Working on the assumption that "throughout the course of history the many have accepted, as far as they were able, the thoughts which have been made for them by the few in the past, and the few have gone on constructing the opinion of the future" (HEW 114), Barfield sees the history of ideas--the sort of scholarly activity engaged in by individuals like the philosopher Arthur Owen Lovejoy, the historical reconstruction of a unit idea" (say, for example, the philosophical tenet known as dualism), its origin, its dissemination, its mistaken notions,1 its modification, its demise--as only able to "collate conclusions." The history of ideas, Barfield argues, does not "attempt to penetrate into the very texture and activity of thought" (SA 90).
Moreover, the history of ideas, is grounded on a false assumption: "it assumes that all these philosophers were asking themselves the same questions and then finding different answers to them; that they were talking about the same things, and merely reasoning differently from them. That means that the history of philosophy is treated, in effect, as though it were a dialogue between contemporaries" (HGH 7-8).
The history of ideas
readily falls prey as well to the worst kind of logomorphism.
Indeed, Barfield contends, the history of ideas may owe its very existence
as a method to the logomorphic bias of its time of origin.
[In the 19th Century] the development of human consciousness was . . . presented as a history of alpha-thinking beginning from zero and applied always to the same phenomena, at first in the form of erroneous beliefs about them and, as time went on, in the form of more and more correct and scientific beliefs. In short, the evolution of consciousness was reduced to a bare history of ideas. (SA 66)Nor is a mere history of thought satisfactory for our needs. History of thought in Barfield's classification system is content with "observing that men began to think thus at a certain time,"2 while a "history of thinking," Barfield's preferred alternative, goes on to ask "how they became able to do so" (RCA 48). The latter goes on to the realization of the evolution of consciousness.
convinced that "it is possible to fix a point in time, and then to cut
a kind of cross-section, and define the exact, relation between language
and thought at that particular moment" and that "this relation . . . is
a fluid and flickering thing, varying incredibly in individual minds, leaping
up and sinking down like a flame from one generation to another" (HEW
86), Barfield believes that "the progress of ideas has been as much, or
more, a function of the evolution of consciousness than its vehicle. That
is, of consciousness and its correlative, the phenomena or Collective
Representations. . . . Accordingly, that evolution is much less dependent
on contacts or communications than has generally been supposed" (SA