DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N043-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 01, 2021, from

Article Summary

Philosophy in Poland has developed largely along the same lines as its Western European counterpart. Yet it also has many aspects which are peculiar to itself. Historically, the founding of the University of Cracow in 1364 marks the formal beginning of Polish philosophy as an academic discipline: prior to this, philosophy was taught at numerous smaller schools, and many Poles were educated abroad, which accounts for the early influence of Western scholars and literature.

In the medieval period, philosophy in Poland followed four chronologically successive currents of thought: the via moderna, which attached itself to the nominalism of Ockham and his disciples; the via communis, which sought to find a compromise between the old ways and these new ideas; the via antiqua, which marked a return to earlier philosophical trends; and a period of early humanism. The thought of Aristotle became dominant during the fifteenth century, as was the case at practically all universities of Central and Western Europe, and although this prevailed until the eighteenth century, philosophy did not remain stagnant – variations were numerous (including Protestant Aristotelianism). The prominence of political thought in the sixteenth century reflects the fact that Poland developed a new constitutional order at this time, the ‘democracy of nobles’ (the nobility accounted for about ten per cent of the total population). Nicholas Copernicus, prominent in modern astronomy and natural science, played a fundamental role in the development of philosophy during this period.

The eighteenth-century Polish Enlightenment was shaped mainly by the clergy and hence was initially Christian in outlook. A more radical Enlightenment programme was propagated at a later stage. The following century saw the loss of Polish independence, and Polish thinkers were more prominent in exile than in their own country. At home, this coincided with a period of Romanticism and mystical philosophy (‘Messianism’), with influences of Kant and particularly of Hegel. The end of the nineteenth century saw a variety of old and new philosophical orientations, ranging from medieval thought to positivism and Marxism, while 1895 saw the beginning of the Lwów School of philosophy which was to become prominent in the twentieth century.

After Polish independence in 1918, logic and methodology flourished under the influence of the Lwów School. However, elements of a variety of other Western schools of thought were also present, including that of British analytical philosophy. After the Second World War, administrative strictures were imposed in order to give prominence to Marxism. A certain liberalization took place after 1956, but its effects were dampened by a highly intrusive censorship. Despite this, philosophy in Poland continued to build upon the pre-Communist trends of Thomism and phenomenology, and to incorporate the new modes of thought emerging in the West. Since 1989–90, Marxism has lost its politico-administrative supports and censorship has disappeared, so that contemporary philosophy in Poland is entering a new phase of development.

    Citing this article:
    Czerkawski, Jan et al. Poland, philosophy in, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N043-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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