Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Blog Has Moved

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Freedom, Character, and Circumstance

Ohhhhh the concept of freedom is always a difficult one. What does it mean to be free? Blah blah blah.

Two things that stand in the way of freedom are character and circumstance. We often just have emotional reactions and can't do anything but follow our character. It seems like that could interfere with freedom. Also circumstance. It determines our character and much else about us.

Either way, Collingwood says that both character and circumstance are compatible with freedom. In fact, they depend on them. He claims that "man is never more free than when he acts in accordance with his character, and think[s] it absurd to maintain that an honest man shows his freedom by acting dishonestly but not by acting honestly. Indeed, character, so far from hampering freedom, confers it: or rather, confers not freedom in general but the special freedom to act in this or that way" (The Principles of History, "Reality as History," 290). Reminds me a bit of Collingwood's sense of duty. That freedom is not to be identified with capricious action, but with an individual sticking to their guns, obeying their character, following their unique path to act in the way that they must act in that moment.

Circumstance, too, therefore, is not a hindrance to freedom. It is, in fact, the only thing that can possibly enable freedom: "But essentially to be unhappy is to be in the power of circumstances, things other than oneself standing round oneself, constricting one's movements by their presence, forbidding one to do anything except what they permit.... Happiness and unhappiness are not the consciousness of freedom from passion or the force of circumstances, and of subjection to these things, respectively; they are that freedom itself and that subjection itself. As we shall see, so far from being states of consciousness they are not even first-order objects of consciousness: they are second-order objects, the terminal and initial points of desire, abstractly considered... The fundamental form of happiness is not being forced by circumstances to behave viciously, it is being forced by circumstances at all. Happiness is a condition in which the self not only rises superior to the passions which are provoked in it by circumstances, but to force of circumstances as such. The happy self is master of circumstances" (The New Leviathan, 84).

Ohhhh boy. What the hell are you talking about, bro?

What is this master image Collingwood was working towards? This fusion of history and philosophy? This overcoming of the traditional distinction between subject and object, between theory and practice.

What the hell was all this about?

How were you to lay the groundwork for the science of human affairs? Why did you die before you told me this? Why do I feel so compelled to chase your dead thoughts? To bring them back to life.

Why do I want so badly to carry Collingwood's torch?

I Can't Write Like That Anymore

I used to just puke out 10-15 page essays. I was so content to just explore a book or two. Use some quotations. Argue some basic points. Just flip around in a pleasant abstract world.

But it takes so much more for me to do really serious writing now. I have to have a real problem to work on. I need to have a bunch of evidence pushing me in a similar direction.

Right now I'm reading a lot of Collingwood. I'm working on connecting his moral and political philosophy to Clausewitz and John Gray.

Slow going.

I'm moving through The Principles of History and the essays and notes published with that volume.

It is soooooo obvious that Collingwood's morality hinges on a proper conception of history and historical education. There is a total vision in Collingwood that was never actualized. It would benefit so much from a well reasoned comparison to Clausewitz and Gray.

Let me share a lengthy quotation for you. This is found in Collingwood's notes on the philosophy of history. It comes from his notes on 'Scheme for a Book: "The Principles of History"'. In this note Collingwood lays out tentative outline for the book and its main points. I'll pick up about halfway through after Collingwood declares that history must be the human sciences. That is, only history can provide human's with self-knowledge: "The main idea here is that history is the negation of the traditional distinction between theory and practice. That distinction depends on taking, as our typical case of knowledge, the contemplation of nature, where the object is presupposed. In history the object is enacted and is therefore not an object at all. If this is worked out carefully, then should follow without difficulty a characterization of an historical morality and an historical civilization, contrasting with our 'scientific' one. Where 'science' = of or belonging to natural science. A scientific morality will start from the idea of human nature as a thing to be conquered or obeyed: a[n] historical one will deny that there is such a thing, and will resolve what we are into what we do. A scientific society will turn on the idea of mastering people (by money or war or the like) or alternatively serving them (philanthropy). A[n] historical society will turn on the idea of understanding them" (The Principles of History, 246).

