Volume I of Lithuania Philosophical Studies was entitled Personal Freedom and National Resurgence. The title reflected the strong emphasis upon the distinctive Lithuanian cultural identity needed in order to support the claim to independence from Russia. The title reflected, moreover, concern lest this emphasis become a threat to personal freedom.
The present volume II in this series of Lithuanian Philosophical Studies, does not advance that issue, but focuses rather on providing a longer view of the history of the development of Lithuanian philosophy. In undertaking the work Professor Jurate Baranova was inspired by an earlier volume in this series, Czech Philosophy in the XXth Century done by a team of philosophers at Masaryk University in Brno. In turn, the present work has encouraged similar volumes in other regions.
Chapter I, "Lithuanian Philosophy: the Search for Authenticity" by J. Baranova is the true introduction to this work. It not only identifies the context of the chapters, but goes much further to identify in detail the various historical philosophical schools, their circumstances and bibliography. The parts of the work reflect in general the history of their development.
Part I, "Lithuanians: Their History and Culture", reaches far back into the history and even prehistory of Lithuania and its peoples. Chapter II, "Glimpses of Lithuanian History," by Alfredas Bumblauskas and Chapter III, "A Latecomer to Latin Civilization: The Lithuanian Way to World History", by Edvardas Gudavicius provide preliminary overviews of this early background.
Perhaps nowhere is this continuity more evident than at the Cathedral in Vilnius. Legends identify the area as the location of the oracle where the dream of the Iron Lion was interpreted as foretelling the development of a great people. In time the King’s palace was built on this location, and over that the Cathedral was later built. For years during the Communist regime the Cathedral was reduced to a museum. The real moment of the reinstitution of a free Lithuania was the day when the Cathedral was restored to the people and began to serve once again as a Cathedral. Perhaps no people are so constituted of an interweaving of legend and history, of palace and Cathedral, as are the people of Lithuania,
Chapter IV, "Lithuanian Mythology," by GintarasBeresnevicius goes in detail into this heritage of myth, its terms and their etymologies, its themes and their goods in this life and the next. He shows how the ancient myths depicted the human as accidental, taking God by surprise and therefore as lacking meaning; this makes manifest the essential significance of the Christian message in adding the sense of meaning and the spiritual dignity of humankind to Lithuanian culture.
Chapter V, "Lithuanian Messianism: Its Beginnings and Origin," by Vytautas Berenis, is a very sophisticated analysis of the way in which this has constituted a special messianic sense for the nation, a sense of mission for the people and of Providence in its realization. In this it reflects the magnificent volume in the series edited by Leon Dyczewski on Values in the Tradition of Polish Culture. By locating human dignity in the people, the issue became not only law but justice. This engages and indeed epitomizes the people. The limitation of messianism is, however, that it is out of history and hence does not engage directly the issue of social progress,
Part II, "Academic Philosophy through the Centuries" provides an overview of the development of professional philosophy in Lithuania. This is provided by Romanas Pleckaitis in Chapter VI, "The Development of Professional Philosophy at The University of Lithuania," providing a detailed account of the development of the faculty of the philosophy department at the University, listing the courses and professors in detail. The last half of the chapter constitutes a veritable tour de force by distinguishing the various fields of philosophy and providing a detailed history of the work done in each in the university. It parallels a similar survey of philosophy in Pakistan by the late Richard DeSmet, published recently as an appendix to Philosophy in Pakistan in this series. Especially notable in this survey is the extent of the work done on the philosophy of culture. This was much advanced beyond the work of philosophers further West.
As will be seen in subsequent chapters, in order to take account of culture, it is necessary to be able to treat especially of values and hence of the teleology of human life and action toward the good. Adequate appreciation of this heritage of the philosophy of culture and the way it relates to the transcendent character of human nature may require more distance from the Marxist materialist period.
