Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Blog Has Moved

Please come and see me at

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.


I'm such a Collingwood hipster.

I'm so irked that somebody wrote another book called 'The New Leviathan'. This one has the subtitle: How the Left-Wing Money-Machine Shapes American Politics and Threatens America's Future.

Written by some conservative folks.


Didn't you know Collingwood already wrote The New Leviathan and no one is paying enough attention to it anyways.


Thx a lot.

You've ruined the title now.

Blarg blarg blarg Collingwood is the best blah blah blah.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It Begins Again

I've begun another one. A new essay. Wrote the first page and a half last night. Feel pretty good about it.

I have been hinting at it on the blog for the last few weeks, but I haven't been able to make any kind of actual progress.

The main title, as I have said, is 'Duty, Agonistic Pluralism, and Historical Pedagogy'. But I've added a subtitle. " Collaborating With Collingwood’s ‘Science of Human Affairs’ "

For a while I was trying to find a way to pull all these ideas together. A way to synthesize the work of Collingwood, Gray, and Clausewitz. For a little I thought maybe I could talk about the counter-enlightenment as a way to introduce all these ideas. So I did some very quick research on the counter-enlightenment and found that I don't know enough to really begin on that topic.

Then I remembered Collingwood's idea of the science of human affairs. His attempt to invent a method of study by which people "could learn to deal with human situations as skilfully as natural science had taught them to deal with situations in the world of Nature?” (An Autobiography, 115). It turns out the science of human affairs, for Collingwood, is history.

This is the claim that I really intend to explore in this upcoming essay. I want to understand how history can become a form of study that would improve our capacity for dealing with the social world.

Sounds fun to me.

I look forward to getting this essay underway. But I can already tell that it is going to get a lot longer than I am thinking.

Further, I believe that this essay might be the thing that lets me finish AZI.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Shocking, Indeed.

I am still on the cusp of some large writing.

I can't grasp it yet.

But I certainly know that Collingwood is who I want to be reading and who I want to be thinking like.

I feel so involved with him, so familiar and connected with him as a thinker. I quite like it. He is the thinker I feel most committed to. This may be due to a lack of exposure. Perhaps far down the road Collingwood will be a marginal figure in my thinking.

But right now he is my man.

My intellectual idol.

And I immediately scoff at the idea of him assuming a marginal position in my thinking.

Who knows what will happen in my thought.

But I want to keep him central.

I really want to understand him.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Shocking Discovery!!!

Oh my! Oh. Well then.

I'm starting to dig in to Collingwood's unfinished final book, The Principles of History. Very interesting.

And then I ran into something veryyyyyy exciting. Something that feels very significant to me.

Collingwood claims that aesthetics and historical thought are inextricably related, and that "a science of aesthetic is an indispensable precondition to any science of historical method..." (The Principles Of History, 52). How interesting. The union between aesthetics and history comes from the fact that historians gather evidence by reading documents and things. Historians work exclusively through language. All language, according to Collingwood, belongs to the realm of aesthetics. Thus the historian must necessarily pass through an aesthetic stage of reading and understanding a text before he can set about his task of understanding its historical significance. Historical thinking thus involves a 'literary' process. To think historically is to "do something of exactly the same kind as reading a work of fiction or a warning to trespassers. Investigations concerning the nature of this process are carried out by the science of language, which is not philology but aesthetic" (Ibid.). Very interesting indeed.

This may have some potential relationship with Schiller. The idea that someone must pass through a stage of aesthetic education if he is to be able to move on to other forms of education.

This is most exciting for me because it gives me the possibility of completing AZI. Because I will be able to successfully connect the whole idea of the aesthetic existence to the dutiful consciousness, which is simultaneously the historical consciousness. Thus properly uniting all of Collingwood's work.

I think I'm starting to see more of the whole that Collingwood intended his oeuvre to be. The intersection of aesthetics, metaphysics, history, duty, and political rationality are all coming together.

I'll try to explore all this in much longer form soon.

Every day I feel like I'm gaining momentum on this thinking. Strange, how my thought seems to be coming on so heavily these days. It felt stagnant for a while but now I've got so much to think about.

The Counter-Enlightenment

I am slowly beginning to identify myself with thinkers of the so-called 'counter-enlightenment'.

Chief among them is John N. Gray. But I've also read and enjoyed Isaiah Berlin, Gray's mentor, and the coiner of the phrase 'counter-enlightenment'.

Generally, it refers to attempts to abandon or do away with the flaws of the Enlightenment project.

The main things that counter-enlightenment wishes to overcome (among others), are the Enlightenment's philosophical anthropology and its philosophy of history. In particular, we need to adopt a historicized view of life, meaning that we can't assume that local/traditional identities are not transient, but are rather constitutive of individuals and communities. Communities cannot subsist on reason alone. They need tradition. Overcoming the Enlightenment's philosophy of history removes removing any idea that history inevitably moves towards progress, or that it moves in any other direction.

I'm not sure what all this means. Or why I'm identifying with it.

But I intend to explore it in my new essay, 'Duty, Agonistic Pluralism, and Historical Pedagogy'.

All of the writers I'll be drawing on present a different form of morality, one not grounded in the Enlightenment, or in utilitarian or regularian analysis.

