Selected places from an Interview with the full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Abdusalam A. Guseynov // Philosophy and Ethics: a Collection of Academic Papers. To the 70th Anniversary of Academician A.A. Guseynov. Moscow: Alfa-M, 2009. S. 7–34. (In Russian)
(A.G. – Abdusalam Guseynov; OZ – Olga Zubets)
In the case of a philosopher, biography means much more than in the case of a poet, because poetry has a lot to do with inspiration. Of course, there is a lot of work, purposeful actions, restrictions, and yet poetry is some kind of divine hunch, something coming from above. This is a special gift that single individuals are endowed with, and we do not know why. In this sense, Pushkin is right when he says:
While the poet is not required
For holy sacrifice unto Apollo,
Within the bustling worldly cares
He is faint-heartedly immersed;
Silent is his sacred lyre;
His soul lies deep in wintry sleep,
And of the humble children of this world,
He is, perhaps, most humble.
That is, in life he can be simple, insignificant, stupid, and so on, and this absolutely does not exclude the possibility that his poetry can be the greatest. A poet, poetry can speak in a different voice: someone else speaks through the poet — the oracle, God, who knows. The philosopher is not like that. A philosopher — a true philosopher — speaks only about himself. And if he does not talk about himself, then he is not a philosopher at all, he does not philosophize, or he says something that people will never be interested in at all. The special thing about that is that the personality of the philosopher, his soul are hidden in the texts. For example, Heraclitus has a fragment in which he says literally: «I was looking for myself.» This statement is the focus of the natural philosophy of Heraclitus, I would say, a focus in both meanings of this term. Descartes in almost the same words formulates the goal of his doctrine of the method: «to study himself.» The difference between the philosopher and the poet, due to the nature of the type of activity itself, is that the poet perceives his life in its empirical nature as it is, therefore the poets were the most stupid creatures: they chased skirts, were fond of wine, and fawned at the court. They went by impressions. If they had detached themselves from the empirical nature of their lives, this would have hindered them. Goethe says about Schiller that philosophy is only out in the way of poetry and that Schiller is most interesting where he is free from philosophical influences — Kantian and others. As for the philosopher, he actually begins by not accepting the empirical character of his life — he wants to give his life a different meaning. Philosophy begins with bewilderment: why do I, having a mind capable of grasping the whole world, penetrating anywhere, turn out to be so insignificant, fragile? Philosophy is not just asking this question. It is also filled with indignation by such a situation, seeks to overcome it, to move to another form of existence, get to her true being, where the mind is “sitting”, to a smart place. One of the fatal fallacies of European philosophy, against which the entire postmodern wave has revolted, lies precisely in the fact that the reason began to be considered in isolation from the thinking individual, as if it had an independent existence. There isn’t no-one’s reason. In fact, it is always reason of a certain person. And philosopher is driven not only and not just by a thirst for knowing the last truths: he wants to have the truth that will transform his own life. Philosopher also seeks salvation. It seems to me that it is very important to understand: philosophy contains, combines the pathos of truth and the pathos of moral perfection. I do not consider myself not only a great philosopher, but generally a philosopher: I am a professor of philosophy, an academician in the field of philosophy. Nevertheless, I would like to have that feeling of pride that I have always strove, in what I said and wrote, for not breaking away from what I felt and what I wanted. In this sense, there is some kind of individual completeness. This may explain strength, but first of all, the weakness of what I said and wrote. This is not any kind of weakness caused by a lack of diligence and education, but something more substantial. It’s just that philosophy and I have one-way love: I love it very much, and it just pities me. I think that, oddly enough, philosophy, which in the entire system of cultural forms, in all its structure seems impersonal, goes back to the first principles, is extremely true in its personal expression. And if this is not … There are many books that are uninteresting precisely because they are written about things the authors are not interested in and do not care about. And they are written on behalf of the universal reason, and it is generally not clear on behalf of whom.
Philosophy has always been a form of personal existence, a way of life. It set new forms of personal existence — in antiquity, and in the Middle Ages, and even in the Modern Time, when philosophy came to the point of an objective vision of the world, but here, as well, it proceeded from the presumption that it was such an objective view of the world which is really human, and that the dignity and pride of a person consists in the fact that he is able to leave oneself and through this to rise above oneself.
