Monthly Archives: August 2013

Psychology

Preface (January 17–18, 2019). This essay is built around two extended quotations from Collingwood.

  1. One is from the posthumous Idea of History (1946) with the core idea, “people do not know what they are doing until they have done it.”
  2. The other is from An Essay on Philosophical Method (1933), about how logic is neither a purely descriptive nor a purely normative science.

The quotations pertain to the title subject of psychology for the following reasons.

  1. Psychological experiments show that we may not know what we are doing until we have done it.
  2. Psychology is a descriptive science.

Psychological experiments can tell us about what we do, only when we presuppose the general applicability of their findings. This is true for any descriptive science. Philosophy demands more. A philosophical science like logic is categorical, in the sense of the second listed quotation, because it is what Collingwood will later call criteriological. I go on to discuss criteriological sciences as such in “A New Kind of Science,” but not here.

Here I suggest examples of not knowing where one’s life is going. A simpler example would be making art. By the account of The Principles of Art (1938), this is something we do all the time, as for example when we utter a new sentence. We do not know what the sentence is going to be, until it is said. On the other hand, we do somehow guide its utterance. See the quotation about painting at the end of “Freedom.

Collingwood discusses categorical thinking for the sake of explaining the Ontological Proof, which I go on to analyze myself in later articles. Meanwhile, the present essay ends with a look at Graham Priest’s dismissive treatment of the Proof.


The original purpose of this article is to record a passage in The Idea of History of R.G. Collingwood (1889–1943). I bought and read this book in 2001. I was looking back at it recently, because I was reading Herodotus, and I wanted to see again what Collingwood had to say about him and other ancient historians.

The passage that I want to talk about reminded me of some psychological experiments whose conclusions can be overblown. Writing before those experiments, Collingwood shows that the similar conclusions can be drawn, in more useful form, without the pretence of a scientific experiment.

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