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The Touch of King Midas: Collingwood on why actions are not events




It is the ambition of natural science to provide complete explanations of reality. Collingwood argues that science can only explain events, not actions. The latter is the distinctive subject matter of history and can be described as actions only if they are explained historically. This paper explains Collingwood’s claim that the distinctive subject matter of history is actions and why the attempt to capture this subject matter through the method of science inevitably ends in failure because science explains events, not actions. It argues that Collingwood’s defence of the methodological autonomy of history vis-à-vis natural science is not based on a commitment to human exceptionalism, i.e. the exclusion of human beings and their doings from the rest of nature, but on the view that explanations which appeal to norms are different in kind from explanations which appeal to empirical regularities. Given the close relationship between the method and the subject matter of a form of inquiry, actions elude any attempt to explain them through the scientific method because the application of this method entails that what is thus explained is not an action but an event.


D'Oro. (2018). The Touch of King Midas: Collingwood on why actions are not events. Philosophical Explorations, 160-169.

Acceptance Date Dec 22, 2017
Publication Date Jan 16, 2018
Journal Philosophical Explorations
Print ISSN 1386-9795
Publisher Routledge
Pages 160-169
Keywords actions, events, action explanation, natural past, human past, historical past, historical understanding, casual explanations, rationalising explanations
Publisher URL