Category Archives: overlap of classes

Collingwood develops the doctrine of overlap of philosophical classes in An Essay on Philosophical Method. I have mentioned the doctrine in a number of articles, gathered here; my most thorough accounts (so far) are in “Interconnectedness” and “The Tradition of Western Philosophy.”

Anthropology of Mathematics

This essay was long when originally published; now, on November 30, 2019, I have made it longer, in an attempt to clarify some points.

The essay begins with two brief quotations, from Collingwood and Pirsig respectively, about what it takes to know people.

  • The Pirsig quote is from Lila, which is somewhat interesting as a novel, but naive about metaphysics; it might have benefited from an understanding of Collingwood’s Essay on Metaphysics.

  • A recent article by Ray Monk in Prospect seems to justify my interest in Collingwood; eventually I have a look at the article.

Ideas that come up along the way include the following.

  1. For C. S. Lewis, the reality of moral truth shows there is something beyond the scope of natural science.

  2. I say the same for mathematical truth.

  3. Truths we learn as children are open to question. In their educational childhoods, mathematicians have often learned wrongly the techniques of induction and recursion.

  4. The philosophical thesis of physicalism is of doubtful value.

  5. Mathematicians and philosophers who ape them (as in a particular definition of physicalism) use “iff” needlessly.

  6. A pair of mathematicians who use “iff” needlessly seem also to misunderstand induction and recursion.

  7. Their work is nonetheless admirable, like the famous expression of universal equality by the slave-driving Thomas Jefferson.

  8. Mathematical truth is discovered and confirmed by thought.

  9. Truth is a product of every kind of science; it is not an object of natural science.

  10. The distinction between thinking and feeling is a theme of Collingwood.

  11. In particular, thought is self-critical: it judges whether itself is going well.

  12. Students of mathematics must learn their right to judge what is correct, along with their responsibility to reach agreement with others about what is correct. I say this.

  13. Students of English must learn not only to judge their own work, but even that they can judge it. Pirsig says this.

  14. For Monk, Collingwood’s demise has meant Ryle’s rise: unfortunately so since, for one thing, Ryle has no interest in the past.

  15. In a metaphor developed by Matthew Arnold, Collingwood and Pirsig are two of my touchstones.

  16. Thoreau is another. He affects indifference to the past, but his real views are more subtle.

  17. According to Monk, Collingwood could have been a professional violinist; Ryle had “no ear for tunes.”

  18. For Collingwood, Victoria’s memorial to Albert was hideous; for Pirsig, Victorian America was the same.

  19. Again according to Monk, some persons might mistake Collingwood for Wittgenstein.

  20. My method of gathering together ideas, as outlined above, resembles Pirsig’s method, described in Lila, of collecting ideas on index cards.

  21. Our problems are not vague, but precise.


When Donald Trump won the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, which opinion polls had said he would lose, I wrote a post here called “How To Learn about People.” I thought for example that just calling people up and asking whom they would vote for was not a great way to learn about them, even if all you wanted to know was whom they would vote for. Why should people tell you the truth?

Saturn eclipse mosaic from Cassini

With other questions about people, even just understanding what it means to be the truth is a challenge. If you wanted to understand people whose occupation (like mine) was mathematics, you would need to learn what it meant to prove a theorem, that is, prove it true. Mere observation would not be enough; and on this point I cite two authors whom I often take up in this blog.

  • In the words of R. G. Collingwood in Religion and Philosophy (1916, page 42), quoted in An Autobiography (1940, page 93) as well as in the earlier post here, “The mind, regarded in this external way, really ceases to be a mind at all.”

  • In the words of English teacher and anthropologist Verne Dusenberry, quoted by Robert Pirsig in Lila (1991, page 35), “The trouble with the objective approach is that you don’t learn much that way.”

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Antitheses

This is an attempt at a dialectical understanding of freedom and responsibility, punishment and forgiveness, things like that. My text is a part of the Gospel, though as I shall say, I attribute no special supernatural power to this. I shall refer also to the Dialogues of Plato.

The Antitheses are the six parallel teachings, delivered by Jesus of Nazareth in the Sermon on the Mount, as recounted in Chapter 5 of the Gospel According to St Matthew, starting at verse 21. I summarize:

  1. Do not kill people; do not even get angry with them.
  2. Do not commit adultery; do not even fantasize about it.
  3. In divorce, follow the established procedure; do not even divorce.
  4. Do not forswear yourself; do not even swear.
  5. Keep retribution commensurate with the crime; do not even seek retribution.
  6. Love your neighbor; love even your enemy.

For better or worse, these are part of the cultural heritage of many of us; they are at least a commentary on the cultural heritage (the Mosaic Law) of more of us.

I write now specifically, because I think the Antitheses can illustrate or illuminate some contemporary philosophical concerns, Continue reading

NL XIX: Two Senses of the Word “Society”

Executive summary (below) | Index to this series

After a break of half a year, I return to reading Collingwood’s New Leviathan. Being on holiday at an Aegean beach gives me the opportunity. While here, I may also return to Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad. Last winter I finished Part I of the New Leviathan, the part called “Man.” Here I continue with the first chapter of “Society.” I have reason to look at what Mary Midgley and Albert Einstein say about science. Collingwood’s investigation suggests a way of thinking about prejudice and discrimination.

