Note on the Poznan School

by Ralph Dumain


Polish Philosophy Page: The Poznan School

Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities

Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities (Rodopi)

On this site:

Arthur, Richard. "The Empiricist Account of Scientific Knowledge—A Polemical Evaluation," Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities, vol. 3, nos. 1-4, 1977 (Amsterdam: B.R. Gruner Publishing Co.), pp. 125-141. (Issue theme: Aspects of the Production of Scientific Knowledge, edited by J. Witt-Hansen.)

Witt-Hansen, Johannes. "Marx's Method in Social Science, and Its Relationship to Classical and Modern Physics and Mathematics", Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities, vol. 3, nos. 1-4, 1977 (Amsterdam: B.R. Gruner Publishing Co.), pp. 1-41. (Issue theme: Aspects of the Production of Scientific Knowledge, edited by J. Witt-Hansen.)

Alker, Hayward R.. Jr. “Logic, Dialectics, Politics: Some Recent Controversies,” in Dialectical Logics for the Political Sciences; guest editor, Hayward R. Alker, Jr. (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1982), pp. 65-94. (Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities; v. 7)

Loeser, Franz. “What Is Dialectical Logic?”, in Dialectical Logics for the Political Sciences;  guest editor, Hayward R. Alker, Jr. (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1982), pp. 95-96. (Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities; v. 7)

On other sites:

Several books and essays are at least partially readable via Google Books, e.g.:

The Courage of Doing Philosophy: Essays Presented to Leszek Nowak, edited by Jerzy Brzezin'ski, Andrzej Andrzej, Theo A. F. Kuipers, et al. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007. 472 pp.

Nowak, Leszek. “On Marxist Social Philosophy,” in Contemporary Philosophy: A New Survey. Volume 3. Philosophy of Action, edited by Guttorm Fløistad (The Hague; Boston: M. Nijhoff; Hingham, MA: Distributors for the U.S. and Canada, Kluwer Boston, 1982), pp. 243-276.

The Polish Poznan School, heavily oriented towards philosophy of science and hence analytical philosophy, is a school of (quasi-)Marxist philosophy that doesn't seem to get much attention in the USA. Until I learned of this school some years ago, I thought I was the only one who saw a linkage between Marx's conception of science and the more traditional notion of scientific idealization. But idealization is the stock in trade of the Poznan School, which makes a connection between Galileo and Marx. A leading figure of this school is Leszek Nowak. (See, e.g. The Structure of Idealization: Towards a Systematic Interpretation of the Marxian Idea of Science and Property and Power: Towards a Non-Marxian Historical Materialism). This material is hard to come by outside of research libraries, and the cost is prohibitive. The major publisher of works in English by this school is the Dutch publisher Rodopi. Many papers produced by this school can now be found on the web.

My point of departure in the 1970s was not critical theory (or any variant of so-called "continental philosophy") or philosophical genealogy, but philosophy of science. The possible advantages accruing from approaching a subject matter not within the traditions in which it purportedly developed but from intersecting it transversely with a set of questions that come from elsewhere constitute another topic for discussion. I was once interested in the kind of stuff you can find in the four-volume Issues in Marxist Philosophy edited by David-Hillel Rubin and others in Britain. Though my interests have moved on, I remain conscious of the dangers of provincialism, and there is much more to be taken into account in philosophy than just one school or sub-school of thought.

An example: I have in various discussions recommended Georges Labica's Marxism and the Status of Philosophy (Sussex: Harvester Press, 1976). Labica interweaves the "three component parts of Marxism"—German philosophy, French socialism, and British political economy—into a complex narrative of Marx's transition out of "philosophy". I can think of no better secondary source for appreciating the incredible intricacy, density, complexity, and integrative propensity of Marx's engagement with philosophical and other ideas in his early years. I stress Marx's relationship to philosophy, not Marx's philosophy. The nature of Marx's actual engagement with philosophy, rather than merely the positions he took while passing through it, are treated in an uncustomarily perspicacious manner. Marx's engagement with philosophy is also calibrated with his engagement with the other two so-called pillars of Marxian thought, English political economy and French socialism. This is an excellent source for dispelling the childish notion that Marx was only a philosopher working strictly within one tradition or doctrine, whether that be defined as philosophy, Hegelianism, or Feuerbachianism. One can really get the feeling for Marx as much more than a mere philosopher who is continuing a linear tradition of doing "Philosophy" (as people obsessed with lineages and discipleship would have it). Rather Marx is constantly critically integrating information from a variety of sources, including philosophy, into his own critical scientific project. Labica makes a point to explain why Marx refuses to give up a detailed examination of the "dream-history" of contemporary Germany even after he has rejected it as real history. Dream-history as the ideological form of appearance of the social essence of petty bourgeois German philosophers (Young Hegelians) still matters to Marx as an ideological inversion of social reality. Marx's early relationship with Engels is treated in this book, too. Engels comes off as a rather hasty and obvious in philosophical matters in comparison with Marx's depth and thoroughness, which is not to say that Engels was not sharp, only less philosophically profound.

