philosophy

on the nature and


of the Greek philosophers
that the reflections
on the nature
are
to
reflections
equivalent
origin of language
not
to
If they did
and origin of nations.
attempt
give historical
accounts
of the genesis of this or that nation, or of any nation,
like these: They did not have at their disposal
they had reasons
the
of this kind; they regarded
evidence
historical
of events
as
a
and they
form of society
than the nation;
city
higher
in their full vigor and maturity were more
thought that societies
of man than are
the highest
possibilities
regarding
into
There
be a connection
may
coming
being.
newly
to note
these views and "substantialism."
It suffices
between
did not even try to reveal that connection.
that Collingwood
to refrain from
to Collingwood
would
have dictated
Prudence
instructive

societies

the

and

of "substantialism"

speaking
classics

were,

for

whatever

to limit himself
more

reason,

to saying
concerned

that
with

the recurrent
than with what
and hence with
is
or
believed
and
that
that
the
local,
unique
temporal
merely
they
can ultimately
be understood
only in the light of the permanent
or recurrent.
have concluded
From
this he could legitimately
is inferior
that from the point of view of the classics,
history
or science.
to philosophy
in dignity
it
To prove his thesis,
the permanent

for him to show, in addition,


that
necessary
or recurrent
the concern with
the permanent
concern with what
or endangers
serious
precludes
happens
there and then. He did not
here and now or what
happened
one may be
show this. To say nothing of other considerations,
or
recurrent
with
the
concerned
and yet hold
permanent
chiefly
event
for ex
that a given unique
War,
(the Peloponnesian

would

have

been

the primacy

of

the only available basis for reliable observation


supplies
ample)
one to form a correct
would
enable
which
about
judgment
recurrences
of utmost
A man who
certain
held
importance.
of course study that unique event with utmost
this view would
that he was

care, and, assuming


surpassed

as

a historian,

of men,

all

twentieth

centuries.

the

scientific

i.e.,

as

a superior
a man

historians

who

of

man,

he might

understands

the

nineteenth

have
actions

and

held that the Greeks


had a "historical
con
Collingwood
a
it was
kind:
of
"not a consciousness
sciousness"
particular
tradition molding
the life of one generation
after
of age-long

570

Leo Strauss
into

another

uniform

pattern,"

but

of

consciousness

"cata

statement
This
is, to say the least,
(22).
strophic
changes"
were
conscious
of
"The Greeks"
very misleading.
perfectly
the existence
of "age-long
traditions molding
the life of one
into a uniform
But
after another
generation
pattern."
they
or
or
rate
at
Greek
Plato
believed
that
any
believed,
suggested,
in contradistinction
to Egyptian
life ?
life ?
especially
are always
was not dominated
"you Greeks
by such traditions:
.. . you are, all of you, young
in soul; for you do not
children
in your souls a single ancient
transmitted
possess
opinion
by
that is hoary with
old tradition nor a single piece of learning
less dominated
traditions
age." The Greeks were
by age-long
than were other nations because
there lived in their midst men
who

had

the habit
In

ophers.

other

of questioning
there

words,

such
was

traditions,

i.e., philos
awareness

greater

in

Greece

than elsewhere
between
of the essential
difference
the
and the good.
On
the basis of this insight
ancestral
there
in classical
existed
"a historical
not
Greece
consciousness,"
of

merely

of

better,

"catastrophic
progress,

and

changes"
this

but

consciousness

also

of changes
was

for

the

consciousness

not merely
of progress
achieved
but also of the possibility
of
not even allude
to this
future progress.
did
Collingwood
element of "the Greek
of history."
He apparently
conception
never tried to understand
"the historical
consciousness"
which
itself in the first book of Aristotle's
expresses
Metaphysics,
of this book alone would
for example.
Consideration
have
to make him hesitate
to write
sufficed
that "the Greek
histo
rian was
of his generation"
(27).
only the autobiographer
let us concede

that a man

was pri
like Thucydides
rather than with
change"
no change,
or only
slow
long
practically
us
assume
the
took
for
and
let
that
better,
changes
place;
an
on
has
based
account,
given
Collingwood
Thucydides'
of this preference,
did not even
work,
although
Collingwood
But

marily

concerned with
in which
periods

"catastrophic

to do this. Was
to say that the Greeks
he entitled
attempt
were
to regard catastrophic
as unintelligible,
forced
changes
as
no
in
causes
to
traceable
determinate
? The mere
i.e.,
way
fact that he could not help censoring Thucydides
for being
father of psychological
is
which
science
"natural
history"

"the
of a

On Collingwood's

Philosophy
seem

(29) would
special kind"
one Greek who
regarded
to Collingwood,
According
a

from

state

of

or

weakness,

poverty

extreme

to prove

catastrophic
the Greeks

wealth
as

or

that there was at least


as intelligible.

change

regarded

the

of

to

power

mysterious

571

of History

rhythm;

state
"the

change
extreme

universal

that very rich men, as such, fall...


