Abstract. The aim of this article is to establish a link between the current social reality in Russia and the strictly theoretical challenges facing philosophy. The past 30 years have seen a marked change in relations between philosophy and society. In 1991, ideological restrictions, including in the field of philosophy, were lifted. As a result, Russian philosophy has focused mainly on eliminating its lag behind Western philosophy. This vector of development resulted in a disconnect between philosophy and society, the individual consciousness of philosophers and public consciousness.
Formulating and accepting a valid epistemological grounding for the Russian civilization project equal in scale to the Western one became a pressing task of contemporary philosophical thought in Russia. This project calls for a new and more universal solution that would bring together disparate value systems existing in Russian society. This requires a huge philosophical effort to develop individual philosophical consciousness and bring it to the level of genuine self-consciousness of philosophy and society. The language of Russian philosophy needs to be developed, and indeed, restructured, which is a distinct task and area of effort for the philosopher. Philosophy must come to grips with the issue of (non)universality of reason. For Russian culture, vsesubyektnost’-the Utopian ideal of indispensable and indissoluble tselostnost’ and the indispensable and indissoluble diversity of all subjects (agents)-could become the basis of a way of thinking that is entirely independent of European thought.
This idea-seen as a utopia, when considering how it could serve as a basis for a big culture to develop a complete civilization system-offers a boundless field of work at all levels, from the basic one associated with the philosophy of mind to the highest levels of culture and civilization development.
The statement of the issue-current objectives of Russian philosophy-is sure to raise eyebrows in a Russian audience. The 30 years that have passed since 1991 have seen a sea change in the relationship between philosophy and society. After 1991, all ideological restrictions, and not only with regard to philosophy, but to the entire social space in Russia, were lifted. The Constitution of the RF declares that we have no dominant ideology. In this context, during the 30 years since 1991, Russian philosophy has mainly tried to eliminate its lag behind the Western philosophy that had developed during the 20th century. Copious translations were made of European, North American, and Latin American philosophers, numerous philosophical journals of various persuasions were founded, and various philosophical trends and schools sprang up at the Institute of Philosophy and at universities. In other words, philosophy was putting its own house in order and upgrading its professional standard. Individual philosophers were also busy developing their own philosophical positions and honing their philosophical skills.
Two categories can be used to describe the situation: individual consciousness and public consciousness. It can be said that over the past 30 years, philosophy in Russia has been intent on developing its individual consciousness, of each individual philosopher and of philosophy as a whole. However, philosophy had little or no impact on public consciousness. Society and philosophy existed separately from each other. The impact of philosophy on Russian society over the past 30 years has been slight or non-existent. There emerged a divide between philosophy and society, between individual philosophical consciousness and public consciousness.
And what has been happening since 1991 in the world at large? The conventional wisdom points to the collapse of the bipolar system when the Soviet-led socialist system opposed the Western capitalist system. That system of confrontation and balancing receded into the past, leaving the United States as the world’s dominant power, the sole power that dictated its own rules. This is called the unipolar world. Is it good or bad?
The answer to this question is not obvious and not without contradictions. Take the dollar, the main world currency. Is it good or bad that the dollar still accounts for between 70% and 80% of all payments in world trade? On the one hand, it is very convenient: There is a common measure. On the other hand, national economies suffer. And yet a single currency is convenient for economic payments and it is no accident that the dollar is still the dominant currency in the world. Let us move a step further, let us take democracy. Has it not become the prevalent view that democracy is a very good thing, that it is a form of political order all countries should strive for? Today, with a few perhaps bizarre exceptions, one can hardly find a country or a political leader who would say, “I don’t want democracy.” But this means that democracy is universally recognized as the best political system. Take the economy as a whole, the free market, modern economic structures and modern forms of doing business. Does anyone in the world object to all these things? Of course not. Does not the whole world seek to learn how to do business? And this means that all these are universal forms.
Examples can be multiplied. What is the conclusion? We recognize that there is a universal civilization system suitable for all-what I call the “civilization project.” It includes worldview, culture, the spiritual realm, economic structure, political order and hence political parties, human rights, parliament, etc. It is a holistic system in which every element is indispensable. A holistic civilization system.
This perception of the European (Western) civilization project as a universal one has dominated and still largely dominates in Russia among philosophers and in society as a whole. It is a popularly held conviction. If so, then we should acknowledge that some countries have done a better job of implementing these principles, and developed these principles better, while other countries are a little behind and still others are hopelessly behind. In other words, countries are ranked in a linear fashion in terms of how successfully they have implemented the universal civilization project that Europe was the first to develop.
If so, what grounds do we have for objecting to the unipolar world? From this point of view, a unipolar world is the right kind of world. If we recognize universally relevant forms of worldview and values, political principles, forms of running the economy, then the world must also be unipolar. Why should there be an alternative? Add to this the fact that philosophy is aimed at finding the universal. Such is the mission of philosophy: to find the general, the most fundamental. This attitude of philosophy resonates with the notion that there is one universal civilization project.
I think this explains above all the fact that for 30 long years, Russian philosophy has been silent on the question “what is Russia?”-on whether or not Russia has its own unique path. It was tacitly recognized that the European path was the right one. This was generally accepted. Given such an answer, it was logically inevitable to admit (tacitly or openly) that Russia is a perpetual laggard incapable of catching up with the “vanguard of civilization,” a country which has an inherent flaw; a veritable pseudomorph according to Spengler: pretending to be what it is incapable of being and occupying another’s place.
