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Philosophy in Russia

The Fourth Russian Philosophy Congress

So what are the problems that interest Russian thinkers today? Anna Kostikova and Elena Kosilova answer this question with a roundup of the topics discussed at the biggest gathering of Russian philosophers in history.

The Fourth Russian Philosophy Congress was an outstanding event in Russian philosophy. The number of participants exceeded all previous international congresses of philosophy: more than 4,000 papers were submitted, 3,800 were approved, and more than 2,200 people gave talks.

On the first day of the Congress, the plenary session – a meeting of all the delegates – took place in the Conference Hall of the enormous main building of Moscow State University (MSU). The speakers were the academician Victor Sadovnichiy, the Rector of MSU, who spoke on ‘Knowledge and Wisdom in the Globalizing World’; V.S. Stepin, academician and director of the Institute of Philosophy, who reported on ‘Philosophy in a Time of Changes’; Vladimir Mironov, dean of the philosophy faculty at Moscow State University, with ‘Modern Communications as a Factor in Cultural and Philosophical Transformation’; and Professor Motroshilova, director of a sector of the Institute of Philosophy, who spoke on ‘Barbarism as the Counterpart of Civilization’. [Victor Sadovnichiy and Vladimir Mironov have kindly allowed us to include their talks in this issue of Philosophy Now.] Two guests of honour also spoke: Professor Karmin from St Petersburg University on ‘Philosophy of Culture in the Information Society’, and Professor Kemerov from Ekaterinburg University on ‘Social Philosophy and Images of the Future’.

The following four days, from May 25th to May 28th, were packed with activity. Twenty-five sections, ten symposia, seven colloquia, and twenty-seven round tables wrestled with a multitude of philosophical problems, as did several workshops, three evening lectures, and a conference dealing with the problems of education in social sciences and humanities in Russia.

The section on Philosophical Ontology, under the direction of Professors Alexeev and Averianov from Moscow, Ivanov from Barnaul, Kudrin (Yaroslavl), and Sagatovsky (St Petersburg), convened for three days of lectures and debates. Ontology is the study of the nature of existence, and the main subject of this section was to examine what was meant by ‘being’ in classical, non-classical, and post-classical ontologies. Many other problems were discussed too: the role of ontology for philosophy, the structure of being, the system of categories, the problem of dialectics in modern times. The problems of language drew deep attention from the assembled ontologists. Professor Omelchenko from Volgograd lamented the fact that the Congress lacked a special section devoted to philosophy of language.

The section on Epistemology also met for three days. The many problems they discussed included philosophy as a specific type of knowledge; relations and differences between consciousness and thinking; constructivist thought; language and knowledge; varieties of knowledge and learning; epistemology and natural sciences; specific pitfalls with social studies; hermeneutics and learning; and the problems of rationality, truth, reflective thought and intuitive thought. After the scheduled sessions, Professor Mikeshina organized a special workshop dealing with actual problems of non-classical epistemology, such as the study of subjective and social factors in scientific research.

The section on Philosophy and Methodology of Science – another three-day event – was directed by Professors Kuznetsov, Kravets, Chernikova and Karpovich. The most interesting discussions were about the specific features of different sciences and the possibility of the mutual unification of such systems; methods of objective investigation in different sciences; ‘the dissolution of the subject’ as a problem of contemporary humanities; the new type of knowledge in post-non-classical thought; and the concept of metaphilosophy as a part of the philosophy of science.

The Social Philosophy section was one of the biggest and most popular. The following themes dominated discussion: the main paradigms of socio-philosophical knowledge; the present condition of social philosophy in Russia; the nature of man; society and the individual; culture and civilization; society, politics and power; transformations of power in an information society; the problems of globalization; the development of a new type of man, and Russia’s integration into a new global community. The discussions concerning the problem of modern civilization, the information society, mass consciousness and global communications were particularly sharp.

Most of the papers in the Philosophical Anthropology section dealt with the actual problems of philosophical attempts to understand mankind. Among them were the formation of subjectivity, being-in-the-world, the theme of the Other, and the role of home in human consciousness.

The block of sections concerning the history of philosophy were: ‘History of Philosophy: Antiquity, Middle Ages, Modern Time’; ‘History of Philosophy: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries’; ‘History of Russian Philosophy’; and ‘Eastern Philosophy’, the latter dealing with Indian, Chinese, Arabian and Muslim philosophy.

