The Peace of Liberal Education

The wall of Dolmabahçe Sarayı, January 11, 2015

The wall of Dolmabahçe Sarayı, January 11, 2015

The occasion of this article is my discovery of a published Turkish translation of Collingwood’s Speculum Mentis or The Map of Knowledge (Oxford, 1924). Published as Speculum Mentis ya da Bilginin Haritası (Ankara: Doğu Batı, 2014), the translation is by Kubilay Aysevenler and Zerrin Eren. Near the end of the book, Collingwood writes the following paragraph about education, or what I would call more precisely liberal education. The main purpose of this article then is to offer the paragraph to any reader who happens to stop by.

On the grounds of Dolmabahçe

On the grounds of Dolmabahçe

This process of the creation and destruction of external worlds might appear, to superficial criticism, a mere futile weaving and unweaving of Penelope’s web, a declaration of the mind’s inability to produce solid assets, and thus the bankruptcy of philosophy. Dış dünyaların bu oluşum ve yıkılış süreci, yüzeysel eleştiriye, Pene­lope’un gündüz ağını örüp akşam sökmesi gibi boş bir iş, zihnin sağlam değerli nitelikleri üretme yetersizliğinin ilânı ve böylece felsefe­nin iflası gibi görünür.
And this it would be if knowledge were the same thing as infor­mation, something stored in encyc­lopaedias and laid on like so much gas and water in schools and universities. Eğer bilgi, ansiklopedilerde depo­lanan, gaz, su ve böyle şeylerle ilgili okullarda ve üniversitelerde yük­lenen malumat ile aynı şey olsaydı, bu olabilecekti.
But education does not mean stuffing a mind with information; it means helping a mind to create itself, to grow into an active and vigorous contributor to the life of the world. Ama eğitim zihni malumatlarla doldurmak değildir; eğitim bir zihnin kendini yaratmasına, dün­ya­nın yaşamına etkin ve dinç bir katılımcı haline gelmesine yardım etmek demektir.
The information given in such a process is meant to be absorbed into the life of the mind itself, and a boy leaving school with a memory full of facts is thereby no more educated than one who leaves table with his hands full of food is thereby fed. Böyle bir süreçte verilen malumat zihnin kendi yaşamının içinde emilecektir anlamına gelir, tüm olgularla dolu bir bellekle okulu bitiren çocuk, masadan elleri yiyecekle dolu olarak kalkan bir kişinin doymuş olmasından daha fazla eğitimli değildir.
At the completion of its education, if that event ever happened, a mind would step forth as naked as a new-born babe, knowing nothing, but having acquired the mastery over its own weaknesses, its own desires, its own ignorance, and able therefore to face any danger unarmed. Eğitimli tamamlandığında, eğer bu olay gerçekten olmuşsa, zihin yeni doğmuş bir bebek kadar çıplak, hiçbir şey bilmeyerek, ama güçsüz­lüğü, arzuları, cehaleti üze­rinde egemenlik kazanmış olarak ileriye doğru adım atar ve bu nedenle herhangi bir tehlikeyle silâhsız olarak karşı karşıya kalabilir.


I have broken Collingwood’s paragraph into its sentences, so that these can be compared with their translations by anybody who is interested in doing so. I have but a few remarks about the translations. In the first sentence, the translators apparently read Penelope’s name in three syllables, not pronouncing the final E; for if they did pronounce this, they would write the Turkish possessive case as Penelope’nin rather than Penelope’un. The translators understand Collingwood’s allusion to the story from the Odyssey, to the point of elaborating on it in the translation: “empty work,” they say, “like Penelope’s weaving a web by day and dismantling it by night.” In the second sentence, the translators seem to miss the sense of “like,” but they describe information as being “laid on at schools and universities concerned with gas, water, and such things.” The translation suggests to me a chemistry class where gas and water might be studied. I think Collingwood has in mind rather the water piped into the washrooms of the university buildings, and the gas piped into the furnaces; information might be likewise piped into minds, but knowledge is something else.


I came upon the translation by chance, during a browse in a Beşiktaş bookshop. It was Sunday, January 11, 2015, a day of sunshine in Istanbul after several days of snow and rain. We had been enjoying the seaside garden of the Dolmabahçe palace, which I had discovered as being accessible without a ticket. (I wrote about this discovery in “Istanbul in the Sun.”)