That was the prevalent trend. Of course a good many other definitions of Russian identity were proposed. They boil down to several versions: Russia is an Asian tyranny; Russia is a bridge between East and West; Russia is an Orthodox civilization; Russia is a civilization-state; Russia is Eurasia, a Eurasian power (I am referring not to classical Eurasianism, but to the Eurasianism of the 1990s and beyond).
For all their differences, these versions have something in common: primarily the inability to provide an adequate epistemological basis for argument in favor of an independent, specific identity of Russia, its culture and civilization.
Furthermore, the underlying epistemology, and the entire theoretical toolkit used by those who have over the past 30 years harped on the special path and special identity of Russia is not their own but borrowed from the arsenal of European philosophy. This means that the position of those who maintain that Russia has a unique path (face, identity, etc.) while using the theoretical tools of European philosophy, is inherently contradictory. For an inseparable and obligatory feature of this theoretical apparatus is the thesis, accepted dogmatically without discussion or proof, on the universality of reason-the universal human reason, which has been most fully and felicitously embodied in the European civilization project. Hence the proponents of these theories (about the unique status of Russia) are doomed to be marginalized, and I should say even self-marginalized by the logic of the argument. Thus, until an adequate epistemological grounding of the Russian civilization project is proposed and accepted, a grounding which inherently cannot but be universal, not to be confused with obshchechelovecheskoye,1 all attempts to ground Russia’s own path will be philosophically null and void and therefore practically hollow.
I would like to note parenthetically that this means decoupling the notions of universal and obshchechelovecheskoye. By an adequate epistemological basis of the Russian civilization project I do not mean some kind of self-made theory rejecting everything “European,” but a theory that can substantiate that without which such a project becomes contradictory: It has to be a theory grounding and demonstrating the equal validity of the epistemological grounds of various civilization projects. Then universality consists in any of them being equally understandable: They are all human-all can be understood, accepted and implemented in the practical activity by anyone (any person on the planet can under certain conditions join any of them). But none of them is obshchechelovecheskoye (general for humanity) because none of them can declare itself to be a mandatory version or an ideal for everyone. Any of these projects is universal in that it can be adopted, but it is not imperative. Any such project is universal as non-universal (universal in the first sense and non-universal in the second sense). Running ahead a little, herein lies the meaning of the category vsechelovecheskoye as opposed to obshchechelovecheskoye.
To go back to our topic. The fact that the projects of Russia’s own path are doomed to self-marginalization explains why the notion of Russia’s European orientation has become prevalent in public consciousness. In other words, at the level of public consciousness Russia has persistently exhibited the desire “to be Europe.” So much for the Russian side. But on the other side, Russia’s claim to join the family of European peoples and to become part of the West did not meet with support on the part of the West. That is also a fact. If we look at the way international politics has developed over the past 30 years, we shall see that the key factor in the relations between the West and Russia has been the attempt to keep Russia on a short leash so that it would not stray too far, but at the same time it was not recognized as being part of Europe and was not accepted as a member of the European family. I could cite a lot of examples but I don’t need to, since they are well known. But the main thing to be noted is that today, literally during the past days, weeks and months, the situation has deteriorated to the point where it has become extremely dangerous. Today, American strategic nuclear bombers are practicing almost daily strikes on Russia from various directions, from the Black Sea in the South, from Kaliningrad in the North and now there are plans to do the same in the Pacific. This has never been the case before; it happened within the last several months.
In the early 1990s and even in the 2000s, Russian society was not alarmed as it watched NATO expand to the East and approach Russia’s borders. But today one cannot but feel alarmed. Today the situation is almost on the brink of a nuclear war between Russia and the United States. The situation is one of hostility.
There is public awareness of the situation. It has changed public consciousness in Russia, mass consciousness, the consciousness of philosophers and of decision-makers, i.e., the country’s ruling circles. Most importantly, there is a growing sense that Russia is not to blame for the West’s hostility. One can see this from the speeches of our leaders, our ministers and public figures. Russia, they point out, is doing everything to implement the civilization project considered to be universal: democracy, the market economy, human rights and so on-Russia is doing all that. But the gulf between Russia and the West is becoming wider and wider. How does one account for it? How is it possible? Those are the questions that confront us, because it cannot be ascribed to “Russia’s bad behavior.”
All this puts into stark relief the obvious contradiction between the isolation of philosophy, its concentration on its own problems and professional affairs, on the one hand, and the fact that society today objectively needs a philosophical interpretation of what is happening, a philosophical answer to the question “why is this happening, why after 30 years do we find ourselves in a situation when the very existence of our country is under threat”? To put it another way, the contradiction between the individual consciousness of each philosopher and public consciousness has sharpened. The situation today is such that the philosopher cannot stay within the framework of his professional activities; he must give an answer to social demand, the demand for an explanation of the situation. The answer should be philosophical. But, as I will show below, to answer this question means to make a breakthrough in the professional sense, that is, to raise the most profound questions of philosophy which it has addressed only sporadically during the course of its history. So, this is not a question of “sacrifice” or “service” on the part of philosophy and philosophers, because the interests of society and the interests of philosophy coincide in this case.
