Saturday, July 16, 2016

More on R. G. Collingwood

Collingwood says that knowledge is achieved by a dialectical process of question and answer.  Question and answer, he further says, corresponds to imagination and assertion.  He points out that these moments in dialectic, moments of imagination and of assertion, are ideal divisions and that they are really, if properly understood, indistinct in that each presupposes the other.

Art is not a judgement or assertion of the truth of the world, he says.  The aesthetic experience, or art, is therefore unaware of itself as knowledge because it is unaware of the ideal division that can be made in knowledge, i.e. between the moments of imagining and assertion.  Without this distinction art is pure imagination says Collingwood, and pure imagination is not a perfect expression of the Truth, though it does not miss completely.

In religion the imaginings of art are asserted.  Therefore religion is a dialectical development of art.  However religion does not distinguish between its assertion, which is embodied in symbol, i.e., God is the religious for absolute Reality, and what the symbol symbolizes.  The symbol, to religion IS what it conveys.  It is the Real, says Collingwood.  Because this distinction is not made religion is mythological.  When the distinction is made religion looses its mythological character; but it also ceases to be religious and becomes philosophical.  Why is this, according to Collingwood?

Religion is thought constantly going toward an object that is other than the thinker*;  God is other than man or he is not God.  When thought recognizes that the symbol of the Truth is not the Truth, but A way to the Truth, the Real, then the Real, as the object of thought, ceases to be other than the thinker.  So Collingwood says that philosophical thought is thought returning to itself.  To say, then, that God is only a symbol of the absolute is to reduce him to the level of all symbols, while, at the same time, it is to boost religion to the level of philosophy.

In my own thinking I agree with most of what Collingwood says.  The truth, the Real, being that by virtue of which all things are, is necessarily not fully exhausted by one symbol, i.e., God.  So religion is mythological.  Truth is embodied, rather, in every possible concept or symbol, which is precisely why philosophy can speak of it in so many different ways.  (e.g. the "divided line" of Plato; the "One" of Parmenides, etc.)  If a religious person comes to realize, then, the distinction between God as symbol and God as the Real, he is moving into the realm of philosophy where the Real is spoken of in perhaps as many ways as it manifests. It is a quality not a quantify. Many manifestations might participate in 'red' besides a blessed Rose.

If I approach someone, a mystic, say, and ask what is Truth?, he will, perhaps, give me many answers, all of which are true; he may even keep silent.  And if I understand the Truth, I understand.  But I understand just a little more than what he says, too.  That is, I understand that thing which he is talking about, the meaning behind the words, the meaning as separate from the symbols. His sayings are a new beginning.

*As stated previously in this blog Science and History are likewise dialectical developments of art and religion. As Kierkegaard would have it they are Stages on Life's Way. For Collingwood they are thought constantly going toward an object that is other than the thinker. Science will ultimately give us a 'grand unifying theory'; History will ultimately culminate in a cultural utopia; Religion will finally take us to heaven - all are absolute others.

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