In Kabalcı bookshop, it was Ayşe who first noticed Collingwood on the shelves of philosophy books. Along with Speculum Mentis, there were translations of The Idea of History and The Idea of Nature. I bought them all, on principle. Years before in Ankara, in the twenty-aughts, I had happened upon a Turkish translation of Outlines of a Philosophy of Art. I did not buy the translation, because I thought of Outlines as having been rendered obsolete by The Principles of Art. I may have been right; but I have since found that Collingwood’s early books, like Speculum Mentis, are still worth reading. I see in these early books the seeds of the later books, as well as impassioned writing. And yet Collingwood wrote The Principles of Art because he had changed his mind about some things in Outlines of a Philosophy of Art. It would be interesting to see what those are. Unfortunately I have not actually found Outlines in English. I do not know why somebody would translate this, rather than Principles; but it happened. I came to regret not buying the translation when I saw it. Fortunately I saw it again just a few weeks ago in Istanbul, and this time I bought it. Actually it may be a new translation; at any rate it is a new edition, as of 2011.

On the grounds of Dolmabahçe

On the grounds of Dolmabahçe

I was looking back at Speculum Mentis recently, along with several others of Collingwood’s books, for the sake of writing an article about Euclid. The editors of Collingwood’s Principles of History (Oxford, 1999) complain that when Collingwood talks about historical inference, he does not give a real example of what he is talking about, but instead tells a fictional detective story by way of an example. I think Collingwood expects the reader to be able to supply his or her own examples of historical inference: he even says that the reader who cannot do this should not be reading.

Through the Dolmabahçe wall

Through the Dolmabahçe wall

In my article, I was using Euclid as an example. Reading Euclid properly requires the reader to be both mathematician and historian: mathematician, to understand what Euclid is talking about, and historian, to understand that what Euclid means by his words is not necessarily what we mean today. Collingwood’s philosophy of history can help us understand what we need to bring to a reading of Euclid; but then the very experience of reading Euclid can help us assess what Collingwood says about history as such.

Dolmabahçe palace

Dolmabahçe palace

History is a re-enactment of the past in the present. Collingwood says this in An Autobiography (Oxford, 1939), where he also treats the problem of how, in this reenacting, we distinguish the past from the present. One can get the impression from the earlier Speculum Mentis that doing history is ultimately futile. You cannot truly “reenact” Euclid’s mathematics without simply becoming Euclid once again. Euclid cannot be properly explained to somebody before that person learns Greek; and then the explanation would just be Euclid’s Greek text.


It does usually seem to me that the best way to explain Collingwood is just to quote his own words. Any needed explication of these words will often come from others of his words. These other words may however come from other books, be they earlier or later. Here is where the historian does not merely relive the past: for the historian is free from the imposition of the sequence of time. The historian can change the sequence.

Abandoned park above Ihlamur Kasırları (Linden Pavilions)

Abandoned park above Ihlamur Kasırları (Linden Pavilions)

The last sentence of Collingwood’s in the quotation above seems to contain an idea that I take from Zen Buddhism or Taoism. It is expressed most vividly in a story called “The Expert,” which I know from the anthology called The World of Zen, edited by Nancy Wilson Ross (New York: Vintage, 1960). In the story, a man has a passion to be the greatest archer in the land. He goes off in pursuit of this goal. When he returns, he does not even know what a bow is. Thus it is understood that he has reached his goal.

Ruined house in Beşiktaş

Ruined house in Beşiktaş

Written by Nakashima Ton, translated by Ivan Morris, the story appeared earlier in Encounter, May, 1958. I knew nothing of this magazine before looking it up for the sake of the present article; apparently it was a British anti-Stalinist leftist publication, funded by the CIA, as abstract expressionism was. In The World of Zen (which I bought for myself in 1981, at the age of sixteen), the translator’s note on “The Expert” is reprinted along with the story. Here, as in Collingwood, the storing up of facts is ridiculed:


Art, indeed, all types of skill play an important part in Taoism. As Dr. Waley points out (The Way and Its Power, p. 58), “The Taoists saw in many arts and crafts the utilisation of a power akin to if not identical with that of Tao. The wheel-wright, the carpenter, the butcher, the bowman, the swimmer, achieve their skill not by accumulating facts concerning their art, nor by the energetic use either of muscles or outward senses; but through utilising the fundamental kinship which, underneath apparent distinctions and diversities, unites their own Primal Stuff to the Primal Stuff of the medium in which they work.”

