Project goals

The main scientific goal of the project is to prepare fonds, documentation and edition of the academic achievements of the Warsaw School of the History of Ideas, as well as popularize the results of the research on significance of the School in Polish humanities against the backdrop of the achievements of the European humane sciences. Warsaw School of the History of Ideas was – and still is – a unique phenomenon on the Polish intellectual map. In difficult political conditions, in the period where academic activities were strictly controlled and monitored, a new intellectual strand emerged, which in an independent and innovative manner took up the discussion with the great European philosophical, or, broader, humanistic tradition. Moreover, the school engaged in a dialogue with the said tradition in a way that (especially in Poland) went beyond the then dominating intellectual strategies and methodologies. It found its own place, between the logical tradition represented by the Lwów-Warsaw School, and a tradition connected to the history of literature which could be more generally described as a history of the facts of the past. 

It must be noted that the school was created by the scholars who worked and for most of the time stayed in close personal relations. Although the tag „Warsaw School” speaks for itself, we can add that when it comes for its „canonical” representatives – Bronisław Baczko, Leszek Kołakowski, Tadeusz Kroński, Jerzy Szacki i Andrzej Walicki – we mean not geographical, but rather intellectual closeness. Despite the fact that each of the said thinkers elaborated his or her own original scientific project, it cannot be denied that their work forms a certain whole, a totality. The undertaken research studies on the philosophical, political and social ideas, pursued against the backdrop of an originally conceived historical background, became instantly recognizable hallmark of the School. This novel and fruitful orientation allowed to locate the School in a wider international intellectual context as bearing the semblance to the thought of György Lukács (who worked under similar political conditions) and Frankfurt School, to such distant trains of thought as Mannheim-inspired sociology of knowledge or, in a different context, French Annales School. Reflection on history as a fundamental substratum in which ideas are developing and maturing and which later in turn reflexively exert their influence on the history itself, was a very powerful paradigm that dominated the intellectual horizon in the mid-20 century. 

It has to be said, however, that despite the existence of this academic community the very possibility of talking about the „School” is sometimes called in question. Nevertheless, the very doubt if the Warsaw School of the History of Ideas can be treated as a homogenous intellectual formation should not prevent us from asking another question: what in this case makes this group of academicians a school? Can we be satisfied with a conjecture that the said „school” was created (to some extent) post factum as a kind of social construct or even product of media-marketing? Or was it the other way around: we have to concur with the statement that the school was based on a certain unifying –and retrospectively determinable – principle, ideology, methodology or maybe simply formative generational experience? How important in the creation of school’s identity was the fact that majority of its members were revisionist Marxists, what role did exactly play their generally shared distrust towards both traditional philosophy and modern-day sociology? This unifying underlying feature that linked members of the Warsaw School of Ideas to each other can be found not only in their texts, in their particular subject matters, in their research methods and well documented polemics (which went considerably further than polemics with the orthodox Marxism) but in their more or less explicitly expressed opinions regarding the tasks and obligations of thinkers, philosophers and intellectuals. Undoubtedly, we may talk about the Warsaw School of the History of Ideas because of the fact that their respective members created strong public „aura”: it is them who set the temperature and tone of the public disputes after the October 1956. Their presence left its mark beyond the academic realm, as well: they wrote and published extensively in „Twórczość”, „Argumenty”, Parisian „Kultura” or under pseudonym to the monthly journal „Ty i Ja”.

This research aims at retrieving the intellectual legacy of the Warsaw School of Ideas and attempts to assess its significance in both aspects, diachronic and synchronic. The evaluation of its achievement would be carried out by careful investigation of its relation with the historically embedded tradition  of the Polish humane sciences and contemporary European strands of analysis in the field of the history of philosophy and other forms of the social self-awareness. The object of research would consist mainly of addressing the problem of continuity and discontinuity while investigating the relation of the Warsaw School of the History of Ideas to the hitherto existing traditions in Polish historiography. The object of research would be also to address the question regarding the originality and specificity of the methodological program of the school when compared to the abovementioned main currents of European humanities after the second World War. 

prof. Bronisław Baczko
Projekt finansowany przez Ministerstwo Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego
w ramach Narodowego Programu Rozwoju Humanistyki
© Polska Akademia Nauk