A person’s ability, his need to reflect on himself, on his fate, his authenticity, the consistency of his life, etc. — this is something new. In this sense, I am still an old man — I am at the pre-Kantian level. People then cognized, but did not think about the possibilities and boundaries of the reason. And Kant pondered this and outlined the Copernican revolution — by putting the thinking subject in the center of philosophy. Something similar happened in personal development. Maybe, due to my traditional upbringing, I remained at the pre-Kantian level of initial trust in reason. I don’t have a very clear idea of how people treat me. I have no concern about being consistent in my reasoning: if I am not contradicting myself now, with what I said before. There is no such self-deepening, self-reflection, which later gave rise to a psychoanalytic culture. I’m like a mirror that does not see itself, reflects something, but does not see itself. How many times I was surprised to learn from others very interesting things about myself. My university friend Misha Polishchuk, after many years, tells me some episodes of student life, which I completely do not remember, as if they were cases from childhood. They are somehow present in me, have an impact, but I’m not worried about this. Therefore, I can’t say that there is something strange in my life. Only if that were the lack of strangeness itself. I did not set myself any career goals — that’s how I always thought of myself. And recently I read in Zinoviev about the best way to make a career in the Soviet conditions. It is necessary to indicate that you are not against a career, but do not specifically undertake anything for this. And you will be promoted. It completely reminds me. Maybe this is some deep cunning, a form sealed in anthropology itself.
Philosophers are really strange people. They appeared in the arena of history as strange people. Their strangeness consisted of two things: firstly, they were interested in what other people were not interested in, invisible things: cosmos, logos, apeiron, etc., secondly, for some reason this was more important to them than concrete life things — career, profit, success, etc. The strangeness was that they discovered another reality. Not that they had a different attitude to life. In life itself, they discovered another reality, which they designated, called the love of wisdom. For them, the pursuit of wisdom has acquired a vital, essential meaning.
For scientists, it never mattered like that. They are like a craftsman making a horseshoe, who objectifies his activity, disciplines it. The philosopher was not interested in that. In this sense, he is a very selfish person — he was interested in his own destiny, his own life. Of course, the scientist is passionate, like a master, but if a master cannot sell his horseshoe, and the scientist cannot make a discovery, then they will not do it.
Philosophers are completely different. Therefore, there were philosophers who hid the most valuable of what they wrote. As, for example, Leibniz, who has a second — esoteric – creative work. Or Aristotle. After all, his works that we know are esoteric works, and the dialogues that he wrote for the public disappeared altogether. Or, say, the Pythagoreans, for whom the closeness was of a programmatic nature. If you take my life, it was so stupid in it that already at school I perceived the general humanitarian, ideological things as real — they had real meaning for me. For example, Gorky, his stories, “Gadfly”, all this romance, communist ideology, fraternity had real meaning for me. They were neither a superstructure, nor a second layer, but they were something very important, about which I could never tell anyone that it was important.
There were no tragedies in my life. No, and dramas neither. My life can even be called boring, smooth, there are no recessions, ups, special meetings, discrepancies, situations on the verge of life and death, risky ventures. In this sense, it is devoid of mysticism. It seems to me that I never attached much importance to how my life is outwardly arranged, how well it is, whether it wins or loses compared to others.
Maybe due to the fact that I had no idea that some kind of constellation of events is preferable. Of course, there were different periods. I lived in a hostel, was without money, was homeless. Then I had good conditions. But all this neither inspired, impressed, nor depressed me. Something like the weather or the environment. The absence of events can be justified only when life itself becomes an event, but I do not seem to have this excuse either.
If I had an event in my life, then such a unique event was Zinoviev. It happens: a man has met with a tiger and then all his life he will be walking and saying: “I have seen a tiger!” There was also one student friend who had a strong influence on me. We were close first and foremost in the rebellious spirit of a communist character. But he died early. He was a very strong personality. And we were united by the rejection of Khrushchev. My first publication was co-authored with him — a report on a student conference on physics in the Philosophical Sciences.
O.Z.: If you wrote your biography as opposed to the questionnaire, where would you start? After all, you can start from today or from any moment.
A.G .: I would start from the end; Nabokov wrote his essay on Gogol in this way. It begins with the death of Gogol and ends with how he was born. And I would start at a later time (alas, I can’t start from death), because I have a feeling that I am now better than before, in my perception. If I were offered to magically exchange my later age for a younger one, I would not agree. It seems to me that earlier I was more limited, primitive, poorer spiritually. I would start from the end — and moved there — it is better seen like this. There, in my youth, in fact, I do not see anything special (except for stupid enthusiasm and penchant for books). It never occurred to me that I could become a rich person or an engineer, a pilot. I could imagine that I would be a barrister. The image of a humanitarian person — a lawyer, a teacher – has been always close to me.
O.Z.: Perhaps, because you knew this — before you there was the image of the teacher, your father.
