Prof Connelly (Director of the Centre for Applied Ethics at the University of Hull) gave a very engaging paper on Robin George Collingwood’s notion of absolute presuppositions and their relationship to historical inquiry. These were ideas that Collingwood explored most fully in An Essay on Metaphysics (1940). Connelly first outlined what Collingwood understood absolute presuppositions to be: namely a type of proposition that it makes no sense to doubt; a proposition that is not verifiable, that is thus neither true nor false. Absolute propositions essentially form the framework for our thinking, they constitute the boundaries of our thought processes. As such they are not susceptible to proof, instead the proof of other propositions is derived from them.
Having discussed Collingwood’s conception of absolute presuppositions Connelly then turned to the possible absolute presuppositions relevant to historical inquiry. He first noted a number of possible absolute presuppositions (including historical agency and causality) before asking whether such presuppositions were everywhere and for everyone always the same, or whether they were subject to change. Connelly’s paper was lively, clear and engaging and was followed by an interesting discussion that explored many aspects of the talk. For non-specialists, perhaps the most accessible route into Collingwood’s thinking here is R.G. Collingwood: An Autobiography, a new edition of which was published in November 2013 (Oxford, OUP).