is, in Aristotle's
judgment
one can say
no
scientific
for
view, only a partially
judgment,
men
If
fall"
considered
rich
should
had
(24).
why
Collingwood
in the
of the rich and the powerful
the analysis of the characters
or the analysis
second book of the Rhetoric,
of tyranny
and
dynastic
Aristotle
ful men

in the Politics,
he could have told us that
oligarchy
for the fall of rich and power
had a good explanation
if they are not virtuous or lucky. Collingwood
mistook

is in effect a theory of causa


for no theory of causation what
events.
tion that includes chance as a cause of historical
other
because
among
Only
Collingwood
disregarded,
to
the
have
of
the
what
classics
about
power
say
things,
a
assert
"the
Greeks
had
that
could he confidently
chance,
man
a
sense
to
na?ve
of the power of
control
lively and indeed
"self
his own destiny"
(24) or that for Hellenic
thought
to conquer
consciousness
the world"
(36) or
[was] a power
in history
that classical
happens
thought implied "that whatever
as a direct result of the human will"
It taxes
(41).
happens
to understand
the imagination
how the same man could have
a few pages after he had written
written
"that
these sentences
in the condition
of human
life
these
catastrophic
changes
to the Greeks
the proper theme of history, were
which were
(22).

unintelligible"
As
was

"at

remark

for Collingwood's
bottom...

mere

that,

aggregate

for the Greeks,


of

perceptions"

history
(24),

later he noted
like
that men
page
in calling up* a fairly
succeeded
Herodotus
of
the events
"historical
which
"coherent"
picture"
they
In his discussion
of the Greek
studied.
of historical
conception
he was
silent about
the basic distinction
between
evidence,
own
use
and
with
one's
and
the
which
eyes
seeing
hearsay,
it suffices

to say that one


and Thucydides

historians
made of that distinction
for evaluating
or
not
In
he did
traditions
consider
that
reports.
particular,
own eyes
one's
includes
of the
seeing with
understanding
the classical

572

Leo Strauss

of man and of the nature of political


things, an under
in
Greek
the same
which
fulfills
history approximately
standing
in
"historical
function which
fulfills
Collingwood's
imagination"
"scientific
history."

nature

account
the classical
of
of
conception
Collingwood's
an
to
which
had
be
"in
detail
every
imaginary picture"
history,
in order to conform with his standards
truth (cf.
of historical
more
idea
of
reveals
"the
than
about
245),
history"
indirectly
sections of his book. The
do all the subsequent
idea of history
is more
than the view that knowledge
of what men have done
or thought
or necessary.
is possible
It is the view
that such
is identical with
understood
knowledge
philosophy
properly
or must take the place of philosophy.
The
idea of history
thus
is indeed alien to classical
to
understood
thought.
According
not
it
could
before
classical
"substantial
emerge
Collingwood,
ism" was abandoned
and classical
"humanism" was profoundly
or the study,
is the account,
If history
of what
is
the study of something which
done, and philosophy
is presupposed
the idea of history requires
by all human doings,
in the first place that the apparent presuppositions
of all human
into products
be resolved
of human
this is
doings
doings:
meant by the need for abandoning
what Collingwood
"substan
modified.
men have

The
of all human
tialism."
apparent
presuppositions
doings
are objects
as distinguished
of human
from the
knowledge,
or results
action.
of human
The
first step in the
products
was
direction
of the idea of history
therefore
that the distinc
or between
tion between
and action
knowledge
theory and
as a
be questioned.
had to be conceived
practice
Knowledge
or production.
kind of making
in the
referred
Collingwood
verum et factum
to Vico's
convertuntur
(64).
to go back to Vico's
source,
and
i.e., to Hobbes,
rest
hence
could
satisfied
with
the
conventional
of
he#
way
the
of
the
idea
of
if
the
Now,
genesis
describing
history.
is man as man, or every individual
thinker or maker
regardless
of time and place, philosophy
remains "unhistorical."
If there
is to be an essential
connection
between
thought, or the content
usual

But

manner

he

failed

thought, and time and place, what we know or think must


as is essentially
on the making
such a making
dependent
of earlier men, or rather of earlier men who
lived "here," and

of

be

On Collingwood's

Philosophy

of History

573

it must be different
from earlier
It cannot be
yet
thought.
different
from earlier thought
if it could have been anticipated,
it must be the unforeseen
and
i.e., thought,
by earlier men:
outcome of earlier thought.
It is this requirement
unforeseeable
in mind when
which
had
he demanded
the
Collingwood
or radical modification
of Greek
abandonment
"humanism"
"far too little to the force of a blind activity
attributed
on
a
course
of action without
its end and
embarking
foreseeing
to
led
that end only through the necessary
being
development
of that course
itself"
led to that
i.e., without
(42),
being
end by the plan of a god or of nature
(55, 57, 58, 81, 104).
more
in question
He
the requirement
somewhat
described
which

