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About the project

Project objectives

The main objective of the project is preserving and deepening the knowledge of the Polish Christian philosophy, as well as presenting the role it played in the broadly understood culture, science, economy, politics, art, social life, and religion in the 20th century. In the first place, it is a monographic study of thoughts of 13 outstanding representatives of such philosophy, acting mainly in the second half of the 20th century, i.e.:

Mieczysław Gogacz, Piotr Lenartowicz, Stanisław Kamiński, Kazimierz Kloskowski, Kazimierz Kłósak, Feliks Koneczny, Mieczysław Albert Krąpiec, Tadeusz Styczeń, Tadeusz Ślipko, Józef Tischner, Karol Wojtyła, Jacek Woroniecki, and Zofia Józefa Zdybicka.

The creators of the Polish Christian philosophy, as well as the environments they shaped, played an important role in maintaining the identity and development of the Polish humanities and broadly understood exact, theological and social sciences. Not only did they influence university life, but they also contributed to the development of the national culture, as well as social and religious life. Also, it is easy to notice the significance of their influence on political changes that took place in Poland and abroad, on the formation of methods and strategies of education and upbringing, on showing the rightness of religious attitudes, on the elaboration of innovative methods of defending human rights, and on preparing and presenting the basic civilisation principles and other rules of public life. Among those people it was certainly John Paul II who played the most important role.

Polish Christian philosophy in the 20th century is philosophy sui generis. It was created by great people of the Polish culture and thought who did not treat faith as something that limits or ideologises human cognition and thinking about the world. On the contrary—dealing with philosophy within its context, they adopted the principles of the rational scientific discourse and they usually separated things related to religious faith from what was possible to define through natural cognition. They did this to show the natural human tendency to link what belongs to the area of religion with what flows from the natural order.

The concept of “Christian philosophy”

Among its various social and cultural changes, Christian philosophy has been struggling over its own identity for a long time. It is because this thought is a historical product. It was established in a specific time, under the influence of particular cultural conditions related to the adaptation of the Christian doctrine to the image of the world shaped by ancient philosophy. The fact of the historical existence of this philosophy has not been generally questioned, but its methodological and epistemological status has raised many doubts. That is why as a result, many of the past discussions on the subject focused not on its historical dimension, but on its methodological. Many of the philosophers who developed this type of philosophy felt the need to justify the way of philosophizing they had adopted, especially due to the fact that such a justification was—to a greater or lesser extent—required by the cultural context in which a particular concept of Christian philosophy was being shaped. The discussion on Christian philosophy which was carried out in the 1930s has not been definitely closed,3 continuing to rage even now and also in Poland. However, its validity has been confirmed by the works of authors who have tried to describe the methodological status of this philosophy, as well as the disciplines which are given the epithet of “Christian,” e.g. “Christian ethics.” Following the idea of Paul Ricoeur, we can say that Christian philosophy still inspires philosophers coming from different research traditions.

Christian philosophy has never been an intellectual monolith and, at least from the historical point of view, we can speak about different ways of articulating and practicing it. It was the case when it was formed, and it is the case now. However, it seems that in all the particular ways of practicing it, we can follow the thought of Gilson, speaking about the “Christian philosophy as such.” It is a philosophy without names, a philosophy of “pure” problems and “pure” concepts, as well as their subjective and methodological consequences. Such a view of Christian philosophy makes it possible for us to discern a kind of common Christian philosophical experience which has been expressed in different research traditions. Just like in the historical development of Christian philosophy in 20th century Poland, on the one hand, we can see that there are a number of ways of practicing it, and, on the other hand—there is a certain unity to the Christian philosophical experience, which makes it possible to capture the unique features of this way of philosophizing.

The concept of “Christian philosophy” was coined in the course of fierce discussions between its adherents and detractors. Perhaps “Christian” philosophy is something we can speak about in the context of certain inspirations, i.e. in the context of discovering rather than justifying. And Christianity, as a religious tradition, can be the source of different problem situations which a philosopher may explain with the use of particular conceptual categories typical of a given age and image of the world functioning at that time.

The idea of “Christian philosophy” is ambiguous and, as a result, unclear. Moreover, it expresses the combination of different aspects, such as the historical and the objective, and thus there are various problems related to its application. On the one hand, we mean a certain cultural phenomenon (both in the past and now); on the other hand, we question whether it is correct to use such a name for philosophy; on yet another, we are trying to establish a criterion based on which a given thinker or concept may be classified as belonging to that philosophical trend. In none of those aspects have definite decisions been made. The concept of Christian philosophy is of a typological nature. It functions as a descriptive or valuing idea, but—in different types of discourses—it usually functions in both roles at the same time. As a typological category, it enables the capture of specific features of the phenomenon in question, taking into account its modifications occurring at different levels of its historical development.

