Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Beginning Collingwood's 'Speculum Mentis'

Over the last three days I have read the first sixty pages of R.G. Collingwood's book Speculum Mentis, Or, The Map Of Knowledge. The portions I read were the preface, the prologue, and the second chapter called 'Speculum Mentis'. I am finding it curious stuff. Weirdly organized paragraphs. Slightly confusing.

He begins the preface by observing that in the 1920's few people seem to care about art, religion, or philosophy. He says that the modern era is unique in that there are plenty of people producing art, religion, and philosophy, but no one seems interested in consuming them. "The coexistence of overproduction on the one side with unsatisfied demand on the other," he says is "the special problem of modern life" (21). So Collingwood sees the problem of modernity as this separation between these types of producers and the everyday consumers indifference to them. This is especially problematic because Collingwood asserts, "Art and religion and philosophy are not vain quests, they are normal activities of the human mind" (20). If these activities are indeed normal (and important), then the modern age is in a strange predicament. How did this happen?

Collingwood then uses a historical survey to try explain this indifference to these works. He says that the Middle Ages were different from the modern modern era in that the people at the time possessed a greater 'unity of mind'. Furthermore, that the Middle Ages possessed institutions that were able to organize people's lives for them. They were, more than us, able to to engage in work that both supported them and made them feel like they were doing something worthwhile. "In every case there was an organization which gave the individual what to do and–in a rough and ready way, perhaps–looked after him so long as he did it" (24). But this institutional structure was not the main thing that separates the middle ages from the modern era.

The more important thing, as I mentioned, was the unity of mind that they possessed. What Collingwood means by this is that art, religion, and philosophy had not yet been divided into distinct disciplines. Instead, religion served as the basis by which art and philosophy were oriented. These three things were always working in relation to one another. This interrelationship of these forms of thought, Collingwood claims, allowed individuals to experience a mental unity. They were more comfortable, more complete, more okay with their ways of living and the ideas that they had. On the contrary, Collingwood believes that we are no longer able to experience this type of mental unity. He says that we have to choose between being religious, scientific, philosophical, artistic, et cetera. That we have to choose which type of knowledge we subscribe too. "What is wrong with us is precisely the detachment of these forms of experience–art,religion, and the rest–from one another; and our cure can only be their reunion in a complete and undivided life" (36).

He says that this happened because art and philosophy came to maturity and had to free themselves from their connection to religion. And while it is good that these disciplines came to their maturity, the inevitable result is a sort of disunion within our own minds. He makes this point clear when he says: "In the middle ages the artist was perhaps not much of an artist, the philosopher was by our standards only mildly philosophical, and the religious man not extremely religious; but they were all men, whole of heart and secure in their grasp on life. To-day we can be artistic, we can be philosophical, we can be religious as we please, but we cannot ever be men at all; we are wrecks and fragments of men, and we do not know where to take hold of life and how to begin looking for the happiness which we know we do not possess" (35). In any case, Collingwood thinks that our era is marked by a disunion between the disciplines and thus a disunion in our own minds.

The entire prologue is occupied by this historical survey of the disciplines and their effects on the mind. In the next chapter titled 'Speculum Mentis' Collingwood begins to deal with the idea of creating a 'map of knowledge'. He had previously said that art, religion, philosophy and so forth, are unique forms of human experience that all count as forms of knowledge because they are the result of cognitive activity. So then, to understand these unique fields of experience Collingwood plans to analyze five distinct fields of knowledge: art, religion, science, history, and philosophy. The goal of the inquiry seems to be to acquire a sort of unity of mind between these things.

I am too tired to write anymore right now. I stopped writing this halfway through and went out to eat massive amounts of Italian food. It was good.

I'll have to see how the book goes.

I'm too tired.

I had this idea about how analytical distinctions turn into experiential distinctions. Language registers in our experience and changes it.

So the division of the disciplines that Collingwood describes would indeed turn into experiential divisions.

Anyways, sleep.

I'll keep reading Speculum Mentis.

I'm sure I'll end up writing on it more.

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