A long quotation that has a ton going on it.

Collingwood didn't get anywhere near addressing all this stuff. The idea of a historical society, one that seeks to understand people seems revolutionary.

I'm trying to work this stuff out. Historical morality. Historical civilization. Historical education.


I don't know what to do.

But I am moving on this shit. Trying to get it clear. Trying to write what Collingwood would have written.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Modest Writing.

Ok ok my writing isn't terrible. I am just writing in a way that I haven't been writing for a while. I'm trying to do a pure exposition of The New Leviathan. I'm doing my best to just grapple with the book as it is. Trying to understand its content, its structure, and its context (both in the author's life and in history). It is challenging. It is a very confusing book. And I'm really trying to work with it.

I might get crazy with it. Really dig into it.

It feels like a much more modest task. The writing I'm doing isn't about my ideas. It sort of is. But I'm trying to just describe Collingwood's book. Render it in different or more general terms. I'm not sure if I'm doing it well. I think I'm working towards something.

But it feels a lot more challenging than it would.

Dealing with serious books is hard.

I already know this. Sort of.

I understand 'the task' intellectually. I haven't really grappled with books on the level that I'll need to in the future. But I'm getting there.

And I think it is a good idea to start taking The New Leviathan seriously, to spend the time with it that it demands.

*Le Sigh*

Gonna take some time.

Friday, April 13, 2012

OH Man

Mannnn I'm trying to write right now and it feels terrrrrible.

Not that I dislike writing. It feels fun to write right now in this blog.

But my writing just sounds so terrible to me. I am doing bad writing.

I'm trying to write about The New Leviathan and I don't understand why it is so difficult.

It has turned out to be a much more pivotal moment in my reading through Collingwood than I thought it would be. I don't know why, but I didn't think that TNL would occupy my thinking so much. I thought for some reason the stuff in The Idea of History, An Autobiography, The Idea of Nature, The Principles of Art, and The Principles of History would occupy me the most.

I guess I just didn't see TNL coming. This bizarre political treatise. So elusive in its purpose. So suspect in its context. The question: Is this the book of a dying man? The answer is definitely yes. But does that detract from it? What does it say about it?

It means it might be hasty. Might be shrill.

Someone described An Essay on Metaphysics as shrill. I thought it was interesting.

There certainly is something fierce and desperate in the late Collingwood. But I don't think shrill sounds right.

But boy howdy am I struggling on writing about The New Leviathan. I think I should just push it all out and see what is there. Puke out a bunch of stuff without concern for its coherence or order. Then I can sort it all out later. Because I'm definitely not able to sort it out in my head.

Gotta externalize this stuff.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


I declare.

The natural sciences will not provide adequate self-knowledge.

For this we can only turn to history, philosophy, and the rest of the humanities.

Such a foreign idea.

To love the humanities so much.

To see in them such potential.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Criticizing Collingwood

The task for me is to get myself into a position in which I am able to criticize Collingwood.

Right now I am too busy immersing myself in his thinking, trying to arrive at some kind of clearer picture of his mind.

For a long time this is how I felt about Foucault. I felt like I was in a position where I was totally dominated by his books. I couldn't begin to criticize them because I was fully involved in understanding them. I got to a much better position with Foucault. I certainly don't completely command Foucault's oeuvre. But I certainly have spent enough time with it that I feel comfortable making certain criticisms, or appropriating him in ways that I see fit. I feel like I grasp him enough to criticize him at times. I grasp enough to use him as a tool.

I'm not quite there with Collingwood yet.

I'm reading The Principles of History and that is helping. But it is so short and some of it I've read before.

I want to read The Idea of Nature.

I was glancing at his Essay on Philosophical Method.

I'm curious about it.

I'm ready to keep reading him.

I'm about to begin writing on his notion of duty and its role in The New Leviathan.

I'm ready to keep working with him.