|R.G. Collingwood (undated photo)|
Words of R.G. Collingwood to contemplate & practice:
'The maxim of Spinoza is neither to condemn nor to deride the feelings and actions of men, but to understand them. It might seem a truism that this rule must be obeyed by all students of human custom and belief; but that is not so. many people who claim to be students of human nature think that by condemning others they are proving their own superior virtue, and in deriding them their own superior wisdom; or rather, they do not think about it at all, but act as if they thought thus, because of a devil inside them that can only be appeased by this self-glorification at the expense of others. Here the professed study of human nature is simply a pretense for gratifying odium humani generis [hatred of the human race]. . . . These rules, so far as they are rules of scientific method, are not mere rules of manners or morals; they are indispensable means to arriving at the truth. . . . [T]he adoption of Spinoza's maxim is not only a point of scientific method, it is a moral discipline for the whole man, for the whole of our civilization. We must learn to face the savage* within us if we are to understand the savage outside us. The savage within us must be not be stamped down out of sight. He too, by the same Spinozistic rule, must be neither be condemned nor derided, but understood. Just as the savages around us, when thus understand, cease to appear as savages and become human beings, courteous and friendly and honourable and worthy of admiration for their virtues and of love for their humanity, so the savage within us, on the same terms, will become no longer a thing of horror but a friend and helper: no savage, but the heart and root of our own civilization."
'I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, not to hate them, but to understand them.' TRACTATUS THEOLOGICO-POLITICUS (1670).
R. G. Collingwood, THE PHILOSOPHY OF ENCHANTMENT: STUDIES IN FOLKTALES, CULTURAL CRITICISM, & ANTHROPOLOGY, (ed. by Boucher, James, & Smallwood), pp. 184, 185, 186.
I fear that I've all too often ignored Spinoza's & Collingwood's advice. Especially viz those with whom I have strong disagreements currently. However, Collingwood spoke out strongly and forcefully against those opinions that he found wanting, as well as those wrong & even threatening (such as fascism). I think the key to acting viz. the present is to understand as well as possible even those whose actions we must condemn. But sometimes understanding doesn't bring reconciliation, but greater loathing. (You know of whom I speak of in the current context, I trust.) While we need reconciliation and understanding, sometimes we need resistance, too. I'm not sure of how or where to draw the line. "Love the sinner but hate the sin"? Were it so clean a distinction!
*Earlier in his text, Collingwood had derided the use of terms such as "savages,", "primitives," and the like by social scientists as condescending and misleading. Thus, in the current context, Collingwood's use of the term "savage" should be read as an ironic turn that disarms its malignant use by applying it to himself, his contemporaries, and to those whom he would ascribe its misuse.