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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants - Part 1 Prof. Tadeusz Gadacz talks to Ewa Dereń Zródło: The Warsaw Voice, The Polish Science Voice

Prof. Tadeusz Gadacz, a philosopher, expert on religion, and author of Historia filozofii XX wieku (History of 20th-Century Philosophy), talks to Ewa Dereń.

You have undertaken to write a huge, 12-volume work on the history of 20th-century philosophy. So far the first two volumes have been published and the third is about to be released. This is a unique work in world literature...

Indeed, there is no other work of this kind in the world. Whatever studies exist are very selective and mostly written from national perspectives: various fragmented publications are produced in the area of German philosophy; French researchers write about French thinkers, sometimes focusing on a single Russian philosopher, for example. But no one has undertaken to create a comprehensive, uniform work so far—what I call an intellectual map of the 20th century. This is perhaps because it is a madcap project, basically exceeding the capability of a single person. I have taken up this challenge, probably even without fully realizing what the project involves.

What would you tell critics arguing that such a huge project should be carried out by a group of people rather than a single researcher? Can one person be an expert on such a multitude of philosophical trends, approaches and ideas?

Certainly not. There are researchers who deal with the life of a single philosopher, or even just one period in the philosopher’s work or one of his works, and I cannot aspire to rival them in competence and expertise. But this is not the goal that I have set myself. My intention is to outline an intellectual map of the entire 20th century, where you will see a variety of trends, but also ideas that contributed to them as well as mutual—and sometimes hidden—ties.

You can approach this task in two ways: as a cartographer or as a geologist. You can explore geological structures point by point, digging deep into the ground, or you can remove the top layer of the whole structure to reveal the full picture. So far, studies have been conducted in specific spots by digging deep—by people who are experts on one specific thinker or trend.

My approach, on the other hand, is based on revealing a certain whole, and this is possible only if one shows certain intellectual affinities. My goal was synthesis, while a team of people cannot really be expected to create a synthesis, but conduct separate studies, which can then be published in a collective volume. Someone who deals with the philosophy of pragmatism, for example, will not be an expert on the French philosophy of reflection of the first half of the 20th century, and it turns out that there are very deep relationships between these trends, which you can find out about only when you combine the multiple threads and look at them from a certain common perspective. Or a researcher of phenomenology, for example, is rather far from being an expert on neo-Kantism, whereas it appears that the founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, maintained correspondence for 27 years with Paul Natorp, a neo-Kantist who developed his own, very interesting, variety of phenomenology that probably influenced Husserl. Such relationships can be captured only when all the ideas are sifted through one head, so to speak.

This explains why I decided to work alone, according to my own model, though I admit that this is a painstaking project that requires great patience.

Will you have enough determination and strength to finish it? Especially as this is not your only job. You still teach at several universities and work to promote young scientists.

I don’t hide the fact that I’ve had a few moments of doubt in the course of this project. This explains why I try not to think about the volumes that are still ahead of me, like the 10th or 12th volume. I’m a little like the rower described by Kierkegaard, who rows the boat with his back to the direction of travel—I don’t see the full path, just the few meters around me. For the time being, I have completed the first two volumes, which appeared in print in 2009. At the start of 2011, the third volume will be published, and later in the year, probably the fourth one, followed by more at one-year or 18-month intervals. This really takes time, and I’m trying to save time on my other assignments, especially those involving administrative procedures and running all kinds of errands.

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