International Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 62, Issue 2, June 2022

Guido Vanheeswijck
Pages 189-209

Reform or Euthanasia of Metaphysics?
R. G. Collingwood versus Wilhelm Dilthey on the Historical Role of Metaphysics

Although the philosophical ideas of the English philosopher Robin George Collingwood on history and art have often been compared with those of the German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey, an in-depth comparison between their concepts of metaphysics was never made. Therefore, the focus in this article is on both authors’ concepts of metaphysics. It is shown that, despite the undeniable affinity, their views of the status of metaphysics differ substantially. Both Dilthey and Collingwood focus on an inherent antinomy in the project of metaphysics. On the one hand, there is the inescapable relativity of all time-bound ways of thinking and their results; on the other, there is the metaphysical search for objective and generally accepted knowledge of reality as a whole. For Dilthey, the awareness of its historical character reveals the impossibility for metaphysics to provide a foundation for natural and human sciences alike. Collingwood’s aim, by contrast, is to safeguard the possibility of metaphysics as a historical science to supply an enduring foundation of natural and human sciences. To clarify this radical difference with regard to the role of metaphysics, I make three steps. First, I situate Dilthey’s critique of metaphysics within the context of his work in order to present his ‘solution’ of the metaphysical antinomy. Second, I focus on the role of Collingwood’s reform of metaphysics and his ‘solution’ of the metaphysical antinomy. Finally, I relate the different status of their views of metaphysics to their divergent interpretations of human finitude.