Comments on Chyzhevs'kyi's Historiography of Philosophy in Ukraine

Andrew Chrucky

This paper was originally presented as part of a session organized by Prof. Vitalij Keis at a conference of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages in Chicago (1982); and subsequently published in the Ukrainian literary journal Suchasnist' (1988 (No. 5)) in a Ukrainian translation done by Prof. Keis.

      Several months ago, after I volunteered to examine Dmytro Chyzhevs'kyi's works on the history of philosophy in Ukraine, I found myself with a dilemma. The first problem was that I did not possess a first-hand knowledge of Ukrainian literature to conceive independently a history of philosophy in Ukraine to act as a foil against Chyzhevs'kyi's views. The second problem was that my reading of Chyzhevs'kyi resulted in an unmanageable pile of criticism. The result is that what I have to say is both too little and too much: too little because I have no worked out alternative to Chyzhevs'kyi's history; too much because I cannot give an adequate critique in some twenty minutes. With such a dilemma, I follow the standard procedure in limiting myself to one thesis. Simply put, my thesis is that Chyzhevs'kyi has a confused concept of philosoply. But, then, it may be rather that I am confused about Chyzhevs'kyi's clear concept of philosophy. Whatever the case, let me explain why I find his concept of philosophy confusing.

      Chyzhevs'kyi's most comprehensive work on philosophy in Ukraine is his Outlines of the History of Philosophy in Ukraine, published in 1931. When I first read it, I became rather bewildered. There is a chapter devoted to Mykola Hohol' (Gogol) and another to the trio of Pantelejmon Kulish, Mykola Kostomarov and Taras Shevchenko. Now, I asked myself, why is it that such seemingly unphilosophical writers are given extensive treatment, while other writers and philosophers are barely mentioned? What do Hohol', Kulish, Kostomarov and Shevchenko have in common to warrant their inclusion in a history of philosophy? The only thing they appear to share approximating what I consider to be philosophy is a world-view, an ideology, a Weltanschauung -- I use these words synonymously. Their Weltanschauung may be characterized as Christian with slavophile tendencies rooted in emotions. The precise nature of their Weltanschauung is, however, not important. What is important is that Chyzhevs'kyi includes these writers in a history of philosophy simply on the basis that they had a Weltanschauung. Prima facie, then, philosophy for Chyzhevs'kyi is identical to a Weltanschauung.

      But if this is what philosophy is, then his Outlines of a History of Philosophy in Ukraine is an extremely lopsided work. He fails to discuss Ukrainian mythology, the early Christian beliefs, sectarianism, scholasticism, the Hassidic movement in Ukraine, Marxism, positivism and materialism. Furthermore, if philosophy is to be equated with a Weltanschauung, then the beliefs of common people, as well as the beliefs of sundry writers should be included as well. But none of these topics are discussed: some of them are ignored, while others are dismissed with rebuke. It is quite evident that Chyzhevs'kyi is being very narrowly selective about which Weltanschauung to give extended treatment. The only writers he does give extended treatment to besides Hohol' and the trio of Kulish, Kostomarov and Shevchenko, are Hryhorij Skovoroda and Pamfil Jurkevich. All other writers who are talked about are given short biographical and bibliographical sketches.

      My reaction to this identification of philosophy with a Weltanschauung is that it is wrongheaded. There is a very close link between a Weltanschauung and philosophy, but this link is not, as Chyzhevs'kyi seems to assume, one of identity. World-views are held pre-reflectively, that is, before systematic examination. Factors such as education, coercion, propaganda, indoctrination, suggestion, advertisement--all have a causal role in the formation and transmission of world-views. Mythologies, Christianity, Dialectical Materialism are examples of ideologies transmitted by ritual, indoctrination, coercion, etc. Historically, such things as witch hunting, burning of heretics, religious wars and persecutions, and the contemporary suppression of dissidents in the Soviet Union are all cases of ideological warfare.

      An ideology, a Weltanschauung, may be--but need not, and in most cases is not--the result of philosophical reflection. A conclusion of a philosophical inquiry is not per se philosophy, but, at most, an ideology. Without the process of reasoning, an ideology is a husk without the kernel. In the history of philosophy it is not the Weltanschauungs which are important; these are merely the products of philosophical activity--what is important is the philosophizing. Philosophizing is a critical examination of Weltanschauungs. It is the skeptical challenging of Weltanschauungs; it is the putting of a Weltanschauung to the test. The outcome of such testing may be a vindication of the examined Weltanschauung, or the substitution, or construction of another one. And so, although philosophy needs a Weltanschauung to examine, and it may result in a Weltanschauung, philosophy is not a Weltanschauung.

      Because neither Hohol', nor the trio of the Brotherhood or Saints Cyril and Methodius ever critically examined their own, or any other Weltanschauung, they are not, in my conception, philosophers.

