NL I: “Body and Mind”

Index to this series. See also a later, shorter article on this chapter

The Chapter in Isolation

“Body and Mind” is the opening chapter of Collingwood’s New Leviathan. The chapter is a fine work of rhetoric that could stand on its own, though it invites further reading. In these respects it resembles the first of the ten traditional books of Plato’s Republic, or even the first of the thirteen books of Euclid’s Elements. The analogy with Euclid becomes a bit tighter when we consider that each chapter of The New Leviathan is divided into short paragraphs, which are numbered sequentially for ease of reference.

My university mathematics department has a course based on Book I of the Elements, and I have shown somewhere that the later development of Descartes’s so-called analytic geometry can be founded solely on this book (although Descartes himself implicitly uses Books V and VI, and David Hilbert uses Book III; see my “Thales and the Nine-point Conic,” De Morgan Gazette 8 no 4 [2016], and revisions).

A tutor of mine at St John’s College once spoke of setting out to read Plato’s Republic with his own teacher, only to find that their discussions of Book I filled a semester. After Chapter I of The New Leviathan, I may or may not find myself writing about Chapter II.

My printed text of Collingwood’s book is the second edition, published by Oxford in 1992 (“first impression in paperback 1999, 2000”). This edition comes with an introduction of 45 pages by the editor, David Boucher. I have read some of this introduction on one or two occasions, but usually I think my time is better spent just reading Collingwood directly. The professional student of Collingwood will need to position him among other philosophers and will need to position him- or herself as a scholar among other scholars. The editor’s introduction will be useful for this student. But I read and write as an amateur. Collingwood himself warns against the arrogations of the professionals. I shall return to this point.


Collingwood begins Chapter I of The New Leviathan by rehearsing the purpose of the book as a whole. The purpose is to examine the revolt against civilization being carried out contemporaneously by Germany under the Nazis. Civilization is a possible condition of a community; community is a possible condition of humans. Thus, in reverse order, we have arrived at the four parts of the whole book:

  1. Man,
  2. Society,
  3. Civilization,
  4. Barbarism.

I would say that, for this brief overview, Collingwood is using the method of analysis, namely starting at the desired result and working backwards. Thus did Pappus of Alexandria in the fourth century define analysis (ἀνάλυσις) when he began describing a (now-lost) work called Ἀναλυόμενος by Euclid, Apollonius of Perga, and Aristaeus the elder. (In Heath’s History of Greek Mathematics [1921] and elsewhere, this work with three authors is called Treasury of Analysis. Heath gives it the Greek title Ἀναλυόμενος τόπος, but I find only Ἀναλυόμενος in the Loeb Classical Library volume Greek Mathematical Works II.)

Collingwood places himself in a later tradition:

1. 19. We of the twentieth century hold ourselves bound to the tradition in these matters laid down by Bacon and Descartes in the seventeenth: to speak not merely ‘to the subject’ but ‘to the point’; to divide our subject into parts, to arrange the parts in such an order that what is said about each prepares the way for what is said about the next; and to say about each not all we know but only what need be said for the sake of that preparation.

My own notes are going to be more wide-ranging. I may be on subject, but not on point. Collingwood knows what his point actually is; I shall write down some things that seem relevant, but may not ultimately be on point.

It is generally important for Collingwood to place himself in a tradition: he says this, for example, at the end of An Essay on Philosophical Method of 1933 (see my earlier article “The Tradition of Western Philosophy” in this blog). For The New Leviathan, again, Collingwood finds his organizational principle in Bacon and Descartes. How different is that principle from the principle used by, say, Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica, or for that matter Plato in the Republic, or even Euclid in the Elements? I do not consider Herodotus: his Histories are sprawling and often not “to the point.”

I do not know how well Thomas’s Summa is organized. However, glancing back at the Modern Library volume called Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas that I used in college, I note the assertion in the editor’s preface that the Summa Theologica “is a work that is continuous in its analysis and its matter.” I wonder about the continuity of The New Leviathan and about how much stretching was needed to stitch together in one volume some of the various thoughts that the author had had in his life.

