Cultural Reality


Florian Znaniecki

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The present study of cultural reality constitutes the first part of a general introduction to the philosophy of culture, to be supplemented soon by a second part bearing upon the fundamental principles of creative activity. As will be clear from the first chapter of the present volume, in calling the body of knowledge for which this introduction intends to lay the formal foundations a "philosophy of culture," I do not mean to say that it is a mere branch of philosophy in general, but to indicate by this term a standpoint and a method applicable to the entire field of research which has belonged or can belong to philosophy. This field is incomparably wider than, not only scientists, but even professional philosophers are now inclined to admit. There can be hardly a more paradoxical situation found in the history of knowledge than that of modern professional philosophy, which is slowly waning for lack of material, whereas at no other period was there such a wealth and variety of ready materials at hand.

We find the question quite seriously discussed whether philosophy has or not a subject-matter of its own, while innumerable concrete problems, as vital, as positive, as important, as those which any theoretic discipline ever had to deal. with, are waiting to be adequately formulated and solved by a well-organized and self-conscious philosophy. We see philosophers trying to put an artificial life into old systems, or attempting to synthetize the ready results of special sciences, or reducing their discipline to a mere investigation of the methodological and ontological presuppositions of these sciences, or even resigning all unity of philosophical purposes and methods and dissolving philosophy into a multiplicity of partly philosophical, partly scientific or practical, monographs.


Things have gone so far that philosophers are almost ashamed of their profession and seriously try to justify the fact that they are still doing some philosophical work by limiting this work to what in their opinion may be directly useful to the scientist or practitioner. They do not seem to realize that in the division of scientific labor each branch of knowledge can be useful to others only if it has an independent significance of its own; if, instead of merely reflecting about the problems of other sciences, it can by its own power draw from our empirical world-the object-matter of all theory-problems which no other discipline can state and solve. But philosophy is officially denied such a power; it is supposed to have no vitality of its own. Interesting illustrations of this view can be found in the attitude of philosophical faculties. Thus, the Faculty of Paris decided about ten years ago that students of philosophy who intended to do systematic (not only historical) philosophical work should be advised to take a degree in mathematical and physical sciences. A similar attitude prevailed in Vienna under the influence of Mach, in Cracow where a prominent biologist was appointed associate professor of philosophy, and at many German universities, particularly in Leipzig. The same lack of confidence in philosophy shows itself in the emphasis that in America is put upon psychology as a discipline which, having more positive problems than it can embrace at its present stage, may give the poor philosopher who lacks material something to work upon.

While such conditions prevail in professional philosophy, simultaneously, an incalculable amount of philosophical work is being done by men who profess to be scientific specialists and classify their philosophical theories as belonging to the domains of their respective special disciplines. The literature of sociology, psychology, political and economical sciences history, philology, aesthetic criticism, contains not only fragments of works, but whole voluminous works whose

(vii) proper place is not at all indicated by their classification; for whatever may be the field from which they take their raw materials, their methods of research, the content of their concepts, the types of their systematization are certainly not scientific, but comply with philosophical standards, though often rather imperfectly.

The chief reason why such theories are not definitively excluded from the domains of the respective sciences is the insufficient methodical development of the latter; the sciences of culture have not yet elaborated and applied their criteria of scientific validity as perfectly and consistently as the sciences of nature have done in their own field. In fact, in the measure in which the consciousness of scientific aims and methods progresses in the domain of cultural knowledge, we see a growing tendency to get rid of all influences popularly called "metaphysical," just as natural science did long ago. This tendency has been for more than one generation manifest in psychology and has since the beginning of the present century shown itself very clearly in sociology and economical science.

But the interesting point is that the non-scientific types of problematization, justly excluded from these sciences, do not lose their vitality as did most of the old "philosophy of nature" when supplanted by positive scientific investigations. They return continually, impose themselves upon the attention of both the theorist and the practical man. We see, for instance, innumerable particular and general problems formulated in terms of values-moral, aesthetic, religious, political, intellectual, hedonistic---surviving all scientific analysis of valuations, reappearing sometimes most unexpectedly in - the midst of purely scientific researches, disturbing their `' methodical perfection, and impairing the positive validity of their results. We find the tendency to put concrete problems from the standpoint of liberty and creativeness persisting in spite of the extension of the principle of causality to all fields of activity, and frequently influencing even men who want to

(viii) remain pure scientists. And so on. The very progress of scientific method in the domain of culture limits the possibilities of its application; by showing how to put scientific problems, it shows that there are problems in this domain which, however vital, cannot be scientific, and thus forces us to recognize the existence and the importance of a completely different problematization.