when
he contrasted
Greek
the deter
accurately
thought with
minism
science which
laid the
of seventeenth
century natural
as such, and of every
for conceiving
of thought
foundation
and unintended
"product
"stage" of thought, as the necessary
For
the reason
of a process"
57,
58,
81,
indicated,
87).
(23,
to raise the question
he failed, however,
the con
regarding
of thinking as making
the conception
and the
science.
modern
natural
He
"determinism"
of
thus
peculiar
failed to see that the basic stratum of "the idea of history"
or
is making,
is a combination
that thinking
of the view
nection

between

the need, engendered


"creative," with
by that view, of giving
a "deterministic"
or such a "genetic"
account
of thinking,
as presupposes
at no point anything
account
except "motion"
or "process."
"idealism"
him from
prevented
Collingwood's
the
of
"idealism"
and
"naturalism"
antagonism
looking beyond
or from seeing
and "scientific
that "history"
materialism"
are inseparable
from each other.
the
however,
(Compare,
remark on p. 269 about the kinship between
scientific
history
and

Baconian

natural

science.)

II

did not prove


the superiority
of
"by deed"
Collingwood
to the common-sense
scientific
type of history which
history
on the most different
levels, in the past. His most
prevailed,
are errors which
competent men in earlier
important statements
times

would

not

have

committed

simply

because

they were

574

Leo Strauss

than we have become.


careful readers
is based on the assumption
that present day
is the right kind of historical
thought. When

more

Scientific
history
historical
thought
it is confronted

is different
from
that earlier historical
thought
it
that
historical
concludes
present
naturally
thought,
day
no
one
can
is
And
be
defective.
earlier historical
thought
or
if he does not study very carefully
such doctrines
blamed
as
to
in
in
he
knows
advance
be
defective
the
procedures
wrote
in
the history
of history
decisive
respect.
Collingwood
in which
almost the same way
the eighteenth
century historians,

with

the

fact

so severely,
are said to have written
history
in general.
the thought of the past as
The
latter condemned
in full reasonableness;
it
condemned
deficient
Collingwood
as deficient
in the true sense for history.

whom

he censored

is not

to deny
and

in the
that Collingwood
also believed
to
that
he
therefore
tended
equality
regard the
as
one
sound as that
historical
period
thought of any
equally
to
One might
think that to the extent
of any other period.
have tried to understand
which
he held that belief, he would
of each period of the past on its own
the historical
thought
This

of all ages

it by the standard of scientific history.


terms, without measuring
in the equality
the belief
of all ages leads to the conse
our
of the past,
of the thought
that
quence
interpretation
not
to
in
the way
which
the thought of the past
while
superior
as the past's self-interpreta
itself, is as legitimate
interpreted
Yet

in addition,

tion and,

the

interpret
no necessity
of the past

thought
to take
understood

in which
is the only way
of the past. Accordingly,
seriously
itself.

we

today can
there arises

in which
the way
the thought
in
In other words,
the belief
a more subtle form of the belief

the equality of all ages is only


in progress.
The
of all ages
alleged
insight into the equality
is said to make possible passionate
interest in the thought
which
conceives
of itself as a
of the different
ages,
necessarily
earlier
all
earlier
every
progress
age errone
beyond
thought:
things and
the thought

it looked at
the standpoint
from which
was
therefore
of taking very
incapable
seriously
of other ages; hence earlier ages were
incapable

of scientific

history.

ously

"absolutized"

On Collingwood's

Philosophy

575

of History

in Col
two beliefs which
for supremacy
The
contended
is necessarily
lingwood's
implied that earlier thought
thought
is an account,
relative to earlier times. "The Republic
of Plato
not of the unchanging
ideal of political
life, but of the Greek
it and reinterpreted
it. The Ethics
ideal as Plato
received
not an eternal morality
of Aristotle
describes
but the morality
the
Leviathan
expounds
in
their
absolutism
century
political
English
the moral convictions
of
form. Kant's
ethical theory expresses
.
.
the
then
."
German
understood
(229).
pietism
Collingwood
thought of a time in the light of its time. He did not then
to re-enact
re-enact
the thought which
For
that thought.
means
to
in
for
itself
Plato's
expresses
example,
Republic,
of

the Greek

gentleman.
ideas of seventeenth

Hobbes'

good social order


to
reference
with
must be judged.
of all ages
which
all societies
the thought
of the past was
attitude
towards
Collingwood's
sees from the outside
in fact that of a spectator who
the rela
an
to
its time.
earlier thought
tion of
Plato's
of
understand
description
as a description
of the true model

the simply
of society
and countries

can be
The
deficiencies
of Collingwood's
historiography
dilemma. The same belief which
forced
traced to a fundamental
him
him to attempt to become a historian of thought, prevented
a historian
to
of thought.
He was
forced
from becoming
a
to
of
become
historian
he
because
believed
attempt
thought
or that
is to know
its history,
that to know the human mind
con
is
this
historical
But
belief
self-knowledge
understanding.
of all earlier thought,
the tacit premise
to
view
know
that
the human mind
the