A.G.: Yes, we have such a family tradition. But my brothers went a different way. Dad took me to school. There, in one room, students of different classes were sitting. Since the age of five, I sat in the classroom on the windowsill and often knew the answer better than the school-students. My father took me off the windowsill, and I walked to the board. Then I lived in a town with my uncle and studied there, and when his family returned to the village, I found myself in a boarding school. But I do not have any feeling of deprivation, of being deprived in childhood. No regrets. There was neither a feeling that I deserved more, nor a feeling that I was lucky. The only unpleasant impression is the terrible wind in the town. I am going to school, and this terrible wind is blowing. This is the Caspian lowland, and there are many days a year with wind and dust. I remember the traces of the war: there were bandits in the mountains, in the queues — the military, they beat each other with crutches. I came to Moscow in 1955. It disappointed me — because I was expecting something magical. I remember myself since I was 4 years old. This is the first impression that I can accurately document.
OZ: Why did you decide to enter the Faculty of Philosophy? What was the image of philosophy that attracted you? How did you imagine your professional future?
A.G .: I don’t know how psychologists divide the abilities (general inclinations, dispositions) of a person. But, if among them there is such an ability as reverie, then in youth it was precisely that prevailed in my nature over the others. This is the most general reason why I longed for philosophy. Specifically, everything looked as follows. I read the brochures on philosophy published by the society whose aim was to spread the political and scientific knowledge (later this society was called “Knowledge”). Among them came one, dedicated to the law of unity and struggle of opposites. From it I learned that everything in the world is developing thanks to contradictions. Having understood this statement literally, I thought: what contradiction is the source of human development, maybe the contradiction between the mind and the heart? And I decided to go to the Faculty of Philosophy to find the answer to this question. I had no concrete idea of philosophy, nor did I have any idea of my professional future. The only thing I can say: I liked the publicity, conversations and debates on humanitarian topics.
At the faculty it turned out that I had no real idea of philosophy. At the first lecture (it was given by V.V. Sokolov) we were told about Anaximander’s apeiron. Further — more: eidos, entelechy, pneuma, substance … Philosophy turned out to be a very special, unlike anything, realm. There were things that weren’t anywhere, and the language that people don’t speak was spoken there. And if I entered this kingdom relatively easily, it was due to the lack of any preliminary preparation, due to the fact that I did not understand the dangers hidden in that kingdom, the same way children are innocently and trustingly drawn to the fire. As I advanced in philosophy, it was becoming for me not clearer and clearer, but more complicated and confusing. Each time it has been revealed, and is being revealed, that it is deeper, that it is something different from what I think. Boethius wanted to console himself with philosophy. How can it console — after all, it is a continuous minefield. Unless it could console from worldly sufferings. Of course, my images of philosophy have changed. The only thing I was not mistaken in is that nowhere except philosophy can dreaminess be satisfied in such a way that it does not go into the void, but is transformed into something serious and responsible. And the question that interested me turned out to be philosophical and so philosophical that the whole philosophy, in essence, deals only with it.
My perception of the ottepel (thaw) and perestroika eras was different. The beginning of the thaw and my entry into conscious life synchronized. The story of I. Ehrenburg, which gave the name to this period of Soviet history, appeared in 1954. At that time I graduated from the 8th form. I did not move to the thaw from the harsh winter of Stalinism, as, for example, my older friends, men of the Sixties. I entered into it as if it were a normal state. I did not perceive the thaw as a conquest, a hope. Therefore, I (perhaps, like my whole generation) noticed sharper the flaws, understatement, inconsistency than achievements, because I did not see any achievement in these achievements, but considered them as a norm and a starting point for moving forward. I compared achievements not with what had been, but with what I would like to have. Let’s say, the secret report of N.S. Khrushchev at the XX Congress of the CPSU, criticizing the Stalin personality cult, was a joy and an opportunity for the Sixtiers, who, as a matter of fact, like to call themselves children of the XX Congress. The fact of the report itself was important for them, they did not focus on the fact that it was closed. I rather was dissatisfied that the party tried to make a secret of it. My attitude to Khrushchev’s politics can be rather called critical, and not because of the policy itself, but because of its inconsistency, fussiness, and vulgarity. I defended my dissertation in October 1964, and accordingly I was writing an abstract in the midst of a glorification to Khrushchev. Then, as, however, in the future, it was customary to start an abstract with a certain general premise, designed to show that the topic fits into the official ideological canon (reference to the party program, the goals of communist construction, a quote from the speech of the First Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, etc. .). But I began the text of the abstract with the phrase «The dissertation consists of an introduction and three chapters», and then everything went on in the same everyday tone. It was a small action. I remember my post-graduate comrades laughing, running and telling others about it.
