Correspondence between Andrew Chrucky and Taras Zakydalsky
on the concept of a national philosophy (1995)


Dear Taras,

I was very happy to see you actually more than happy , and I am very conscious of the great effort that it took for you to come from Toronto by bus to pay your respects to Eugene's memory. And thank you again for the journals and books.

I have just been browsing through the material that you gave me, and I notice that what you gave me is not just a motley collection. What I have here are two of your articles (both excellent) dealing with the general question of what is Ukrainian philosophy, and whether the philosophy of the heart is the characteristic Ukrainian philosophy. And your articles present these topics as problematic. I take it that your articles are a kind of reaction my article, which you mention.

Although the way you raise the issues that you cover are indeed excellent, you seem to dismiss the radically sceptical possibility that the notion of a national philosophy is what can I say? confused? misleading? unprofitable? Take a look at the opening essay by Marcus Singer, "The Context of American Philosophy" in American Philosophy, edited by Marcus Singer (Cambridge, 1985), who despite editing a volume with the title "American Philosophy" is very much troubled by this title.

To deal with the question of a national philosophy, one has to deal sooner or later with the question as to the nature of philosophy. Now this question is tricky because one has to distinguish the factual question of what has been subsumed under the label "philosophy" and the normative question of what should be called "philosophy". I am open to having several different things be called "philosophy" call it "philosophy-1", "philosophy-2" . . . "Philosophy-n."

Concerning your comments about my characterizing philosophy as a "critical examination of world-views (Weltanschuungs)", you say that this characterization is (1) dogmatic, and (2) it would leave out of a history of philosophy relevant non-philosophers.

About this characterization being dogmatic, yes you are right in that in the context of the essay I did not argue for my criterion, i.e., it was presented without an argument and indeed in that context it is dogmatic. But is my position intrinsically dogmatic, as some dogma of Christianity, or is it merely contextually dogmatic? If I were to write another essay arguing for my characterization of philosophy it would no longer be a dogmatic position but a position argued for. And then at best you could say that my argument was not sound, convincing, or some such thing but surely not that I was being dogmatic.

Then you go on to say that my position would not allow treating non-philosophers in a history of philosophy. I don't know how you arrive at this conclusion from what I had written. The primary question is to determine who is going to count as a philosopher that is what my criterion is meant to determine. Once we have determined that person x is a philosopher, and if you wish to deal in your history with the cultural milieu of the philosopher fine: you can talk about his parents, teachers, favorite poets, musicians, pastimes, and whatever. But what is essential here is that you are writing directly about x, and only indirectly about all these other people and things.

The way you present my position, it is as if I were recommending that Hohol or Schevchenko should not be mentioned in a history of philosophy. On the contrary, I would say write about them to your heart's content as being relevant to philosopher x. All I maintained is that you should not write about them as if they were philosophers. And I surmise this is your own position on this matter.

Having said all this, is my position really "narrow and dogmatic"? It does narrow what is to be included in a history of philosophy, but by "narrow" you seem to mean something like "narrow minded" meaning that I am not taking into consideration things that should be considered. Do you mean that I am not taking into consideration that if my criterion should be used, there would be very little philosophy in Ukraine? And is taking such a stand unpatriotic? In exactly what sense am I being narrow?

I know I sound too defensive but really I am just being argumentative and I think that your essays, as I know all the things that you have written, are beautifully and plausibly presented.


P.S. Don't forget to inquire into the possibility of getting a site on the Internet, so that we can put things Ukrainian and philosophical for global consumption.

Nov. 23, 1995.

Dear Andrij,

Thanks for your letter of Nov. 20 and your remarks about my articles in FSD. I hope that you will agree to contribute your articles on Ukrainian thought or contemporary philosophy, composed in Ukr. or English (they could be translated in Kyiv), to this journal. The idea of a national philosophy needs to be challenged in Ukraine.

In my article (FSD 1993, no. 4) I propose a rough criterion for a national philosophy. I concentrate on the concept of national or Ukrainian, to be more specific, and argue that what belongs to a national philosophy can be decided only in relation to a national culture: according to the influence a national culture has had on a thinker or vice versa. What is the precise criterion of a national philosophy is a complex issue. It probably depends on what nation & historical period we are talking about. But this is not the question you raise. You have some doubts whether it makes sense to speak of national philosophies? We do speak of ancient Greek phil, classical German phil, French rationalism, etc. It is not only Greek, German or French nationalist who use such terms. I think such talk is often illuminating & hence justified: this is when we can show that a certain way of thinking or certain problems arose out of questions that prevailed in a given society or inspired certain intellectual or political trends in a society. As historians we ought to speak of national philosophies if this helps to explain why philosophical ideas developed in one way rather than another. Of course, if we are interested only in the 'big thinkers' or in 'world' philosophy, then we shall probably attend only to the logical connections between say Hume, Kant and Hegel. The closer we look at the 'little' guys, the specific discussions in philosophical communities in given periods, the more we shall have to deal with specific cultures, which are usually national. In some periods, eg the medieval period, national cultures (if it makes sense to speak of them at that time) bore little relation to philosophical debates, so the historian cannot talk of national philosophies then. In other periods an account of the national context may throw considerable light on the phil. discussion. Of course, a book on a national philosophy that simply lists thinkers & outlines their ideas and fails to show how these are related to the given national culture is absolutely useless. It defeats the very purpose of such an approach to philosophy. Unfortunately, we don't have a history of Ukr philosophy that would justify a national approach.

