NL IV: “Feeling”

Index to this series

Contents of this article:


I have already quoted the beginning:

4. 1. A feeling consists of two things, closely connected: first, a sensuous element such as a colour seen, a sound heard, an odour smelt; secondly, what I call the emotional charge on this sensation: the cheerfulness with which you see the colour, the fear with which you hear the noise, the disgust with which you smell the odour.

How do we evaluate this assertion? Do we evaluate it? We can try to judge it as being true or false, or as being right or wrong. Or we may remember from the end of Chapter II, “The Relation Between Body and Mind,” that we are on a “magic journey.” Then we may treat Collingwood’s assertion as we would treat a sentence in a novel, and we may ask: How does it fit the story?

Collingwood issues a disclaimer in his next paragraph:

4. 11. Does every feeling consist of these two elements? I do not know. Generalization about feelings is impossible (5. 55). All I can say is that those feelings which I can recollect examining have done so, and that I assume the rest are, and have been, and will be like them.

This is the first of several forward references in the chapter. We may have to hold off judgement for now. Still we may raise questions. Why should a feeling consist of two things, when it has been strenuously argued that body and mind are not two parts of a human being, but a human being is each one of these? Like a body and its mind, a sensation and its emotional charge would seem to be two sides of the same coin and thus inseparable. And yet a charge is normally separable from what it charges.

Etymology of “charge”

Collingwood’s use of the noun “charge” is going to send us off on our own journey. It is a journey that Collingwood ought to understand. His Chapter XVII, “Duty,” begins with a discussion of the history of the title word; the discussion culminates as follows.

17. 16. Etymologically, then, ‘it is my duty to do this’ and ‘I ought to do this’ mean the same; viz. that I am conscious of an obligation or debt incurred in the past by an act that generated the obligation, and to be discharged by the act referred to as ‘this’.

The verb “discharge” here denotes the reversal of charging. The noun and verb “charge” apparently come to English via French from the late Latin verb carricāre, which means to load a wagon. Another English word for a wagon is “car,” although the general sense of “car” is retained today mainly in compounds like “boxcar” or “streetcar”; by itself, “car” usually means a motor car, that is, an automobile. In any case, the noun “car” comes, again via French, from the late Latin carra, which seems to be a feminine version of the Latin masculine carrus. Apparently the Romans obtained carrus from the Gauls whom they conquered, and from it they derived carricāre, from which we get “charge.”

My sources for these etymological notes are:

  • T. F. Hoad, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, 1986 (“reissued in new covers 1996”).
  • The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 1971.
  • Walter W. Skeat, A Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, c. 1900 (“First Perigee Printing, 1980”).

All of the information about “charge” and “car” can be found in each of these sources. It is found most accessibly in Skeat.

What is an “emotional charge”? Is it something that a sensation gets loaded up with, as if it were a wagon? Or is a sensation like a Leyden jar, which can receive a charge of electricity, although the jar is not changed in any directly sensible way? We should consider these things; meanwhile, I am going to look at my dictionaries in the light of Collingwood’s philosophy of history.

Excursus on History

Etymological dictionaries

In my copy of Skeat’s dictionary, the only date provided by the edition notice is the year 1980. The dictionary is said to be a Perigee Book, and Perigee Books are said to be published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. The dictionary’s Introduction, evidently by Skeat himself, begins as follows:

The first edition of my ‘Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language’ was published in 1882, and it has since passed through several editions.

Each successive edition contained several corrections and additions, in order that the work might be, to some extent, brought up to date.

Meanwhile, numerous and important contributions have been made, by many writers, to the study of Indo-germanic philology; more exact methods of analysing phonetic changes have been adopted, and important advances have been made at many points…

Because of these advances, Skeat has now “rewritten the book from beginning to end.” Unfortunately, in preparing their paperback edition of the rewritten book, G.P. Putnam’s Sons have removed its original publication date.

