Collingwood Robin

Collingwood Robin

(1889-1943) English archaeologist and philosopher, best known for his ideas on metaphysics and for what he had to say about historical explanation and understanding. Collingwood rejected positivist claims about the unity of knowledge, as well as a naive EMPIRICISM that knowledge of the external world could be obtained in an unfiltered manner from observation. In An Essay on Metaphysics (1940), he argued that the intellectual content of any given discipline, at a particular stage of its development, rested on ‘absolute presuppositions’ which were a priori, but specific to each discipline as well as each epoch. Thus, in ways that anticipate aspects of Thomas KUHN's conception of SCIENTIFIC PARADIGMS and scientific revolutions (see NORMAL SCIENCE AND REVOLUTIONARY SCIENCE), he sometimes wrote as if there were no common yardsticks of truth and falsity to which reference could be made in order to judge between different constellations of absolute presuppositions. More often, however, Collingwood simply wrote that different constellations underlie different modes of knowing. In the work which has exerted the greatest influence on sociology, The Idea ofHistory (1946), he distinguished between ‘scientific thinking’, concerned with claims to laws established by observation and experiment, and distinctively ‘historical thinking’, in which the aim was to question the evidence in order to reveal the specific thought underlying human action. Hence his claim that ‘all history is the history of thought’. Collingwood's ideas, which have some affinities with WITTGENSTEIN's emphasis on distinctive FORMS OF LIFE, have influenced thinking in sociology, particularly as the result of their influence on Peter WINCH.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000