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My foray into science

I trained in Philosophy and, of course, am now a philosopher. It’s not possible to be a philosopher if you don’t understand anything about philosophy. The idea to make this my discipline didn’t come to me immediately. After graduating, I had the choice of two faculties – history and philosophy. Initially, I was inclined to go with the former. However, in my native city of Yekaterinburg (at the time, Sverdlovsk), the Faculty of History was not well-established. Philosophy was a stronger discipline. General history had been taught for 3 years, as had the history of philosophy and religion. In the end, I decided to go with the latter option. My first steps in science were taken as a graduate student. During my student years, I didn’t write anything serious, however by that stage I had already begun to do translations. I remember translating a long lecture by Karl Popper, which I must have misplaced somewhere along the line.

How I ended up at HSE

I had been proposed work at HSE twice or three times. I guessed who had been the driver behind the proposals, however in the beginning they didn’t ask me directly. In the end, they convinced me to meet with the first pro-rector, Lev Lyubimov. Our conversation tweaked my interest. At the time, I was working for the Institute of Philosophy at the Russian Academy of Sciences and didn’t intend to leave. Or, more to the point, I wasn’t willing to leave in order to found a Department of Philosophy for lawyers, economists and managers, because I wouldn’t have put together the right team for the job. What’s more, I just wasn’t interested. However, I was prepared to move to found a department, or even better, a small Faculty of Philosophy. Even if the intake was only small, I’d still be able to put together a good team.

In the end, I decided that creating a Faculty was an interesting task

They took me up on my offer. Before long, I received a phone call from HSE and they told me that they were founding a Faculty of Philosophy. I thought about it. Working at RAS, I enjoyed a lot of free time, which allowed me to travel abroad, apply for various grants and do a little extra work translating, in order to make ends meet. I wasn’t living in poverty, and I didn’t really have the intention of going back to a university, despite the fact that I’d come from there. I had already taught for many years. In the end, I decided that creating a Faculty would be interesting work, and so I agreed. 2003 saw the founding of the Department and, in 2004, we welcomed the first intake, hired staff, and began lecturing.

About philosophy

Philosophy is set of sciences. It brings together logics, the history of philosophy, political philosophy and aesthetics, to name a few. At the same time, in the current post-Soviet climate, one has to come to terms with the fact that, out of a massive number of teachers of philosophy, I can only call about 10 percent of them my colleagues. The rest of them haven’t read even Karl Marx properly.

In certain areas, such as logic and the theory of knowledge, there have always been qualified specialists since the Soviet times. Therefore, there was a slight bias with regard to who would end up in my team. Some philosophical disciplines are not very well represented at HSE, and some are. I am satisfied with the staff hiring process. The faculty members with whom I was extremely unhappy have since left. Today, any staff politics will be dealt with by my successor.

Schools of Philosophy

The word "school" has a variety of meanings. Philosophy initially, dating back to Antiquity, developed as a school. These schools were Stoicism, Epicureanism, Platonism and Neoplatonism. People adhered to a particular school of philosophy until the 19th century. In the twentieth century, the number of philosophical schools of the old sort is getting smaller, and they don’t stay around for as long as they used to. At a stretch, one could refer to Marburg Neo-Kantianism, logical positivism in Vienna, or the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl as a school. However, most philosophers nowadays don’t group themselves around schools. In this sense, it is inaccurate to refer to a school when talking about our faculty.

Philosophy initially, dating back to Antiquity, developed as a school. These schools were Stoicism, Epicureanism, Platonism and Neoplatonism

The resulting HSE team has its own particularities. For example, within my team is a group who graduated from the Department of Logic at Moscow State University and then began to work in the field of analytical philosophy. It is a large group but I wouldn’t call it a school. There is also team of researchers who are actively engaged in political philosophy. In this way, research groups are formed, united by common interests. They are very capable of teaching students and graduate students. So, in this sense, it could be called a school.

New academic realities

Innovations introduced by scientometrics (the alignment of everything according to rank, according to the Hirsch index) are harmful to the humanities. Not only are they pointless, they are also, I stress, harmful. Such indicators work well only in the experimental natural sciences.

In the field of philosophy, bibliometrics works well only in Anglo-Saxon analytical philosophy. The reason is that in the humanities, the scientific unit is still not an article, but a monograph. Of course, I'm not at all opposed to articles and I write them regularly, and not because you can get funding from it. However, in my opinion, while I don’t object to it as such, there’s a lot that eludes bibliometrics. For example, a literary critic who puts together a new edition of Fedor Tyutchev and writes a long commentary will remain completely invisible in the field of bibliometrics, even though his colleagues will value his work. Mikhail Bakhtin would never have been recognised in the field of bibliometrics, due to the fact that he didn’t publish his research on Fedor Dostoevsky and Francois Rabelais in the form of an article in a high-ranking journal.

Scientific interests and working style

I have never been a grantee. At various times, I have been interested in different areas: I worked in the fields of Spanish philosophy, psychoanalysis and everything that surrounds philosophical psychology and psychiatry. I have also been interested in French and German thought. I don’t have any publications as a co-author and most probably never will have.