I make here a possibly off-point and even off-subject remark that my physical copy of Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas is one that disappeared from the coatroom where I left it one day in college. It turned up much later in a classroom, in the hands of a classmate, my name having been erased from the first page. The incident obviously raises questions about the moral value of reading books. If you would steal the work of a saint in order to read it, are you going to benefit from that reading? Maybe it depends on the saint.

Mind and Body

Since it serves as a reminder of a curious incident, my continued possession of a particular physical book has a value that an electronic book cannot have. This does bring me back to Chapter I of The New Leviathan. Collingwood has shown that his inquiry must start with man. He has said in ¶1. 14 that the term men includes women and children. What needs to be understood about man right now is the division between body and mind, because “civilization is a thing of the mind, and a community, too, is a thing of the mind” (1. 21). This is perhaps not the same thing as saying a community is a community of minds. A book is a thing of the mind, although it may have a bodily manifestation.

In Chapter IV, “Feeling,” Collingwood will define the Fallacy of Misplaced Argument, namely “the fallacy of arguing about any object immediately given to consciousness” (4. 73). I suggest that the main burden of Chapter I is to lay the ground for an understanding of this fallacy. If there can be misplaced argument, then there must be well-placed arguments. In addition to objects immediately given to consciousness, there will be objects not immediately given to consciousness. Thus Collingwood is going to be making certain distinctions.

The distinction between body and mind is a distinction between objects of different sciences. Sciences like physics, chemistry, and physiology can tell us things of which we were completely ignorant. Sciences of mind may also tell us things that we did not exactly know before (1. 75); but we must have been at least conscious of them (1. 71).


I find here a hint of the doctrine of recollection attributed to Socrates. Collingwood’s older contemporary Bertrand Russell treats this doctrine dismissively in A History of Western Philosophy (1945). The following is from that book’s Chapter XI, “Socrates”:

When, in the Phaedo and the Meno, [Socrates] applies his [dialectical] method to geometrical problems, he has to ask leading questions which any judge would disallow. The method is in harmony with the doctrine of reminiscence, according to which we learn by remembering what we knew in a former existence. As against this view, consider any discovery that has been made by means of the microscope, say the spread of disease by bacteria; it can hardly be maintained that such knowledge can be elicited from a previously ignorant person by the method of question and answer.

Russell may not thoroughly reject the doctrine of recollection, but this is the impression that I recall from reading Russell’s words in the summer before college. I still have the particular book that I read then; but unfortunately its pages have become as brown and brittle as an autumn leaf. My memory may be just as brittle. In any case, Collingwood does not reject the doctrine of recollection. He takes from it what he can: at least I think this is what he is doing in An Essay on Philosophical Method (1933) when he says:

… in a philosophical inquiry what we are trying to do is not to discover something of which until now we have been ignorant, but to know better something which in some sense we knew already; not to know it better in the sense of coming to know more about it, but to know it better in the sense of coming to know it in a different and better way—actually instead of potentially, or explicitly instead of implicitly, or in whatever terms the theory of knowledge chooses to express the difference: the difference itself has been a familiar fact ever since Socrates pointed it out.

Here philosophical inquiries are the subject; but there can be other kinds of inquiries, such as inquiries into the physical world. As noted above, the distinction is important in Chapter I of The New Leviathan. Before returning to this, I would consider another grand passage of Collingwood’s that is seemingly founded in Socrates’s doctrine of recollection. This is from Speculum Mentis (1924):

The world of fact which is explicitly studied in history is therefore implicitly nothing but the knowing mind as such. This is no strange or unfamiliar notion, repugnant to plain and simple minds. It is, on the contrary, a theme reiterated not only in all philosophy but in the implicit philosophizing of religion and popular proverbs. The union of God with man is the burden of all religion, and ‘know thyself’ is the epitome of all proverbs. Philosophies preach it unanimously, only differing in that some preach it, as it were, backwards and in a riddle, like the materialists, who after all are only trying to define knowledge as the self-knowledge of the only reality, namely, matter, or the realists, some of whom argue that reality gets itself known without the intervention of anything called a mind, while some believe that mind is only a peculiar conformation of space-time which is able to know other such conformations, the self-knowledge of space-time; while others again preach it explicitly, like Socrates and Aristotle and Descartes and almost all philosophers of first rank, whether ancient or modern: who with strange unanimity and for the most various reasons* have held that in the last resort nothing but the knower can be known.