This appeared in the first meeting of the Council for Research in Values and Philosophy (RVP) teams from Central and Eastern Europe in the early ‘90s. Everything that was not contained within a materialist horizon was referred to as irrational. Upon discussion it became clear that this was the effect of the previous Marxist ideology and that they had no philosophical terminology to express the new areas of freedom which their people had just acquired. In other words as philosophers they were still prisoners of the old ideology. Their people could not advance in freedom to explore their cultural identity and evolve new dimensions for the future to which they aspired until the philosophers freed themselves from this bondage of the mind. This is an issue which philosophers in Lithuania, with their tradition of attention to the issue of terminology, are especially fitted to address.
Part III, "Philosophy between the Two World Wars" is especially detailed and effective in illustrating the great riches and varied dimensions of the Lithuanian philosophical heritage. Chapter after chapter proceeds to unfold not only the rich systematic Thomistic centuries ago, heritage of Christian philosophy upon which the University was founded over four centuries ago, but a broad range of ingenious individual thinkers and a broad range of interests even to Hindu philosophy.
Chapter VII, "Vydunas: the Essential Features of His Philosophy," by Vaclovas Bagdonavicius manifests the extraordinary reach of this heritage of Lithuanian thought. Vydunas, though not a trained philosopher — or could it also be because of this? — was able to reach across cultures to find in the Hindu philosophical tradition direct statements of the spiritual dimensions for Lithuanian culture which are not available in Western philosophical traditions.
He describes a twin process of involution from the absolute as plenitude into time and space, and evolution as a return ascension of human life to the spiritual, social and cultural. In fact, Ramaniya’s thought will take him only to the sense of plenitude and divine attri-butes. To complete his cycle and achieve a realism, rather than an idealism, he needs the notion of creation and the thought of Madhva.
Chapter VIII, "Stasys Salkauskis: The Contours of His System," by Arunas Sverdiolas provides an excellent example of the original efforts of Lithuanian thinkers, often without extensiveformal training in philosophy, to develop and organize a level of philosophical reflection which reflects their national culture and identity. Stasys Salkaukis was an early example of just such an effort. His work was theoretical especially as regards ontology, but had a practical focus with insights into the philosophy of culture and of religion.
Chapter IX, "The Social Philosophy of Fabijonas Kemesis," by Adolfas Poska, reflects the heritage of the Catholic philosophical tradition in which many of the philosophers were trained and which they reflected while retaining their own critical stance. This tended to develop a social philosophy which set them in a critical relationship to socialism.
Chapter X, "Between Ideology and the Criticism of Culture: the Case of Julijonas Lindë-Dobilas," by Almantas Samalavicius, studies an attempt to develop a philosophy of culture that would value the cultural creativity of the Lithuanian people and attend to their aspirations as a people and as a nation. This attention to culture is again a special mark of Lithuanian philosophy which bridges its own folk heritage of wisdom to the classical content of the ancient Greek and Christian traditions of Homer and Dante.
Chapter XI, "Oscar Milosz — Theoretician of Love," by Andrius Konickis, analyses analogous dimensions in the thought of Oscar Milosz which he traces to a combination of Jewish, Christian and Cabalistic sources. This focus on love brings out the essential character of the teleological element in any philosophy which is based on the life project or culture of a people. Approaches to philosophy which are unable to relate to this may be able to perform some tasks in philosophy, but are incapable of taking account of the reality of the life and culture of a people however much they may claim to be related to concrete facts or individual choices. In this sense these dimensions of the earlier thought of Lithuania are particularly essential for the development of a philosophy related to the aspirations and creative efforts of the Lithuanian people.