We can do a bit of historical research to learn the date. Skeat himself provides a clue by citing a book published in 1899. A more subtle clue is that Skeat has collated his work “with the New English Dictionary from A to H (excepting a small portion of G).” The New English Dictionary is what is now known as the Oxford English Dictionary. Of this, the Compact Edition cited above is the “complete text reproduced micrographically.” The introduction of the OED lists “the parts or sections in which the Dictionary was originally published,” along with “the dates at which they were ready for publication.” I see that the words from A to Glass-cloth, as well as all words in H, were ready by June of 1899, but the words from Glass-coach to Graded were not ready till January of 1900, and the rest of the words in G came after that. Words from I and beyond were not ready till October of 1899 or later. It thus appears that the parts of the OED that Skeat used were available after June of 1899, while the parts that Skeat did not use were not available till October of that year or later. Depending on the speed of his work, Skeat could have had his own dictionary ready for publication, or at least for typesetting, in the latter half of 1899.

Skeat ends the general remarks of his Introduction by noting, “A few belated corrections appear at pp. 662–3.” Unfortunately the Perigee edition ends at page 656. One would hope in vain that G.P. Putnam’s Sons removed Skeat’s list of corrections only after making the corrections in the body of the dictionary. For Skeat tells us, just before the sentence just quoted:

Considerable pains have been taken to ensure accuracy in the printing of the forms cited; and I have received much help from the care exercised by the press-reader. At the same time, I shall be thankful to any reader who will kindly send me a note of any error which he may detect. I have discovered myself, for example, that under the word Cemetery the ‘Skt. çi’ is an error for the ‘Skt. çī.

Looking up Cemetery in the dictionary, I see that the missing macron has not been supplied.

I know little about Sanskrit, and if Skeat’s example of an error in his text is representative, then the remaining errors are not likely to do me any harm. But a book published as Skeat’s dictionary ought to supply either the entire content or else an account of what is missing. This is academic honesty. It is nice that G.P. Putnam’s Sons have retained what is apparently Skeat’s motto, placing it on the cover of the paperback:

“Were man to live co-eval with the sun,
The patriarch-pupil would be learning still.”

YOUNG, Night Thoughts, vii. 86

Also on the cover, the book is credited as being:

Litt.D., LL.D., D.C.L., Ph.D.

The title, the degrees, the university position: they give the appearance of authority. Unfortunately G.P. Putnam’s sons were satisfied by appearance alone. Skeat’s motto and Introduction express a passion to get things right, even if the deity alone would notice an error. Skeat’s latter-day publishers do not share this passion.

A Vision of the Whole

I am reading The New Leviathan, and writing these articles about it, to understand the difference—if there really is one—between feeling and thinking. The articles end up being a repository of thoughts about various works of Collingwood and other things. I fancy I am motivated by a vision provided at the end of Religion and Philosophy (1916), in the chapter called “Miracle”:

What we call uniformity in people, in society and history, is generally a name for our own lack of insight; everything looks alike to the person who cannot see differences. What we demand of a friend is not constancy alone; it is resourcefulness, adaptability, variety; a continual readjustment to the new demands of an always new intercourse. To the eye of perfect insight, nothing is merely uniform; everything is unique. For such a consciousness there are no classes, there are only individuals; not in chaos, for every individual is related to every other:—

All things, by immortal power,
Near or far,
To each other linkèd are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star.1

The true relation between individuals is not the resemblance which connects members of a class, but the co-operation which unites parts of a whole. Such parts are not bound by abstract rules. They are free, but their freedom is not caprice, for they act in and through the whole and each other, so that the whole perpetually re-creates itself in their actions.

1 F. Thompson, The Mistress of Vision.

“To the eye of perfect insight…there are no classes, there are only individuals.” The eye of perfect insight has no need to put files into different folders or directories; everything can be scattered about on a desktop. The eye of perfect insight has no need to arrange social-media friends into “aspects” or “circles”; each friend is known as an individual, not as a member of a class. This is how I understand Collingwood’s vision. The eye of perfect insight does not need to see the parts of an article unfold in a certain order: they can be seen and understood all at once. Thus do I justify my habit of throwing in ideas that come up as I write. I dream of developing an eye of perfect vision.

