NL I: “Body and Mind” Again

Index to this series

“We are beginning an inquiry into civilization,” writes Collingwood, “and the revolt against it which is the most conspicuous thing going on at the present time.” The time is the early 1940s.

Human tourists photographing sculptured supine blue ape with chrome testicles outside the Intercontinental Hotel, Prague

It could be the late 2010s. Civilization is being attacked in the old way, by autocrats driven by their passions. As a tactic of warfare, habitat destruction—the burning of crops, the salting of the earth—may always have been with us; general climate degradation is a new form of attack.

Pinkas Synagogue

Some persons who attack us may do so in the name of civilization. They may qualify it as white civilization, or they may deny that this is what they mean.

Street with rainbow stripes along zebra crossing

In the conclusion about civilization reached by Collingwood in the thirty-sixth of the forty-five chapters of The New Leviathan of 1942, the personal is political:

36. 51. Civility as between man and man [sic], members of the same community, is not only what constitutes the civilization of that community relatively to the human world; it is also what makes possible that community’s civilization relatively to the natural world.

As Collingwood explained in the previous chapter, “Behaving ‘civilly’ to a [person] means respecting [their] feelings: abstaining from shocking [the person], annoying [them], frightening [them], or (briefly) arousing in [them] any passion or desire which might diminish [their] self-respect” (35. 41).

Graffiti and skateboarders in park

I understand respect for a person’s feelings to include, for example, not dismissing those feelings as irrational. An absurd fear, as of immigrants or of white genocide, is not actually either rational or irrational; our considered response to such a fear will be rational or irrational, whether the fear be in ourselves or in others. No automatic response (such as giving in to the fear) will be necessarily correct.

Lofty church pointing to sky

In reading The New Leviathan and writing about it on this blog, chapter by chapter, starting in January, 2014, I wrote what came to mind. This may have been a lot, even too much. Sometimes I have gone back to old posts, to preface them with summaries and perhaps edit them. Returning now to Chapter I, I supplement my original analysis with the following. I indicate implicit sections of Collingwood’s chapter with ranges of paragraph numbers.

10–19 [Outline]

Being under attack is a current condition of civilization (1. 12). Civilization is a condition of communities (1. 13); community, of persons (1. 14). In the other order, these are the parts of The New Leviathan, listed in its subtitle: “man [sic], society, civilization and barbarism.”

Rows of windows; young man on scooter in front

We shall apply the “principle of the limited objective,” though Collingwood will name it as such only in Chapter XXXI, “Classical Physics and Classical Politics.” An aspect of the principle is, “Take time seriously” (31. 68). This is what “Christendom” does, as we are told in Chapter XXVI, “Democracy and Aristocracy.”

Disorderly headstones of old cemetery

Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague

We ask therefore what problem we need solve now.

1. 16. About each subject we want to understand only so much as we need in order to understand what is to be said about the next.

More precisely, “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’ (1. 19).

20–22 [The Person As Mind]

We are starting out with a study of humans quâ beings that form communities (1. 22). This means we shall study the mind (1. 21). Collingwood is careful to distinguish this study from physiology and other sciences of the body. Collingwood is careful, presumably because others are not; and this is a reason why I am returning to Collingwood’s chapter now.

Red tram rolling through green grass

For some of us, the greatest certainty is the world out there, studied by physics, physiology, chemistry, and all of the other natural sciences. No deity can be as certain as that external world. For Collingwood, the starting point is what we do in the world. Some of us may not think we can do much. Reading Collingwood will be difficult for such persons.

30–36 [The Object of Science]

A natural science gets to define for itself what it is studying: matter or life, as the case may be.

40–48 [The End of Science]

There is no knowing ahead of time what that object of study really is; neither is the job of knowing it ever done.

50–59, 60 [Scientific Persecution]

To assert the opposite is to initiate scientific persecution, “the persecution of scientists for daring to be scientists” (1. 57).

Writing in Prague at Logic Colloquium 2019, I propose examples from mathematics.

Cars parked between church buttresses

In the session of the colloquium called “Foundations of Mathematics,” one talk (pdf) concerned the use of diagrams to prove the Intermediate Value Theorem. I cannot locate now a quotation from an analytic philosopher, to the effect that real proofs do not use diagrams; but such a dogmatic assertion would be scientific persecution. The real proof does not sit on a page, but lives in our minds; we also call what puts it there a proof, and this can be words or pictures.

Trees and roofs form low horizon against blue sky with clouds

Mikhail Katz recently alerted me to criticism of so-called non-standard analysis. Such criticism is scientific persecution when, as apparently in the case of the late Errett Bishop, it is based on a dogmatic preconception of what mathematics ought to be.

