Hermann, Tomáš

Karel Kosík and His ‘Radical Democrats’ Moving From a Historical to a Systematic Approach to Philosophy 

e-mail: hermannt@centrum.cz

The production of Marxist historians of philosophy who at the Institute of philosophy of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences systematically researched and re-evaluated the history of Czech philosophy culminated around 1958. A turning point came with the conference Philosophy in the History of the Czech Nation in Liblice, which brought

in a more liberal environment for writing and discussion. The introductory contribution of the conference, a paper ‘History of Philosophy as Philosophy’, was presented by Karel Kosík. In his understanding of the Marxist method, the history of philosophy as a spiritual reproduction of concrete reality was supposed to be an integral part of a systematic approach. A short time later, however, the systematic approach to philosophy became Kosík’s main focus. A few years later, he published a comprehensive summary of his views in Dialektika konkrétního (Dialectic of the Concrete), where he presented a systematic treatment of the issue of personal authenticity, experienced reality and practice. In 1958, the same year when Liblice conference took place, Kosík also published the result of his long-term research in Czech thought, an extensive systematic treatise Česká radikální demokracie (Czech Radical Democracy). This work formed a significant part and expression of the abovementioned turning point in the Marxist historiography of Czech philosophy. Kosík traced the changes and developments of radical democracy as a political and spiritual movement setting them in a European context and a context of contemporary, i.e., nineteenth century, Czech society, while confronting it with other intellectual and political movements. He explained the shortcomings in the philosophy of otherwise ideologically preferred representatives of radical democracy (such as Karel Sabina and Emanuel Arnold), especially their poor grasp of the dialectical method, by their focus on practical work. Nonetheless, Kosík compared them with thinkers who had a much more adequate grasp of contemporary historical developments and who were able to see Czech philosophy in a broader context of prominent directions in European philosophy of the time (especially Augustin Smetana, Karel Boleslav Štorch). This work was an expression of Kosík’s search for alternatives to the schematism of Marxist-Leninist philosophical historiography of the previous era. It also paved the way to his own position, which he formulated three years later in his Dialektika konkrétního (Dialectic of the Concrete). In author’s view, Kosík used the historic material to reflect current, philosophically more demanding, problems of the foundations of Marxism in confrontation with other philosophical movements which he thereafter tried to clearly state. The aim of this contribution is to describe Kosík’s shift from a historical to a systematic focus using several key examples and in the context of ongoing discussion between Czech Marxist philosophers.