Scientific history

I take the flaws of the 1980 edition of Skeat’s dictionary as one small sign of the decline of our culture. I become nostalgic for a past age of responsible scholarship and publication. But “living in the past” is considered unhealthy. One should visit the past for the sake of living now. Chapter X of Collingwood’s Autobiography is called “History as Self-knowledge of Mind,” and it says,

We study history in order to see more clearly the situation in which we are called on to act. Hence the plane on which, ultimately, all problems arise is the plane of ‘real’ life: that to which they are referred for their solution is history.

My preference for the oldest of my sources on etymology might be unscientific: in §10, “Question and Evidence,” of Chapter I, “Evidence,” of The Principles of History (1999), Collingwood writes:

…whereas the books mentioned in a bibliography for the use of a scissors-and-paste historian will be, roughly speaking, valuable in direct proportion to their antiquity, those mentioned in a bibliography for the use of a scientific historian will be, roughly speaking, valuable in direct proportion to their newness.

The scissors-and-paste historian bases his work solely on the eyewitness testimony of others: if this testimony is written down, then the scissors-and-paste historian cuts it up and pastes what he wants into his own book. Obviously the scientific historian is superior: he makes use of all available evidence. And anything at all can be used as evidence, if only the historian knows how to use it. Here again is Collingwood, from the same section of The Principles of History:

…in scientific history…everything in the world is potential evidence for any subject whatever.

It might even be suggested that evidence is never destroyed, only created. A copy of Skeat’s dictionary as originally published can presumably still be found somewhere; meanwhile, the fact of its being reprinted eighty years later is evidence of the ongoing value of Skeat’s work. In a “bibliography for the use of a scientific historian,” giving the most recent publication date of a source might be as important as its original publication date, and not only for the practical value of suggesting how the source might be found.

Consider my list of three dictionaries. Of the two concise etymological dictionaries, I say that the older Skeat is more useful than the newer Hoad; but then, I am an amateur. In his article for Charge, after providing the Latin derivation given above, Skeat says that the Latin carrus is “a Gaulish word.” Hoad requires the reader to seek this information in the article for Car. When one does this, one learns additionally that carrus is from an unattested Old Celtic word *karrom, which is represented by the Old Irish, the Irish, and the Old Welsh carr and the Welsh car. This information is in the OED, and Skeat must have known it, even independently of the OED; presumably he omitted it from his own dictionary as being of less interest for his readers than other bits of information, themselves omitted by Hoad.

Such bits of information are seen for example in Skeat’s article for Cemetery (corrected according to Skeat’s own notice, quoted above):

Cemetery. (L.—Gk.) Late L. cœmētērium. Gk. κοιμητήριον, a sleeping-place, cemetery. κοιμάω, I lull to sleep; in pass., to fall asleep. Allied to κεῖμαι, I lie down; Skt. çī, to lie down.

I believe I have managed to digitize here every meaningful feature of Skeat’s printed entry (as reproduced photographically by G.P. Putnam’s Sons). Skeat presumes that his readers know the Greek alphabet. Anybody who can take an interest in Greek etyma of English words ought to be able to read those etyma in their own alphabet. As part of his own home-schooling, Collingwood began learning Latin at four and Greek at six, according to the second paragraph of An Autobiography. The same was true for Collingwood’s three sisters, according to Inglis’s biography, History Man: The Life of R. G. Collingwood (p. 5). I do wonder whether children today are spending their study time better. Are they at least spending their time more appropriately for today’s world?

Had Skeat given us the Sanskrit cognate of “cemetery” in Devanagari, I could not have complained, though I do not know that alphabet. Merely by mentioning this cognate, Skeat reminds us of the exciting recognition, in the late eighteenth century, that Sanskrit must be related to Latin and Greek. Perhaps Hoad no longer feels this excitement, or does not expect his readers to feel it. He does not even expect them to read the Greek alphabet; his article for “cemetery” is thus:

cemetery xiv. – late L. cœmētērium – Gr. koimētḗrion dormitory, (in Christian writers) burial-ground, f. koimân put to sleep.

This entry is shorter than Skeat’s; and yet it does tell us what Skeat’s does not, that the use of κοιμητήριον for a cemetery is specifically Christian. This recalls a reason why Christianity became popular in the first place: it taught that death was only a sleep from which one would wake up. Apparently Hoad’s entry is based on and even copied from the OED etymology, which reads:

ad. L. cœmētērium, ad. Gr. κοιμητήριον dormitory, (in Christian writers) burial-ground.

