Thank you for the R.G. Collingwood video. His way of looking at things instantaneously shattered some foundations of my thinking, and clarified some dilemmas I face in trying to negotiate the world, which sometimes strikes me as “Mad Magazine” made manifest.
Collingwood presents a “radical iconoclastic-ism.” My exposure to just a few of his thoughts in a brief 1.3 hour presentation has revealed the faulty foundation (“the man behind the curtain”) of a lot of my ‘education/indoctrination’ as well as my ‘independent’ thinking. Even this brief exposure to Collingwood makes me feel as though I’ve entered a maelstrom – a welcome maelstrom for sure – liberating, uplifting – though my head hurts. So I purchased a couple of his books on line and checked out some additional articles on Sott.
Collingwood asks, “What are the presuppositions that govern our thinking about things?” I sense this question is vital and earth-shattering –though I just heard it. It can change how one perceives everything – and I figure that awareness, thought, seeing and understanding are intricately intertwined in a way ‘The Matrix’ touches on when the child monk says, “Do not try and bend the spoon – that's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth……..There is no spoon. Then you will see it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”
Many, many ideas crossed my mind while watching the video. For example, I have been taught explicitly that there is “Life” and there is “Death” and never the twain shall meet. But what if I were to ask, “What are the presuppositions that govern thinking about this matter?” I can’t pinpoint them specifically yet, but I can see at least a presupposition of a distinct dichotomy between the two – Life and Death are presented as black/white, on/off, good/evil. What if this dichotomy were a faulty presupposition? What if there is neither life nor death, but simply a continuum of existence, as Bhagavad Gita says, “You are never born, never dying; nor having once existed, can cease to be.” Truly understanding that – Realizing that – could change everything; it could eradicate the underlying existential dread that fuels so much fear and limitation. AND, what if other dualities that serve as foundations for my thinking were eliminated as merely fictitious constructs? What would remain -- or replace them? Certainly something quite different from what I’ve been taught. Something closer to Truth, perhaps?
And briefly……two additional statements grabbed me: “A logic in which the answers are attended to and the questions neglected is a false logic.” “In Collingwood’s view, no two propositions can contradict one another unless they are answers to the same question.” Well, well, well. How about them apples? I won’t even begin to express the light these proposals have shed on just about every conversation I've had in the past 5 years. It’s mind-boggling. I could go on and on, but I don't know anything yet. I need to study.
Thanks so much!!
Thank you Magnolia for sharing these interesting thoughts. I have thought along similar lines about Collingwood's concept of a certain historical relativism regarding absolute presuppositions - it is a difficult idea to wrap one's head around.
I would keep two things in mind though: first, Collingwood was very much against a too rigid approach to philosophy, he especially warned about obsessing about definitions, because for him, in philosophy, concepts always overlap and there can never be razor-sharp distinctions. Second, he also promoted a certain conservatism regarding our absolute presuppositions: yes, they are neither true nor false, but for a civilization to persist and flourish, we need to use our will to affirm those presuppositions on which our civilization is based. In his view, this is often done by religions, even though they may not even be conscious of this. That doesn't mean that our absolute presuppositions might not come "under strain", as he put it, and eventually give way to new ideas, but there is a limit of what we as individuals can (or should) do to change/abolish them. In other words, there is a great danger of trying to "deconstruct" our presuppositions - it might leave us completely unhinged, in a vacuum, and lost, because we lose the very foundation from which reality can be seen, limited as this foundation may be. Besides, it is often a delusion anyway: as much as we try, we cannot help looking at the world in a certain way, thinking in certain categories, and so on.
I believe in order to understand Collingwood, it is useful to think about the big picture, the development of civilizations, and our place within them, in order to avoid falling into too strong a relativistic position as if nothing we believe in has any value. The way I like to think about it is that absolute presuppositions give us access to a certain "chunk of reality" - granted, it's not the complete picture, and therefore there are many errors and misconceptions, but it is still an aspect of reality (think for example about materialism, which as a mode of thought has allowed us to "think through" the world from that perspective). Our presuppositions can evolve so that we gain access to new "reality chunks", which then also leads to a re-evaluation of what we thought about previous reality chunks we have mastered; but we shouldn't mistake this idea for a complete relativism where we can just throw out our presuppositions.
It is a subtle point. Do we still have access to a reality chunk once we stop believing in some of our absolute presuppositions? What does that mean for our evolution? Perhaps what we need to learn during these times of transition is to consciously use the different presuppositions and perspectives we can manage to hold even without being identified with them or taking them for granted. Collingwood's conservatism with regard to these may have something to do with the fact that certainly not everybody can pull that off. Losing our collective presuppositions, therefore, is civilization-ending stuff if there is no gradual shift and if a new equilibrium isn't reached that can hold civilization together.