* This clause may puzzle the reader, unless he reflects that a concrete truth has an infinity of reasons (rationes cognoscendi, and for that matter rationes essendi as well). For instance, there is no one mark by which one recognizes one’s own face in the glass, and the most various reasons may be given without disagreement (p. 245).

Almost all philosophers of first rank preach that nothing but the knower can be known. I wonder who doesn’t preach this, by Collingwood’s interpretation. Perhaps Bertrand Russell, though he is not likely to be of Collingwood’s first rank. Collingwood’s own words might be dismissed as woo-woo today. Collingwood might be thought to deserve time in the same purgatory that Russell was preparing for Socrates. In A History of Western Philosophy, Russell ends Chapter XVI, “Plato’s Theory of Immortality,” as follows:

The Platonic Socrates was a pattern to subsequent philosophers for many ages. What are we to think of him ethically? (I am concerned only with the man as Plato portrays him.) His merits are obvious. He is indifferent to worldly success, so devoid of fear that he remains calm and urbane and humorous to the last moment, caring more for what he believes to be truth than for anything else whatever. He has, however, some very grave defects. He is dishonest and sophistical in argument, and in his private thinking he uses intellect to prove conclusions that are to him agreeable, rather than in a disinterested search for knowledge. There is something smug and unctuous about him, which reminds one of a bad type of cleric. His courage in the face of death would have been more remarkable if he had not believed that he was going to enjoy eternal bliss in the company of the gods. Unlike some of his predecessors, he was not scientific in his thinking, but was determined to prove the universe agreeable to his ethical standards. This is treachery to truth and the worst of philosophic sins. As a man, we may believe him admitted to the communion of saints; but as a philosopher he needs a long residence in a scientific purgatory.


Does Collingwood commit treachery to truth by fitting all philosophers into one mold, as in the passage from Speculum Mentis? It was not my purpose to examine Russell here, but I would question his notion that a disinterested search for knowledge is even possible. One searches for the kind of knowledge that one is interested in. One has an interest in obtaining this knowledge, or at least an interest in being on its trail: this is why one is actually on the trail in the first place. So it seems to me at least.

There are different kinds of interests, and some may be considered better than others. A person may seek knowledge under external compulsion, and unfortunately many students do this. They study because somebody else tells them to. Their interest is in avoiding the shame of a low grade. If later they become professional researchers, and they accept a grant to prove that a particular drug company’s medication is effective, then they will be doing interested research. If instead they have the freedom to determine whether the drug is really effective or not, then they will still be doing interested research, but the interest will be in human health—or professional glory. Is it possible that they just want to know the truth, for its own sake? One will never know the truth, but only this or that truth. Why this one, and not that? I suppose the truth about a particular drug would be something established by clinical trials, publishable in a reputable journal, and reproducible by other researchers in their own clinical trials. I think this is a fine kind of truth to pursue. That is, I agree with the judgment of humanity that it is in our interest to pursue such truth.


These ruminations can be continued. They will be continued in a reading of later chapters of The New Leviathan. Collingwood will conclude Chapter XIV, “Reason,” by saying:

14. 65. There are certain missing words (three missing words, when I make allowance for synonyms), one of which is used on any one occasion when a modern European answers the question: ‘Why did you do that?’ He will answer:

14. 66. (1) ‘Because it is useful.’

14. 67. (2) ‘Because it is right.’

14. 68. (3) ‘Because it is my duty.’

14. 69. In the following chapters I shall explain what these answers mean.

We should consider then this question, ‘Why did you do that?’, when ‘that’ means (for example) some piece of research. Meanwhile, in Chapter I, let us note Collingwood’s relevant distinction between theoretical and practical thought:

1. 64. Theoretical thought is, for example, thinking about the cold, or thinking about the difference between cold and hot, or thinking that yesterday was even colder than to-day.

1. 65. Practical thought is, for example, thinking whether to light a fire or thinking that you will go back to bed, or thinking: ‘Why should I have the window open?’ …

1. 68. It would be a more disastrous mistake in the science of mind to forget that thought is always practical than to forget that it is sometimes theoretical.