I have repeatedly suggested that is necessary to apprehend discontinuities as well as continuities in examining the relation of thinkers to their predecessors. And I have raised the question of whether Hegel really was the summit in all respects of the accumulated knowledge of western civilization of his time.

Labica takes us up to Marx's transition out of philosophy and his initial engagement with political economy. But what about Marx's scientific method developed in the 1850s and after?

Let me call your attention to Witt-Hansen's interesting article. While not denying Marx's investment in the dialectic, the author asserts that Marx's method has more in common with the method of idealizaton and thought experiment in the natural sciences (employed by Galileo and Newton) than with Hegel, and furthermore, that Marx learned this through absorption of the writings of the Scottish Historical School and his acquaintance with Newtonian physics and mathematics as well as with Copernicus. He also suggests that German socialists of his time did not really understand this and took Engels' questionable advice to stick to Hegel to understand Marx's notion of science. (What an irony in this claim, given the usual accusations leveled against Engels.) The article goes into some detail regarding Marx's scientific method in Capital and in his Mathematical Manuscripts, and the quantitative aspects of Capital.

The chronic incomprehension and difficulties of Marx's social democratic contemporaries in dealing with Marx's Capital suggests their limitations in grasping the nature of idealization at the root of classic scientific method. (Note: it is crucial to understand the implications of how different this is from empiricism.)

Part of the story is Hegel's relation to Newton and Engels' relation to Hegel (pp. 18-20). Hegel may well have misunderstood Newton's scientific method, and this error compounded by Engels' ineptitude.

Witt-Hansen says there is no textual evidence that Marx was influenced by Newton's Principia Mathematica, but that Marx learned and appreciated the essentials of mathematical physics from the math textbooks he read.

This relationship has been sorely neglected while Marx's debt to Hegel has been overdone, encouraged by the attention given to the Grundrisse and Marx's early works. Witt-Hansen also has an analysis of Marx's introduction to the Grundrisse and of Marx's dialectics in general which he places closer to the classic method of scientific idealization than to Hegel (including his naturphilosophie). However, Witt-Hansen briefly acknowledges a real debt to Hegel based on a problematic inherited from Kant's antinomies. This has to do with conceptual and historical development. (pp. 34-36)

But, the author claims, Marx never fully developed the analogy between mental and material production (p. 38). Witt-Hansen claims that the production of scientific knowledge is not calculable in the way that labor-power is generally calculable, and that it is much easier to account for the use-value of scientific knowledge, creating problems for the labor-theory of value.

Witt-Hansen cites an article of his (which I have not seen) in which he explains his view of Marx's dialectics more thoroughly:

"Reflections on Marxian Dialectics", Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities, vol. 2, no. 4, 1976.

Those who cut their teeth on Western/Hegelian Marxism are going to find many of their presuppositions challenged here. This is not the conventional sort of anti-dialectical, anti-Hegelian position; rather it suggests the complexities involved in turning Hegel on his head as well as of Marx's working methods and the results of his scientific labors; hence, perhaps one should be wary of facile stereotypes regarding Marx's method. I am by no means endorsing this article carte blanche, but it should be studied by those who care about these issues.

Without making any particular claims right now, I'd like to outline some important issues and questions implied here:

(1) In Marx's transitions during the Young Hegelian period, perhaps the metaphor of "inversion" disguises a transformation even more radical, which becomes more apparent as Marx develops his own scientific method later on. The germs of evidence are there in Marx's direct criticisms of Hegel's dialectic and theory of the state.

(2) The logical diagram connecting Newton-Hegel-Marx-Engels according to the schema of scientific method and the transmission of knowledge has a number of possible ramifications. Engels inherited the anti-English perspective from Hegel which fueled many of the inept things he wrote (cataloged by Van Heijenoort in his essay Friedrich Engels and Mathematics). While I'm not capable with respect to Hegel's philosophy of nature, I am wondering to what degree it anticipated issues not dealt with properly in the science of his time, or reflected the archaism of the German milieu (note also Goethe), or both. This also addresses the question of what Hegel may have missed. (Thus sublating Hegel can't solve all problems.)

(3) The misattribution of empiricism to scientific theory may have a number of ramifications in intellectual history, e.g. Engels, the Second International, the Frankfurters, etc.

(4) The confluences and divergences between Hegel's ideas and scientific idealization need to be specified, for all reasons above and of course to test the various hypotheses about Marx's development. A review of more recent scholars like Patrick Murray and Tony Smith would be useful.

Comments on Poznan School written 27 Feb 2001 & 8 Jan 2003;
comments on Georges Labica written 24 Nov 1995, 15 Dec 1997, 18 April 1998, 12 Aug 1998;
all comments integrated & edited 21 Oct 2007.
Other links to be added ad hoc.

Marx and Marxism Web Guide

Vienna Circle, Karl Popper, Frankfurt School, Marxism, McCarthyism & American Philosophy: Selected Bibliography

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Selections from Contemporary East European Philosophy, Revolutionary World, B. R. Grüner Publishing Co, & Related Publications:
Bibliography & Web Links

Stephen Eric Bronner (3): Bronner vs. Goldner on science & the Enlightenment

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Uploaded 21 October 2007
Last update 29 September 2011
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