Philosophy, history, and the social commitment

Józef Tischner’s intellectual legacy Guest Editor’s introduction
  • Piotr KostyłoEmail author

Józef Tischner (1930–2000) was a Polish philosopher, a student of Roman Ingarden, and a Catholic priest, with a particular interest in phenomenology. The impact he had on the intellectual milieu and public life in Poland was particularly significant during the last two decades of the twentieth century. In 1980, Tischner became a household name following the creation of the Solidarity trade union and social movement. The Solidarity movement was a mass expression of opposition by Poles towards the communist authorities and, according to many commentators, it contributed greatly to the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. He supported Solidarity from the beginning, endowing it with a philosophical, ethical and religious orientation. Tischner analysed the phenomenon of Solidarity in his book, inspired by the Gospels, The Ethics of Solidarity, published in 1981 in Poland and soon translated into many languages.

Earlier, Tischner’s philosophical inquiries on the writings of Plato, St Augustine, Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Edmund Husserl, Max Scheler, Martin Heidegger, Emanuel Lévinas, and Paul Ricoeur led him to probe the condition of modern man, to seek the most appropriate way to describe it, and to ponder on the issue of the values related to this description. As a consequence of this, Tischner began to take a critical view towards Thomist philosophy, then dominant in the Catholic Church, seeing in its focus on the analysis of being an expression of detachment from human experience and an inability to describe what is of greatest importance to people. Tischner laid out the main points of his criticism of Thomism in his article, “The Decline of Thomist Christianity,” published in the monthly periodical, Znak in 1970. This publication triggered what would be an extensive decade-long discussion, among Polish intellectuals connected to the Catholic Church, about the philosophy which best serves Christianity. The second area of Tischner’s philosophical interests was Marxism, which he perceived critically, openly expressing this attitude. The dispute was primarily about the implications of Marxism for the Catholic Church and, more broadly, for believers in Poland who lived their daily lives in an authoritarian state ruled by declared atheists. Marxism became an intellectual challenge for Tischner; he wanted to know and understand it thoroughly. So that he might delve into Marxist thought, he took part in seminars on Marxist philosophy given by Adam Schaff. Tischner believed that the most fundamental flaw of Marxism was its view of people as objectified and subordinated to manufacturing processes. Tischner’s book, Marxism and Christianity: The Quarrel and the Dialogue in Poland, published in 1979 in Poland (English edition - 1987), contained the author’s essays from the previous decade and summarized his philosophical debates with Marxists.

Tischner’s philosophical and publicistic activity developed further after 1989 as Poland followed the path to democratic and liberal reforms. The new political, social and economic situation and the issues that arose as the result of it prompted Tischner to comment more frequently on current topics in successive books, articles and essays. As he wrote earlier, in the introduction to his book, Thinking in Values, published in 1982 in Poland, in dealing with philosophy he was most interested in Polish matters and wanted to understand and explain them as well as he could. An important characteristic of Tischner’s thought at that time was a bitterness caused by the fact that much of society perceived the democratic and liberal transformations with reluctance. On the one hand, these transformations guaranteed a respect for human rights, but on the other, they brought a lower standard of living and loss of social security for many. This Tischner’s bitterness and frustration found their expression in his book entitled The Infelicitous Gift of Freedom that appeared in 1993.

Tischner’s philosophical work heavily focused on the current social and political situation in Poland in the second half of the twentieth century. Most of his publications responded to specific challenges that arose during that period. Nevertheless, in his rich output, it is possible to find books which go beyond this specific context and aspire to become timeless philosophical treatises. Among such books are The Philosophy of Drama (1990) and The Controversy over Human Existence (1998). Tischner’s premature death in 2000 left his numerous pupils and followers as well as a wide circle of Catholics in Poland, who considered him as their intellectual leader, with unanswered questions concerning such matters as the nature of the world and man, the function of work in the life of the individual and society, the place of religion in a liberal democratic state, and the role of dialogue between supporters of different ideologies.

Soon after Tischner’s death, public philosophical meetings, called Tischner Days, were organised in Poland, during which the philosopher’s thought was analysed, developed and promoted. These meetings, often accompanied by artistic and other cultural events, enabled Tischner’s legacy to reach wider circles of society. A particularly important place for organising these meetings is Krakow, the town in which Tischner lived and worked, but other towns, too, play an active part. Meetings of this kind have been held for the last 4 years in Chojnice, a town in the north of Poland.

All but one of the articles selected for this special issue of the journal are the extended versions of the presentations at a conference organised by city of Chojnice in collaboration with Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz in 2018.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kazimierz Wielki UniversityBydgoszczPoland

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