Perestroika is another matter. It was perceived by me and most people as a revelation, as a long-awaited breakthrough. Perestroika was perceived in contrast with the mustiness, intellectual squalor and falsehood of the late Brezhnev era. I took it at face value. At the beginning of 1986, when the XXVII Congress of the CPSU took place, Czech colleagues (I was then teaching at Charles University), full of hope and fear, asked me to speak at their meeting and tell them what all this meant. I spoke and interpreted the plan of M.S. Gorbachev as an action in the spirit of the later works of V.I. Lenin, something like NEP. Perestroika seemed to me a humanistic renewal of socialism, the acquisition of forms more adequate to its essence. For me personally, these years, especially 1987-1989, were the best in my life, when its internal and external manifestations were almost in harmony.
Both the thaw and perestroika were positive in my philosophical life. Yes, perhaps in personal as well. During these years, in my immediate environment, among my colleagues and friends, I felt more confident and comfortable. Honestly, I bless my stars for everything and I don’t think that some socio-political eras and trends affected me destructively. But if we distribute different periods of our lives according to the value criterion, then the thaw and perestroika deserve the highest praise.
When I graduated from the university, the department of ethics and aesthetics was opened and I went to it. I wrote a thesis in the department of Russian philosophy about one of the enlighteners, who was my ancestor, about Hasan Alkadari. He died in 1910. This is one of the first widely educated Dagestan enlighteners. He has works on the history of theology, philosophy. He was the brother of my grandfather. My father studied from him, received a spiritual education, but after the revolution of 1917 he became a teacher. There are books and dissertations about Alkadari, his anniversaries are celebrated. There was his cult in the family. He wrote the only one history of Dagestan. This book was in the Lenin’s Library, and I used it. He had a life motto that I would be ready to accept fully. He took it from Hafiz:
For the good in both worlds
Just keep these two rules:
With friends be affectionate in speeches,
Make a compromise with the enemy.
They said about him «Hasan with a leather sword.» By the way, he considered it a great blessing that fate connected Dagestan with Russia, he said that this was the path to enlightenment, he introduced the teaching of secular disciplines, a globe, and similar things.
O.Z.: Was he an influential figure not only spiritually, but also politically?
A.G.: Of course. He was even sent to Russia for four years. The fact is that there was an uprising there in 1877 and he did not oppose it, but expressed sympathy. He was not executed, but sent to Russia, and for four years he lived in the town of Spasskoye in the Tambov Region. This is all more or less known, described. He was also a poet, he has his own poems. In the family, his name was always steeped with legends, there was constant talk of what happened to his library, who came to him, what he said. In general, a legendary figure. The poet Suleiman Stalsky wrote satirical poems about all the villages of the district — he everywhere found that which is worthy of ridicule. And thanks to Hasan, he wrote the only thing about our village:
Here you will not receive the land as a gift,
Extremely expensive product,
But he’s not bad, Alkadar —
Here is a place of bright learning.
Many of our famous poets wrote verses in his honor.
O.Z.: What does such an ancestor mean to you?
A.G.: He always meant a lot for me. I have recently read that one famous Chechen woman said: «Being a Chechen in Moscow is a great responsibility.» I understand her. It has always been like this: if you do something bad, it falls on the nation and the people. For us family is very important. I know the grave of my great-great-grandfather — he died at the boundary of the 18th-19th centuries. This summer, I visited the grave of another great-great-grandfather (by mother), Mohammed Yaraginsky, who was a theologian, ideologist of the Shamil movement and who is now highly revered in Dagestan due to the changed attitude towards Islam. I am talking about all this, as you are asking. But I am not sure that this is interesting to anyone and is generally relevant. Everyone has their own family history, their ancestors, and among them there will always be people with something wonderful, famous.
O.Z.: And what was the department of ethics when you went to it?
A.G.: Formally, it was created at the turn of 1960-1961. Joint Department of Ethics and Aesthetics. Professor M.F. Ovsyannikov was appointed to be the Head of it.. He was a man in his own way wise and masterful and began to develop it as a department of aesthetics. And rightly so. He created a full-fledged department of aesthetics. We, several graduate students in ethics, were taken there: Slava Kondakov, I and someone else. Then we were moved to istmat (historical materialism). So we dandled around (by the way, together with two associate professors who taught ethics — V.V. Kazarinov and T.V. Samsonova). In 1969, they created an independent department of ethics. Since 1965, I worked at the Department of Philosophy of the Humanities Faculties, and taught dialectic and historical materialism at the Faculty of Journalism. Five years at this department may be the best in my working life. Both intellectually and by the atmosphere. I just came to the department and immediately began to give a course of lectures. I did not know anything — it was horror. That is, I knew, of course, a lot of things. But did not know these specific topics. As I remember now, 18 topics of the diamat and 16 of the istmat. A real battle began — I had to study (after all, 250 students listened to my lectures), and I won it, but did nothing else during these years.
