Communities of Dialogue Russian and Ukrainian Émigrés in Modernist Prague

Dialogues of Value: Russian Neo-Kantianism, Jan Patočka

(Christian Sternad, Emanuel Landolt)

The notion of value is pervasive in modernist Prague. At the most general level, this is simply a reflexion of the late 19th and early 20th centuries’ crises of identity, science, language, or faith, and of the discovery of their inherently conventional nature as axiological systems. In Prague, though, value was not just a catch-all concept in a context of cultural, moral or linguistic relativism: it is often used technically, with specific aims. Many of the intellectual traditions that shaped interwar Prague involve an explicit discussion of the notion of value: it is at the heart of structural linguistics (Saussure’s valeur), of Neo-Kantian philosophy (Rickert’s and Lask’s Wert and Geltung), of phenomenology (Scheler’s Wertethik, Heidegger’s Geltung, which is directly related to Rickert and Lask), and is present in the Brentano School (cf. Kraus’s The Theory of Value, 1901), and Gestalt psychology (cf. Köhler The place of value in a world of facts, 1938). One also finds it in works of interwar Prague intellectuals, most explicitly in Losskij’s Value and existence (1931) and Mukařovský’s Aesthetic Function, Norm and Value as Social Facts (1936), as well as in debates on the relation between positivism and transcendental philosophy (Jakovenko, Masaryk), the crisis of European science (Husserl, Patočka), Eurasianism (Jakobson, Alekseev, Trubeckoj), the national or universal scope of Russian and German philosophy (Jakovenko, Gessen, Husserl, Čyževs'kyj), philosophy of law (Novgorodcev, Alekseev), religious philosophy (Bulgakov, Losskij, Masaryk), or the psychological or formal nature of art and aesthetic experience (Mukařovský, Utitz, O. Fischer).

In typical fashion for modernist Prague, this constellation of debates reflects not a unified, synthetic research programme, but a network of exchanges and co-dependencies between distinct (and often unrelated) traditions. Of course, some of these bilateral exchanges are historiographically obvious and well established (Brentano school and phenomenology, neo-kantianism and phenomenology). Further, some less evident cases have been demonstrated more punctually (e.g. phenomenology and structuralism (Holenstein 1975), structuralism and Eurasianism (Sériot 1999)). What is suggested by the density of these exchanges just mentioned, however, is that all these bilateral dialogues are themselves co-related and that much less obvious links, such as between Eurasianism and phenomenology, or structuralism and Neo-Kantianism, were also operative. A true understanding of the development logic and conceptual potential of the notion of value in each of these traditions thus requires taking into account not just their bilateral dialogues, but the totality of their interactions in the context of modernist Prague. Conversely, the specific developments of phenomenological, brentanian, neo-kantian or structuralist theories of value in Prague seem to be profoundly indebted to their common, dialogical co-existence there.

In order to explore and confirm this hypothesis, we concentrate in this module on two specific dialogues on value: the community of Russian Neo-Kantian philosophers in Prague on the one hand, the role of Jan Patočka as a crucial actor in Russian and German-speaking philosophical debates in Prague on the other hand. These two examples, indeed, will allow us all at once to expand upon and document the existence of little-known cross-cultural and interdisciplinary exchanges, to explore the forms of organisation of intellectual traditions (in particular Neo-Kantianism and phenomenology) that have traditionally not been recognised as having a significant organised presence in Prague (phenomenology is often reduced there to the work of Patočka himself), and to explore specifically their imbrications with and impact on the traditions which have been seen as fundamental to Prague (Eurasianism, structuralism, the Brentano school).

1Ba) Russian Neo-Kantianism

A conspicuous feature of the Russian émigré intellectual community in Prague – albeit one which, to date, has received no specific attention1 –, is the significant presence in its midst of a strong cohort of philosophers directly affiliated with or closely related to Neo-Kantianism. This Russian (and Ukrainian) Neo-Kantian delegation in Prague was both numerous and qualitative, numbering important figures such as Pavel Novgorodcev (1866–1924), Boris Jakovenko (1884-1949), Sergej Gessen (1887–1950), Nikolaj Alekseev (1879-1964), as well as, less directly, Ivan Lapšin (1870-1952), Nikolaj Losskij (1870-1965) or Dmytro Cyževs'kyj (1894-1977) and Ivan Mirčuk (1891-1961). It was also institutionally relevant and well-connected: Novgorodcev, for instance, was the founder and dean of the Russian Faculty of Law in Prague – the most prestigious institution of higher education of the Russian émigré community –; his student Alekseev became a leading thinker of the Eurasianist movement; and Jakovenko and Gessen, thanks in part to their previous work as co-editors (with Fedor Stepun) of the Russian version of Logos (the most influential journal of Neo-Kantian philosophy in Europe), enjoyed strong relations with prominent Neo-Kantian philosophers in both Germany and Italy. More generally, most of these philosophers had been invited to Prague directly by Tomáš Masaryk and were deeply involved in Czechoslovak philosophical circles, including with Masaryk himself (Jakovenko), Jan Patočka (Cyževs'kyj, Gessen, Losskij), or Ferdinand Pelikán and his journal Ruch filozofický (Jakovenko, Lapšin, etc.).

