R. G. Collingwood

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Robin George Collingwood
Robin G. Collingwood.jpg
Born 22 February 1889 (1889-02-22)
Gillhead, Cartmel Fell, Lancashire
Died 9 January 1943(1943-01-09) (aged 53)
Coniston, Lancashire
Education Rugby School
Oxford University
Occupation Philosopher and historian
Parents W. G. Collingwood

Robin George Collingwood (/ˈkɒlɪŋˌwʊd/; 22 February 1889 – 9 January 1943) was an English philosopher and historian. He was born at Cartmel, Grange-over-Sands, in Lancashire, the son of the academic W. G. Collingwood. He was educated at Rugby School and at University College, Oxford, where he read Greats. He graduated with congratulatory first class honours and, prior to his graduation, was elected a fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford.


Collingwood was a fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford, for some 15 years until becoming the Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was the only pupil of F. J. Haverfield to survive World War I. Important influences on Collingwood were the Italian Idealists Benedetto Croce, Giovanni Gentile and Guido de Ruggiero, the last of whom was also a close friend. Other important influences were Hegel, Kant, Giambattista Vico, F. H. Bradley and J. A. Smith. His father W. G. Collingwood, professor of fine art at University College, Reading, was a student of Ruskin and was also an important influence.

Collingwood is most famous for his book The Idea of History, a work collated from various sources soon after his death by his pupil, T. M. Knox. The book came to be a major inspiration for philosophy of history in the English-speaking world. It is extensively cited, leading one commentator to ironically remark that Collingwood is coming to be "the best known neglected thinker of our time".[1] Not just a philosopher of history, Collingwood was also a practising historian and archaeologist, being during his time a leading authority on Roman Britain.

Collingwood held history as "recollection" of the "thinking" of a historical personage. Collingwood considered whether two different people can have the same thought and not just the same content, concluding that "there is no tenable theory of personal identity" preventing such a doctrine.

In The Principles of Art Collingwood held (following Croce) that works of art are essentially expressions of emotion. He portrayed art as a necessary function of the human mind, and considered it collaborative activity. In politics Collingwood defended the ideals of what he called liberalism "in its Continental sense":

The essence of this conception is ... the idea of a community as governing itself by fostering the free expression of all political opinions that take shape within it, and finding some means of reducing this multiplicity of opinions to a unity.[2]

He also published The First Mate's Log (1940), an account of a yachting voyage in the Mediterranean, in the company of several of his students.

Arthur Ransome was a family friend, and learned to sail in their boat, subsequently teaching his sibling's children to sail. Ransome loosely based the Swallows in Swallows and Amazons series on his sibling's children.

After several years of increasingly debilitating strokes Collingwood died at Coniston, Lancashire, in January 1943. He was a practising Anglican throughout his life.

Main works published in his lifetime[edit]

Main articles published in his lifetime[edit]

  • 'A Philosophy of Progress', The Realist, 1 : 1, April 1929, 64-77

Posthumously-published works[edit]

All 'revised' editions comprise the original text plus a new introduction and extensive additional material.



  1. ^ Mink, Louis O. (1969). Mind, History, and Dialectic. Indiana University Press, 1.
  2. ^ R. G. Collingwood (2005). "Man Goes Mad" in The Philosophy of Enchantment. Oxford University Press, 318.

External links[edit]