It is certainly time to proceed to a more critical and systematic elaboration and application of this non-scientific methodological standpoint which we continually take, intentionally or unintentionally, with regard to the cultural phenomena. This will help cultural sciences in their efforts to reach a perfect scientific method free from disturbing factors, and will permit us to supplement their investigations by a completely different but equally necessary philosophical type of studies. For the standpoint which cultural sciences have to exclude is precisely that which has most commonly been accepted by philosophy as its own. Logic, ethics, aesthetics, often even metaphysics, have been essentially concerned with problems of values, and the acceptance of freedom or creation in some form or other, as against the exclusively causal scientific viewpoint, has been a characteristic feature of most of the great philosophical systems. Modern philosophy is conscious that these are the two points to which its existence is attached, that in the domain of values and in that of creative freedom there is something left for it to do independently and outside of science. The two relatively most vital philosophical schools are precisely those which took these two points respectively for their fundamental object-matter-the philosophy of values in Germany, with Windelband, Rickert, Münsterberg, and some measure perhaps also Meinong, Husserl, and the American new realists, though their terminologies are different; and the philosophy of creation in France, with Renouvier, Guyau, Bergson, and his followers. And pragmatism, which is rather a current of

(ix) thought than a school, is continually, even if unsystematically, working on both of these problems.

The great mistake which modern philosophy committed in this line was to treat the problems of values and of creative freedom in their general formulation as ultimate and self-sufficient, instead of taking them only as starting-points of future investigations, as mere problems of philosophical methodology. All a philosopher usually attempted to do was to show that there are values or that there is creative freedom in spite of science which ignores or rejects both. Sometimes he tried to classify and define the fundamental types of values or to indicate where and how creative freedom manifests itself in the world; with this, he thought his task accomplished, the philosophical problem of values, the philosophical problem of creation, all solved. Accustomed to the fact that philosophy in the technical sense of the term has progressively limited itself to the most abstract, formal problems, he could hardly realize that there was in the subject-matter of his study a new opening by which his discipline might pass from the narrow inclosure of formal discussions into the wide, inexhaustible field of concrete empirical materials.

The importance of the problems of values and of creative freedom does not lie merely in the fact that they permit us to believe in something more than scientific data and laws. Their significance for philosophy is exactly parallel to that which the problem of causality has for science. They are simply problems of philosophical method. In putting and solving them philosophy might have reached something incomparably more important than a few more or less new metaphysical conceptions: it could have critically established a methodological foundation for future investigations, thanks to which it might have begun to develop an independent, empirical, philosophical knowledge, bearing on the same raw materials as science, but obtaining from them, by a radically

(x) different and original treatment, an indefinitely growing and systematically organized body of theoretically and practically vital truths, which science by the necessary limitation of its standpoint can never reach. This possibility was occasionally foreseen by some philosophers. Thus, Bergson has thought of a philosophical and yet empirical knowledge supplementing science, but his mystical doctrine of intuition and his narrow conception of logic preclude any possibility of future development. The pragmatists, particularly Dewey, had at one time a much clearer conception of what might be done in this line; but their lack of faith in philosophy in the technical sense of the term and their mistrust of systematization have prevented them up to now from developing organically and consistently this empirical philosophy which their principles seem to require, and makes them often leave to non-philosophical disciplines empirical problems which can be attacked only by a thoroughly and critically elaborated, completely original, philosophical method.

The work of which the present book constitutes the first part was originally, years ago, meant to be nothing but a methodological introduction to a philosophy of cultural activities to which I was led by a study of some general historical and sociological problems. But new difficulties arose at every step of this methodological investigation, and with every difficulty the field widened. The main point was how to reconcile the conceptions of reality as a world of practical values and of thought as empirically creative and yet objectively valid human activity, which an adequate philosophical treatment of cultural problems seemed to demand, with the naturalistic view of reality prevalent in science, and the idealistic view of thought found not only in systems of philosophical idealism, but in almost all classical logic. For at first I did not even dare to touch these most fundamental problems in their general significance and hoped to construct a methodological viewpoint sufficient for the

(xi) purpose of what I thought then a special branch of philosophical investigation, without going too far into ontological and logical discussions. This hope proved vain; it became more and more evident that a philosophy of culture, if it wanted to take seriously and thoroughly into consideration the empirical problems concerning cultural values and activities, had to revise the whole traditional philosophical problematization. I tried to clear the ground for my methodology in several philosophical monographs published in Polish (The Problem of Values in Philosophy, Warsaw, 1910; Humanism and Knowledge, Warsaw, 1912; The Significance of Evolution, Warsaw, 1914) and a series of articles between 1909 and 1915 in the Philosophical Review of Warsaw. The results of these studies seemed to indicate, first, that a philosophy of culture, if fully and adequately treated, must become a complete empirical theory of all activity in its bearing upon reality, and must thus include the totality of the subject-matter of all existing philosophical disciplines and much more besides; secondly, that the methodology of a philosophy thus conceived must be based on a systematic and complete treatment of the formal characters which all empirical reality acquires as object-matter of activity and of those which all empirical activity assumes when taking reality as its object-matter-a treatment which, unlike most of the existing philosophical theories of reality and active thought, would not pretend to give a self-sufficient and complete ontology and logic, a body of ultimate truths about the world, but merely to prepare the formal ground for future studies. According to this plan, I published in 1915 in the American Philosophical Review an article, "The Principle of Relativity and Philosophical Absolutism," which outlines the field of philosophy from the standpoint of the universal relativity of all values, and have been trying since to reconstruct for the fifth or sixth time my methodological introduction on a wider ground than before.