So it is up to philosophy to provide the answer because other sciences-political science, sociology, psychology, etc.-are unable to do so; this is a philosophical task. Why? Because the question is whether the European civilization project is really universal. How does it come about that the civilization project that claims to be universal excludes whole groups of countries? Why are Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, Venezuela and so on extruded from it? A whole group of countries does not fit its criteria? Why?
The current situation is such that it has become clear to everyone that even if Russia, or Iran or other countries do everything as the West prescribes for them and “behave themselves,” new pretexts will nevertheless be found to accuse them of being uncivilized, of falling short of the criteria of universal civilization (universal, that is, from the viewpoint of the European civilization project).
Hence what I call the current objectives of Russian philosophy: The question must be answered. This is the objective imperative of the times. It cannot be sidestepped because this whole situation puts into question the universality of the Western civilization project: Is it universal, as it claims to be? Why, then, is it pushing away a whole group of countries-a significant part of the Earth’s territory and population-which it does not recognize as being “civilized,” i.e., advanced on the path of its civilization project, but is claiming that they are not on this path at all and that they are outside this project? For if the European civilization project is universal-its universality stemming from the universality of human reason-no country can be outside this project; all you can say is that it is lagging behind the “vanguard” of civilization. Meanwhile this group of countries, including Russia, is ranked among the uncivilized countries, i.e., barbarians, which means that they are incapable of following the path of civilization.
So, is the European civilization project really universal? The answer must surely be no: The European civilization project is local, it does not have a universal human status like any other local civilization project. I will elaborate this thesis below.
If we accept it, the inevitable question is: Does Russia have its own civilization project? Is Russia independent, on that count, i.e., in terms of possessing a civilization project, or is it part of the European civilization, the “world civilization”? This is the question that is asked more and more often in the social domain and among philosophers.
Before answering this question let us ask ourselves: Should and can such a question be asked?
I think it should be asked; moreover, there is no other option. The situation is quite clear. We are looking at a dichotomy, incompatibly opposite concepts: “civilization versus barbarism.” You are either civilized or you are a barbarian. This makes sense for the Europeans and in general for all those who have been brought up in the spirit of Aristotelian rationalism and the either/or logic: you are not civilized you are a barbarian. Then everything is clear: Then all that the Western propaganda needs to do is to show that Russia or Iran or some other country does not follow civilized norms, and then it automatically falls into the barbarian category. This is inexorable logic. The ordinary Westerner takes it as a matter of course because it is in line with the dichotomy logic: either civilization or barbarism. That is why throughout these past years and even decades, Russian propaganda, including top political officials, has been on the defensive. Russia constantly defends itself; it is always trying to say: You are accusing us of what we have not done. We did not shoot down the Malaysian Boeing, we did not poison Skripal and Navalny, we came to Syria legitimately, while you did not. The point is that Russia is always on the defensive; we always try to prove that “in reality” we are a civilized state.
This is a patently losing position. It is impossible to prove what you want to prove by taking such a position. There is a reason why I mentioned at the beginning that Russia has no official ideology. If you have no official ideology, some other ideology is adopted by default. It cannot be otherwise. There has to be an ideology, even denial of ideology is an ideology. However, if the ideology is not officially proclaimed, it merely means that Russia de facto embraces the European civilization project-by default. Then it falls into the dichotomy trap: If “grownup democracies,” which are ahead of Russia in implementing the civilization project, say that Russia does not meet civilization criteria, then it is a barbarian country. There is no third way.
A defensive position will never lead to success. The position should be offensive, which means that Russia should not simply argue that it is civilized by European standards. It means that Russia should put forward its own civilization project. Only then will it stand a chance of not losing the ideological war. Far more importantly, it will then have a chance to prevent a repetition of the two revolutionary catastrophes it lived through in the 20th century.
Let me cite a simple example. What is a human being? We are used to the European concept of the human being as an autonomous individual, a concept that goes back to the Greeks and the European reading of Christianity. It is built into the Western political system. Political parties only exist because the individual is autonomous and each individual, as opposed to other autonomous individuals, upholds his or her rights. They band together in parties to uphold their rights against others. This is the basis of Rousseau’s social contract concept, etc., etc. In general, the democratic system functions on the understanding that the human being is an autonomous individual, a self-contained entity opposed to all the other entities.
Is that the concept of human being in all cultures? Is this the Confucian concept of the human being? In the Confucian system, a human being is only human because he/she is participating in the system of social relations and is constituted only through such participation. Accordingly the concept of an autonomous personality essentially equal to all others is meaningless, since in that case social relations are ascribed and attributed to such an individual (like predicates are attributed to a substance) rather than constitute it. In the Confucian concept, the human being is always in a family, and makes sense only in the system of relations within the family and the big family that is the state. This concept underpins the concept of human being and the social system in China. Or is it an outdated concept that China has dropped to adopt the European concept of human being as an autonomous individual?
