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Historicity as Methodology or Hermeneutics: Collingwood's Influence on Skinner and Gadamer

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In this paper, I offer both a brief study of Collingwood's conception of historical explanation and epistemological historicity, and an examination of the influence of Collingwood's work on the historical methodology of Quentin Skinner and on Gadamer's hermeneutic philosophy. Collingwood's work on the philosophy of history manifests a tension between the realist implications of the doctrine of reenactment and the logic of question and answer on the one hand, and, on the other, the constructionist tendency of the rest of his work on the logic of historical inquiry and on the hermeneutic character of his more general conception of human historicity. This tension is displayed in the divergent interpretations of Collingwood by Quentin Skinner and Hans-Georg Gadamer, and in the inherent difficulties of each man's philosophy of history. I argue that the weaknesses of Skinner's methodological historicism are present already in his reading of Collingwood and reflect the difficulties inherent in understanding Collingwood as offering primarily a methodology of history. I also claim that Gadamer's hermeneutic philosophy, while presenting a more plausible reading of Collingwood, suffers from tensions similar to those within Collingwood's work between the logic of explanation and the logic of practical recommendation, and between the character of historical explanation and the character of philosophical understanding.

Affiliations: 1: Concordia University, Montreal, Canada


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