that premise
is
being
something
from knowing
different
the history of the human
fundamentally
therefore
mind.
the thought of the past
Collingwood
rejected
as untrue in the decisive
he could not take that
respect. Hence
means
to
for to take a thought
thought
seriously,
seriously
tradicts

in question
is true. He
that the thought
regard it as possible
for re-enacting
therefore
lacked the incentive
the thought of
the past: he did not re-enact
the thought of the past.
We
thought
bottom
which

draw
of

the conclusion
one must

the past,
scientific

of
is characteristic

that
doubt

One
history.
of "the mind

in order to understand
the
is at the
the view which
must
doubt
the principle
of

the present

day."

One

576

Leo Strauss

must

to understand
the attempt
the past from the
must
the
One
the
take seriously
point
present.
or
one
as
to
it
must
of
be
the
past,
prepared
thought
regard
is
to
that
the
of
the
the
superior
past
possible
thought
thought
of the present day in the decisive respect. One must regard it as
is inferior to the past in
that we live in an age which
possible
the decisive respect, or that we live in an age of decline or decay.

One

abandon
of view

must

of

be swayed

by a sincere

longing

for the past.

to face

when
he had to
this necessity
to
is in
Romanticism
him,
According
into "a futile nostalgia
for the past,"
was checked by the presence
in Roman
but "that development
a
as
ticism of...
of history
the conception
(87).
progress"
had
Collingwood
of
Romanticism.
speak
of developing
danger

is partly due to
remark
lacks precision.
Its deficiency
insufficient
the German
intel
Collingwood's
familiarity with
in his
lectual movement
the year
1800. For instance
around
on Friedrich
statement
Schiller
he limited himself
(104-105),
to a survey of Schiller's
lecture on the value of universal
history
on na?ve and
without
of Schiller's
essay
taking any notice
sentimental
he asserted
that "Hegel wrote
poetry.
Similarly
in the Heidelberg
the first sketch of his philosophy
of history
we
to say,
romantic
The
soul,
(111).
prefer
Encyclopedia"
This

is characterized
by longing,
is felt to be superior

which

"now,"

i.e.,

in

by "futile"
longing, by a longing
to any fulfillment
that is possible
A

Europe.

post-revolutionary

perfect

expres

sion

of Romanticism
is Madame
the dead Emma,
Bovary:
in spite of, or because of, the fact that she had an "esprit
who,
had spent her life in a longing
that led to nothing
positif,"
is more
but failure and degradation,
alive
than the contem
of
porary
representatives
the corpse
faith who, with
a

noisy

over

disputation,

the nineteenth

i.e.,

the ancient
of Emma
share

faith
between

between

and
them,

themselves

the modern
engage
the

in
rule

True
Romanticism
the
century.
regards
or twentieth
of the nineteenth
highest
century,
possibility
as the highest
in so far
"futile"
of man,
longing,
possibility
as it assumes
that the noble fulfillments
of the past were based
on delusions which are now irrevocably
True Roman
dispelled.
the past was
to the present
ticism believes
that while
superior
as regards
or the
or "art" or "religion"
"life" or "culture"

On Collingwood's
nearness

Philosophy

577

of History

or gods,
is superior
to the past
the present
or
"life"
etc.
the
of
It
"culture,"
regards
understanding
to the past in
is superior
believes
therefore
that the present
of the decisive
truth, i.e., in the decisive
regard to knowledge
never
its notions
It
of "life" or
therefore
submits
respect.
of God

as

or "art" or "religion"
to a criticism which
is enlight
or
what
the
assumed
models
"life"
of
etc.,
"culture,"
by
these
themes.
about
Hence
Romanticism
explicitly
thought
in the superiority
to
the belief
of modern
perpetuates
thought
earlier thought, and Romantic
is fundamen
history of thought
"culture"

ened

tally

as

or

inadequate,

progressivist

history

as

as

"un-historical,"

non-romantic,

of thought.

as it actually
believed
that "in history
Collingwood
hap
is
of decay:
pens there are no mere phenomena
every decline
recon
also a rise" (164).
cannot
statement
This
be
sanguine
ciled with his remark that if we abandoned
scientific
history,
"we should be exemplifying
and hastening
that downfall
of
civilization

which

some

historians

are,

perhaps

prematurely,

admitted
that a decline
(56). Here Collingwood
proclaiming"
is not "also a rise" is possible.
which
Yet
this momentary
did not bear
fruit in his understanding
of earlier
insight
He
blamed
for
Tacitus
"as
thought.
representing
history
a
clash
of
and
characters,
essentially
exag
exaggeratedly
good
the philosophies
of Tacitus'
bad," and he blamed
geratedly
from the assump
which,
age as "defeatist
philosophies
starting
tion that the good man
world,
taught him how
wickedness"
(39-40).
the possibility
cluded