The rest is plain sailing: If the European civilization project is universal, then the European concept of the human being must also be universal. And again the dichotomy logic kicks in: You either adhere to this concept and then you are civilized or you do not adhere to it and then you are a barbarian. There is no alternative. I remember the East-West philosophers’ conference in Honolulu in 1995 where the late Richard Rorty challenged Tu Weiming who presented a paper on Confucianism: “Let me ask you a bold question: What good did Confucianism do to China?” That was how he put his question. Even allowing for the specificity of the philosophy of pragmatism that judges a millennia-old culture by the standards of good (assuming of course that Rorty knows exactly what “good” is), such a question can only be asked by someone who is convinced that there is one universal concept of human being that is good for all. Not surprisingly, Rorty got a rebuttal from Tu Weiming. Confucianism is the whole history of China, so how can you ask, what good did it do to China? And yet Rorty’s question follows logic: If you recognize the universal civilization project you must ask such questions. And you must accept in advance the inevitable conclusions from that proposition.
This is the answer to the question of whether Russia needs to have its own civilization project. It does. Because otherwise we end up being barbarians in the eyes of others and, far more importantly, in our own eyes. The eternal affliction of the Russian intelligentsia, yevropeynichanye (“Europe-aping,” a term coined by Nikolay Danilevsky), which is so evident today, is based on self-barbarization. But if you are thought of or you think of yourselves as barbarians, then civilized laws do not apply to you. We have seen what this leads to in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. We have seen it elsewhere. Monstrous things can happen. When a country is branded as barbarian not meeting the criteria of civilization, and that country is not strong enough militarily, its very existence is at risk. That is why I say that today the existence of our country is at stake.
Today this is sinking in to Russian society and to the Russian ruling circles. But the question arises: Does Russia have a specific civilization project to offer? What can we oppose to the universalist claims of the European civilization project?
In the Russian intellectual and ideological discourse today there is only one answer to that question. It counterposes the universal Western values, the universalist Western project to “traditional Russian values.”
But first, “traditional Russian values” are “Russian” and not “universal.” And then the question may be asked: Why should another country accept Russian values? You have your own values? Good luck practicing your values. So, if we say that we want to have traditional Russian values instead of universal values we are closing in upon ourselves and risk being confined within our tradition, which means looking backward and not forward.
If we confine ourselves to traditional Russian values, how would we cooperate with others? Any cooperation-political, economic, you name it-is based on common values, a common worldview. Without it, there can be no cooperation. It is no coincidence that the Europeans constantly talk about “European values” as if they are universal values. But if we have only Russian values, how could we cooperate with China? What are our common values? How would we cooperate with Iran, the Islamic world, Africa? There must be something in common, and we immediately assume that they are our own and no one else’s values. This is a losing position.
Second, it is not quite clear what exactly are traditional Russian values. As a rule, tradition means religious tradition. But then we should remember that Russia within its present borders has several religious traditions. We should name, at the very least, Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, and the traditional beliefs of the peoples of Siberia and the North. And there are minor traditions, speaking about Russia, such as Judaism, Protestantism, and Catholicism. Even if we take the main traditions-Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism and the traditional beliefs-that makes four. So, Russia is neither monolithic, nor homogeneous in terms of religious tradition. Each of these traditions has its own system of values. What then is meant by traditional Russian values? One cannot simply lump different value systems together. They are incompatible and each of them is self-contained. The Orthodox worldview is different from that of Islam. And the Buddhist worldview is something else again. In that respect, Russia is in a special situation.
People often say that the United States also has many religious traditions: Orthodox believers, Protestants, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. And America is coping with the problem. Fair enough, but how is it coping? The thing is that all these cultural differences and religious traditions are not decisive for a person’s identity. The American identity is above all political procedures, everything that unites America and holds it together, something the Americans are particularly sensitive to. In other words, it is citizenship that makes an American American. Citizenship and not culture, or religion, or tradition: citizenship and political procedures. Can Russia follow that path? No, it cannot, because the situations in the two countries are fundamentally different. The United States is a land of immigrants. None of those I have mentioned-Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.-are indigenous to America; they have come from elsewhere. But when a person moves to America, the very fact of giving up one’s country of birth and coming to America means renouncing the decisive role of religious tradition and accepting the dominant role of political procedures in the public space. Of course, you retain your religious and cultural traditions, but they move to your kitchen: Here you can be Muslim or Orthodox, sing Russian songs or cook falafel and wear an abaya, but in society you have to be an American, i.e., recognize the common political procedures with which Islam, Orthodoxy or whatever (at least theoretically) have nothing to do and which are worked out on the basis of rational criteria in the course of public debate. Such is the situation in America.
Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and representatives of traditional beliefs have always lived in Russia; they have not come here from somewhere else. They have always lived in Russia and this is their land. It is a totally different situation. Several years ago a bill was proposed on a civil nation modeled on America, i.e., implying renunciation of the decisive role of cultural roots. The bill was a flop. Muslims and Caucasus peoples especially objected. What did they see in that bill? An attempt to deprive them of their cultural roots and their identity. An attempt to remove the “nationality” box from the passport and from the census form met with a similar reaction. So when we speak about “traditional Russian values,” we cannot assume that it is only Orthodoxy. We should also imply at least Islamic and Buddhist values, and the values developed by the peoples of Siberia and the North.
