Polish Analytical Philosophy
A Philosophy of Man
The Alienation of Reason
Der Mensch Ohne Alternative
The Polish philosophy of this century, best known for its achievements in formal logic, is a most impressive cultural phenomenon. In his extensive study of its vicissitudes during the Stalinist period Zbigniew Jordan observes that its beginning can be exactly dated. In 1895, when he was thirty-one, Kazimierz Twardowski returned from working with Franz Brentano in Vienna to take up a chair at the University of Lwow. While in Vienna he had written an important monograph on philosophical psychology and he could well have gone on to a successful career in the highly professional surroundings from which Husserl, Meinong, and the phenomenological movement in general were emerging. At Lwow he found the philosophy of his own country in a loose, amateurish, edificatory condition. Until his death in 1938 he devoted himself to the task of transforming it into what was perhaps the most rigorously and effectively rational philosophical community in the world.
The high standards of professional competence he imposed on the philosophers of Poland can be expressed in two principles which seem straightforward to the point of obviousness. They demanded that absolute priority be given in philosophical work to the greatest possible clarity and definiteness of expression and the greatest possible rigor in argument, with all essential logical steps being explicitly set out. In his view, humanly interesting conclusions can be left to look after themselves: bright ideas will emerge without the assistance of an academic philosophical profession. The prime responsibility of the professional philosopher is to set an example of intellectual discipline by dedicating himself to the strict critical justification, rather than the invention, of ideas and beliefs.
In due course two main lines of activity developed under Twardowski’s influence. The first and better-known of these is the work of the great school of Polish logicians. During the two decades of the life of the independent Polish republic this was the only genuine community of logicians on any substantial scale in the world. The examples of Frege in Germany and of Russell and Whitehead in Britain had had some general influence on philosophy and had inspired an individual here and there to take up full-time work in the field of logic, but they had produced no institutionalized study of logic at an advanced level. A good way to measure the uniqueness of logic in Poland is to compare the main elementary text used there, Lukasiewicz’s Elements of Mathematical Logic which is at once rigorous and sophisticated, with its contemporaneous English opposite number, Susan Stebbing’s muddled and promiscuously put together Modern Introduction to Logic.
THE FIRST TWO major Polish logicians—Jan Lukasiewicz, who died in exile in Dublin in 1956 at seventy-eight—and Stanislaw Lesniewski, who died in 1939 at the age of fifty-three—both came to the subject from philosophy. Both, it seems, felt that Twardowski’s principles could be fully put into effect only by going back to absolute fundamentals, to the strictly formal study of deductive reasoning. Lesniewski abandoned philosophy for logic altogether after the 1914 war, repudiating some…
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