cannot conquer or control


the wicked
to preserve
himself unspotted
from its
Since
ex
Collingwood
dogmatically
of unqualified
he could
not
decay,

that there might


be ages
in which
virtuous
imagine
political
action
is impossible,
and "defeatist"
withdrawal
is the only
sane course of action; he could not consider
the possibility
that
such ages may allow of an excess
in wickedness
in tyrannical
rulers, and of a heroic virtue
in their victims,
for which
there
are no parallels
in happier
His
"historical
conscious
epochs.
ness" or historical
did not leave room for the pos
imagination
which
assumes
Tacitus
to have been a fact. His histor
sibility
ical consciousness
could not be broadened
of
by a study
Tacitus

because

scientific

history

recognizes

no authority,

but

578

Leo Strauss

is master
in favor
on

their

in its own
of
own

the

house:

judgments

guided by a presumption
the wise men of old passed

it is not
which

times.

was forced to admit the possibility


of decline
Collingwood
is
the conditions
he discussed
under which
progress
neces
not
to
is
and
that
For
admit
progress
possible
possible.
to admit the possibility
But it is pre
of decline.
sary means

when

of progress which
shows
his discussion
of the conditions
in
the
belief
he remained
under
spell of the
largely
or
was
the
from understanding
how far he
necessary
progress
he said, "happens
function of historical
knowledge.
Progress,
in the mind, at one phase,
only in one way:
by the retention
cisely
how

was

in the preceding
The
achieved
(333).
phase"
of earlier
achievements
is "historical
knowledge"
that
It is therefore
(326).
knowledge
"only through historical
comes
at
about
assumed
all"
(333).
[progress]
Collingwood
in the preceding
that "what was achieved
has merely
phase"
to be retained; he did not consider
that it may
the possibility
it had been forgotten.
have to be recovered
Accord
because
recov
not
he
historical
the
identified
with
knowledge,
ingly,
their retention:
but with
he uses
ery of earlier achievements,

of what
retention

and Einstein's
of Plato's
knowledge
philosophy,
as
of historical
Newtonian
of
knowledge
examples
physics,
further
assumed
He
that
progress
(333-34).
requires
knowledge
into a framework
of earlier achievements
the integration
sup
He did not consider
the pos
plied by the later achievement.
in separating
recent achieve
sibility that progress may consist

Aristotle's

ments
from their present
framework
and integrating
them into
an earlier
must be recovered
framework
which
by historical
true
But
whatever
be
of progress,
proper.
knowledge
might
awareness
of
that
the thought
the
progress
requires
certainly
of the past be known as it actually was,
i.e., as it was actually
the thought of
For, if to understand
thought by past thinkers.
means
to
it
understand
the past necessarily
from
differently
the thinkers of the past understood
the way
it, one will never
the thought of the present with
the thought
be able to compare
own
one would
one's
of the past:
compare
thought
merely
with
with

the reflection
of one's own thought
a hybrid begotten
by the intercourse

in ancient
of one's

or
materials
own thought

On Collingwood's

579

of History

Philosophy

to regard
be inclined
might
in
of
the
past may
thought
insights alien
to
known
of
oblivion
the
fact be delusions
things
produced
by
of progress
the thinkers of the past. Awareness
presupposes
the thought of the past "as
of understanding
the possibility
of historical
the possibility
It presupposes
it really has been."

with earlier
as decisive

thought.

we

What

to the

objectivity.
of historical
the possibility
implicitly denied
Collingwood
of the
criticism
the
of
that
thought
asserting
by
objectivity
is an integral element
past from the point of view of the present
the thought of the past (215). The historian
of understanding
as: Was
this or that policy
is forced to raise "such questions
a wise one ?Was
this or that economic
system sound ?Was
this

or

that

in

movement

or

science

art

or

religion

an

advance,

cannot be answered
Such questions
if so, why?"
(132).
time (60, 108).
historian's
of
the
the
from
except
standpoint
on
in
that
the
first
the
This
conclusion
premise
place
depends
for judging human actions
standards
there are no unchangeable
or thoughts.
that
also on the further premise
But it depends
on
to
is
the
the historian's
task
pass judgment
past.
primary
and

Yet

before

example,

one

can

given

pass

policy,

judgment
one

must

on

the wisdom
the

establish

for

of,

character

of

a
example,
history
policy.
between
of
like
that
the
Roman
emperors
political
struggle
what
the histo
the first century and the senatorial
opposition,
the
rian has to do is to see how
the two parties
conceived
as
to
it
situation
how
and
stood,
political
they proposed
must
situation:
he
that
both
their
ideas
grasp
develop
political
that

"For

to reconstruct

the

of

their actual present


and concerning
their possible
concerning
The
of
task
future"
historian
the political
(115).
primary
a given situation
in understanding
would
then seem to consist
and given ends as they were
understood
by those who acted
in the
similar
senatorial