My first article was published in “Philosophical Sciences” (1964. No. 3) and was called “The Problem of the Origin of Morality (on the Example of the Development of the Institute of Blood Vengeance)”. It was devoted to an idea that morality does not arise together with the genesis of the human being and the first human communities, but as the primitive herd is differentiated internally, and when some fixed (regulated) relationship between the individual and society is formed. Individuals isolate themselves initially as representatives of the clan — within the tribe, then (or simultaneously) as representatives of a certain gender and age group, etc. up to the appearance of an individual (personal) behavior at the stage of transition to civilization, when, within the framework of separation, spiritual production is separated from material production. All this was illustrated by the example of the evolution of the custom of blood vengeance, it was shown how the circle of persons on whom the duty of revenge lay gradually narrowed, how the very nature of this duty changed, etc.
The article was led by the member of the editorial board Professor A.G. Kharchev (later he was the first opponent to my Ph.D. thesis). He estimated it positively, made some remarks. I took them into account, gave the article to the editor. There, too, they accepted it, they were even glad, and again there were some working remarks. I also took them into account. Then, for some reason, the article was sent to a specialist philosopher who had previously published a large book on the origin of mankind, which was popular. He sent a devastating review, which in terms of volume almost exceeded the article itself. I do not think the review was unfair. Not to mention the factual comments, which were probably justified, because the reviewer possessed anthropological material undoubtedly better, there was one more point. In my article, I proceeded from the hypothesis that society does not begin with separate individuals, who are then united by the power of social regulation into society, but with a collective individual, internally undivided and acting as one face of the herd, which during the formation of society is separated into individuals. The reviewer proceeded from the belief that the emergence of society is based on the process of restraining of zoological individualism, which is achieved through social regulation. Without denying the technical weakness of the article, I nevertheless think that the main reason for the negative attitude towards it was this difference in position.
Be that as it may, the article received a negative review from a recognized authority. A.G. Kharchev turned out to be a strong man, he believed that his opinion was also worth something, and began to defend the article. Work began on clearing the text of the article in the light of the comments of the reviewer, but without changing its principle basis. There were a few rounds. I remember once I brought one of the variants to Kharchev directly to the station (he lived in Leningrad). In general, the article hardly passed the editorial board, it was sent to the printing-office. Before signing the issue in print, the editor-in-chief M.T. Iovchuk read the article and, as I was told, got furious. Speaking of the extraordinary cohesion of the primitive herd, I used the word «equality». He saw in this a hidden caricature of communism, which was associated with the ideal of equality, and demanded that the article be immediately removed. Here, the editorial staff E. Loshkarev and S. Pruzhinin interfered and helped, they treated me very warmly and understood the far-fetched nature of the main remarks. They told him that if the article were removed, the printing house would pay a large bill for the alteration, and the journal already had financial difficulties. Iovchuk then decided to print the word “equality”, wherever it is used in connection with the primitive herd, in inverted commas. So they did. The article, which I rewrote nine times, was published, and I was able to defend my dissertation on time. This was the first time that inverted commas saved me. Once again, they saved me later, when I published the first article on the golden rule of morality.
In those years when I began to develop the theme of the origin of morality, there were two theses in literature and in the public mind that were considered obviously indisputable and directly connected with the prevailing ideological pathos. It was believed (this was the first thesis) that morality arises with the origin of society, it does not even arise, but is originally organic to it. Although this statement was contrary to the idea of the secondary (superstructural) nature of morality, it was nevertheless widely spread for the reason that it was considered to be an important argument confirming the existence of the pre-religious era in the history of mankind. Morality exists initially, religious beliefs and myths arise later. Therefore, morality is independent of religion. In addition, since there was a pre-religious era, there will be a post-religious era. The second thesis argued that morality is based on labor. At the same time, it was not clear where the specific place of morality in the structure of labor activity was located: either it ensured the co-operation of actions, or was responsible for restraining the direct reactions of individuals to build the labor process as a chain of acts separated in time and space of actions and their results.