The Philosophy of Mind section, managed by Professors Vasiliev, Molchanov, Dubrovsky and Yulina, was rather broad-ranging and dealt with some issues that are relatively new to Russian philosophers, including analytic philosophy, the problem of consciousness and its explication in the works of modern philosophy. Phenomenology, philosophy of language and possible worlds were also discussed.

Participants in the section on Philosophy of the Natural Sciences gave papers on the following subjects: metaphysics and ontology in the natural sciences; theoretical knowledge and problems of reality; the philosophical underpinnings of the theory of relativity and of quantum mechanics; the problem of mind within natural sciences and philosophy; the concept of universal evolutionism; physical aspects of self-organization; and social and cultural aspects of science. Problems such as the role of metaphysics in the development of natural science and the quest for new ontologies in natural science now seem to draw more attention than questions which were popular back in the eighties, such as the role of social drives in science.

The section ‘Philosophy of Technology and Economy’ was chaired by Professors Gorokhov and Cheshev from Russia with Professor G. Bechman from Germany. It was one of the most international sections, and altogether nine philosophers from Germany presented their ideas. The section met for three days, and on May 28th a workshop was held on ‘Stable development of economic structures and environmental risks’. Sustainable development of science and technology was much discussed, as was the social role of technology, the problems of the new information society, the social theory of technology, and the relationship between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’. The most interesting papers dealt with interdisciplinary investigations of the development of technology and economy. Technology today can’t be analyzed in isolation from the whole complex of social, anthropological and economic investigations. Two Ministries of the Russian Federation sent representatives, attesting to government interest in this subject. The discussions were so fruitful that a new conference was planned. Also a new special course for universities and for a broad range of specialists (engineers, etc) was proposed, which would deal with assessing the risks associated with new technologies.

The section on ‘Philosophical Problems of Globalization’ was one of the biggest at the Congress. The essence of globalization, argued many of the participants, is in the mutual relations and interdependence (financial, political, informational, technological, etc) of different branches of world civilization, which at the same time keep intact their specific features at the national and regional levels. The methodological difficulties of analysing globalization were indicated: a new system of knowledge is needed, and a new science (‘globalistics’?) must be worked out. A synergistic view of the process of globalization was proposed. Two antagonistic attitudes towards globalization – globalist and antiglobalist – were discussed. Various speakers argued that an acceptable compromise must be found between them.

The Philosophy of Culture section met for two days, one in the Russian Academy of State Service, the second in MSU. For better working, it was divided into four parts: ‘Theories and Methods of Cultural Studies’; ‘Culture and Civilization’; ‘Actual Problems of Cultural Studies and Philosophy of Culture’; and ‘Interaction and Dialog of Cultures’. It was a great forum for researchers of all aspects of culture.

The section on Philosophy of Religion examined the methodological basis of religious studies. There were lengthy debates on whether religious studies as an academic field had scientific characteristics, and what the status of this ‘science’ might be within philosophy as a whole. Similar questions were debated at the symposium on ‘World Religions and Dialogue of Cultures’ and at the round table on ‘Philosophical Problems of Investigations of Free Thinking’.

The section on Ethics was guided by Academician A.A. Guseinov, and Professors Apresyan and Golik. The main topics were ethics in the globalizing world; transformation of ethics in social consciousness; ethics of pragmatism; and the relationship between emotions and ethics. Similar questions were discussed at the section on ‘Axiology’, which dealt with the philosophical study of values.

The section on Logic, chaired by Professors Karpenko, Bazhanov, Ivlev and Migunov, wasn’t exactly overcrowded, but it was one of the most highly professional sections of the Congress. The main themes were: fundamental problems of logic (the notion of a logical system, logical systems and reasoning, different approaches in logic); the questions of logical semantics; computer applications of logic; logical analysis of natural language; logical problems of argumentation; history of logic; and logic of scientific research.

The Philosophy of Education section met in Moscow University of Humanities and in MSU. The participants pondered a number of practical problems for the current educational situation in Russia. Turning to more theoretical matters, they also debated the philosophical basis of education and its role and place in the formation of personality.

The related section on ‘University Philosophy in Russia’ was directed by Professor Mironov, together with A.V. Pertzev (from Ekaterinburg), S.I. Dudnik (St Petersburg), and M.P. Zavialova (Tomsk). The central problems addressed were the development of philosophical schools in universities, philosophy within the system of university education, educational reform, the possibilities of non-university philosophy, and the definition and the essence of university philosophy.