The
situation.
to the contest

of a struggle
that is
contemporaries
between
the Roman
and the
emperors
to that historical
have an easier access

opposition
than have people
phenomenon
of politics.
But
kind
particular

who

lack

this does

of this
experience
not make
the under

in question
to different
of the phenomenon
relative
standing
in regard to the length and the diffi
situations:
the difference

580

Leo Strauss

the goal
the goal does not affect
towards
culty of the way
histo
the
liberates
"historical
In addition,
itself.
imagination"
to
the
rian from the limitations
caused by
experiences
peculiar
his time.
of the theme
the very selection
reason
the
for the
element:
subjective
inescapable
is different
in a given
situation
from the
interest
historian's
reason for the histo
interest in it. The
reason
for the actors'
itself in the
rian's interest in a historical
expresses
phenomenon
It may
implies the

be

objected

that

to the phenomenon
and
concerned
questions which he addresses
is in principle alien to his
hence to his sources, and this question
a great
no doubt
sources.
historian
"The
scientific
spends
.
.
.
time
deal of
Herodotus,
Livy, Tacitus,
reading
Thucydides,
in his
and so forth . . ., but he reads them . . .with a question
for
what
himself
taken the initiative by deciding
mind, having
historian
to find out from them . . . the scientific
he wants
puts
about some
them to the torture, twisting a passage
ostensibly
to the question
he has
into an answer
thing quite different
decided
use

the

to ask"
classical

(269-70).
historians

There
as

is no doubt
quarry

or

as

that one may


ruins,

to

supply

the edifice
called
the eco
for erecting
oneself with materials
In doing
for example.
nomic
of classical
antiquity,
history
is a
that economic
the assumption
this one makes
history
is indeed apparently
and this assumption
worthwhile
enterprise,
of the nineteenth
and twentieth
to the preoccupations
relative
An
historians.
and alien to the classical
centuries,
intelligent
use of the classical
or conscientious
historians
for a purpose
a clear recognition
of the fact
alien to them requires, however,
is alien to them and of the reason
for that
that that purpose
so.
that
the
classical
It
therefore
historians
requires
being
on their own terms, i.e., as answering
their
first be understood
own questions,
with which
and not the questions
the modern
tortures
them. Collingwood
admitted
this necessity
historian
"The question
in his way;
asks himself
[the scientific historian]
is: 'What does this statement mean ?' And
this is not equivalent
it mean by
to the question
'What did the person who made
a question
it ?' although
that is doubtless
that the historian
must ask, and must be able to answer"
But this admis
(275).
answer
to the question
sion is much
too weak.
The
"What
mean
the statement
did
the person who made
it
must
?"
by

On Collingwood's

the answer
to the question
"What
precede
mean within
of my question
the context
is the

ment"
use

or

i.e.,

one

must

one

statement,

it as

understand

Different
historians
ment
for different
authentic

as meant

statement

criticize

its

may become
reasons:
that
on account

meaning

the

by
must

of

does this statement


?" For "the state

author.

Before

understand

the

author

those

one

can

statement,
meant

consciously

interested
statement

criticized
severely
reads
the classical
to find out what

Collingwood
historian"
who

581

of History

Philosophy

it.

in the same state


does not alter its

differences.

"the
scissors-and-paste
"in a purely
historians
and "on the
said"
they
not tell him in so many

receptive
spirit,
that what
understanding
they did
never find out from them at all"
he would
words
he did not realize that both "the scissors-and-paste

But
(269).
historian"
and the scientific
the same mistake:
historian make
they use
alien to the latter before
the classical
historians
for a purpose
of the classical
historians.
having done justice to the purpose
And
both make
this identical mistake
for the same reason:
for granted. Whatever
they take "history"
of interest or the
point or the direction
the present day historian,
he cannot use
if he does not, to begin with,
rigorously
tion to the question which
the author of
answer, or if he does not, to begin with,

subordinate
his sources

his ques
meant
to

identify his question


the question
raised
consciously
by the author whose
he intends to use. The guiding question
of the historian

with
work
who

may be the stand


of
question
guiding
his sources properly

wants

some

to

use

considerable

for

Herodotus,
time,

the

question

must
example,
as
to what

for

become,

was

question

in Herodotus'
of what was
i.e., the question
mind,
uppermost
or the question
the conscious
intention of Herodotus,
regarding
in which
the perspective
Herodotus
looked at things.
And
as
the question
Herodotus*
well
intention,
regarding
guiding
as the answer
to it, is in no way
affected
the
of
by
diversity
with
which
modern
historians
Herodotus.
questions
approach
to answer
In attempting
the question
Herodotus*
regarding
intention,

one

must

not

even

assume

that

Herodotus

was

in making
one is likely to
For
this assumption
a
was
not
that
he
and thus to exclude
imply
"philosopher"
examination
without
the possibility
that Herodotus'
intention
"historian."