In the end I have to say that it is best to have all of the sources that I have used. Sometimes I may wish to relive my own past; but I would do it with present knowledge. I cannot ultimately wish to be twelve or sixteen or twenty-one or thirty years old again; for I would not want to give up what I have learned since then.


I repeat and lengthen the last quotation of Collingwood, from The Principles of History. This will allow us to return to thinking more directly about The New Leviathan:

…in scientific history…everything in the world is potential evidence for any subject whatever. This will be a distressing idea to anyone whose notions of historical method are fixed in a scissors-and-paste mould; for how, he will ask, are we to discover what facts are actually of service to us, unless we can first of all round up the facts that might be of service to us? To a person who understands the nature of scientific thinking, whether historical or any other, it will present no difficulty. He will realize that, every time the historian asks a question, he asks it because he thinks he can answer it: that is to say, he has already in his mind a preliminary and tentative idea of the evidence he will be able to use. Not a definite idea about potential evidence, but an indefinite idea about actual evidence. To ask questions which you see no prospect of answering is the fundamental sin in science, like giving orders which you do not think will be obeyed in politics, or praying for what you do not think God will give you in religion…

…It was a correct understanding of the same truth that led Monsieur Hercule Poirot to pour scorn on the ‘human blood-hound’ who crawls about the floor trying to collect everything, no matter what, which might conceivably turn out to be a clue; and to insist that the secret of detection was to use what, with possibly wearisome iteration, he called ‘the little grey cells’. You can’t collect your evidence before you begin thinking, he meant: because thinking means asking questions (logicians, please note), and nothing is evidence except in relation to some definite question. The difference between Poirot and Holmes in this respect is deeply significant of the change that has taken place in the understanding of historical method in the last forty years…

I will not try to examine Collingwood’s doctrine thoroughly now. I may mention that I have read only a couple of Agatha Christie’s novels, neither of them featuring Poirot. I did watch the movie version of Murder on the Orient Express. I have read a lot of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, and I have the image of Sherlock Holmes dividing his detective work into two phases: the evidence-collecting phase and the pondering phase (the latter engaged in while sucking on a pipe). Obviously Holmes must be thinking during both phases. Collingwood wants this to be acknowledged.

My own writing of these articles on The New Leviathan is a kind of evidence-collecting phase. I write down what comes to mind that might possibly be of use in illuminating my view of Collingwood as an individual. I do not necessarily keep in mind my specific question of whether feeling and thought are so clearly distinguishable as Collingwood suggests. Later I read over what I have written, making adjustments, trying to see and to make seen what there is to see.

To read an author with only a specific question in mind would be to classify that author as somebody who can answer the question. That such classification is a no-no is what I inferred above from Religion and Philosophy (and it is what I believe anyway). Classifying people is a kind of acting by rule; and this will be criticized later in The New Leviathan, as it is in An Autobiography. A rule is for situations of a certain kind; but no situation is merely of a certain kind.

Meanwhile, Collingwood says that “the fundamental sin in science” is “to ask questions which you see no prospect of answering.” How is it even possible to commit this sin? I might have thought that the fundamental sin in science was dishonesty. But then, asking a question that you see no way of answering is a kind of dishonesty. Such a question is not a real question, not an honest question; it is a question in form only. It can cause somebody else to work at figuring out what you mean, when as far as you know, you do not mean anything.

When I was young, I had a friend who asked dishonest questions. He would listen to somebody’s explanation or argument, and then he would say he did not understand: he did not do this because he wanted to understand, but because he wanted to see that person work to make him understand. He told me explicitly once that this was what he had been doing to somebody else; on another occasion he did it to me, as I later understood. This friend was also a thief in the more literal sense: a thief not only of people’s time, but of their possessions. He stole the latest Rolling Stones album from the hosts of a party; I stopped him from shoplifting a book; I am not however aware that he ever stole from me.

In mathematics we might seem to ask questions that we have no prospect of answering. But this is never true, as long as we are at least in a position of being able to recognize an answer to a question, should it come along. I suppose the job of the student is to learn to ask only such questions.