When I put forward the hypothesis of the stadial origin of morality, I attributed this process to the second basic stage of the pre-civilization era — the tribal system — and associated it with the gradual separation of individuals from the primitive human herd. This was seen as a small heresy, despite the fact that, by the way, I was supported by the thought of K. Marx that man is isolated as an individual only by the power of the historical process. Initially, he acts as a social creature, tribal creature, herd animal. It was decided to discuss the chapter of my dissertation at a meeting of the department (it was the department of historical materialism). It somehow happened that there were no other issues on the agenda of that meeting. A large department (together with about 30 graduate students) gathered for the sole purpose of discussing the chapter of the candidate dissertation. It was unusual and, I think, happened by chance. I well remember the meeting when it took place, in which room (December 1963, room 30), my fellow graduate students who were excited and supported me. As for the course of the meeting, specific arguments, etc., I don’t remember anything of this. Some belligerence was demonstrated by only one associate professor, who gave the ethics course and was then the deputy head of the department and initiated this discussion (by the way, later, during the defense of the dissertation, he actively supported me; the circumstances were such that when he was already a very old man, I remained the only colleague who maintained a relationship with him). The professors and associate professors (Kh.N. Momdzhyan, D.F. Kozlov, G.M. Andreeva and others), after hearing me, my answers to the questions, were imbued with my sincerity and dedication and were indulgent to the fact that my judgments were, maybe, weakly reasoned. The reproach for ignoring the role of labor in explaining the origin of morality was especially murderous. After all, there was a famous work of F. Engels «The role of labor in the process of turning a monkey into a man.» In addition, labor is indeed a fundamental factor distinguishing man and society from nature. My answer was this: labor is the basis not only of morality, but also of art, science, etc. Therefore, it is important to more specifically investigate what characteristics of labor activity by themselves and through other processes mediated by it give rise to the need for moral regulation of relations between people. It ended with the words of the head of the department, Professor D.I. Chesnokov, who, in his philosophically calm manner and very memorable, slightly stretched and lazy voice, said (I recall from memory, but almost literally): “The origin of morality was a long time ago, and no one knows how it happened. Let the post-graduate student work. ”
This discussion shook me up. I put an end to the carelessness of my post-graduate student life and set myself a strict, very intense rhythm of work (at least 14 hours at the table, no cigarettes, even beer, etc.). In this mode, I spent two shocking months and finished work by the time I had set out for myself — by March 8, 1964. I think then I squeezed out everything that was possible from me. Another thing is that then my educational and intellectual potential was not so rich. At the same time, I did not try at all to soften the statements that were criticized, on the contrary, designated them more convexly and persistently. In particular, I clarified the topic of the dissertation and designated it as “The conditions of the origin of morality”), thereby attributing the origin itself to an even later date and more mature social relations. I set out the results of my work in the article that we have already talked about. Incidentally, that article was also criticized (with the same accusations of ignoring the role of labor) in the fall of 1964 at a methodological seminar at the Institute of Philosophy of the USSR Academy of Sciences in the main report; a review of that discussion was published in The Questions of Philosophy (1965, No. 1).
S.F. Anisimov persuaded me to go to the department (of ethics), and in 1970 I moved, although they loved me on the previous one, celebrated my 30th birthday, and very quickly made me a senior lecturer and assistant professor. They trusted me, loved me, I felt protected. It was also a bountiful time – Kosygin’s reform. After the transition, I immediately left for a year to Germany, and after returning, as we initially had agreed with Anisimov, I began to teach the history of ethics and this became my specialty. After time spent in Germany, I already knew German well. There, in Germany, I developed a language study program, and there I discovered the golden rule and began to study it. I found it while working with my new literature in the library of the University of Humboldt. It could be connected with the problem of the origin of morality. In this sense, no one advised me anything. (My supervisor for the Ph.D. thesis was Professor A.G. Spirkin, who had recently published the book “The Origin of Consciousness”. He was a wonderful specialist and a man of wide views, freedom-loving. He wanted me to expand the contents of the chapter of his book on the origin of moral consciousness in my dissertation. But when I went the other way and proposed my version, he did not mind. His manner of supervising — not to impose, but to give creative space, to support unexpected lines of thought — seems to me productive.)
In the late 1960s I was involved in Komsomol activities in the preparation of various programs, in particular, the program “Youth and Social Progress”, I became connected with the publishing house “Molodaya Gvardiya” and was preparing the book “Higher Values”. It was a collection of texts. The publisher asked me to write a popular book about the golden rule, and I got an idea to write it in the form of a dialogue. It gives a certain freedom: it frees from logic, from consistency, gives artistic freedom.
O.Z.: But this is risky, since the reader in this case also makes artistic demands.
A.G .: This is true, but to be sincere — it’s okay: after all, we are talking with each other, not being great writers. In this book, names, examples are all real. I could not invent anything, I always started from something. This is a kind of indicator of sincerity. I did not cheat.
O.Z.: At that time, Marxism was a socio-philosophical basis for you. How would you define such a basis for your recent research and theory of negative morality?
A.G.: If there is such a basis, then I think it is the same Marxism in the form in which it was formulated in the famous Theses on Feuerbach. I express myself uncertainly because when you work on specific problems, you do not think about the general ideological and methodological basis of their solutions, although, of course, there is such a basis. It is more likely to be detected retroactively, subsequently. I will indicate only a few points.
