Philosophy and Ideology. Z. A. Jordan 1963



The last sixty years have perhaps constituted the most remarkable period in the history of philosophy in Poland. Never before were so many talents and abilities attracted to philosophy to make valuable contributions in its development. Poland, after the First World War, having hardly regained its own statehood and organised its institutions of teaching and research, became one of the internationally important centres of philosophical studies. Polish logicians and philosophers promoted new trends and opened fresh fields of research. The fame of the Warsaw School was widely known to some because of its mathematicians and to others because of its logicians and philosophers.

When the Second World War broke out some thought that this was the end of a bright but short interlude. Among them was E.T. Bell, the distinguished historian of mathematics. Recalling Alfred North Whitehead’s tribute of 1934 to H. M. Sheffer and ‘the great school of Polish mathematicians, concluding with the statement: “there is continuity in the progress of ordered knowledge’, Bell wrote: ‘Five years less one month later, ‘the great school of Polish mathematicians’ was being bombed from the air in the progress of ordered ignorance, that is, in the general progress of European civilisation. What had taken twenty years to gather was dispersed and in part obliterated in about twenty days. ‘The great school of Polish mathematicians’ followed the Vienna Circle into death or exile’ [1].

Bell’s prophecy turned out to be only partly true and Whitehead’s faith in the continuity of the progress of ordered knowledge has been vindicated. Shortly after the end of hostilities of the Second World War the survivors resumed the interrupted development. The losses in human lives and research facilities, suffered by want on destruction and systematic extermination, were grievous but not fatal. First to recover were mathematics and mathematical logic; the first post-war volume of Fundamenta Mathematicae appeared in 1945 and the regular publication of this periodical was recommenced in 1947. About the same time mathematical logic resumed its place in the world of learning. At the International Congress of Philosophy in Amsterdam (1948) Polish philosophers did not appear in person, but their contributions were numerous and of the same quality as previously. By the side of the older generation of philosophers there appeared the younger one, which made a promising start and justified trust in the future. Important works, some of them of outstanding value, were published. There was no reason to feel apprehensive that the present would not equal and even improve upon the past.

Just then, however, the course of development was again interrupted by political interference, suppression of free thought and speech, and the imposition of an oracular philosophy, enforced by decrees and administrative measures. The protracted struggle for the rights of reason, intellectual integrity, respect for facts, even the validity of logical thinking, began in earnest. A great amount of mental energy and spiritual resources was spent in the defence of the elementary and well-established truths. The struggle was desperate, philosophical thinking appeared to be doomed. Its outcome in 1956, sudden and decisive, again proved all the apprehensions to be exaggerated. The submerged determination to search for truth and abide by its verdict has re-asserted itself with a renewed strength. If one looks back at the Polish philosophical scene in the years since 1945, one thing stands out in clear relief. The modern philosophical tradition, which commenced in Poland at the beginning of this century and gathered strength during the following decades, has survived all the disasters and upheavals and contributed to shape the methods and ways of philosophical thinking in the postwar period. It has continued unobtrusively even at times when a different tradition seemed to have won the day and proclaimed its decisive victory over the past and its discovery of the ultimate truth.

This power of survival is probably due to many factors, of which one, however, is of direct interest to the purpose of this study. It should be looked for in the persistence and vigour of the modern Polish philosophical tradition which gave to its followers in the post-war era the strength of deep-rooted beliefs not easily misled or affected by pressure and other more extreme measures. This tradition must be traced back to its source, for it has provided the background of post-war developments and has constituted their formative force and influence.