But then the question arises: How does one combine them all? These are different value systems, each reflecting a complete worldview backed up by a religious doctrine and metaphysics, a self-contained system that is closed in the sense that the meaning of any category or concept within each of them is determined by a system of inner links and correlations with other concepts of the same value system rather then by some “common equivalent” that allegedly applies equally to all of them and serves to level them. The whole point is that there is no common equivalent for these value systems in the sense of something substantive and not merely nominal. Often there is not even a nominal equivalence of the key concepts that form the reference frame for those who espouse these values.
Here are two examples. Let us take, for the sake of simplicity, the value systems of Orthodoxy and Islam. An example of nominal coincidence is the category of “perfection,” but the content it is invested with and, more importantly, the logic of its formation differs in the two systems and cannot be brought to a common denominator, hence the reasoning about perfection and improvement of the human being and the conclusions taken as a guide to action would be different, divergent. An example of the absence of nominal coincidence, a gap that cannot be filled, is the category of sobornost’2 for the Orthodox system of values and the category of khilafa (“succession,” man as successor to God) for the Islamic value system. These are just two examples of central categories for two value systems: What if we try to enumerate all such discrepancies systemically for all value systems?
All this shows the irrelevance of the habitual method of the European mind and European philosophy, the method of declaring one system of values to be universal, like the current value system worked out by the European culture and enshrined in the European civilization project. This example demonstrates that in Russia, such a move can only be seen as the forcible imposition of one system of values (one worldview backed up by logic and metaphysics) while sidelining all the other systems. Thus Russian reality itself confronts Russian philosophy with a vital and at the same time very profound task: to bring together all the aforementioned value systems (hence the systems of logic, metaphysics and ethics) so as, without destroying the inner coherence of any of them (such a move would instantly provoke a reaction of revulsion), to connect and combine them to rule out centrifugal trends and replace them with centripetal ones. To put it another way, we must answer the question: By what right do we use the first person plural pronoun “we” when we speak about Russia? What is it that makes us “us” and not a random assemblage of disparate worldviews, values, etc. forcibly held together on one-sixth of the world land surface? How does “they” turn into “us,” and what is the difference between these two states of public consciousness? Are we aware of this difference today? Do we understand what is Russia today as a collective subject and what makes it possible?
Let us formulate this task in a more abstract logical idiom. The habitual method of generalization used by the European philosophy to bring multiplicity to unity does not work here because there is no and never can be a single principle for holistic and, what is more, heterologous systems of worldview and values each based on multi-level theoretical discourse, arguments and justifications, and having diverse and ramified consequences. This means that we face an unprecedented challenge of finding universality in what does not lend itself to being universalized.
On the one hand, it is a breathtaking task for philosophy. The problem has never been put in this way. Yet this is the only way to formulate the question of whether philosophy is really capable of discovering the ultimate foundations of thought and, more broadly, of consciousness.
On the other hand, this is the imperative of the time in Russia. Arguably, today we have a unique situation that has never existed before, when there is a pressing need for a philosophical solution to many vital tasks that have to do with the preservation of our country. The past 30 years have shown an amazing self-hypnosis and placidity of the intellectual elite and the general public who have decided that the 1991 catastrophe was the last one and it is enough to live it down in order to move on to solving purely technical tasks of boosting the economy, etc. Meanwhile, the promotion of clericalism in all spheres of the country’s life objectively, regardless of the wishes of religious leaders who advocate clericalization, and the political leaders who indulge them, launches centrifugal trends similar to those that tore the USSR apart 30 years ago. Enough has been said about it above, and this trend needs to be urgently countered by a serious and well-thought-out solution with a profound philosophical grounding.
Today more than ever before, we have a situation when the individual consciousness of each philosopher and philosophy as a whole, on the one hand, and public consciousness on the other, have an acute need for each other if they are to develop successfully. In other words, this is not an external need, it is not a task set by somebody or something, but it stems from the internal development needs of philosophy and of society. Philosophy would take an unprecedented step forward if it managed to set the task as formulated above; then Russian philosophy would finally cease to be a derivative scholasticism-derivative, that is, with regard to European philosophy and to Orthodox theology. Society in turn would finally get philosophically well-grounded principles that would enable it to become conscious of what it is really like. Developing such a consciousness is hard work, an arduous task; but it is only by moving down that path step-by-step that we can start forming a public consciousness, an understanding of who “we” are.
To sum up. The need for a Russian civilization project is prompted by the current situation and generally by the needs of public consciousness, but its possibility stems from the philosophical work that develops the individual consciousness of philosophy and elevates it to genuine self-consciousness both of philosophy and of society. Such is the link between the tasks of forming public self-consciousness and the self-consciousness of philosophy (awareness of its real boundaries and real possibilities that have yet to be revealed). That topic will be addressed below.
Thus, the Russian civilization project is the imperative of the time and of the domestic situation in Russia as highlighted by the last 30 years. At the same time, elaboration of such a project meets the philosophical imperative of substantiating the universal with no dogmatic presumptions. In that sense, Russian philosophy has, first, a unique chance to proceed from Russia’s many centuries of actual experience that has revealed its ability to repeatedly and in many aspects gather and combine what is based on different logics into a viable society and a vibrant culture. In that respect, pre-imperial, imperial, Soviet and post-Soviet experience is invaluable. Second, Russian philosophy has a chance to draw on the heritage of Russian thought that has offered a solution to the task of putting together elements proceeding from different logics, i.e., elaborating the categories of vsechelovecheskoye and obshchechelovecheskoye .
