Wojciech Małecki
Pragmatism in Poland Today. A Report

Pragmatism and Poland? I guess it is no news to some of the readers that John Dewey "had an affair" with a Polish woman (there is even a book on this subject)[1] while some others may recall that once he wrote a report on the situation of Polish diaspora in Philadelphia.[2] But what other connection could there be - someone might ask - between pragmatism and the Central European country which is known mostly for Lech Wałęsa and the late pope John Paul II?

The idea of this article came into my mind when I was attending the first Polish Aesthetic Congress back in September 2006 and after having carefully examined the final version of the program I realized that the only session wholly devoted to a particular philosophical current was the one on pragmatism. It significantly included papers mostly by young scholars (also by the one who is writing these very words) and concentrated primarily on the ideas of John Dewey and his contemporary advocates, Richard Rorty and Richard Shusterman.[3] What is worth adding, Professor Shusterman himself was one of the two foreign speakers invited to the congress; he also gave a plenary paper and participated in a special event organized to celebrate the publication of the Polish edition of his Practicing Philosophy. Pragmatism and Philosophical Life.[4]

Now, one may wonder what is the reason for the fact that pragmatism played such an important role at the main event of the Polish Society of Aesthetics, the event which gathered as many as 120 speakers, including the most distinguished art philosophers in the country. An easy answer would be that it is nothing particularly strange given that the President of the above mentioned society which co-organized the congress, Professor Krystyna Wilkoszewska, happens to be a member of the Board of Directors of the Central European Pragmatist Forum, and the author of a book on Dewey's aesthetics which was not so long ago republished with an afterword by Richard Shusterman.[5]

Nevertheless, this answer would be quite unsatisfactory because the main reason here  not anyone's personal bias, but the growing popularity of the pragmatist movement in Polish academic community. I will try to outline this noteworthy phenomenon in the remainder of this text, of course without any pretensions for covering all its aspects, something which would be impossible if only because of the constraints of space. But before I start let me clarify my position: the fact that the historical perspective presented in this paper embraces approximately the last 10 years does not in any way mean there was no pragmatism in Poland before that time. There was, indeed, but I am not going to elaborate on it here since (A) the scale of this phenomenon is simply incomparable with the recent flurry of pragmatist activity and (B) the aim of this paper is to present the contemporary situation, not the historical path that might have lead to it.

Let us, then, continue with aesthetics by saying that Krystyna Wilkoszewska is the editor of a series of translations of books concerning this philosophical discipline (published by one of Poland's biggest and most important academic publishers - Universitas, based in Kraków) which starts with a book by Joseph Margolis What, After All, is a Work of Art? (Margolis 2004), but includes also Practicing Philosophy by Richard Shusterman (Shusterman 2005), whose earlier book, Pragmatist Aesthetics, was translated into Polish, by Adam Chmielewski and Leszek Koczanowicz[6] (among others) and published by Wrocław University Press in 1998.[7]

Although the stress put on Dewey's aesthetics[8] should be considered something positive (or so I believe) and in a way consonant with interpretive tendencies present in American scholarship, as exemplified by Shusterman or Alexander, it is worth noting that Dewey's only book translated into Polish after World War II, besides Democracy and Education and a few others concerning pedagogical matters,[9] has been Art as Experience (Dewey 1975) and that the other aspects of Dewey's thought, like methodology e.g., still need to be more widely recognized in Poland.[10] Nevertheless, I am happy to say that the first steps toward achieving this goal have been made (e.g. by Piotr Gutowski whose recent scintillating book provides a thorough and very competent outline of Dewey's metaphysical views; see Gutowski 2002) and given the fact that, thanks to professor Wilkoszewska's efforts, the beginning of 2007 witnessed the opening of the Polish section of the Center for Dewey Studies in Kraków, the future of Dewey scholarship in Poland now looks brighter than ever.