As to the 2nd question - what is phil - I did not object specifically to your proposal, but to proposals of a certain type. I think what I meant was that definitions of phil. are usually one-sided, fail to embrace everything that historically has fallen under this label, and hence are dogmatic. Since they are dogmatic and exclude what others consider philosophy, they are narrow. Since I speak of 'solutions of this type' after referring to your article, I glibly and off-handedly associate your proposal with this general type of definition. This was unfair & I regret it. Had it been my intention to criticize you, I should have stated the charge explicitly and backed it up with argumentation. I did not want to do that, so I should have made my general point about definitions of phil. without connecting it in any way with your article. Forgive me.

You are right, of course, that there is a difference between including someone like Shevchenko in a history of phil. and calling him a philosopher. The same may be said about including the German J. Schad in Ukrainian phil. and calling him a Ukrainian philosopher. The lines in both cases are not very sharp and were not my concern in the article. My main concern was what to include in a history of a given philosophy, not how to rank people or ideas within such a history.

I am afraid that I have not progressed beyond these broad and vague ideas on national philosophy that I expressed in 1993. Many colleagues in Ukraine disagree with me and swallow Chyzhevsky's idea of national philosophies, but not everyone.

I spoke to Danylo Struk, editor of the Encyclopedia of Ukraine & associate director of CIUS. He did not agree that setting up a site devoted to Ukrainian studies would justify the expense and time necessary for maintaining it. So no go.

I intended to send this letter to you through my wife's E-mail, but it turns out that to do so she has to rewrite the whole thing. But did you get a message from her with her E-mail address? You can use it to communicate with me.

My best to you and your wife,

Subj: letter of Nov. 23

Date: 12/06/95

To: Taras Zakydalsky From: Andrew Chrucky

Thank you for your quick response to my e-mail letter.

Let me think out loud about so called "national philosophies." The problem is to delimit in some way the concepts of "nation" and that of "philosophy". I think we are in agreement about the complexity of this question.

You propose to handle it by focusing on specific places and dates, rather than talking in terms of some transhistorical and transcultural universals. A middle course would be to pick out paradigm or clear-cut cases and generalize from these. And I think you implicitly have something like this in mind by reminding me that, after all, we do group philosophies by "nations?" as in Greek, Roman, German, French, American, British, Australian, Russian, etc. etc.

But really what is the basis for this kind of grouping? It seems clearly to be language. [Somewhere you raise the question of whether a language is either a necessary or sufficient condition for a nation. But that points to the unclarity or vagueness in the concept of a nation.] A grouping by languages makes sense because it is a basis for what I will call a "communicative community." Simply put, it makes sense to group together philosophical conversations, disputes, debates, and such. A community of language makes for the possibility of a communicative community. However a common language does not mean that there will be communication between all philosophers. As is quite apparent in the English speaking world, there are all sorts of grouping into different communicative communities. These are done for a host of different reasons. And it may be proper to divide these into various schools, movements, or whatnot.

When Latin was the medium of communication as in the Middle Ages, the communicative community of philosophers encompassed all of Europe. And the Arabic communicative community influenced the Latin one only after about the 12th century through translations.

I don't know what the communicative community was among Slavs. But in writing a history of philosophy among the Slavs, I would place no stress on anything national, but simply group together those philosophers who were able to communicate with each other, and who did write about common concerns and, of course, I would not ignore isolated philosophers. Apparently the lingua franca for many Slavs was and is Russian. I am not sure to what extent the Ukrainian-Russian differences constitute a barrier to a communicative community. Is it that Ukrainians were and are fluent, for the most part, in Russian and, therefore, are in a communicative community with Russian; but not vice versa? If that is so then the uniquely Ukrainian philosophy must surely be something written in Ukrainan. For example, suppose that your articles about national philosophies and about the philosophy of the heart which are written in Ukrainian are never discussed in Russian but are discussed only in Ukrainian, then it will turn out that there is a Ukrainian communicative community centered around these issues, and a history of Ukrainian philosophy should mention this discussion.

This in the only sense in which I think I recognize I would not say "national" but language-centered philosophies. And by this I mean no more than a philosophy done in a particular language.

I know that someone like Cizevsky and others are looking for a "national philosophy" in the sense of a representative philosophy. I have all sorts of reservations just as you do about this sort of thing. It is, of course possible, for whatever reasons, that a particular ideology dominates. Catholicism dominated for centuries, and dialectical materialism dominated for nearly a century. Such domination is basically coercive. But it is possible that some ideology dominates for other reasons. But this is a sociological issue Pitrim Sorokin did some good work on this.

However, Cizevsky and others are looking for a representative philosophy in the sense of representing a national character. I am not adverse to the notion of a national character or characteristics once we are clear on the concept of "national." But granted a national character, is it the task of philosophy to represent this character? What would such a representation amount to?

Well, these are my foggy thoughts on this foggy subject in this the foggiest period of my life.

About you wife's e-mail, I did not get her message; so I don't know her e-mail address.

[What is your wife's name? My wife's name is Kathy, and I have a 10 year old son, Serhii.]

About Struk's negative reply. To get a space on a mainframe like the University of Toronto's is a matter of wanting to get it. The expense to the school is a pittance, and maintaining the space requires no cost at all at least not if you are going to use volunteer workers like you and me who can access the computer from anywhere in the world.

Anyway, I am writing a letter to the President of Penn State to get space on their system. If I am successful, I'll let you know.

Best wishes, Andrij