In the section on ‘Philosophical Problems of Social Sciences and Humanities’, the sharpest disagreements concerned the relationship between freedom and ideals in social philosophy, the problem of demarcation between social science and humanities, and the problem of social examination. The central question behind these various discussions seemed to be whether or not it is possible to have a scientific project of social transformation, and, if such a project is practicable, what its motives, its goals and its methods might be. Two points of view clashed: that there are no major obstacles to such a project today, and that the choice is much more complex ...

Other sections included ‘Political Philosophy’, ‘Philosophy of Right’ and ‘Philosophy of History’. The latter included much debate of the possible role of Hegelian and Marxist doctrines in the new science of philosophy of history.

The actual problems of modern philosophy were discussed at symposia, colloquia and round tables. The symposium ‘Knowledge and Society’ was dedicated to the problems of social dynamics; the interdisciplinary character of science and philosophy; methodology of humanities; paradigms of development of science; and the correlation between faith and knowledge. In the symposium ‘Economy, Society, Person’ the main theme was the humanistic, social orientation of economic transformations and its philosophical background. The round table ‘Interaction of Historical and National Features in Political Processes’ discussed the ways in which global historical imperatives interact with the demands of national traditions. For the first time a Russian philosophical congress included a UNESCO-sponsored round table on ‘Philosophy of Peace’, which attracted more than a hundred guests. Its main themes were the position of man in the Universe, and human culture, education and morals. The possibility for humankind to turn into one united and friendly family was discussed. And many other symposia, colloquia and round tables were the places for such subjects as the philosophy of good and evil, the integration of knowledge, development of life, life as being, philosophy of the Universe, world organization, and many others.

The Congress showed that philosophy in Russia is now booming. The influence of Russian philosophy on the rest of the world’s philosophical processes remains insufficient, but this situation, the roots of which lie in Russia’s recent history, is now being changed by the interest shown by foreign philosophers and scientists.

© Anna A. Kostikova and Elena V. Kosilova 2006

Anna Kostikova is Professor of Foreign Philosophy and Deputy Dean of Philosophy at Moscow State University. Dr Elena Kosilova was a member of the Congress Organizing Committee.

Gender Studies in Contemporary Russian Thought

For the first time during a Russian Congress of Philosophy a special workshop was held on ‘Gender studies: Problems and Perspectives’. For contemporary Russian thought this is a really new approach to the classical philosophical topics of society, subjectivity, economics, politics and culture.

Russian philosophers are investigating the concept of gender as a new way of thinking about society. We have had an interesting ten year long scientific experiment in the form of the so-called Gender Summer Schools or Gender Conferences at Moscow State University’s Laboratory of Gender Education. It’s the only state center without foreign grant financial support. One of its aims is to introduce new ideas and new teaching methods into the Russian system of education, in the high school at first but later in the universities. The researchers of the Laboratory have prepared special courses for all faculties of Moscow State University, and in 2004 produced a university textbook called An Introduction to Gender Studies. They have invited professors from other Russian universities for master-classes and seminars, and collaborated with some experimental schools giving separate education. So it is rather different in its approach from the ‘gender centers’ that we see in US universities, for example, or from ‘gender research’ in Europe. In Russia, when we say ‘gender studies’ we mean a particular modern approach to understanding the humanities in general.

The workshop’s program was rich and varied. Irina Kashina from Ekaterinburg University explained some new concepts of ‘feminisation’. David Patman from the USA introduced a feminist discussion about particularism; and Natalya Blochina talked of analytic philosophy and gender studies. I myself gave a paper on modern gender theories of identity in all the tendencies of Continental philosophy. In addition there was a report on a very interesting research project about gender stereotypes in the Russian education system. The project was a collaboration between the head of the Laboratory of Moscow State University, Irina Kostikova and the Director of Moscow’s School N1278, Alla Sergeeva, and the research highlighted the most controversial gender issues in the classroom.

The workshop clearly showed that there is a large diversity of undertandings of so-called gender positions. Some participants were radical and protested women’s rights against the patriarchism of political power, but most of the presentations were of a new theoretical analysis. All the recent topics of gender theory were discussed – ethnic identity, archetypes of language, labor market and the demographic problems of households. Different theoretical visions of gender from Plato to Lacan, and especially the Russian philosophy of love and gender, were debated. This workshop showed that gender studies in Russia is a serious program of research into differences in political, social and psychological behavior.

© Anna Kostikova 2006

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