Thus the main conclusion from the above is that an indigenous civilization project different from the European one-be it for Russia or for any other big culture-is only possible if it is demonstrated that a reason different from that which lies at the basis of European culture and the European civilization project is possible. That is why the solution of fundamental problems of philosophy is directly linked to the solution of the burning problem facing Russia, which is the formation of public self-consciousness.
The above has prepared the ground for setting forth my position on the issues raised. My aim has been: (1) to link the social situation with strictly theoretical tasks of philosophy; (2) to demonstrate that addressing the question of the (non-) universality of reason is long overdue; (3) to show that Russian philosophy is in a position to make its contribution inasmuch as, first, it is not bound by the dogmatic imperatives of European philosophy that it cannot transgress (as François Jullien has shown in a series of his books), and there the fact that the European civilization project has not been implemented in Russia turns out to be an advantage (albeit not according to Chaadayev), and second, has at its disposal real experience that makes it possible to formulate the problem and search for its solution.
In a series of my books that set forth the foundations of the logic of sense, I provided a theoretical solution to the question of multiplicity, and not universality, of reason. I assume at least a superficial familiarity with its ideas and line of reasoning, since I cannot, for understandable reasons, spell it out here. I shall try to introduce the logic-and-meaning approach in the simplest way possible, concentrating on the topics of the Russian civilization development project.
Kant maintained that the power (faculty) of judgment offers neither a priori concepts nor ideas (as distinct from reason and understanding) and that “it is a faculty merely for subsuming under concepts given from elsewhere” [4, p. 8]. Unlike reason and understanding, the power of judgment does not generate new knowledge, but merely combines what it gets from other cognitive faculties. Therefore with Kant, the power of judgment does not lay down a priori laws.
Kant drew exclusively on the experience of European thought. The study of thought in other cultures adjusts this thesis: What Kant called the power of judgment is actualized in various ways depending on a priori laws that are not derived from any experience, but that allow for any experience, i.e., any activity of consciousness, any manifestation of cogito, including our understanding of other cultures and determining their place on the map of our investigation. Thus, we are talking about something that, first, expands the horizon for the philosophy of mind by opening up a new and previously unexplored area and, second, is directly related to the theme and the mapping of the project. Needless to say, these two aspects support each other.
Variability of the power of judgment is variability of the faculty of subject-predicate linkage. For starters, let us ask the question: What does the word “culture” mean? We do not need definitions; we need an answer that would resolve the following difficulty. We speak about English, French, German, Italian, etc. cultures; this use of the word is not open to question. But we also speak about European culture. These are obviously concepts of different orders. But then the question arises: What is European culture? Is it an abstraction derived from the first-order concepts, a kind of generalization? Does the concept “European culture” have any content that holds it together and prevents it from disintegrating into a series of first-order concepts? Is there anything that we can consider to be the content of the concept of “European culture” and that prevents us from reducing it to concrete individual cultures (each of which can fall into a multitude of subcultures, etc.)? In other words, is there anything to justify the use of “European culture” in the singular, something that keeps it from slipping into the plural, from splitting into a multitude of “European cultures”?
Yes. There is a clear answer to this question. “European culture” is shaped by a specific technology of subject-predicate linkage, a specific way of binding the subject and the predicate. This is a variant of the power of judgment, which is invariable only within the limits of European thought and European culture. It is only this that sets the limits of a big European culture consisting of a variable multitude of local cultures. This distinguishes European culture from other big cultures. In other words, culture is a method of sense positing, and European culture is a specific method of sense positing determined by the technology of subject-predicate linkage. For more detail I referyou to my book Vsechelovecheskoye vs. Obshchechelovecheskoye (see ). Understanding culture as a way of sense positing helps to determine the scale of the concept of “culture.” Then civilization can be seen as “the body” of big culture, as the external forms it fashions. This concept includes the political order, law, ethics, aesthetics, economics, etc. It is a whole system built around culture seen as a sense positing machine. And accordingly, different big cultures grow their “civilization bodies” following different laws. But we can only become aware of this if we indicate the variant of the Kantian “power of judgment” (which Kant did not consider to be variable), that is, of the faculty of subject-predicate linkage, by which a given big culture is determined. Any other reasoning would be merely an attempt to “squeeze” material of other cultures and other logics (speaking of a big culture) into the scheme of reasoning offered by the European variant of the power of judgment. Obviously, this approach would always present European culture as something complete, while other cultures would be treated as wanting (“proto-cultures”): cultures that are not just marginalized in theoretical discourse, but are marginalized “by right.” There are examples galore of this approach to big cultures, so it is worth paying attention to examples of a different kind, however rare they may be. This is why François Jullien says that China does not know Europe and Europe still does not know China , despite the massive body of Chinese studies. And yet Jullien is right because he formulates the task essentially the same way I do: to discover the ultimate grounds of European thought, which can only be done by creating “another point of view (autre point de vue),” i.e., adopting principles of cogitation other than and independent from European principles . That is the message of all Jullien’s books. This task can only be solved by referring to the technology of subject-predicate linkage and the variability of the power of judgment; and this variability means variability of reason (inasmuch as we are talking about something more than tweaking of the Kantian interpretation of cognitive faculty; it is an adjustment that changes the whole approach to the problem of consciousness and cognition).