Referring to the category of the “research tradition” delineated by the modern philosopher of science Larry Laudan, we can say that the Christian philosophy which developed in Poland over the course of the last century constitutes precisely such a tradition. It includes a number of different ways of practicing philosophy (neo-Thomist, phenomenological, hermeneutical, dialogic or analytic manner) fulfilled by different philosophical schools or individual thinkers who have been very restrained in terms of identifying with any formalized philosophical school. Some of these concepts of Christian philosophy, e.g. Louvain or traditional Thomism, seem to belong to the past, and have no real influence on the shape of the contemporary philosophical culture and education. Other concepts, such as existential Thomism or phenomenology, still retain an influence—to a greater or lesser degree. Yet other concepts, such as analytic Christian philosophy, are accelerating and will in the future perhaps create a new paradigm for the practice of Christian philosophy. The changing mentality of contemporary has forced Christian philosophers to modify the current ways of carrying out the discourse. It has led to transformations in the Christian research tradition related to the disappearance of old ways of conceptualizing the Christian experience and the appearance of new ones.

Historical background

The 20th century was a period of a difficult trial, not only for Poland. Apart from regaining independence in 1918, the country experienced two world wars, the Bolshevik revolution, the rise of totalitarian systems, as well as organised forms of homicide linked with enslavement and contempt for human dignity. All those phenomena strongly influenced the Polish, European and world culture. They also affected philosophy. The fundamental challenge faced by Christian philosophy in Poland at the beginning of the 20th century was about defining its position in the controversy over the form of social life. The controversy over the form of social life brought into relief not only political and social differences, but also the underlying anthropological differences defining the relations between man and society. That is why Christian thinkers of the interwar period focused on defining and promoting their personalistic position in opposition to collectivism and individualism. After 1945, when the Soviet Union imposed the totalitarian system on Poland, the political monopoly was accompanied by the worldview monopoly based on the official claims of the Marxist-Leninist philosophy.  

Because of such circumstances, a lot of pre-war university professors could no longer work at their universities. Among such professors were: Władysław Tatarkiewicz, Roman Ingarden, Izydora Dąmbska, Henryk Elzenberg and Tadeusz Kotarbiński. The authorities limited the freedom of scientific research and the contact with the philosophical thought from outside the iron curtain. Polish humanities were in an ideological trap. For several decades university circles were pressed by various forms of the Marxist ideology. In those adverse circumstances, as early as at the end of 1940’s of the 20th century, broadly understood Christian philosophy started to intensely revive. The fact that the country’s authorities isolated the scientific centres in which such philosophy developed made it possible for them to be relatively free from ideological pressure and to maintain autonomy in carrying out their research. Contrary to what is commonly believed, Christian philosophy was not only pursued by clergy, but also by lay people who, within the area of Christian thought, were looking for the ways of cognition and thinking that would be free from the political dogmas. The intellectual resistance of its representatives played a very important role, first in the protection of the Polish national culture throughout the 20th century, then in shaping its Christian image, and finally in its further development.  

In the 20th century Christian philosophy became the ideological binding material necessary for maintaining the continuity of the Polish culture and the link that connected the Polishness with the civilisation heritage of the Western Europe. That is why, during the communist period the authorities tried to persecute, discredit or manipulate such philosophy. It is exactly at that time when the government tried to present it as a way of wishful thinking based on religious beliefs and as an ideological discourse totally incompliant with the contemporary science. All the representatives of the Polish Christian philosophy opposed such approach. The effort in developing such philosophy often became their ethos supported not only by strong faith but also by real patriotism. 

Specific features of the Polish Christian philosophy

Christian philosophy of the 20th century was not monolithic. It had a lot of starting points and solutions to research problems. The same problems were solved in various ways, which often led to interesting discussions in which the barriers of intellectual isolation were broken. Before the Second World War such philosophy was shaped by the traditional Thomism valid in the interwar period, but after the war other versions of Thomism became popular. Such versions included existential, transcendental, Louvain or phenomenological Thomism. The 1908s and 1990s of the previous century deepened the pluralism of the Polish Christian philosophy even more. Openness to the philosophical hermeneutics and the philosophy of dialogue (Józef Tischner) resulted in the creation of new concepts in Christian philosophy which were critical towards traditional formulas and tried to answer the challenges of the contemporary world and man in a new manner.