Despite the obvious strengths of the Russian Neo-Kantian presence in Prague, it is clear that it did not amount to anything near an organised school or coherent tradition. Neo-Kantianism itself was not a framework in which most Prague Russian philosophers remained or indeed with which they explicitly and strongly identified: it constituted rather a methodological and epistemological starting or passing point of reference, that gave rise to theoretical perspectives as diverse as Losskij’s intuitionism, Alekseev’s legal Eurasianism, or Jakovenko’s “transcendental scepticism”. In that sense, certain precautions need clearly to be taken before referring too bluntly to a “Russian Neo-Kantian philosophy” in Prague. That being said, there are also plenty of grounds not to overlook the common attachment of so many philosophers in Prague to Kantian and Neo-Kantian themes. For one, it is in fact not hard to find elements that do reflect a degree of cohesiveness amongst the Russian Neo-Kantians in Prague. They clearly all knew each other personally, all participated in the Philosophical society of the Russian national university, regularly reviewed each other’s work and participated in common projects (Jakovenko, Gessen, Lapšin, Losskij, and Cyževskij all contributed, for example, to the Festschrift dedicated to Masaryk). One can also easily identify a number of significant, common themes such as the history of philosophy in Russia and Ukraine (Cyževskij 1926; 1931; 1961 Losskij 1935, Jakovenko 1928;1936) or, especially, a concern for ethical and legal norms (Alekseev 1998 [1924], Gessen 1924-1927, Cyževskij 1928) that situates the problem of values at the very heart of their philosophical interests, if not of their entire explanatory systems.

The aims of this sub-module, which will result in a peer-reviewed article (“Russian Neo-Kantians in Prague”) are

• to establish and document the existence of a coherent tradition of Russian Neo-Kantianism in Prague, highlighting in particular how this was a tradition mostly alien to the Czechoslovak context.

• to explore the entanglements of Russian Neo-Kantians with other Russian circles, in particular the Eurasianists (Savickij), or the Prague Linguistic Circle (Jakobson)

• on the basis of this reconstitution of Russian Neo-Kantianism and its place in the Russian intellectual émigré community, to analyse Russian Neo-Kantian theories of value (in particular Alekseev’s and Losskij’s) and trace their possible relevance, in particular for Jakobson, Mukařovský, and Patočka.

1Bb) Jan Patočka and his Russian interlocutors

Jan Patočka entertained close ties not only with Jakobson (cf. Patočka 1976), but also with Čyževs'kyj (cf. Schaller 2010) and especially with Losskij and Gessen (cf. Biemel 1977; Filatov 2016). Patočka himself recalls that in the beginning of his philosophical career, Russian intuitivism had a great influence on him. In addition, he studied in Berlin with Nikolai Hartmann, and his closest mentor during his stay in Berlin was Jakob Klein (1899-1978), emigrant from the former Russian Empire. Patočka translated Gessen from Russian into Czech and maintained correspondence with him even after Gessen left for Poland, and wrote about Hartmann and Jakobson.

Patočka’s diverse relations with Russian émigrés and their thought is in itself an important yet understudied chapter in the biography and genesis of his own philosophy, in particular given the self-reflexive nature of his considerations on the intellectual history of Europe (cf. Hagedorn & Sepp 2006). It is worth mentioning, indeed, that the philosophical questioning of the very idea of Europe (as opposed to Russia) was a constant feature of Russian philosophy since Petr Čaadaev, and was only intensified in emigration. This of course raises the question of a possible Russian origin of Patočka’s questionning of Europe (cf. Hagedorn & Staudigl 2008) – as a radicalisation or re-orientation of the questions raised by Husserl on the crisis of European science.

The relevance of Patočka’s ties to the Russian émigré community is by no means limited to questions of the genesis and inclination of his own thought. Patočka‘s engagement and communications with the Russian community, indeed, went well beyond personal, bilateral ties, and involved a strong institutional dimension. Worthy of mention, of course, are Patočka’s implications with the Prague Linguistic Circle. Patočka was so impressed by the Prague Linguistic Circle that he bothered, in the 70s, shortly before his death, to give an elogious and exhaustive review of Holenstein’s phenomenological interpretation of Jakobson’s structural linguistics (Patočka 1976, Holenstein 1975). Patočka was also a founding member of the Prague Philosophical Circle, an institution that explicitly modelled the Prague Linguistic Circle and sought to replicate its open, interdisciplinary culture of debate (Sepp 1999).

As such, the concrete aims of this sub-module, which will result in a peer-article (“Patočka’s Russian Prague”)

• to extensively reconstruct Patočka’s dialogues with Russian émigré philosophers and highlight prominent themes and possible points of convergence/influence

• to explore the institutional role of Patočka (e.g. as co-organiser of the Prague Philosophical Circle) as an intermediary or channel between Russian philosophy and in particular Russian Neo-Kantianism and phenomenology, structuralism and the Brentano School

• to explore the role of the notion of value in Patočka’s work and pinpoint its debt to Patočka’s dialogues with Russian philosophers and other theories of value (Jakobson, Kraus, Mukařovský, etc.)

• to explore Patočka’s concepts of Europe and Russia, and the tensions between national and universal intellectual traditions, in particular in the context of the discourses on titanism (module A)