Three philosophers treated here have been concerned with developments in existential philosophy. Chapter XII, "Two Existentialists: Antanas Maceina and Juozas Girnius," by Ruta Tumenaite, describes richly the efforts of these two thinkers to develop philosophy on the bases of the life-world of the people, which indeed has as a yet broader context the people’s religious sense of human meaning and commitment. These are precious resources for the development of the sensibilities and aspirations for freedom and authenticity of the new post-Marxist generation. The author draws a rather harsh distinction between the Maceina and Girnius, however, noting that the religious context is noted explicitly by Girnius at the beginning which he considers to be a matter of honesty, whereas it comes only at the end of the method of Maceina. It may be possible to interpret this in an opposite manner, however. From a rationalist perspective the premises need to be made clear, and all is to be deduced therefrom. This would seem to be the expectation of R. Tumenaite. However, in an existential approach one proceeds not from the "top down," but rather from the "bottom up" i.e., from the exercise of life to its premises and conditions. This latter is the method of Maceina who would consider it more authentic (and hence honest) to follow the path of discovery from the practice of life to its religious premises as source and goal. This too is an important building block for the development of a philosophy appropriate for the progress of the Lithuanian people.
Chapter XIII, "The Life of Vosylius Sezemanas and his Critical Realism," by Loreta Anilionyte and Albinas Lozuraitis, is exceptionally well thought through. It shows how this early philosophy developed an original and personal philosophy that is exceptionally relevant today. In it V. Sezezemanas moves from a philosophical position fixed on the object to attention to the subject so that the spirit becomes central and hence also culture and history.
From the detailed analysis of the sequence of authors in this Part III it can be seen that Lithuanian philosophers have had the combination of freedom and genius to do original philosophical work. This has been marked by attention to the spirit as lived in time and in the particular context of Lithuania. Hence, it has not only drawn richly upon culture in general, but has focused upon Lithuanian culture in particular. This set a standard of authenticity and insight which strenuously challenges philosophers of the present time.
Part IV "Contemporary Lithuanian Philosophy" samples the present efforts in philosophy and can be divided between two philosophers working in Lithuania who explain and illustrate the present problem and two philosophers of Lithuanian origin working outside of the country who develop a response.
Chapter XIV, "Lithuanian Philosophical Thought: Between East and West," by Arvydas Sliogeris, suggests a way of dividing the history of philosophical thought in Lithuania, namely, between (a) working from classical texts by Saulkauskas as a Catholic thinker and Vydunas as inspired by Indian thought, (b) Western oriented existential thinkers such as Maceina and Girnius working in the Catholic tradition and in the context of eternal truth; and (c) the present struggle to free philosophy from Marxist ideology. This could be considered a good epilogue to this work.
The author provides a fascinating account of the experience of growing up as a philosopher in Marxist times and under the intense pressure of Marxist ideology. In this situation he found exceptional importance in the lectures of Eujenijus Meskauskas precisely in his conscious use of the Marxist dialectic to negate all meaning and reduce the mind to a skeptical position. This "scorched earth" approach effectively destroyed any growth of ideology, but seems to have left the soil so devastated that it was difficult to grow any new insight.
The response of Slogeris is to take an existential path indicated in this chapter but developed more elaborately in Chapter XV, "Arvydas Sliogeris: The Philosopher as Knight of Being," by Regimantas Tamosaitis. This looks to existential experience as the sole authentic engagement of being which he calls "humanism," and rejects all that is systematized in thought as a depersonalizing distraction from being, which he terms "hominism". This enables him to appreciate the spark of personal insight, and his extensive writings and personal appearances interpreting the long history of philosophy has been a major contribution to the renewal of philosophical interests in post-Soviet times.
He proposes what he terms philotophy or philosophy as a love of nature and of peace. This constitutes an axiological-ethical system of values which gain ontological meaning. The effect is to focus philosophy upon being in its concrete existential meaning as life. But the position seems too iconoclastic, for focusing on existence, it omits or completely subordinates essence on which all formal universalization and systematic work depends. His existential outlook is a characteristically 20th century insight, from which point of view all prior thought is dismissed.