The reference to a medium should be compared to the discussion (mainly in a quotation) about medium in my earlier article “Bosphorus Sky,” about another morning spent by the water. I shall not pursue the matter further here. I shall just note that the obscurity of the first sentence of the quotation of Collingwood above might be clarified by the paragraph preceding it in Speculum Mentis:


But to make such a cleavage as we have suggested between concrete and abstract knowledge, truth and error, is to commit another abstraction. Ama somut ve soyut bilgi, doğru ve yanlış arasında önermiş olduğumuz gibi bir ayırım yapmak başka bir soyutlamaya girişmektir.
Concrete knowledge is not generically different from abstract knowledge, it is abstract knowledge freed from its own abstractness by simply recog­nizing that abstractness. Somut bilgi, soyut bilgiden soy olarak farklı değildir. O, yalnızca soyutluğunu fark­ederek kendi soyutluğundan kurtulan soyut bilgidir.
The mind is not one among a number of objects of knowledge, which possesses the peculiarity of being alone fully knowable: it is that which is really known in the ostensible knowing of any object whatever. Zihin tek başına bütünüyle bilinebilme özelliğine sahip bilginin birçok nesnesinden biri değildir: o, her ne olursa olsun herhangi bir nesnenin sözde bilinebilirliğinde gerçekten bilinen şeydir.
In an immediate and direct way, the mind can never know itself: it can only know itself through the mediation of an external world, know that what it sees in the external world is its own reflec­tion. Doğrudan ve dolaysız bir yolla, zihin asla kendisini bilemez: o kendisini yalnızca bir dış dünyanın aracılığıyla bilebilir, dış dünyada gördüğü şeyin kendi yansıması olduğunu bilebilir.
Hence the construction of external worlds—works of art, re­ligions, sciences, structures of his­torical fact, codes of law, systems of philosophy and so forth ad infinitum—is the only way by which the mind can possibly come to that self-knowledge which is its end. Bu nedenle, dış dünyaların yaratımı — sanat yapıtları, dinler, bilimler, tarihsel olgunun yapıları, hukuk kuralları, felsefi dizgeler ve sonsuza dek sürüp giden benzerleri — zihnin amacı olan kendini tanımayı gerçekleştirebileceği olası tek yoldur.
Such a constructive process is one of abstraction and error so long as the external world in question is not realized to be the mind’s own work. Böyle bir yaratma süreci, söz konusu dünyanın zihnin yapıtı olduğu anlaşılmadığı sürece, soyutlamalardan biridir ve hatadır.
It is perhaps not possible to carry out this process in the full consciousness of what one is doing: the illusion of abstract objectivity is essential to it: it must be done in good faith, in the belief that one is now at last discovering the ultimate truth, coming into contact with a pre-existent and absolute reality. Kişi ne yaptığının tam bilincinde olduğunda bu süreci uygulamak belki de olası değildir: soyut nesnelliğin yanılsaması onun için gereklidir: iyi niyetle ve sonunda mutlak hakikati keşfetmekte ve önceden varolan mutlak bir gerçekle bağlantı kurmakta olduğu inancıyla bu iş yapılmalıdır.
But when it is done, when the work of art or system of philosophy or what not is achieved, the mind, in so far as this exercise has really streng­thened instead of exhausting it, realizes that it has been not exploring an external world but tracing its own lineaments in a mirror. O yapıldığında, sanat yapıtı ya da felsefe sistemi ya da diğer şeyler elde edildiğinde, bu alıştırma zihni tüketmek yerine gerçekten kuvvetlendirdiği için, zihin bir dış dünyayı keşfetmediğini, aynada kendi yüz hatlarını takip ettiğini farkeder.
In this realization it sees the abstraction of its previous work to be an abstraction and nothing more, and the abstraction, the error, is thus vanquished. Bunu farkettıgınde, daha önceki işinin soyutluğunu, soyutlamadan başka bir şey olmadığını görür ve böylelikle bu soyutlamanın, bu hatanın üstesinden gelinir.
The truth is not some perfect system of philosophy: it is simply the way in which all systems, however perfect, collapse into nothingness on the discovery that they are only systems, only external worlds over against the knowing mind and not that mind itself. Hakikat, felsefenin mükemmel bir dizgesi değildir; içinde bütün dizgelerin, mükemmel olsalar bile, dizgelerden başka bir şey olmadıklarını, zihnin kendisi değil, yalnızca bilen zihin karşısındaki dış dünyalar olduklarını keşfettiklerinde hiçliğe düştükleri yoldur.
Torun Center construction

Torun Center construction


  1. Arianne
    Posted January 14, 2015 at 1:15 am | Permalink | Reply

    Someday I’d like to hear how you first discovered Collingwood. Arianne

    • Posted January 15, 2015 at 6:11 am | Permalink | Reply

      Briefly, Arianne, after St John’s, my former high-school art teacher lent me his copy of Collingwood’s book _The Principles of Art._ I liked it, and in particular I appreciated how it began with a serious discussion of Plato. I ordered my own copy and read the book again. More than ten years later in Ontario I read Collingwood’s autobiography; then, a couple of years later, I encountered his book _The Idea of History_ in an Ankara bookshop and read that. Thus, gradually, I was drawn in!

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