The Fallacy of Misplaced argument

The Fallacy of Misplaced Argument is an instance of asking questions that you see no way of answering. Now we are back to Chapter IV of The New Leviathan. Collingwood writes out a couple of examples:

4. 72. …Have I a headache? Do not weigh pros and cons; do not reason about it; simply consider how you feel. Can I hear the squeak of a bat? Do not reason about it; go out of doors when bats are flying, and listen.

Have I a headache? Can I hear the squeak of a bat? These are real, answerable questions. They become unanswerable when modified into: Have I really got a headache, or is it just an illusion? Can I really hear the squeak of a bat, or is it (and everything else in the world) just my imagination?

I do not recall hearing bats squeak. In warmer weather I hear the swifts scream as they swoop past my balcony. I occasionally get a headache, perhaps for the same reason that Collingwood must have done: sitting and thinking too long on the same problem. Sometimes a change in the weather may cause a headache. These possibilites suggest real questions about how to dispel or prevent a headache. But the feeling of a headache, when it is there, is unquestionable.

Collingwood seems to be thinking along these lines with an earlier, more pleasant example:

4. 42. A learned man may assure me that the sun is so many miles away and its light takes so many seconds to reach me; but, although I gladly take his word for it, I note that he agrees with me that it does reach me; and that what I see and what I feel is the light as it ends the journey, not as it begins it.

Feeling and Thought

One can however ask questions about feelings themselves, and not merely about their causes. Here I come back to the distinction between feeling and thought. How is one to analyze a feeling into the sensuous element and the emotional charge, except by thinking about it, that is, by asking and answering questions about it? Collingwood works out an example of thinking about feelings, although the example does not involve emotional charges:

4. 3. Consciousness is the root of knowledge, but it is not knowledge. Knowledge is a highly specialized form of consciousness containing many elements which are not present in simple consciousness.

4. 31. In order to know anything I must not only be conscious, I must reflect on that consciousness. This reflection on simple consciousness I call second-order consciousness. Until consciousness is made an object of reflection there can be no knowledge, because there is no knowledge without, first, the performance of certain specialized operations of thought and, secondly, con­sciousness of these operations as having been actually performed: which is a second-order consciousness.

4. 32. Of these specialized operations I will mention three. First, where x is the thing I want to get knowledge about, and begin with the mere consciousness of, I make suppositions about x.

4. 33. For example, as I write, I hear a roaring noise. Having fixed my attention on it by an act of second-order consciousness whose practical aspect is what I call se­lective attention or the focusing of my consciousness on that noise and away from other things, I consider whether I shall suppose it to be a noise in my head or a noise made by something outside me, and choose the latter.

4. 34. Next, I ask questions about it. These are logically connected with the suppositions. In this case, having decided to suppose that the noise is made by something outside me, I ask: ‘What makes it?’

4. 35. Thirdly, I answer the questions. In this case, having compared the noise with what I recollect of other noises I have heard, I answer: ‘An aeroplane: to be precise, a Hurricane fighter.’

4. 36. All this time I keep ‘my eye’ or rather my ear ‘on the object’; that is, retain my consciousness of the noise by an act of second-order consciousness; and also watch myself to make sure that I am conducting with sufficient care and in the proper way the various operations of thought which go to convert my simple consciousness of the noise into knowledge about the noise.

In short, Collingwood says he performs three actions, in order:

  1. supposing,
  2. asking,
  3. answering.

A chain of questions and answers has to start somewhere, and it starts with a supposition. Collingwood works this out in An Essay on Metaphysics (1940), where metaphysics is established as the science of absolute presuppositions. In the present example, the supposition that the noise is outside is not absolute; I think this supposition is really the answer to the question, Is the noise outside? Such a question can be answered by such actions as turning the head or moving towards the window. By Collingwood’s theory, the question of where the noise is coming from should be based on its own presupposition. This might be the supposition that there is indeed a difference between noises caused by sound waves and noises “in the head.” There is also a supposition that there is a noise at all. Not being subject to argument, this supposition would seem to be an absolute presupposition. However, as described by Collingwood in the Essay, the metaphysician is more concerned with grander absolute presuppositions, like the modern scientific presupposition that the world operates according to laws.