Ayşe in subway station, obliquely

Teachers of calculus ought to take the approach they prefer, while being prepared to suggest another one to the interested student. I was such a student, in an undergraduate analysis course, before I started graduate courses in the fall of 1989. Though the teacher belittled the non-standard approach, he directed me, when I asked, to Abraham Robinson’s book. This was not actually the best reference. It was too abstract, and Keisler’s book might have been better. However, analysis is going to be difficult, however you do it. Thus the great Donald Knuth, creator of our beloved TeX program, was foolish to write in 1988, as quoted in the blog of Alexandre Borovik,

If I were responsible for teaching calculus to college undergraduates and advanced high school students today, and if I had the opportunity to deviate from the existing textbooks, I would certainly make major changes by emphasizing several notational improvements that advanced mathematicians have been using for more than a hundred years … I’m sure it would be a pleasure for both students and teacher if calculus were taught in this way.

Well sir, teach a calculus course that way, and tell us how it went! Put your money where your mouth is (as I was told in toothpaste ads in childhood). The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

61–68 [Theory and Practice]

Our “mind is made of thought” (1. 61); but we must not misunderstand this by reading theory for thought:

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.

The first three propositions of Euclid’s Elements are practical, each one ending with the formula ὅπερ ἔδει ποιῆσαι, “which was to be done.” What was to be done, ultimately, was to cut a given shorter length from a longer. The fourth proposition is theoretical, ending ὅπερ ἔδει δεῖξαι, “which was to be shown”: this being that if two sides and the included angle of one triangle are respectively equal to the same in another, then so are the third side, the triangle itself, and the remaining angles.

70–79, 80–88 [Two Kinds of Science]

The remainder of the chapter is a warning against the misuse of expertise.

1. 83. Man as body is whatever the sciences of body say that he is. Without their help nothing can be known on that subject: their authority, therefore, is absolute.

1. 84. Man as mind is whatever he is conscious of being.

We have different ways to approach the universe. If you feel the need to say, “My way or the highway,” then you are denying the unity of the universe. If all is one, then there can indeed be no other way than yours; but if somebody seems to deny this anyway, then maybe you are the one who is confused.

There is foolish resistance to expert opinion on vaccines and climate change.

There is also foolish acceptance that experts get to judge the correctness of our language. On the contrary, we get to decide whether we have said what we wanted to say. Language may be a skill that must be learned; and yet I note my grandfather’s recollection of a teacher at Beloit College, “who tried to teach writing, which nobody can.” Success at journalism was up to my grandfather; however, his teacher, Roscoe Ellard, “was instrumental in getting me my first job—with the United Press in Chicago, pay $25 a week” (in 1924).

Not everybody can put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, and come up with something satisfying. At least some persons do not think they can. When I worked at a farm after college, and the season was winding down, a comrade asked whether I had been good in English class: he wanted help in writing a job application.

Collingwood may have little sympathy for your sense of inadequacy. He expects you to get over it. In Chapter XXXII, “Civilization as Education,” he will tell you not to send your children to professionals, but to educate them yourself, mainly just by being with them, letting them run around on their own, and not allowing anybody else to interfere.


In my original essay on Collingwood’s opening chapter, I wrote in several parts, which I have only recently distinguished with headings.

  • The chapter can stand on its own, like Book I of Plato’s Republic or of Euclid’s Elements.

  • The whole book is organized into the four parts described above and in the subtitle. I remark on what analysis is, on the organization of Thomas’s Summa, and on how my copy of that book was once stolen from me by a fellow student.

  • The distinction between body and mind—really a distinction between different kinds of science—gets us ready for the Fallacy of Misplaced Argument in Chapter IV. It is an error to think that you do not know immediately whether you have a headache or can hear the squeak of a bat (4. 72).

  • Because Socrates’s theory of recollection is not entirely correct, Bertrand Russell seems to reject it entirely. Such is the pattern of what comes to be called analytic philosophy, which tries to imitate mathematics, as I shall discuss in connection with Collingwood’s Chapter XXX, “War As the Breakdown of Policy.” More sensibly, while rejecting the theory of recollection for the sciences of body, Collingwood adopts it for the sciences of mind.

  • Russell praises the illusory ideal of a disinterested pursuit of knowledge. It would be better just to be clear where our interests lie.

  • Russell is also foolish to take literally Socrates’s teachings about an afterlife.

  • Natural science can nonetheless disabuse us of foolishness. It was foolish of nineteenth-century industrialists not to recognize that science could make their steam engines more efficient. It was foolish of political thinkers not to recognize nationalism as their “absolute presupposition” in the sense of An Essay on Metaphysics (1940). Recognition in either case might have caused reconsideration of “expense in life and wealth.”

  • What the sciences of mind tell you, you have the ability and right to confirm or reject on the basis of your own reflection.

Wenceslas Square

Photos by me or Ayşe Berkman, Prague, August 10–15, 2019. Edited July 31, 2020

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