The other two great classical pragmatists, William James and Charles Sanders Peirce, have their own significant position in Polish intellectual life, too. During last 10 years there have been new translations of James's The Will to Believe, Pragmatism, The Meaning of Truth, Psychology, Some Problems of Philosophy: A Beginning of an Introduction to Philosophy (James 1996, 1998, 2000, 2004) and 2002 saw the second edition of a monographic book on James by one of Poland's most respected pragmatist scholars, Hanna Buczyńska-Garewicz (currently Holy Cross College Professor Emeritus) who has also devoted many of her studies to Peirce.[11] And even though only a small part of the latter's ouevre has been translated into Polish so far,[12] there is a group of Polish scholars who study his thought and have published several books and many papers on the subject (see Komendziński 1991, 1996; Kalaga )1997).[13]

From what I have said so far it may seem that if we were to designate the center of pragmatism's reception in contemporary Poland this would have to be the city of Kraków. It is not the case, however, since the role of Toruń is equally crucial in this regard. Toruń UP publishes a series American Philosophy Today, edited by Tomasz Komendziński and Andrzej Szahaj (Poland's most prominent advocate of neopragmatism and renowned political philosopher) which includes two volumes so far: the first (Komendziński, Szahaj 1999) with papers on American philosophy in general and on Davidson, Rorty, Putnam in particular, but also with translations of the essays by the latter two; and the second, dedicated to Charles Hartshorne and Charles S. Peirce, with contributions by both Polish and foreign scholars (e.g. Dan Nesher, John R. Shook).[14] The city also hosted, in 1999 and 1998, two big international conferences devoted to the ideas of the main neopragmatists, Rorty and Putnam,[15] who participated in the events as honorary speakers.

Of course, it has been the neoanalytic (to use Tom Rockmore's term),[16] not the neoclassical strain of pragmatism which has achieved the greatest popularity in Poland in the last years.[17] Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Contingency, Irony, Solidarity, Consequences of Pragmatism and Objectivity, Relativism and Truth (Rorty 1996,1998,1999) have all been translated into Polish, while his thought has become the topic of many articles and several books (e.g. Marek Kwiek's Rorty's Elective Affinities, 1996, and a great fundamental monograph by Andrzej Szahaj, 1996).[18] There have also been translations of Hilary Putnam's works (Putnam 1998,1999), Nelson Goodman's The Ways of Worldmaking (Goodman 1998), and of the essays by an author sometimes associated with pragmatism, Stanley Fish (although this identification is very often questioned, not to mention the fact that he himself rejects it),[19] whose work naturally attracted literary theorists in the first place.[20]

I would like to conclude this short report with an old agrarian metaphor and say that the seed has been sown and since the climate and the soil seem proper, if we take good care of it, we will probably see pragmatism flourish in Poland real soon. But for this we need a  closer interaction (or a transaction, if you will) between the American and Polish pragmatist communities (more intense exchange of ideas, more translations, more conferences), something I personally have a strong will to believe in.

[1] See Dearborn.

[2] See Dewey 1982, pp. 259-331.

[3] The session named Pragmatist Aesthetics included the following papers: Janina Makota: "Did John Dewey Introduce a New Notion of Art into Aesthetics?"; Dagmara Jaszewska: "Good Life in the World of Things. On Dewey’s Aesthetics"; Marcin Krawczyk: "Richard Rorty on the Place and Role of Art in Contemporary World"; Sebastian Stankiewicz: "The Category of Aesthetic Meaning in Pragmatist Aesthetics"; Alina Mitek-Dziemba: "Aestheticness Unchained. On Efforts to Democratize Aesthetics"; Aneta Rostkowska: "Nondiscursive Aspects of Experience and Their Aesthetic Meaning"; Wojciech Małecki: "Practical Aspects of Richard Shusterman's Aesthetics."

[4] Professor Shusterman ,presented a paper entitled "Thinking Through the Body. Educating for Humanities."

[5] See Ryder and Wilkoszewska 2004, Wilkoszewska 2003; Wilkoszewska's book on Dewey's aesthetics was reviewed by Dorota Frąckiewicz in Transactions of Charles Sanders Peirce Society, Vol. XLI, No. 2 Spring 2005 (455-459).

[6] Leszek Koczanowicz has written extensively on G.H. Mead and the concept of the self in classical pragmatism. (see Koczanowicz 1990, 1994). On Mead see also Hetmański 1998; Cf. Hałas 1994.

[7] Shusterman 1998. Another Wroclaw-based publishing house released an anthology of Richard Shusterman's essays in the beginning of 2007 (see Shusterman 2007).

[8] Besides the book, on Dewey's aesthetics by Wilkoszewska, see also her essay on pragmatist aesthetic theories in Wilkoszewska 2000. Cf. Kaczocha 1992.