In the humanities, the scientific unit is still not an article, but a monograph

However, I did contribute to collective monographs. For example, the book, World War I and the Fate of European civilisation, for which I wrote three large chapters, was published in 2014 in Russia. I had to reckon with remarks made by other authors. However, for this particular collective work, I only wrote about what I knew and what I wanted to write about. In this sense, I am a complete individualist.

My mentors

Starting out, during my years as a post-grad, there were some people who influenced me, however I am not inclined to exaggerate the extent of their influence. For example, Yuri Davidova and Piama Gidenko, a married couple whose house I often visited and with whom I often conversed. Certainly, they influenced me, however we had very different views. Despite this, I acquired, thanks to them, a certain scientific ethos, an understanding of a philosopher’s studies and an understanding of how to do science. For this I am grateful to them.

I am fully aware of the fact that Nikolai Kuzansky is closer to me than Rene Descartes, and that Karl Jaspers is closer to me than Martin Heidegger

I am of course very grateful to Alexey Bogomolov, my PhD supervisor, even though I was fully independent of him. All that he did for my dissertation was to cross out one and a half pages of polemics with a Marxist idiot and put in two commas. But I can’t deny his influence.

Talking about authority among philosophers, I am fully aware of the fact that Nikolai Kuzansky is closer to me than Rene Descartes, and that Karl Jaspers is closer to me than Martin Heidegger. There are individuals that should be respected by all philosophers: Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and Georg Friedrich Hegel. There are individuals closer to me: Nikolai Kuzansky, Karl Jaspers or Semyon Frank. Nowadays, Frank is closer to me than, for example, Vladimir Soloviev. However, for me, as for a historian of philosophy, this is of no consequence. Albert Camus is a lot closer to me than Jean-Paul Sartre, whom I would even say I despise as a person. But I am fully aware of the fact that his philosophy is much more developed and logical than that of Camus.

As a historian of philosophy, I shouldn’t judge who is good and who is bad. I wouldn’t have liked to have had neighbours like Arthur Schopenhauer or Friedrich Nietzsche - God forbid! However, the importance of a philosopher is not influenced by personal qualities and my opinion of them.

A philosopher’s position in society

Will we remember Plato’s unfortunate experiences in Syracuse, his attempt to build his remarkable polis I have a problem with people who put temporary political issues before everything else. Such people will remember Heidegger entering the Nazi party, but won’t say a thing about the letter that Theodore Adorno wrote to Joseph Goebbels in 1933 talking about the pleasure with which he would take part in the German revolution. Nor will these people say a thing about the fact that Gyorgy Lukacs, as a commissar of the Soviet Republic in Budapest, signed execution sentences. In their eyes, Martin Heidegger and Karl Schmitt are to blame for everything.

I wouldn’t have liked to have had neighbours like Arthur Schopenhauer or Friedrich Nietzsche - God forbid!

However, 20th century Europe was in the middle of a civil war. There were reds, browns, whites – people of all sorts. This doesn’t impact on the work of a historian of philosophy. My opinion of philosophers of this era is the same as my opinion of those who chose their positions in society back then. I can’t help but judge writer and thinker Dmitry Merezhkovsky for the fact that he and his spouse, Zinaida Gippius, supported the future dictator, the ‘Russian Mussolini’, Boris Savinkov. I take this into account, just as I do the fact that Merezhkovsky was the only major Russian writer who, on June 22 1941, supported Hitler’s campaign against Russia. I have to take this into account, however it won’t influence my perception of what he wrote in his philosophical essays.

The role of a mentor

Throughout the history of thought there have been different people: there were those who avoided being teachers and mentors, and were instead complete loners and misanthropes. There were those who didn’t care at all. And there were those who considered that their work was that of a genius and it didn’t really matter to them whether someone listened to them or not. There were different kinds of people.

It’s mentoring that’s important. University exists simply to publicize studies

However, philosophers working at universities who have a tendency to mentor inevitably end up sharing their knowledge and skills simply by teaching. And this is how it should be. This could have been the case at a Neoplatonic school in Alexandria or in Athens, at a university during the middle ages, at the Humboldt University of the 19th century or at a university in this day and age. This is why, for the majority of modern philosophers, mentoring is important.

We are part of a civilisation in which the philosophical mind plays a big role. This is why, in many countries, philosophy is taught in the final year of middle school or high school as a one-year course. It is considered important for young people to become acquainted with philosophy as early as middle school or during their first year of university. For this reason, producing future teachers of philosophy, who know how to think and who know how teach philosophy correctly, is an important task.

Of course, there are formal aspects of teaching. What does a Master’s dissertation prove? That one can write a couple of articles. And a PhD? That one can write a monograph, even if it is written according to certain rules and includes a whole lot of things that aren’t necessary. It’s mentoring that’s important. University exists simply to publicize studies.

Research at HSE: For School and for Life

If you look forward to seeing HSE’s development through the eyes of its first ever professors, and finding out how it turned into a leading Russian university from a modest institution, we would be glad to share this information on this website. Read, watch and have fun!

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