"Peter Winch and R.G. Collingwood on Logic"

  • Date: –16:00
  • Location: SCAS, Thunbergssalen Linneanum, Thunbergsvägen 2
  • Lecturer: Olli (Olof) Lagerspetz, Erik Allardt Fellow, SCAS. Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Åbo Akademi University
  • Website
  • Organiser: Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS)
  • Contact person: Sandra Maria Rekanovic
  • Seminarium

The two English philosophers R.G. Collingwood (1889-1946) and Peter Winch (1926-1997) were of crucial importance in mid-20th century debates on the relation between natural and human sciences. Both thinkers wanted to articulate the specific kind of knowledge involved in social and historical understanding. The adequate understanding of action requires a kind of insider perspective, involving use of the concepts that the agents themselves would employ. Broadly speaking, the human sciences should stress their affinities, not with (natural) science but with philosophy.
    Collingwood’s and Winch’s views on this score are well known. What is less well known is that they took their argument to have profound implications not only to the status of social science and history, but also to the prevalent self-understanding of philosophy itself. If actions and concepts are two sides of a coin, some standard ideas of what conceptual analysis involves are seriously flawed. Philosophers generally believe they are dealing with unchanging concepts like rationality, reality and logical contradiction. However, in order to cash out the meaning of these thinking tools in real life we must look at socially embedded action. The meaning of logical inference reveals itself in human interchanges where people react to the words of each other as being either consistent or contradictory.
    Both Collingwood and Winch made this point by way of a contrast between ‘Aristotelian’ and ‘Socratic’ logic. ‘Aristotelian’ logic implies that the validity of an inference can be read off from its abstract logical form. In ‘Socratic’ logic, described as well as exemplified in Plato’s dialogues, logical relations between the various things that people say are dependent on their function as instruments in human dialogue. For Collingwood, the sense of propositions depended on historically situated question and answer complexes. Winch, especially in the 1990s, stressed the importance, for reasoning, of a background of persuasion. Persuasion can be achieved in good and bad ways, but persuasion is not something that is opposed to rational argument as a matter of principle.