      What I have said so far is an external criticism of Chyzhevs'kyi. I am juxtaposing my concept of philosophy with his. But getting back to the internal workings of Chyzhevs'kyi's history, what are his criteria for selecting which Weltanschauungs to discuss? To properly answer this question, we need an overview of Chyzhevs'kyi's own Weltanschauung which, superficially, reads like something out of Hegel. But I make no claim that Chyzhevs'kyi is a Hegelian; simply because I do not understand either Hegel or Chyzhevs'kyi clearly enough to make such a comparison. All I will do is tell you what I have read in Chyzhevs'kyi, and what difficulties I have with his formulations.

      He writes that there is an Absolute. Whether this means an absolute truth or an absolute being varies with the contexts, and whether he sometimes conflates the two I cannot fully discern. Despite this, I am even unclear about the very notions of absolute truth and absolute being. He writes as if these notions were self-evidently clear. I personally find them to be quite obscure. Presupposing the clarity of these notions, he goes on to claim that all philosophical views are simply perspectives; all suffering inadequacies in attempting to express the Absolute. Adding obscurity to confusion, he adds that national cultures also express the Absolute inadequately. He intends by these claims to imply the thesis that various philosophies and cultures are involved in a dialectical progression towards the Absolute. But this formulation is equally unclear. Although I do have a concept of a dialectical progression, it has no resemblance to the caricature of a Hegelian thesis-antithesis-synthesis which Chyzhevs'kyi seems to espouse. Consequently, I do not have a clear understanding of the concept of a dialectic as used by Chyzhevs'kyi. Suffice it that Chyzhevs'kyi claims that each nation has a spirit expressing itself in the Weltanschauung of a national culture, and these national spirits or Volksgeistes enter into a dialectical opposition in expressing the Weltgeist or Absolute.

Hryhorii Skovoroda

      Chyzhevs'kyi, in his book on Skovoroda, explicitly states that he is a historian of the spirit, whose task is not to deal with causal influences, but to identify a national Volksgeist and to seek cross-cultural affinities with other national spirits. His book on Skovoroda is in fact an attempt to crystallize Skovoroda's ideal type through a comparison of motifs with Skovoroda's predecessors and successors. Since nations participate in the dialectical unfolding of the Absolute, it is incumbent on the historian of the spirit to discern the unique Volksgeist of a nation which may vie the international dialectic. This brings to mind the problem of a head coach of a national Olympic team who has the task or identifying and recruiting those athletes having the best chance of winning in the international games. Chyzhevs'kyi is the head coach trying to identify and recruit the best Ukrainian Weltanschauung to dialectically engage with the other national Weltanschauungs in the grand philosophical Olympics.

      Given his conception of the dialectics of world philosophy, it is not surprising to find in his Outlines a chapter devoted to describing the national character of Ukrainians. He finds them to be, among other things, sentimental, lyrical, emotional, sensitive, individualistic, lovers of freedom, and to be restless. This grouping of traits is thought of as Romantic, and the Romantic world view compatible with these national traits he describes as follows:

the world is irrational, "miraculous" and complicated; man is fundamentally complex and closely linked with all other mysterious spheres; God ranges beyond all rational perceptions although he is nevertheless accessible through the media of the senses and tradition. pp. 439-40 (History of Ukrainian Literature)

Ukrainian philosophy, he goes on to claim, has affinities to neo-platonism, the fathers of the church, and, above all, to German mysticism. The essential element of this cluster is the doctrine of a divine spark in the human soul or heart. The representative philosophy of Ukraine is given the distinguishing title, following the terminology of Jurkevich, the philosophy of the heart. Romanticism is thus the most discussed period not only in Chyzhevs'kyi's history of philosophy in Ukraine, but in his history of literature as well. Romanticism is raised to the level of a representative Ukrainian Weltanschauung. Foremost of the team players are Skovoroda and Jurkevich. Hohol' and the trio of Kulish, Kostomarov and Shevchenko are weak in intellectual muscle, but are overwhelming in emotional spirit. All six are to enter into the international philosophical Olympics. Though at one point in his writings--doubting even the stature of Skovoroda as a philosopher, he writes: "Perhaps it is entirely too early to write about a Ukrainian philosophical life. Ukraine has yet to wait for its great philosopher." p.15 (Outlines)

      And how does Chyzhevs'kyi imagine the international philosophical Olympics? In his article "The Problem of a National Philosophy" (Rozbudova Derzhavy, N.2, 1955, p. 74) he speculates that "nationality has the greatest influence on the structural elements of a philosophical idea." What he describes as structural elements (in the following paraphrase) he repeats almost verbatim in his early Philosophy in Ukraine and in the Outlines. National philosophies, he writes, have a character and a one-sidedness which can be distinguished by the three elements of form, method and architectonic.

      In form, the English seek clarity and simplicity; the French schematism and rationality; the Germans dialectic. In method, the English use an empirical method and induction; the French deduction; the Germans a transcedental and dialectical method. In architectonic, different interests are given different priorities: religious, theoretical, ethical, aesthetic, vital, etc., and within these interests, distinct aspects are valued. In ethics, the English value feeling; the French rule; the Germans duty. In the theoretical criteria of knowledge, the English value agreement with evidence; the French agreement with reason; the Germans coherence of knowledge. Because of the one-sidedness of each, English empiricism tends to be superficial; French rationalism tends to be schematic and empty; German speculative thought tends to be murky and artificial.