Collingwood’s chosen example of a fighter aircraft might serve as a reminder not to ask too many irrelevant questions. There is a real war against Germany going on. The important question is how to fight it, if one’s weapon is thought. If one cannot think, then one will not be asking questions anyway.

How do we focus on the sound of the aircraft through selective attention? If we focus on it, does not this mean that it already has our attention? Perhaps the attention and the focusing are simultaneous; but then it seems they must be involuntary.

In an earlier article, I expressed concern over Collingwood’s state­ment in the present Chapter IV that we have feelings, but are thought. It sounds as if feelings come and go, but are not part of us. And yet a feeling seems to correspond exactly with our consciousness of it, although further examination of this will come in the next chapter:

4. 22. Consciousness in its simplest form finds feeling in its simplest form, and consciousness in any specialized form finds feeling in a correspondingly specialized form, ‘there’ ‘ready-made’, ‘immediately given’, as soon as it begins to operate theoretically.

4. 23. Whether this means that feeling already exists ‘unconsciously’ before that happens is a question I will postpone (cf. 5. 8).

I would just note the question: Why should the distinction between a feeling and our consciousness of it be any different from the mind/body distinction? Consciousness can be the mind of that of which feeling is the body, and then the distinction is only between two ways of looking at the same thing.

Collingwood elaborates on selective attention:

4. 6. Out of the tangle or confusion of the ‘here-and-now’ in which feeling-elements of all kinds are given to simple consciousness in their simplest form, overlapping and interpenetrating and mixed up together, selective attention gradually makes a pattern; or rather an infinite variety of different patterns, according as it reduces this confusion to order in an infinite variety of different ways; each way at first imposed by an act of practical consciousness and then affording an object of contemplation to theoretical consciousness.

Theoretical consciousness seems to sit in its chair, watching as objects of contemplation come and go, according to the work of practical consciousness. Presumably Collingwood would allow that this is a ridiculous image. There is no consciousness without an object of consciousness. The point is that consciousness can supply itself with objects.

Earlier I quoted Collingwood’s presumption to follow Plato and Leibniz. He continues:

4. 85. …Plato thought that knowledge cannot even rest on a foundation of feeling, because feeling is too vague; knowledge must be the work of pure thought operating all by itself.

4. 86. But what a foundation needs is strength, and strength is what feeling has.

Strong feelings are what provoke thought. Collingwood goes on to note one sense in which feeling is indivisible, and yet is distinct from—not thought as such, but a result of thought:

4. 87. Leibniz thought feeling was confused knowledge, and to clear up the confusion is to purge it of what makes it feeling and leave it knowledge.

4. 88. But feeling is not knowledge at all; it is feeling; and if you could purge it of what makes it feeling there would be no residue.

Grounding or earthing an electrically charged body is a kind of purging. If the charged body is a feeling, then to ground it is to remove the emotional charge, leaving the body as a “mere” sensation, which might be confused with knowledge; but knowledge is not that simple. Knowledge is not what you get when you remove feeling; knowledge is what you can get by building on feeling. Knowledge is as it were a charge, a load, on feeling.

Both Plato and Leibniz are “right in saying that feeling is confused or indistinct” (¶4. 89); this is to be investigated in the next chapter, ‘The Ambiguity of Feeling.”


Earlier I noted that Collingwood’s way of numbering the paragraphs of the chapters of The New Leviathan suggests a coarser division into sections. But the suggestion is not always perfect. I now want to summarize Chapter IV according to the sections that I detect. Again I note that the numbers on Collingwood’s paragraphs are ordered from the left like the fractional part of a decimal expansion, or like English words.

¶¶1, 11, 12

A feeling consists of two elements: a sensation and its emotional charge. But this is merely an observation, not a universal law. Actually the word “sensation” is ambiguous: it can be an act or an object. These matters will be taken up in Chapter V.


There are two senses to verbs like “have” and “belong.” A thing had by or belonging to another can be a constituent or an apanage. “Feeling is an apanage of mind,” but “Forms of consciousness are the only constituents, so far as I know, possessed by any mind.” Thus Collingwood acknowledges the possibility that a mind could have unconscious constituents; again, he will take this up in Chapter V.