Let that be enough, for now, on the question of Socrates’s interest. I would question also Russell’s dismissal of Socrates’s courage. Socrates is equanimous at death. Is this because, unlike Russell, he is ignorant about what death really means? Socrates gives a religious account of what awaits him after the hemlock. According to Collingwood in Speculum Mentis,

The key to comprehension of religion … is the distinction between symbol and meaning …

Now when we are teaching a child about God, we do not, if we are gifted with ordinary intelligence, say, ‘Of course, God isn’t really your heavenly father, because he isn’t literally your father and he isn’t literally in the sky; you must interpret these symbols in a spiritual sense.’ We know that this kind of qualification would prevent the child from getting anything at all out of our teaching, good or bad, except a certain contempt for the whole subject. Whereas if we boldly say to the child what we know to be literally untrue, that it has a loving and watchful father in the sky, what actually happens is that the child will develop simultaneously two lines of thought. First it will speculate as to how God ever came there, how he gets his dinner, and so forth (‘I expect he has an aeroplane,’ and the like). Secondly, it will, perhaps rather to our surprise, start interpreting the symbolism in a spiritual sense on its own account, connect the heavenly father with its own moral life, with the beauty of nature, with family affection, and other spiritual elements in its experience … The truth grows up in a scaffolding of fiction within the child’s mind; deprive it of the scaffoldng and it will never grow, or at best, like an apple-tree that has not been properly supported by a dead stake in its youth, will grow crooked and misshapen, and fail to strike its roots firmly home (pp. 122–5).

I do not know whether, for Socrates, the myths of an afterlife that he recounts in the Phaedo are literally untrue in the sense of Collingwood and (presumably) Russell.

Natural Science

When I was a child, my parents might take the family to visit a place where I did not want to be. Waking up in the morning, I would hesitate to open my eyes fully. I preferred to think that the walls I saw were those of my own room at home. After some number of minutes, of course I had to face the truth. Russell likens Socrates to such a child, trying to see in the world what he wants to see. Training in natural science is a way to disabuse a child of such tendencies.

It may be this power of natural science that causes some persons to dislike and even attack it. In Chapter I of The New Leviathan, Collingwood passionately defends science against persecution—a persecution that begins with the seemingly innocuous assumption that the layperson can know what a particular science is actually about (1. 57).

“The beginner has in his head a definition of the science” writes Collingwood (1. 43): “a childish definition, perhaps, but still a definition; of the science’s subject-matter he has no definition at all.” This may be granted, with the proviso that for a master of the science, the reverse is true (1. 45). Collingwood denies the proviso:

1. 46. A man ceases to be a beginner in any given science and becomes a master in that science when he has learned that this expected reversal is never going to happen and that he is going to be a beginner all his life.

Something like this has been a theme of Collinwood’s since the beginning of his first book, Religion and Philosophy (1916):

No science is really in a position to define its subject-matter until it has brought its discoveries to a close.

I do not suppose Collingwood would have said then that the discoveries of a science could actually be brought to a close. However, the writing of a particular book is obviously brought to a close, be the book Religion and Philosophy or The New Leviathan.

To say that physics or chemistry is the science of matter is to imply that one’s preconceptions of what matter is can refute the conclusions of the chemist or the physicist. Collingwood goes into these things at some length in An Essay on Metaphysics (1940). The beef there is with the professional philosopher, or for that matter with the politician or businessman, who thinks it is their job to tell the scientist what to do. The philosopher, at least, ought rather to be helping the scientist understand what they actually are doing. Collingwood describes the nineteenth century as an era of consolidation or even reaction. Locke’s theory of government and Watt’s theory of the steam-engine were held to be unsurpassable. They were surpassed, later in the century; but those people who were vested in the old ways were bound to oppose the new developments. “The history of the steam-engine,” writes Collingwood in this Essay,

may serve as a parable of the time. As James Watt had created it, it was still, down to the end of the century, enjoying a practical monopoly for all purposes where a prime mover was required … Yet the degree of thermodynamical efficiency of which it was capable was startlingly low … The noblest outcome of human ingenuity was a heat-engine that wasted between 92.9 and 95 per cent. of the coal it consumed.