The discovery of the variability of the subject-predicate linkage faculty, on the one hand, offers a methodological basis for mapping big cultures, which is relevant to the discussion of the Russian civilization project because some of these big cultures are represented in Russia. On the other hand, it opens up heady vistas for the philosophy of mind as well as for related fields of research (above all the cognitive sciences). The Oriental studies competence is vital in order to discover the variability of subject-predicate linkage (the power of judgment) in general and to identify a concrete variant that determines this or that big culture, in particular. However, once that has been accomplished, studying the power of judgment in its variability becomes “routine” work for the philosopher. Of course, some knowledge of big cultures other than the European one remains indispensable even in that case. Indeed, ignoring this is the main drawback of philosophical education in this country and abroad in terms of the content of courses, but especially because students are taught “philosophy as such,” as if the theoretical toolkit of philosophy were invariable. The link with the aforementioned is obvious. And this highlights the fact that the European language of philosophy, including the language of current Russian philosophy, is fundamentally insufficient for capturing the variability of the subject-predicate linkage. It needs to be developed, moreover, restructured, which is a special challenge and a special field of work for the philosopher. All the more so if the task is set of creating a new language (a system of views) corresponding to the line of vsechelovecheskoye, i.e., the line of gathering the variants of the faculty of subject-predicate linkage whereby both the faculty and the variability cannot be reduced to a certain invariant type in the sense familiar to European thought. This is obviously the objective of both elaborating the philosophy of mind, and of developing the Russian civilization project.
All this brings us to the key question: Can we speak of a specific type of the faculty of subject-predicate linkage, a specific variant of the power of judgment characteristic of Russia? If so, we can speak about big Russian culture and thus claim that the Russian civilization project can be provided with an adequate epistemological basis that will lend the Russian project a scale comparable to that of the civilization projects of other big cultures. If not, the discourse about a “specific Russian way” and so forth should be scrapped and forgotten, and instead we should look around for a big culture that our country could join to become included in its civilization project.
I believe that the question should be answered in the affirmative. This is not to say that the answer is cut-and-dried on our table; it means that we have grounds for developing it successfully.
The capacity for subject-predicate linkage that human consciousness possesses in one form or another determines at the same time the type of agency. This is an amazing feature of the human mind and a special topic for the philosophy of mind. But this is not the point now. I would like to stress the following: substance logic (S-logic) and process logic (P-logic) (see )-these are both logics of predication, i.e., logics of positing subject-predicate linkages-both start with a single subject multiplying it simply by scaling, multiplying the initial “cell,” although the two logics propose different technologies of scaling. Each of these logics is capable of forming the concepts of obshchechelovecheskoye because each-within its limits-is characterized by universality and integrity (tselostnost’).
Herein lies the key difference between the categories of obshchechelovecheskoye and vsechelovecheskoye. I would like to propose the following tentative hypothesis for reflection and critique: The concept of vsechelovecheskoye is based on the intuition of vsesubyektnost’ (indispensable and indissoluble diversity of all subjects/agents). The intuition that every subject is indispensable to maintaining diversity, however “insignificant,” of the overall destructive consequences of any loss, however trifling it may seem, like the intuitions of the substance and process logics considered above, is an intuition of tselostnost’ (integrity and wholeness). However, it is different in that it concerns itself not with the subject-predicate linkage and its possible variants, but with the inter-subject linkage. This calls for very serious reflection because the form of subject-predicate linkage, be it the S- or P-variant, unfolds tselostnost’ (integrity) in the discursive form, which undermines the initial integrity and wholeness. Thus, agency can only be asserted at the expense of integrity (tselostnost’), “at the expense of in both senses: The subject-predicate discursive unfolding starts with integrity and is constituted by it, but it also “devours” integrity, destroys it and can exist only on its remnants. The intuition of vsesubyektnost’ is a yearning for integrity after agency; a yearning for restoring tselostnost’ while not losing agency. This is the meaning of vsesubyektnost’. It will readily be seen that such intuition and the corresponding worldview differ, for example, from the existing theories of intersubjectivity or the theories of communication: These theories attempt to restore links between subjects, but do so in a way that would avoid a turn to tselostnost’, so as to remain entirely within the limits of S-logic and its notion of agency. Meanwhile, vsesubyektnosf involves going beyond intuitions and S- and P-logics while preserving them, what is important and the challenge of the task. To overcome the limitations of each logic (each is limited by itself, of course) so as to leave each of them flourishing and intact: There can be no question of “sublation (Aufhebung)” here.