582

Leo Strauss

a complete
revision
of our
not
to
did
fail duly
appre
merely
"categories."
Collingwood
ciate the fact that the historian must provisionally
subordinate
to the questions
which
of his
the authors
his own question
sources meant
to answer.
He
likewise
failed to consider
the
cannot

be

understood

without

have to retract his


that the historian may eventually
possibility
own question
in favor of the questions
raised by the authors
of

his

sources.

of the historian
the critical
function
may not
most of the time, or ever, the historian
is,
a
a
critic.
He
theme
which
he
selects
nevertheless,
necessarily
to be worthwhile:
the critical judgment
that the theme
believes
the
He
is worthwhile
interpretation.
precedes
provisionally
to the question
his author:
his question
subordinates
guiding
own
re-asserts
historian's
itself. Nor
the
question
eventually
?
the
which
the
is the interpretation
follows
proper
activity
is
coextensive
of
the
theme
and
which
with
selection
reasoned
to the question
of the historian's
the subordination
question
?
from
criticism.
As Colling
his author
separable
guiding
task of discovering
wood
put it, it is a "self-contradictory
(for
while

Yet

become

noticeable

'What
example)
"
it is true'
(300).
without

"re-enacting"

whether

or not

without

Plato
One

thought' without
cannot understand
it,

and

it is valid.

understanding

them

this

One
as

means

cannot
premises,

'Whether
inquiring
a chain of reasoning
without

understand
i.e.,

without

examining

premises
raising

necessary.
they are evident or intrinsically
one must
look for the supporting
evident,
a crucial part of the
The
supporting
reasoning,
as
the author understood
the author
it, might easily
to look for it, and one
if one failed
is not
pass unnoticed
one
to
it
is
so
to
for
unless
look
do
prompted
likely
by a
of the inevident character of the premises
realization
concerned.
the establishment
of the fact (if it is a fact)
Therefore
that
the question
For if they
reasoning.
teaching of

an

author

inseparable

whether
are not

a dogmatic
may be said to be
assumption
from the interpretation
of the author in question.

makes

a critic does
is necessarily
But the fact that the historian
not mean,
that his criticism
of course,
culminates
necessarily
in partial or total rejection;
it may very well culminate
in total
view.
mean
it
of
the
criticized
less
Still
does
that
acceptance

On Collingwood's

Philosophy

of History

583

criticizes
the thought of the past from
the historian
necessarily
the point of view of present day thought.
By the very fact that
to understand
the thought of the past,
he seriously
attempts
on a journey whose
He embarks
end
he leaves the present.
is hidden
from him. He is not likely to return to the shores of
his time as exactly
from them. His
the same man who departed
criticism
thought

may
from

to a criticism
amount
very well
the point of view of the thought

of present
day
of the past.

criticism are in one sense


are
identical. The mean
inseparable
they
Plato
think
?" is different
the
did
of
"What
from
question
ing
is true."
the meaning
of the question
"Whether
that thought
The
former question must ultimately
be answered
by a refer
ence to texts. The
cannot
be settled
latter question
possibly
a
to
texts.
criticism
of
contention
Platonic
Every
by reference
between
the Platonic
which
contention,
implies a distinction
The

fact

that interpretation
not mean
that

and

does

as such, and the criticism of that conten


be understood
But interpretation
and criticism are not only distinguish
able from each other. To a certain extent
they are even sep
arable from each other. Plato's
thought claims to be an imita
as such it is itself a whole which
tion of the whole;
is distin

must
tion.

to understand
from the whole
It is impossible
guished
simply.
the imitation without
But it is possible
looking at the original.
or without
in compliance,
to look at the original
compliance,
with
the directives
To
look at the
supplied by the imitation.
in compliance
with
the directives
original
supplied
by the
imitation means
to try to understand
as Plato under
the whole
as Plato understood
it. To understand
stood
the whole
it is
the goal of the interpretation
of Plato's work.
is
This
goal
the standard which we presuppose,
and to which we ultimately
we
find someone's
of Platonic
refer, whenever
interpretation
we cannot
doctrine
defective:
find an interpretation
defective
without

"seen"

that goal. The


understood

to understand
attempt
it
is
from
thought
inseparable
in
criticism
is
but
that
the
service
of the striven-for
criticism,
as history,
of Plato's
as quest
understanding
thought. History
for the understanding
of the past, necessarily
that
presupposes
our understanding
is incomplete.
of the past
The
criticism