That capitalists chose to throw away roughly £94 out of every £100 they spent on keeping their machinery in motion, for sheer inability to invent a more efficient prime mover, is sufficiently remarkable. But let the reader translate these figures into terms of lives lost in coal-mines; for every 6 men killed that ships or the like should travel, 94 killed to honour the divine shades of Watt: and then let him wonder, if he can, why in that humanitarian age there were people who blasphemed against what was called ‘the religion of science’.

The Lockian system in politics had a similar history. That system is based on private property, and therefore logically presupposes a ‘state of nature’ in which property is already a factor. In the course of the eighteenth century it became evident that the Lockian system presupposed something else, namely the thing which is nowadays called nationality; … conceived … as a ‘natural’ basis, an absolute presupposition, of all political activity whatever. The things that were done in the nineteenth century in the name of nationality, the things that are still done today, at what expense in life and wealth I shall not try to estimate, are done for the sake of an eighteenth-century ‘metaphysical’ idea.

I take the passion of Collingwood here to be reflected in Chapter I of The New Leviathan when he condemns scientific persecution, that is, persecution of science and scientists.

Sciences of Mind

Then Collingwood turns around and warns against attempts by the “sciences of mind” to browbeat laypersons into accepting their conclusions:

1. 82. The only way in which [the person answering a question about the mind] can establish an ascendency over [a person judging the answer] is by talking so obscurely that the second does not know what he is talking about. This is the infallible mark of one who deals with the sciences of mind in the spirit of a charlatan.

These are harsh words, given the obscurity of so much philosophical writing. But what are the sciences of mind? Collingwood does not name any of them right now; but they will presumably include logic, ethics—and psychology. He will presently (in The New Leviathan) distinguish between feeling and thought; but he has already investigated the distinction at some length in The Principles of Art (1938). There (in a note on page 171), he introduces the term criteriological to describe logic and ethics as sciences of thought, as opposed the empirical science of feeling, namely psychology. He explains in An Essay on Metaphysics (pages 108–9) why he prefers the term criteriological to the more familiar normative: a science of thought judges not only the thoughts of others, but also its very own thoughts. There is more discussion of logic and ethics as philosophical sciences in An Essay on Philosophical Method, as well as in Religion and Philosophy (pages 39–42). Apparently Collingwood had a lifelong suspicion of a tendency in psychologists to apply empirical methods not only to feeling, but also to thinking. (See my earlier article “Psychology” and later article “A New Kind of Science” in this blog.)

According to Collingwood now, in the New Leviathan,

1. 77. The answer to any question in any science of mind is provided by reflection. Any man who answers that question must already have reflected on the function he is studying, or he could not answer it. Any man who understands (let alone accepts or rejects) the answer must have reflected on the same function, or he could not understand it.

Collingwood does not speak further here about reflection as such; but he will refer to it many times in the book. It is apparently a necessary condition for any conclusions about the mind; but it is not always sufficient. In Chapter XI, “Desire,” we are going to be told:

11. 18. It is important for the conduct of practical life to realize that coming to know what you want is not done by reflection; not because your appetites are repressed as too vile to contemplate; but because they remain preconscious until they have changed into passions and so into desires.

11. 19. Trying to force oneself or another to identify the object of an appetite by reflection (‘come, come’—one knows the hectoring voice—‘think; tell me what you want’) can only do untold damage. Already the vulgarized Freud, Jung, and Adler which constitutes our popular psychology warns us against the danger of repressing desires; but not against the far worse danger of abating appetites by never letting them grow into desires.

I do not want to investigate these claims out of turn. For now I finish by repeating that Chapter I of The New Leviathan is called “Body and Mind.” The rhetorical distinction between mind and body allows two points to be made:

  1. The natural scientist must be allowed to work, unrestricted by external preconceptions as to what that work ought to be. (I would presume to include the mathematician within the scope of this injunction.)
  2. The Delphic commandment, “Know thyself,” has a codicil: “Nobody else can do it for you.”

Revised September 23, 2018

18 Trackbacks

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