Who knows.

Either way. I really like John Gray, Isaiah Berlin is cool, and what I know of Alasdair MacIntyre is very exciting. Collingwood seems to have traces of this stuff, although probably not appropriate for him to be called counter-enlightenment.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Undirected Emotion

Sometimes when I walk and sit and live I feel a sort of intensity that I have no way of expressing.

I've got this ball in my heart that shakes in every direction, threatening to explode at any moment.

But it never does.

My chest always stays in tact.

My body never breaks under the pressure of my emotions.

My mind shakes and wavers, but it never breaks.

I want so badly to find a way of expressing the intensity that I feel. My mind, my heart, my thoughts, my emotions.

They don't come out easily.

Especially when my primary medium is language.

Especially when I am so aware of the limitations of my primary medium.

I wonder about poetry.

I wonder about painting.

I wonder about language.

I wonder about art.

I feel all this emotion that I don't know how to express or direct.

I know I don't really understand that emotion, because I can't understand it unless I express it.

A serious challenge.

These emotions.

These mediums.

This idea of expression.

I am typically bursting at the seams.

Don't think I'm not.

Finishing AZI

I have an idea about how I am to finish the AZI project. It involves an essay that could stand alone, but that will also fit directly onto the end of the project.

It is the essay I have been hinting at in a few posts, tentatively titled 'Duty, Agonistic Pluralism, and Historical Pedagogy'.

The problem I am encountering is one of ordering. How exactly to fit it into the project?

Because the last thing I was doing in AZI was a survey of political themes in Collingwood's final books.

I stopped working on that survey about three months ago when I reached The New Leviathan, which just so happens to be the final book in the survey. I didn't understand crucial things about the book. I am still missing certain things. But I now have a grasp on a few of the central ideas that were eluding me. In particular, I now understand what it means for Collingwood to develop a concept of duty that is disentangled from conceptions of right and utility.

There are a few other things that I don't really understand, still.

But I still think I grasp the concept of duty enough to write about it. Well, almost.

The question, however, is how grasping TNL will leave me in a position to finish AZI.

It seems that TNL and the ideas I'm having now are really pushing at the limits of the project. I'm not sure if they really fit in there. Or if the project is really coherent at all.

Because what the whole thing is ending on is this idea of an aesthetics of decision making. That it is appropriate to think of a certain attitude towards decision making as 'aesthetic'. The analogy is still legitimate. Still makes sense in some ways. I have some evidence for this. But I dunno.

I don't understand how I can make this new series of ideas fit into AZI.

Maybe I should just write it straight up on its own, as a sort of laboratory for AZI. Because the truth is that the essay is different enough from AZI that it should be written separately, but similar enough that it could go in.

I think I should write it separately, then decide what to do. If I feel like it I can just tack it on to the end of AZI. Or I can use it as a starting point for more writing.

Who knows.

Monday, April 2, 2012



Sometimes I want so badly to get my hands on a book but it is expensive and the library doesn't have it and I'm not a student so I can't use ILL!


Currently that book is Collingwood and the Crisis of Western Civilization: Art, Metaphysics and Dialectic.


I can tell from the title, the covers, and the snippets I can read, that it is a supremely interesting book. Totally situates Collingwood in a way that makes sense to me: approaching the crisis of Western civilization from a variety of angles, such as art, metaphysics, and dialectics.

I want it!

It is new!


Written as a dissertation and published as a book!

I want to be the best Collingwood scholar ever! I need this book!

Philosophical Courage

I've started readings some Schopenhauer. I'm pretty excited about it.

He is often labeled as a pessimist. But I'm not sure what I'm seeing in him so far.

I've definitely seen a concise defense of compassion in his essay 'On The Suffering Of The World'.

But what I'm really gaining from him is courage.

Courage to keep going on thinking and living and choosing.

Sometimes things are confusing.

But it helps to commune with these dead minds that had the courage to ask the tough questions, to face the meaninglessness of life, to look into the abyss.

I recently also read Collingwood's lecture 'Goodness, Rightness, Utility'. It was most excellent, and has greatly improved my grasp on the main arguments of The New Leviathan.

As I was reading it I would occasionally remember that it was delivered as a lecture. I couldn't help but imagine myself sitting in a room, listening to Collingwood speak. It was so interesting. I've seen pictures of him. I roughly know what he looked like in 1940, when the lecture was delivered. He even tells you that he is wearing a cap and gown, as the occasion required.

Reading that lecture, gave me a sort of energy, a sort of courage, a much needed breath of fresh air into my thinking.

Because lately my thinking has felt stale. I didn't know what I was thinking about. I wasn't reading anything in particular. Glancing at a book, Women, Fire, And Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About The Mind. I was looking at it today. Interesting sort of linguistic cognitive science from 1987. Prototype theory. Expanding on prototype theory with the theory of mental modeling.

Mental modeling is something I've already explored in Claxton, Humphrey, and Frith. Very interesting stuff.

I digress.

My recent reading of Collingwood and Schopenhauer has given me a remarkable intellectual energy. I can feel all kinds of thoughts moving towards something more coherent.

It gives me hope for my thinking. And for the possibility of some serious writing in the near future.

But I'm not sure what it means for my graduate school decision making.