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By Robin George Collingwood

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Of the various thoughts that came to me in those communings I will only state one: a further development of a thought already familiar to me. My work in archaeology, as I have said, impressed upon me the importance of the 'questioning activity' in knowledge : and this made it impossible for me to rest contented with the intuitionist theory of knowledge favoured by the 'realists'. The effect of this on my logic was to bring about in my mind a revolt against the current logical theories of the time, a good deal like that revolt against the scholastic logic which was produced in the minds of Bacon and Descartes by reflection on the experience of scientific research, as that was taking new shape in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

I have already said of 'realism' that its positive doctrine was nugatory, its critical technique deadly: all the deadlier because its effectiveness did not depend on errors native to the doctrines criticized, but on a kind of disintegration produced by itself in whatever it touched. It was therefore inevitable that by degrees 'realism' should part with all positive doctrines whatever, congratulating itself at each new jettison that it was rid of a knave. T H E DECAY O F REALISM 47 Among the first of these consequences was the attack on moral philosophy.

There was no ready-made class into which you could put a philosopher who, after a thorough training in 'realism', had revolted against it and arrived at conclusions of his own quite unlike anything the school of Green had taught. So, in spite of occasional remonstrances, that was how I found myself classified. I became used to it; otherwise I might have been too much annoyed to keep that rule against answering critics which every one must keep who has work of his own to do, when one of the 'realists' (not an Oxford man), reviewing the first book in which I tried to indicate my position, dismissed it in a few lines as 'the usual idealistic nonsense'.

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An autobiography by Robin George Collingwood


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