Plato's

which

having

as

is inseparable

Plato

from

interpretation

is fundamentally

dif

584

Leo Strauss

the com
coincide with
which would
we
that
under
If
call
"interpretation"
pleted understanding.
or
remains
of
within
limits
Plato's
criticism
the
which
standing
that understanding
own directives,
and if we call "criticism"
we may
or criticism which
Plato's
directives,
say
disregards
ferent

the criticism

from

criticism
because
the
interpretation
precedes
necessarily
under
completed
precedes
quest for understanding
necessarily
coincides with
the
the judgment which
and therewith
standing
The historian who has no illusions
understanding.
completed
that

and Plato will


himself
of rank between
the difference
ever reaching
to
in
his
the
of
possibility
regard
skeptical
is impos
what
Plato's
of
But
thought.
adequate
understanding
is not therefore
If
sible for most men
impossible.
intrinsically
one denies the legitimacy
of the goal which we called adequate
about

be very

the pos
of Plato's
i.e., if one denies
thought,
understanding
a
one
substitutes
historical
of
spurious
merely
objectivity,
sibility
assertions
and of arbitrary
for the honest
right of subjectivity
of the most
facts
that we are ignorant
confession
important
of the human

past.

task of discovering
indeed a "self-contradictory
it is true'."
without
'Whether
'What Plato
inquiring
thought'
a line of Plato
to understand
if one is
It is indeed impossible
not concerned
Plato was
concerned
with what
i.e., the
with,
one
not
if
and
hence
does
truth about the highest
inquire
things,
It is indeed
whether
what
Plato
thought about them is true.
It is then

to understand
what
Plato
think
thought without
impossible
the
about
which
without
Plato
i.e.,
ing,
articulating
subjects
cannot
about
Plato's
be
limited
subjects
thought.
Thinking
It must take into consideration
by what Plato said or thought.
everything
considered

relevant,
regardless
it or not. That

of whether
is to say,

Plato

seems

to have

to understand
trying
intention; and
remaining
loyal to Plato's
guiding
means
to
to
intention
Plato's
about
remaining
forget
loyal
with
the
Plato and to be concerned
exclusively
highest
things.
not
assumed
that we must
But Collingwood
about
forget
in spite, or rather because,
of the fact that we must aim
Plato
Plato

requires

at no other

the highest
the truth regarding
things.
is
not
is
and
defeated
assumption
legitimate
by its con
to learn something
if it means
that we may have
sequences,

This

end

than

On Collingwood's

585

of History

Philosophy

things which we are not likely


i.e., that we must regard Plato
as a possible
to regard Plato
him for the time being as an actual

from Plato about the highest


to learn without
his guidance,
as a possible
But
authority.
means

to regard
the subjects
articulate
must,
indeed, ourselves
authority.
we
in
must
Plato
follow
about which
doing this
thought, but
as to the manner
in which
these subjects
Plato's
indications
If Plato
took something
for granted
should be articulated.
or
or even of denying,
which we are in the habit of doubting
a
a
of
if he did not push the analysis
given subject beyond
certain point, we must regard it as possible
that he had good
authority

We

reasons
to
he stopped.
If it is necessary
for stopping where
to understand
it
it is necessary
Plato's
understand
thought,
as Plato
it is necessary
himself
understood
it, and therefore
to stop where he stopped and to look around: perhaps we shall
understand
his reasons
for stopping.
As
long as
gradually
Plato's
have not understood
thought, we are in no position
it is true." The
to say "Whether
is
"historian
of philosophy"
a man who
that he has not yet understood
Plato's
knows
is seriously
concerned
and who
with
thought
understanding
he
he
because
that
Plato's
suspects
may have to learn
thought
from Plato
of utmost
It is for this
importance.
something

we

reason

that

for

Plato's

tacle,
underestimated
by his

thought

the historian.

cannot

an

become

It is to be

of finding
the difficulty
or "Whether
what

statements"

object,

or

spec

feared

that Collingwood
out "What Plato meant
is true."
he thought

the thought
of the past as
i.e., concern with
History,
on
if there
takes
of
the
past,
philosophic
significance
thought
are good reasons
that we can learn something
for believing
from the thought of the past which we
of utmost
importance
cannot
osophic
decline.

from our contemporaries.


for men
living
significance

learn

takes on phil
History
in an age of intellectual
essential
the past becomes

the thinkers of
Studying
an
it is the
in
decline because
age of intellectual
living
a
can
recover
in which
proper under
only practicable way
they
Given
of
the
fundamental
such
conditions,
problems.
standing
for men

history

has

understanding

the

further

task

of

of the fundamental

explaining
problems

the
why
has become

proper
lost in

586

Leo Strauss
a manner

that the loss presents


itself at the outset as a
it
is
true
If
that
loss
of
of the funda
progress.
understanding
in the historicization
mental
culminates
of philosophy
problems
or in historicism,
in
the second
consists
function
of history
the modern
notion
of "History"
making
intelligible
through
of its genesis.
the understanding
Historicism
sanctions
the
of the natural horizon of human
loss, or the oblivion,
thought
such

the permanence
of the fundamental
It
by denying
problems.
is the existence
of that natural horizon which makes
possible
in particular
and therefore
"historical
"objectivity"
objectivity."
Leo
The University

of Chicago.

Strauss