[9] See Dewey 1972 and more recently Dewey 2002, 2005, 2006.

[10] See Buksiński 1981.,

[11] Buczyńska-Garewicz, 1965, 1970, 1994, 2001.

[12] Peirce 1997, 2005.

[13] In his book Nebulae of Discourse Wojciech Kalaga uses Peirce's ideas to develop an original theory of interpretation and culture.

[14] Komendziński 2003.

[15] The conference devoted to Putnam took place from the 8th to 11th of September 1998; some of the papers were published in Żegleń 2001. See also Conant and Żegleń 2002.

[16] Rockmore 2005.

[17] See a monographic study of neopragmatist philosophy of language by Kmita (1998), Cf. Chmielewski 1997 and Bińczyk 2007.

[18] See also Żardecka-Nowak 2003 and Szahaj 2004.

[19] See Haack 2004.

[20] Fish 2002. See also Markowski 2006 and a special issue of literary and cultural studies journal Er(r)go, devoted wholly to the pragmatist literary theory and pragmatism in general.



Bińczyk Ewa. 2007. Obraz, który nas zniewala, Kraków: Universitas (The Picture that Holds Us Captive)

Buczyńska-Garewicz Hanna. 2001. James, Warszawa: PIW (2nd edition).

Buczyńska-Garewicz Hanna. 1965. Peirce, Warszawa: PIW.

Buczyńska-Garewicz Hanna. 1994. Semiotyka Peirce’a, Warszawa.

Buczyńska-Garewicz Hanna. 1970. Wartość i fakt. Rozważania o pragmatyzmie, Warszawa: PWN (Value and Fact. Meditations on Pragmatism)

Buksiński Tadeusz.1981. „Johna Deweya teoria badań”, Studia Metodologiczne, no. 21. (John Dewey’s Theory of Inquiry)

Conant James and Żegleń Urszula M. (eds). 2002. Hilary Putnam: pragmatism and realism, London, New York: Routledge

Dearborn Mary V. Love in the Promised Land: The Story of Anzia Yezierska and John Dewey

Dewey John. 1972, Demokracja i wychowanie: wprowadzenie do filozofii wychowania, translated by Z. Doroszowa  with an introduction by B. Suchodolski, Wrocław: Ossolineum. (Democracy and Education)

Dewey John. 2002. Jak myślimy?, translated by Z. Bastgenówna, Warszawa: De Agostini. (How We Think?)

Dewey John. 1982. The Middle Works, 1899-1924, ed. by J. A. Boydston, Carbondale, vol. 11.

Dewey John. 2005. Szkoła a społeczeństwo, translated by R. Czaplińska-Muternilchowa, edited by J. M. Śnieciński, Warszawa: „Żak” Academic Press. (The School and Society)

Dewey John. 2006. Szkoła i dziecko, translated by H. Błeszyńska, Warszawa: „Żak” Academic Press.

Dewey John. 1975. Sztuka jako doświadczenie, translated by A. Potocki, Wrocław: Ossolineum (Art as Experience).

Dziamski Seweryn. 1997. Trzy szkice o wartości praktyki,  Poznań: UAM Press (Three Sketches on the Value of Practice)

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James William. 1998.  Pragmatyzm, translated by M. Szczubiałka, Warszawa

James William.  1996. Prawo do wiary, edited and translated by A. Grobler, Kraków: Znak. (The Right to Believe [sic]: this collection consists of James’ essays originally published in The Will to Believe and Some Problems of Philosophy. Appendix)

James William. 2000. Znaczenie prawdy. Ciąg dalszy Pragmatyzmu, translated by M. Szczubiałka, Warszawa (The Meaning of Truth)

James William. 2004. Z wybranych problemów filozofii. Początek wprowadzenia do filozofii, translated by M. Filipczuk, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Zielona Sowa (Some Problems of Philosophy: A Beginning of an Introduction to Philosophy)

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Koczanowicz Leszek. 1994. Jednostka - działanie - społeczeństwo: koncepcje jaźni w filozofii amerykańskiego pragmatyzmu, Warszawa: IFiS PAN (Individual – Action – Society: Concepts of the Self In the Philosophy of American Pragmatism, Warsaw: Polish Academy of Sciences Institute of Philosophy and Sociology Press)

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