The first thesis, obliging one to consider reality subjectively, defines an ontology that coincides with social practice and acts to a large extent as a conscious, individual, responsible way of being. This opens up a methodological perspective that makes it possible to overcome the alternative of Stoicism and Epicureism and interpret morality as being itself in its purposeful expression. The ninth thesis, with its formula that the educator must also be educated, contains a criterion fundamental to ethical theory that separates morality from moralization. Finally, from the famous eleventh thesis (“Philosophers have only explained the world in various ways, but the thing is to change it”) it follows without a doubt that morality must be interpreted as a field of actions and that ethics should not be considered simply as part (or even an aspect )of philosophy, but as its core, its deepest meaning. Recently, when I first arrived in London, I visited the grave of Karl Marx. There, on the monument, exactly the words of the eleventh thesis “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways — the point however is to change it” are carved. (In the original, it sounds like «Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert, es kommt aber darauf an sie zu verandern.»)
And what is the art of ethical analysis, if not the fact that the thinker enters a cage with a tiger without being torn by it ?! The book “Great Moralists” considers nine different ethical and normative programs that have proven their vitality both in the individual experience of their authors and in the history of culture. How would a person who read this book answer the question: “Which of these ethical programs is, if not more true, but even more preferable?” So, after having read this book, he will not be able to answer it. Such a conclusion does not follow from it. Each of these programs, according to the criterion of reliability, humanistic admissibility, is equal to itself. I wrote each of these essays as if I myself were the author of these teachings. That is, I wrote each essay, internally experiencing and accepting the corresponding teaching. This is the basis of this book. Different cultures have different ethical programs, different moral images, and each of them has the same right to exist. This means that every person has a duty and privilege to build their own morally painted world. As for moralizing or moral demagogy, this is different: they take place when moral concepts are used as a form of domination of one person over another, a form of spiritual cover for such domination, when moral concepts are a kind of club, which one person beats another. After all, moral standards, for example, the golden rule, exist in order for a person to understand himself, and not in order to teach another. Here is a key point, and in this sense it can be said that the book “Great Moralists” is a variant of such an interpretation of morality and ethics, which contradicts moral demagogy. It would be possible to accept Kant’s position and evaluate everything from it. But I don’t do it. The subject does not allow this. In connection with my idea of negative ethics, this just means that if we accept fundamental prohibitions as a general condition, then within this framework a variety of lifelines, programs can be built. It may happen that you will be a Jew, an Islamist, a Nietzschean, or someone else. Why not? What is the problem? The problem begins only when one person wants to subjugate another, that is, when he wants to circumvent the ban that we have adopted and which should not be circumvented; when in his moral thinking he goes beyond the framework of individually responsible behavior; when he begins to speak on behalf of morality in general.
Once I had the opportunity to express my opinion about the difference between a philosopher and a professor of philosophy (a specialist in philosophy). Aristotle, Hegel, Marx are one thing, and the candidate and doctor of sciences, who write monographs about them and teach their teachings, are different. I consider myself a professor of philosophy, and in this sense I should have been guided in self-esteem by the criterion of professionalism. But. And not even one “but”, but several. To be a good professor of philosophy, you yourself need to be a philosopher for a little bit, try yourself in philosophy. This is a general consideration. There is one more private moment. I practiced ethics in the Marxist tradition. As you know, there are no bedrock texts on the ethics of Marxism, there are even judgments of the founders of Marxism that cast doubt on the very possibility of the ethics of Marxism. Therefore, we, those who began to specialize in this area of philosophy in the 1960s soviet history, were forced to create their own versions of ethics. We did this and, of course, in many cases did poorly. Indeed, professionalism is one thing, and completely free original philosophizing is quite another: the first one is from one’s own zeal, the second one is from God.
There is one more difficulty here. Not even difficulty, but danger is the danger of amateurism. It lies in wait for, in the first place, the teachers of philosophy. The courses that I, as a teacher, had to teach in accordance with the curriculum, covered too many topics so that they could be mastered at a professionally impeccable level. One Epicurus would be enough for a whole lifetime. To get out of this difficulty, I tried to enter into a direct dialogue with the philosophers themselves, about whom I talked and wrote, without involving numerous intermediaries for this, although, of course, it was impossible to completely manage without them.
Professionalism as a consequence and the basis for the rational regulation of social life in our time has also affected those areas of spiritual activity that, by their nature, cannot become a profession. Can poetry become a professional occupation?! Pushkin wrote that inspiration is not for sale, but the manuscript can be sold. Time has shown: the line between inspiration and the manuscript is blurred just then and for the reason that the latter can be sold. Recently, the media talked about the strike of Hollywood screenwriters. 12 thousand people participated in it. They write screenplays in teams: one is responsible for a dialogue, the other for the plot, the third for something else, etc. So philosophy was drawn into the system of professionally fragmented organization of activities. Of course, this does not go unpunished. An interesting fact: almost all the outstanding modern Russian philosophers — A.A. Zinoviev, E.V. Ilyenkov, A.F. Losev, M.M. Bakhtin, B.C. Bibler, P.G. Shchedrovitsky — either were removed from their posts in philosophical institutions, or had big problems in this capacity. This is unlikely to be associated only with the Soviet system. After all, V.S. Soloviev was forced to leave the department.