In contrast, the emergence of existence in late ancient times and its evolution through the early and high middle ages was a work of high theory, very much dependent upon systematic theoretical elaboration. Moreover, this was elaborated in a religious context. In fact, this exercised an effect to that feared by Sliogeris: rather than closing the mind in preset and limited categories it constituted a process in which the mind was opened to the transcendence and infinity of being and thereby defies all limitation and categorization. As noted in recent post modern discussions on faith and reason faith is now called upon to liberate reason, which had fallen into low estate on both sides during the Cold War.
This can be seen in Chapter XVI, "Rethinking the Philosophy of Culture: Lithuania and the Western Tradition" by Marius-Povilas Saulauskas, philosopher and leader of the Liberal Party. His response to the ideology of Marxism has been to take on the alternate, liberal ideology and to follow closely the path of Karl Popper. Here the strategy is similar to that of Meskauskas: by elaborating the nominalist position and focusing upon its skeptical character it frees the mind from principles and convictions, except the decision to be "free from". But one must ask whether the resulting anarchistic atomism can enable one to engage one’s freedom ("freedom for") in the building or rebuilding of a nation.
It was one of the major misinterpretations of the end of the Cold War that since one side, Marxism, was wrong, the other (liberalism) must be right. This would be true only if the basic rationalist suggestion from which they both derive was correct. What was at first unsuspected, but has been driven home by the post-modern critique is that the problem is more fundamental and lies in the reductionist rationalism which rejects all that is not clear and distinct to the human mind. This effectively reduces the human mind to only what is common by abstraction and subject to artificial construction by the human mind. The infinite variety, creative freedom and spiritual meaning of life is omitted. It foresees a brave "hominized" world, to use the term of A. Sliogers, but one that is dehumanized and dehumanizing.
In view of the above the work done by the two expatriate Lithuanian philosophers, A. Greimas and V. Kavolis has special significance. They were not forced to begin as it were ex ovo, but were able to elaborate their thinking in a rich and continuous tradition of philosophizing continually subject to critique and enrichment by other currents of thought.
At the same time they did not merely enter into those currents to imitate others, but brought to their work special insights from their Lithuanian background. This can be seen in Chapter XVII, "Algirdas Greimas in Lithuania and in the World," by Zilvinas Beliauskas, who describes the role of A. Greimas in the development of the science of Semiotics. His appreciation of the significance of formal patterns, quite contrary to the existential orientation of many of his countrymen, may well reflect the position of his culture between East and West. His dictionary made a pioneering contribution. His work is typically Lithuanian, in the way in which it carries the Semiotic discussion beyond mere signs to meaning, thereby remaining engaged in life and its achievement.
Perhaps more characteristic, especially in the efforts to redevelop identities for new countries, is the work of V. Kavolis described in Chapter XVIII, "Vytautas Kavolis as Social and Cultural Critic," by Leonidas Donskis. Drawing upon the heritage of his Lithuanian predecessors described in Part III above, he was able to play a leading role in bringing forward the hermeneutic potentialities of existential phenomenology for a restoration and renewal of the sense of cultural tradition, no longer as mere habits from the past, but as a dynamic and transforming dimension of the newly emerging, post-Cold War human sensibilities.
His work unites a number of the elements underlined above: the new appreciation of subjectivity, the importance this gives to teleology and human purpose, the way in which this is shaped in the form of a concrete culture, and the way in which this draws individual persons beyond themselves into society.
In this light Kavolis has been able to draw on the liberal position regarding the dignity and rights of the person, but to carry this beyond defense of minimum standards for isolated individuals into cultural patterns of social cooperation and community which can attract and inspire.
This does not constitutes a conclusion to the story of Lithuanian philosophy, but challenges its young philosophers to continue the process of freeing the country from its post World War II ideology including the fear of reengaging its own cultural and religious traditions. Especially, it points to the work of unfolding new riches from its culture as a basis for the social reconstruction of the new millennium. Lithuania is a country at once old and new; the same must be true of its philosophy.
George F. McLean