At the beginning of the years 2000, partial integration of the Polish Christian philosophers’ environment took place. The Catholic University of Lublin started to edit the Universal Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, and then the Encyclopaedia of Polish Philosophy. The Interuniversity Scientific Seminar entitled “Styczeń – Ślipko – Tischner. Christian Inspirations in Ethics,” initiated by the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, led to the integration of the environments of the CSWU in Warsaw, the Jesuit University Ignatianum in Krakow and the Catholic University of Lublin. Later many other Polish universities joined that initiative, e.g. the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń or the University of Silesia in Katowice. Those seminars presented the current state of Christian philosophy and ethics in Poland, and they contributed to the development of the methodological and objective reflection on current problems of that philosophical trend. Its participants paid special attention to the fact that the research should be interdisciplinary.

The dynamics of the Polish Christian philosophy of the 20th century is visible in the relations between its most important representatives. Despite the fact that all those philosophers were associated with Christianity, they were often involved in harsh polemics. In many issues they remained philosophical adversaries and they could not reach a compromise as for their views. Thus, it was not just apologetic and confessional philosophy. It was a living discourse, open to the contemporary intellectual challenges, in which the philosophers expressed their readiness for dialogue, and sometimes for the confrontation with what appeared in culture within the area of social life, science, social norms and political life institutions. In other words, such philosophy permeated the whole personal life of a man and shaped human culture, broadening and ordering the area of scientific knowledge, affecting moral and social life, inspiring art, and deepening people’s religious life.

Such philosophy was created by extraordinary persons whose educational actions and involvement in scientific work found followers within the area of science and gave rise to the creation of philosophical schools connected with the master. The influence of such people and their environments exceeded the boundaries of the Polish culture and became a part of the world’s heritage, which is proven by the example of persons such as Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, Mieczysław Albert Krąpiec or Józef Tischner.

Content of volumes

Each volume shall is dedicated to one philosopher, according to the specific key of presenting his or her thought. The following arrangement of the content was suggested: biography and bibliography of a given author, the sources of philosophical inspiration (the influence of school, affiliations, borrowings from other systems), the preferred concept of philosophy, discussed problems and suggested solutions, the lexicon of basic terms, as well as polemics and discussions carried out by the author in Poland and abroad. Each volume include monographic elaboration, as well as text excerpts representative of each author.

A Companion to Polish Christian Philosophy of the 20th and 21st Centuries, on the other hand, includes the accomplishments of most Polish Christian philosophers of the 20th century in the most important areas of philosophy, which makes it possible to present the whole panorama of the analysed philosophical trend. This way we can partially deal with the problem of the lack of many other authors in this project. A Companion to Polish Christian Philosophy of the 20th and 21st Centuries is a compendium – a review of particular areas of philosophy (metaphysics, theory of cognition, logic and science methodology, anthropology, ethics, aesthetics, axiology, philosophy of religion, social philosophy and political philosophy) arranged as per the discussion on the Polish Christian philosophers’ work and their innovative solutions that influenced the shape of the philosophical discourse, both in Poland and abroad. 

The importance of the project

The importance of the project is expressed in the advantages such as: providing the interpretation “key” for understanding the Polish Christian philosophy; promoting universities which maintained independence in philosophical work during the period of communism; arranging the thoughts of the masters of Polish humanities according to a clear interpretation key; showing the young generation intellectual, but also moral models of people who, as individuals or group members, were involved in creating the national culture despite adverse political conditions.  

The works of Polish Christian philosophers, just like this project, are of interdisciplinary nature. Thus, not only they are important for philosophy, but they also influence other areas of knowledge or culture. It is because philosophical research is the most universal and basic for all fields of knowledge. In the most general sense, it provides the basic premises for each of the exact sciences (natural and humanistic). It belongs to the external basis of a science giving that science proper justification and showing the boundaries of its cognitive competences.

The project is important for enriching the knowledge of Christian philosophy especially abroad, where this philosophy is very poorly known or—in the case of some authors—remains completely unknown. Most of the current commentaries on the Polish Christian philosophers has been published in Polish, while serious deficiencies are present in translations of their works and foreign language commentaries. As to the authors included in the project, some of their work and commentaries are available in foreign languages ​​(mainly in English). This apply mainly to Karol Wojtyła, Mieczysław Albert Krąpiec, Feliks Koneczny, and Józef Tischner. In the case of the other authors, substantial deficiencies of foreign language commentaries are present, yet sometimes even the lack of such works in Polish can be noticed. That is why their thought is very little known in Europe and in the world, and if they heritage has been noticed at all, it is only occasionally.