September 2, 2017

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By Robin George Collingwood

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The result of all this might have been even worse than it has been, but for the fact that the 'realists7 discredited themselves with their pupils before their lessons could take effect. This self-stultification was a gradual and piecemeal business. Not only did they jettison the entire body of traditional ethics ;as soon as they began work on their new brand of moral theory, whatever doctrine concerning moral actionwas tested, to show whether it was fit to form part of that theory, was found wanting.

A great deal of hard thinking was needed, before the vague dissatisfaction which I might have expressed in some such words as these could be focused into a clear issue. And I am not sure that I could ever so have focused it, but for the interruption of my academic life by the war. A man whose mind is always being stirred up by philosophical teaching can hardly be expected to achieve the calm, the inner silence, which is one condition of philosophical thinking. QUESTION AND ANSWER A YEAR or two after the outbreak of war, I was living in London and working with a section of the Admiralty Intelligence Division in the rooms of the Royal Geographical Society.

Alexander, whose British Academy paper on The Essence of Realism, one of the earliest and most important documents of the school, had made just that point, did not forget it in Space Time and Deity ;nevertheless, the main body of that noble book consists of ideas borrowed from Kant and Hegel, to which a 'realistic' faqade has been attached. It is none the worse for that. Whitehead's cosmology is constructed on an anti-'realistic' principle; Alexander's is built up of non-'realistic' materials. Neither can be used as evidence that modern English 'realism' is fertile in cosmological ideas ; it would be more plausible to use them as evidence that English philosophy, at any rate in the persons of two very fine philosophers, is beginning to recover from the blight of 'realism' and re-establishing contact with the tradition which 'realism' meant to break.

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