      Also, within each national philosophy there are oppositions. In the French rationalism vies with mysticism; in the English empiricism vies with Platonism; in the Germans speculative method vies with inductive method; in the Russians religious tendencies vie with forms of enlightenment, i.e., materialism, positivism, and nihilism. Furthermore, within rationalism there is an opposition between skepticism and realism about universals; in empiricism there is an opposition between sensualism and transconceptual reality; in the Enlightenment rationalism vies with sensualism. This then is his view of the international philosophical Olympics. And with this I finish my exposition of Chyzhevs'kyi's views.

      My comments, besides the ones I have already expressed, will be restricted to the following four. The first is that the discussion of national traits will at most reveal something of the interests of a people. But there is no point to bring in the various interests of a people as he does, for example, in distinguishing religious and theoretical interests, or as did Ivan Mirchuk in trying to justify Chyzhevs'kyi's inclusion of the writers Hohol', Kulish, Kostomarov, and Shevchenko by distinguishing, as he puts it, horizontal from vertical tendencies in a people. If some people do not have an interest in theoretical speculation, of which philosophy is a species, then these people simply are lacking an interest in philosophy. It is utterly misleading to say, as Chyzhevs'kyi assumes, that an interest in religion characterizes the philosophy of a nation. No, it just means that there is no philosophy.

      The second comment concerns the apparent tension between rationalism and mysticism as, for example, he claims of the French. The opposition may be that one cannot do these two activities simultaneously. Either you are trying to get a mystical experience or you are reasoning about some problem. However, there is no incompatability in doing some reasoning in the morning, and getting into a mystical trance at night.

      The third comment is that the various distinctions Chyzhevs'kyi makes between induction, deduction, rationalism, empiricism, clarity, coherence, and so on, can all coexist in one work of philosophy. Indeed they should be present if a philosophy is to be comprehensive. As Whitehead put it: ". . . this ideal of speculative philosophy has its rational side and its empirical side. The rational side is expressed by the terms 'coherent' and 'logical'. The empirical side is expressed by the terms 'applicable' and 'adequate'." p. 5 (Process and Reality) The components of form, method, and architectonic by which Chyzhevs'kyi tries to distinguish national philosophies is a forced division of philosophy, parallel to his forced periodization of Ukrainian literature as George Grabovitch recently argued.

      The fourth comment is this. Because Chyzhevs'kyi is fond of seeing oppositions, he places scholasticism rationalism as one broad movement or style in opposition to religious mysticism romanticism as another. He lingers on description of the mystic-romantic style and disparages what he calls the rationalistic style. For Chyzhevs'kyi the concept of rationalism is, as it was for Wordsworth, a dissection which kills. It is worse. It is for Chyzhevs'kyi a catch-all word for anything which is unreasonable. For example, in the Outlines he tells us that there are two approaches to the question of a nation: the rationalistic and the romantic. According to the rationalistic approach, he says, all men are unconditionally equal, and therefore there should be no nations. According to the Romantic view, men are diverse, and therefore there should be nations. Now this concept of rationalism is a straw man. I know of no one who held the thesis that all men are unconditionally equal. And if this is his view of rationalism, no wonder he shuns it like the plague. The consequence of this animosity to rationalism is that his history of philosophy in Ukraine suffers a gross distortion. The-period of philosophy preceding Skovoroda was a high-point of philosophical development; but it was scholastic, i.e., rationalistic, and therefore was passed over with only slight commentary by Chyzhevs'kyi. It is somewhat ironic that this period of the golden age of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy should have received such extensive studies and translations from the original Latin -- especially a three volume translation of the works of Prokopovich -- at the hands of Marxists whom Chyzhevs'kyi excluded from his outlines.

      In conclusion, Chyzhevs'kyi's Outlines of the History of Philosophy in Ukraine suffers from a confusion about the nature of philosophy. He tends to identify a Weltanschauung with philosophy, and his attempt to discern national philosophies on the basis of structural form with their dialectical progression towards an Absolute is a gross conceptual muddle which to unravel would take much more time than I have. His inclusion of Hohol', Kulish, Kostomarov, and Shevchenko in a history of philosophy is a mistake. His failure to expand on the theologian-philosophers of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy is one among other omissions. His prime mistake, though, which he probably thought was his great contribution to philosophy, was to believe that there are national philosophies. There are no national philosophies -- only philosophy done in many nations.

Addendum (1996): Two excellent articles, both written by Taras Zakydalsky, strike me as in part reactions to my article. In fact the second of these cites my paper. The first article is "The Concept of the Heart in Ukrainian Philosophical Thought," Philosophical and Sociological Thought 1991 (No. 8), pp. 127-138; the second is "Studies in the History of Ukrainian Philosophy in the Diaspora," Philosophical and Sociological Thought 1993 (No. 4), pp. 89-100.
Correspondence between Andrew Chrucky and Taras Zakydalsky
on the concept of a national philosophy (1995)