Simple feeling is the object of simple consciousness. But there is also specialized feeling.

Now a distinction between practical and theoretical consciousness is introduced. Practical consciousness creates specialized feeling, which becomes the object of specialized, theoretical consciousness.


Used normally and accurately, the adjective “conscious” is equivalent to “aware.” But the adjective is used abnormally and inaccurately for knowing.

In another book, possibly An Essay on Philosophical Method, Collingwood says a philosopher cannot be a police officer telling people how they must use words. I cannot put my finger on that passage; but in this Essay, Collingwood does observe that, while science needs technical terms, philosophy does not. Science encounters totally new concepts and needs words for them; but in philosophy,

we can only come to know better what to some extent we knew already. We therefore never need an absolutely new word for an absolutely new thing. But we do constantly need relatively new words for relatively new things.

This is from subsection 9, “The needs of philosophy can only be met by ordinary (literary or non-technical) language,” in §2, “Philosophical Prose and Scientific Prose,” of Chapter X, “Philosophy as a Branch of Literature,” of the Essay.

I take Collingwood to be illustrating his principle of language in The New Leviathan, though he is somewhat sloppy about it. The word “conscious” is indeed bound up with the idea of knowing, even in its etymology: the English adjective comes from the Latin conscius, which is derived from conscīre “to know with.” Using “conscious” for knowing is not abnormal or inaccurate. It is however imprecise. Consciousness is broader than knowledge.

Let me note by the way that, similarly, in The Principles of Art, Collingwood is at pains to show that the word “art” is used for things which, today, people will agree are not really art.


I quoted this section above, except for the last paragraph, which summarizes the chapter to this point and makes a transition to the remainder. I now give this last paragraph, after quoting again the first, which summarizes the section:

4. 3. Consciousness is the root of knowledge, but it is not knowledge. Knowledge is a highly specialized form of consciousness containing many elements which are not present in simple consciousness.

4. 37. So much for a rough description of the relation between feeling and consciousness. Now let us turn to some characteristics of feeling itself.


A feeling is a here-and-now. It is not a point, but it has, within it, differences of place and time. It has a focal region and a penumbral region, but no edge.

4. 47. Take any feeling and ask whether it is a real feeling or only the ghost of a feeling. I do not know on what principles you can find an answer…


Distinctions and edges within a here-and-now are made by selective attention. Note this well: selective attention creates these distinctions, which were not there before. Painters know this, because they have learned “to re-establish the primitive consciousness.”


Some of the distinctions that selective attention can make are between:

  • different positions, as here and there, now and then;
  • different qualities;
  • sensations and their emotional charges.

Differences need not be measurable.


The Fallacy of Misplaced Argument is “the fallacy of arguing about any object immediately given to consciousness.” A feeling is such an object; but so can a form of consciousness be.

Not only a feeling, but every immediate object of consciousness, “so far as I know,” carries an emotional charge. An example of an immediate object of consciousness that is not a feeling is the conviction that a mathematical argument is correct.


Feelings are not clear, but they are (or can be) strong, and this is why, pace Plato and Leibniz, they can be foundation for knowledge, although they are not themselves knowledge.


4 Trackbacks

  1. By Collingwood, The New Leviathan (1942) « Polytropy on February 3, 2014 at 11:47 am

    […] NL IV: “Feeling” […]

  2. By NL V: “The Ambiguity of Feeling” « Polytropy on February 17, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    […] like something immediately given to consciousness, so that there can be no arguing about it, by the Fallacy of Misplaced Argument (¶4. 73). Is Collingwood then committing the fallacy, or begging the question? The question […]

  3. By NL VI: “Language,” again « Polytropy on March 31, 2014 at 11:33 am

    […] We can look carefully at an object and see its fine detail. Here we are using the “selective attention” introduced in ¶4. 33. We assume that the fine detail was there all along. I think this […]

  4. By NL VII: “Appetite” « Polytropy on May 5, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    […] the fact is that we do feel hungry: hunger is an object of immediate consciousness. It would be the Fallacy of Misplaced Argument (introduced in ¶4. 73) to try to argue ourselves out of feeling […]

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