In my opinion, of all the possible forms of institutionalizing philosophy, the most reasonable, although certainly not ideal, is our Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences. As for the university departments of philosophy, they need to be given more freedom and significantly decreased of the burden.
In a word, my romance with philosophy is for me the source of the deepest experiences and conflicting feelings, among which there is a place for jealousy and humiliation.
Due to some peculiarities (possibly psychological pathologies), I like listening more than talking. I often noticed how some of my colleagues were annoyed if they were unable to speak at any public discussion. In such cases, I only rejoice. The most difficult thing in philosophy for me is to keep a thought. I think my philosophical analysis technique is lame. My professional language is close to natural language, perhaps too close to be considered a virtue.
It is wrong to think that you can save the Institute by sacrificing someone. I clearly understand that out of 300 academicians, several dozen correspond to very strict criteria, but I am sure that they are such only in this general environment. If there weren’t this environment, including those from who, it would seem, you can painlessly get rid of, then they would not be who they are. It is difficult to explain why this happens, but it is so. Maybe we have now lost the criterion for the ratio of outstanding researchers and the broth, the environment in which they are boiled: maybe this environment is now even less than it should be. A very important thing is that one cannot approach the Institute as a special case of a certain general process, as an exemplar of a series. It must be understood that the Institute, like people, is something unique. The Institute of Philosophy has existed since 1929, in 1936 it was included in the Academy of Sciences. But the Institute of Philosophy in the modern sense formed in the I960-1970s. and has its own unique look.
I perceive the Institute as a living being — with its own special structure, instincts, behavioral stereotypes. Like any living creature, it acts in accordance with its nature, knows its own benefits. If, within the framework of this analogy, administration is the head, then it can only think about the optimal coordination of different organs, but not at all about what you can get rid of. Montaigne said that judging should be according to reason, but to live according to mores. A very wise thought. In practical matters it is impossible to proceed from ideal schemes. Straight lines are only in mathematics, in real life they are not.
More specifically, the Institute is now facing two serious challenges. There are, of course, questions related to remuneration, other material factors that are given from the outside. But I leave them aside and speak only of the trials that we faced precisely as a unique team of academicians in the field of philosophy. The first challenge: currently there is an intensive process of formalization, codification of the work of institutions. It is very important to find such solutions in this direction that would preserve the atmosphere of trust, free creativity, and democratic relations established at the Institute. It is important, because of the quantitative indicators, we do not lose the ability to single out and evaluate really talented works in a special way. After all, our Institute is primarily valuable as an expert community, capable of adequately assessing who is who in the field of philosophy.
The second challenge: the Institute has held and still holds on to philosophers of the sixties. They are getting old, leaving. There is a generational change. The face of the Institute is changing. We still cannot even say in which direction. I think we should take a closer look at the changes that have occurred in the last decade. This transition, both in the sense of changing generations and in the sense of changing research emphasis, is a critical phase in the life of the Institute.
The dispersion of topics that have been noted lately, the isolation of the work of sectors is not an external thing. This is due to an increase in the professional level of research. At first glance, the Institute is a collection of individual researchers. Each is engaged in a specific thinker, even a separate text, a specific period. What is a common field, the uniting foundation? There is no answer yet. The Sixtiers solved an important spiritual task related to the history of the country. Now this is not visible. The return of philosophy to the fold of religion, when religions are given the life-meaning questions, and philosophy remains the technique of thought, as it was in the Middle Ages, this will not work. In any case, not at our Institute. And what will become the unifying basis of the Institute is a very difficult question.
Our Institute has an extremely important function — to mediate between society and the entire historical and philosophical tradition: to guard that the most important achievements of philosophy are represented in our culture. To mediate between our culture and the philosophical traditions of other cultures — Western, Eastern. Perform a research function in order to maintain the level of philosophy as an educational discipline, so that it is perceived in society at a serious professional level, without vulgarization. The Institute was formed in such a way that it could do philosophy in all the richness of its parts and traditions. This is a very important feature of our Institute among philosophical institutions in the world. We have specialists, moreover, first-class specialists, in ancient philosophy, in medieval philosophy, in Russian philosophy, in Eastern philosophies, in modern Western philosophy, in epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, philosophy of science, logic. When all this exists within the framework of one community where direct communication is possible, all this creates a unique academic environment, especially when you consider that the Institute itself is part of the Academy, where all areas of knowledge are represented at a good level.