Part II of the New Leviathan is “Society,” and the first two chapters of this, XIX and XX, concern the distinction between society proper and two more general notions. In Chapter XX, the more general notion will be community. In Chapter XIX, the more general notion has not got its own proper name, and so Collingwood denotes it by writing “society,” in quotation marks.

A “society” of chairs at the beach (Altınova 2017.08.31)

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NL XVII: “Duty”

Index to this series

New England Primer

“In Adam’s Fall,
We sinned all”
(New England Primer)

We are trying to understand reason in its original form, practical reason. Why do we do what we do? It may be useful for something else, or right according to some law or rule. A third possibility is that what we do may be our duty: the fulfilment of an obligation. Continue reading

35th Istanbul Film Festival, 2016

After a preamble on freedom, this is an account of nine movies in three parts.

This part:

  • Thirst

  • Rain the Color of Blue With a Little Red in It

  • Fire at Sea

Part 2:

  • The Demons

  • The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble

  • Florida

Part 3:

  • Interruption

  • Under the Sun

  • News from Planet Mars

Photo of books referred to in this article

In the summer of 1994, I was a graduate student at the University of Maryland, and I had lived in the state since 1989. My roommate in a suburban apartment complex was finishing her own degree and moving away. I decided to move across the border into the city of Washington, where I had already become involved in some bicycle activism. I found a congenial vegetarian group house. I would bicycle the nine miles to the College Park campus. But moving to the city raised a moral question: should I really give up my political right to a meaningful vote?

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Freedom

How do our thoughts age?

Having written recently that natural science was not history of nature, I looked back at Collingwood’s posthumous Principles of History for his arguments about this. I read his discussion of freedom as what distinguishes history from natural science. I recalled that his earlier writing was more concerned with removing distinctions than drawing them.

This is something that I investigate here. I occasionally encounter denials that we have “free will.” I find such denials bizarre; but evidently some people believe them, or at least believe they are worthy of consideration. I find Collingwood’s own account of freedom to be worthy of consideration. But then, considering this along with the rest of his œuvre, I have to conclude that everything is free. This conclusion is not really new to me; I drew such a conclusion as an adolescent. It may be a common thought. Wordsworth seems to have had such a thought, according to his Ode:

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Interconnectedness

Note added January 13, 2019. This essay concerns a letter I once wrote about

  • teaching;
  • the infinitely large and small, as contemplated by Pascal in that one of the Pensées headed Disproportion de l’homme;
  • Zen Buddhism.

Since the ideas of Collingwood often dominate this blog, one may ask why they influence me. My old letter provides some evidence, since I wrote it before I had read anything by Collingwood but The Principles of Art.

The present essay has the first of this blog’s several mentions of the slogan verba volant scripta manent, which may not mean what we tend to think today.

The indicated pensée happens to allude to the definition of God as une sphère infinie dont le centre est partout, la circonférence nulle part; this definition is not taken up here, but it is in later posts, apparently without recollection of its use by Pascal.


When do our thoughts progress, and when do they only confirm what we have always thought?

In December of 1987, I was between college and graduate school. I was living with my mother in Virginia, doing some tutoring at my old high school, waiting for inspiration about what to do next. Inspiration did come in the course of the following year, when I was working at an organic farm in West Virginia. I was going to apply to graduate schools in mathematics or philosophy (earlier I had considered also physics); then, in a dream, I understood that I had to do mathematics. Continue reading

NL VI: “Language,” again

Index to this series

This is about language: language the concept, and “Language,” the sixth chapter of Collingwood’s New Leviathan. We shall consider language in a very basic way, not as a means of communicating what we know, but as the way we come to know things in the first place.
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NL III: “Body As Mind”

Index to this series

In Chapter I of The New Leviathan, we stipulated that natural science, the “science of body,” must be free to pursue its own aims. But we ourselves are doing science of mind, and:

1. 85. The sciences of mind, unless they preach error or confuse the issue by dishonest or involuntary obscurity, can tell us nothing but what each can verify for himself by reflecting on his own mind.

All of us can be scientists of mind, if only we are capable of reflection: Continue reading

NL II: “The Relation Between Body and Mind”

Index to this series

I continue making notes on The New Leviathan of R. G. Collingwood (1889–1943). Now my main concern is with the second chapter, “The Relation Between Body and Mind”; but I shall range widely, as I did for the first chapter.

Preliminaries

Some writers begin with an outline, which they proceed to fill out with words. At least, they do this if they do what they are taught in school, according to Robert Pirsig:

He showed how the aspect of Quality called unity, the hanging-togetherness of a story, could be improved with a technique called an outline. The authority of an argument could be jacked up with a technique called footnotes, which gives authoritative reference. Outlines and footnotes are standard things taught in all freshman composition classes, but now as devices for improving Quality they had a purpose.

That is from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, chapter 17.

Does anybody strictly follow the textbook method of writing? Continue reading