I give all these biographical details here in order to explain and to justify the imperfection of the present work, of which I am painfully aware. The reader has the right to expect of a study that attempts to construct a new positive formal foundation of our whole view of the world a much more exhaustive treatment of problems, a more perfect systematic organization, and a clearer exposition than this book can offer. But it would require many more years to raise it to the highest philosophical standards, while I am more eager than ever to pass from introductory investigation to the main work. I hope to be able to develop during the latter a part at least of the points which have been only suggested in this introduction; in particular, I have postponed almost all historical and critical discussion of other philosophical theories, past and present, in order to treat them more completely and adequately when studying in detail theoretic activities as historically manifested in systems of science and philosophy. Meanwhile, I hope that the kind reader will hold me justified in publishing this book as it is and will supplement himself such deficiencies as he may find in it.

There is also an objective consideration which emboldens me to proceed at once with the publication of the present work instead of endeavoring to make it more perfect from the standpoint of traditional philosophical criteria. Our most pressing intellectual need at the present moment is an adequate knowledge of the cultural world as a basis of a rational technique for the practical control of the immediate future of our civilization. The Great War has, apparently, opened a new historical epoch which promises to be more eventful than any period of the past. The traditional lines of cultural evolution are changing with an astonishing rapidity; new currents are appearing whose direction we are unable to calculate and whose power we only begin to suspect. Do these changes imply some wonderful future progress or are they the symptoms of an incipient disorganization similar to that of the

(xiii) Dark Ages ? The old and established types of cultural investigation give us no methods for the understanding of the present in its bearing upon the future. Nor do they help us to decide what we should do in order to influence this future in accordance with our aspirations, in order to incorporate our highest ideals into the cultural reality which is evolving under our very eyes. It seems to me, therefore, the duty of all intellectual workers to concentrate their efforts for years to come upon problems whose solution may give the statesman and the moral reformer, the practical economist and the educator, the religious idealist and the artist, instruments with which to foster cultural progress. In the light of this emergency, it is evident that many of the traditional problems and methods of philosophy, while preserving their importance as historical facts, products of theoretic activity, should be systematically discussed and utilized at the present moment only in so far as they have a bearing on the construction of a critical methodical foundation of cultural studies. If therefore I have not given in this work as much attention to certain issues as their deep elaboration in modern philosophy seems to demand, it is because I feel that they should be temporarily subordinated to a more vital task.

I do not hope therefore to contribute much to the solution of the already defined technical, philosophical problems. My highest hope is that the philosophy of which this book is the necessary starting-point will, when developed, be of some significance for the progress of culture. If it is, only a small part of the merit will be mine, for I know that I am only continuing to develop viewpoints for which I am in a large measure indebted to others. Among our intellectual obligations the greatest are usually those which we owe to the ideals we have accepted in our youth; the primary source of the views on which I am trying to build a philosophy of culture lies, therefore, in Polish historical idealism. Of all my later debts none is as great as the one I owe to pragmatism, of

(xiv) which, in fact, I am inclined to consider myself almost a disciple. I shall not be surprised if the masters disown me, since I cannot share most of the established pragmatic views on special philosophical problems, such as the biological conception of activity, the instrumental definition of truth, and several others. It seems to me that the general current of thought which pragmatism has started is too powerful, too wide, and too deep to be regulated in advance by the few formulae already accepted in the schools. To become an orthodox pragmatist now would mean to sacrifice the spirit for the letter. On the other hand, though it was not only useful but necessary for such a movement to start by a sharp criticism of traditional, dead doctrines and to avoid in the beginning any far-reaching attempts of systematization, the time has come when criticism should give place to positive construction, and instead of scattered, fragmentary, often conflicting, monographical sketches, a self-consistent, internally unified, organically growing body of new knowledge should be created.

While speaking of my obligations, I am glad of this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to Dr. William I. Thomas, who, from the very first day of my arrival in this country, has given me invaluable assistance in intellectual and practical matters. I am greatly indebted to him for the training in sociological investigation which I have acquired by collaborating with him, and for the help which I have continually received from him in trying to master the English language, in particular for his kindness in correcting the most important of the many stylistic imperfections of the present work. I must also thankfully acknowledge the large part which my wife had in the definitive formulation of this work by discussing critically almost every important point and offering numerous positive suggestions, particularly for chapters ii and iii, some sections of which without her help would be almost unreadable.

F. Z.


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