I think Russian 19th and 20th-century literature owes much to this mentality, as do the traits of the Russian character that have been noted sporadically, without going into their interconnection and mutual conditioning. For instance, kindness and gentleness; patience and impulsiveness when the limit is crossed (Russians are slow in harnessing their horses, but they drive fast); self-sacrifice; a tendency to forgive and let bygones be bygones; inability to punish the enemy to the end, to crush him when he is helpless; compassion for criminals; complaisance and an ability to give, forgetting about one’s selfish interests (to be a simpleton and slouch to the European’s mind); a tendency to be carried away by the other and not to check the other with constant suspicion-all these, and many more, stem from a yearning for vsesubyektnost’ and the preservation of integrity-after-agency, including and above all others’ agency. The Russian character’s negative traits are the reverse of the ones I have mentioned, and they, too, are possible in light of the longing for vsesubyektnost’ that falters, and the more it falters the uglier the Russian traits that manifest themselves as a protest against universal injustice. German (and one might say, European) efficiency has always stood in contrast to Russian slowness and inability to start acting until the overall meaning of the action becomes clear (but once it is clear, Russians will not only harness their horses but drive them hard); and the meaning has to be truly universal, overall integrity without a fault, with no sacrifice and without losing anyone’s agency. Stoltz and Oblomov (Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov) spring to mind as vivid examples. The European ability to care only for one’s own world (Voltaire’s “One must tend one’s own garden” regardless of the surrounding wickedness and chaos) stands in stark contrast to the Russian longing for a universal meaning in everything capable of justifying any particular and any given. A perversion of this attitude is the proverb “splinters will fly when the axe you ply,” especially when used to refer to the victims of the drive for universal happiness that by deception and self-deception swept this country a century ago. The Russian language does full justice to the intuition of vsesubyektnost’ and is its exponent and proponent. It is in the Russian and not in other European languages that agency can shift from “I” to anything else (see ). To the European Ego-centered mind, this is inconceivable and wrong, and indicates passivity and inability to act. Anna Wierzbicka delivers this stern verdict on Russian passive voice sentences and our propensity to use them. It is hard to express better the contrast between the European and Russian interpretations of agency and the reluctance of the Ego-centered European to see any sense beyond the circumscribed Ego-world. The Russian 19th century philosophy demonstrated this quest for vsechelovecheskoye even when it used European philosophical technique to do so: Think of Vladimir Solovyov’s Justification of the Good, Nikolay Berdyaev’s The Meaning of the Creative Act, Nikolay Fyodorov’s The Philosophy of the Common Task, to mention but a few.
The last two paragraphs have been lifted out of my new book Logika smysla kak filosofiya soznaniya (The Logic of Sense as the Philosophy of Mind) published recently. It elaborates on all the issues addressed in this text, and offers a tentative typology of big cultures, i.e., a typology of the faculty of subject-predicate linkage, including the discussed faculty of vsesubyektnost’.
I would like to end with the following. “The Russian idea” has long been formulated, and the logic of vsesubyektnost’ is enough to grasp it. It is the idea of “one child’s tear” (Dostoyevsky); the assertion of the impossibility of universal and eternal happiness if it is based on even the slightest loss; the idea of tselostnost’ and vsesubyektnost’. What a contrast to the current discourse on the fat man and the trolley popular among ethical scholars (which is not as innocuous in its consequences as it may seem) and how it resonates with the ideas of nonviolence and negative ethics (Abdusalam Guseynov).
The idea may be treated as a utopia, as an impossible ideal. But an attentive look at its epistemological foundations and reflection on how a big culture based on it could unfold into a civilization system offers a boundless field for work at all levels, from the basic one associated with the philosophy of mind to the highest and concrete levels of cultural and civilization construction.
1. Arutyunova N. D. The Sentence and Its Meaning: Logical-Semantic Issues. Moscow: Nauka, 1976. (In Russian.)
2. Jullien F. The Book of Beginning. Trans. by J. Gladding. New Haven; London: Yale Univ. Press, 2015.
3. Jullien F. Le détour et l’aecès: stratégies du sens en Chine, en Grèce. Paris: Grasset, 1995.
4. Kant I. First Introduction to the Critique of the Power of Judgment. Id. Critique of the Power of Judgment. Ed. by P. Guyer; Trans, by P. Guyer and E. Matthews. Cambridge; New York [etc.]: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000. pp. 1-51.
5. Smirnov A. V. Classical Eurasianism as a Post-Revolutionary Philosophy. Russian Studies in Philosophy. 2020. Vol. 58. Issue 6 (Contemporary Russian Philosophers: Andrey V. Smirnov), pp. 522-534. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10611967.2020.1868263
6. Smirnov A. V. Vsechelovecheskoye vs. Obshchechelovecheskoye. Moscow: Sadra, 2019. (In Russian.)
7. Smirnov A. V., Solondaev V. K. Process Logic. Moscow: Sadra, 2019. (In Russian.)
1 In the early nineteenth century, in opposition to the concept obshchechelovecheskoye, Russian thinkers introduced the concept vsechelovecheskoye. Both notions point to the universality of the human mind, human culture, and human civilization; but there is a fundamental difference in logical vehicles used to arrive at the universal. The vsechelovecheskoye presupposes “gathering” logically diverse models without imposing any general restriction on them, while the obshchechelovecheskoye is an understanding of the universal as grounded in the generic or general, which is well-known to the Western reader (see ).
2 This Russian term has no exact analogues in foreign languages; perhaps the closest approximation is the word “catholicity” in its broadest, original sense, which by no means refers to the Roman Catholic church alone but describes the whole body of Christians, as in the Ancient Church, prior to the separation of East and West, thus signifying a free spiritual union of people both in church life and outside it; in a still broader context, the term refers to all-inclusive cultural entirety [5, p. 534].