Reading The Idea of History through The Principles of Art: Collingwood on Communication and Emotions

While Collingwood’s Idea of History (ih) is an excellent resource for defending history’s autonomy, its invocation is not without problems. If history deals only in reflective thought, how can it encompass irrational action? How can history reconcile its subjective method of imagination with its claim to objectivity? The most successful solutions to these problems, such as those proposed by D’Oro and Mink, appeal to Collingwood’s greater philosophical system, but they typically attribute him a restrictive and unintuitive view of historical inquiry. We are left with a historical practice that is less equipped to address the problems we intuitively want it to solve – those dealing with past human experience as it actually occurred. Using The Principles of Art (pa), I present an interpretation of Collingwood’s philosophy of history in which emotions are communicable between individuals. His theory of art defines artistic creation as a process in which unconscious emotions are harnessed and transformed into conscious emotions, which can then draw another individual into an imaginative experience that ‘repeats’ or ‘is identical with’ the artist’s original experience. We therefore acquire an account of historical inquiry that permits the interpretation of emotionally-driven actions. In this interpretation, the a priori imagination becomes an irreducible faculty of everyday human activity, a means of interpreting fellow agents in our social environments; and the onus is transferred to the natural sciences to justify their encroachment into this irreducible activity at the foundation of human experience and society.