Like his teacher Cohen, Sesemann was committed to building a system of philosophy. He believes theory of knowledge to be the basis of his system, since it naturally absorbs all other philosophical spheres. Following Cohen, he looks for a starting point from where to unfold the whole system. However, unlike his German teacher, who made emphasis on the mathematical natural science and the principle of infinitely small, which, in fact, through the category of relevance captures the methodological, functional and operational character of knowledge, the Russian philosopher, noting the obvious limitations of scientific learning and thus rebutting pure logic of knowledge, aims to offer the logic of pure knowledge. It is, by definition, can be neither natural science nor humanities alone. It is through the phenomenon of pure knowledge as a starting point; Sesemann tries to establish a proper understanding of the object, the subject of knowledge and relationships between them.
For Sesemann there is no doubt that it is only the self-reflection (as a kind of reflective, objective knowledge) — though not to full extent due to the empirical limits of the very subject of knowledge) — where the ideal of pure knowledge can be found. Only a man in self-reflection as a finite being can come close to pure knowledge that is not conditioned by any real assumption, so is really universal. Only self-knowing that combines reflection and self-reflection, in object-oriented, logically defined self-knowing, which relies upon immediate nonobject-oriented self-knowing, can include such characteristics as independency of object oriented knowledge and self-sufficiency of non-objective knowledge. Therefore, the main intention of pure knowledge can be realized in the direct knowledge only if the latter is based on indirect self-reflection. He believes that “the main intention of pure knowledge can be preserved and realized in subject knowledge only because it has behind it the absolute indirect identity as a foundation and reference point. Only in this way it acquires the ability to overcome the inherent phenomenal character and maintain contact with the absolute being” [5, p. 160].
We should also take a look at Sesemann’s special attitude to the problem of the irrational. In-depth and versatile approach of the Russian thinker allows him to articulate the philosophical concept of the irrational, which is different from what we usually take for it in the positive sciences. “Irrational — he said — is a purely philosophical concept which is not limited by narrow boundaries, in which positive sciences can conclude it, it is generally not bound by any empirical or temporary borders, and resides in a temporary ideal as an inexhaustible complexity of providing perpetual and continuous progress of objective knowledge” [6, p. 117].
Sesemann points to the methodological role of the irrational in other parts of the system of philosophy. Thus, in the ethics he sees that the irrational is a real unity in the moral sphere of two conflicting principles: the individual and the communal. Aesthetic consciousness, according to the Russian thinker, “revolves entirely in irrational” and the symbolic nature of art is explained by “reduction to the harmonious unity of two different forms or stages of infinite irrationality: a superior, represented by an idea and the other, inferior, implemented through a concrete way” [6, p. 120]. In the religious philosophy the value of the irrational lies in apophatic theology, which is inextricably linked with the positive assertion of the highest levels of reality and perfection.
The scope of the irrational should include immediate intuition (referring to the mind), and the subject matter of the thing, which is not diffused in the complexes of connections and relationships (referring to the being). But another conclusion can be even more important: this juxtaposition of rational and irrational itself has a preliminary basis, “significance is only in the context of objective knowledge, i.e. perceiving formally, in the context of logic. This limited significance, as emphasizes the Russian philosopher, is not in any way contradicted by the fact that, these mentioned definitions are caused by other more deeply lying illogical moments. Just logical is, we hope, we can say — nothing primary, original. It is based on the assumption, which itself arises from certain metalogical (metaphysical) motives” [12, p. 50].
To demonstrate the latter thought, Sesemann examines the notion of contra- dictions in its logic, ontological, ethical and aesthetic senses. If the logical opposed senses of being and non-being are symmetrical and equal, then in the ontological non-being can never be symmetrical to being. Such a situation, even with a great emphasis on the logical difference, is seen in the ethical concepts of the good and the evil, the aesthetic ones of the beautiful and the ugly.
In conclusion, I would like to quote V. Sesemann. These words from his short work, in our view, state a number of important points that have become crucial for all of his philosophical work: “1) It (philosophy. — V.B.), says the Russian philosopher, in any case, is not a simple conceptual speculation, which for the most part was seen in the pre-Kantian metaphysics and that transcends any experience and does not need it. This kind of conceptual speculation is ulti- mately pointless, and it was finally rejected by Kant. 2) But it is not just one rea- son, common foundation, rooted in the same experience, similar to other relevant sciences. 3) But philosophy is also the experience that gives to its subject the character of true being and its spiritual form. So, like any real science it the knowledge of the subject, an experimental science. However, the experience of which it grows, is a special kind of experience, an experience that is not opposed to man as something external (as the experience of the outside world, the natural sciences), and that itself is not conceived in the flow of everyday practical life experience, but an experience that is available to a person only in rare great moments of his life, moments when he can mobilize the all his spiritual powers as something whole and united, and bring them to a higher concentration and effort. But this confirms Plato’s expression that philosophical knowledge is more than just the knowledge of what it is, at the same time it fills the soul with truly being. In this respect philosophy is more than a simple science, and this explains why you fail to subdue it to the system of positive sciences.
It appears there as if it were a stranger, an unwanted unexpected visitor. The essential peculiarity of philosophy is that it is, in a large sense, an experimental science, and involves a special maintenance of spirit that makes it possible to penetrate into the deeper layers of existence — that should be learned and confirmed — is timeless, immortal merit of Platonic idealism. This must be always kept in consideration by philosophical research of today” [13, p. 119—120].
Making some preliminary conclusions, it is worth pointing at a number of reasons, which complicate systematic work on the analysis of Russian neo-Kantianism. Indeed, what final outcome can we discuss, when a large part of the heritage of Russian neo-Kantian thinkers is still in the archives and has not yet been published?
Another difficulty in systematizing Russian neo-Kantian studies is the lan- guage: the works of leading Russian neo-Kantians are written in a variety of European languages — English, German, French, Italian, Lithuanian, Czech, etc.
It should also be said that there are no major program works written by Russian neo-Kantians — they are mostly articles, some of them are quite voluminous reviews and surveys.
Certainly, we can’t but mention one factor, which complicated the formation of a more holistic and complete approach to the Russian neo-Kantian philosophy. It is the briefness of the period of time, relatively favorable for the devel- opment of Russian philosophical tradition, which actively involved Russian neo- Kantians: late 19th — early 20st century.
Russian neo-Kantianism at first glance appears quite fragmentary. We can’t point now at any social group (school, university, journal), which represented neo-Kantianism, being its major force over extended period of time and defining its character. An exception might be found in the journal “Logos”, that existed from 1910 to 1914, though it could hardly be called purely neo-Kantian. It was rather dedicated to Western philosophical and cultural tradition in general. But such a synthetic character of “Logos” largely corresponded to the nature of Russian neo-Kantianism, which actively engaged in European philosophy of the day in order to further develop German neo-Kantianism and overcome what was seen as its one-sidedness and errors.
In general, Russian neo-Kantianism didn’t outgrow the preparatory projects, manifests, preliminary sketches, and the work of a researcher of Russian neo-Kantianism is less a work of a “restorer” or even a renovator, but rather a “constructor” of the national philosophical tradition, formation of which was the main objective for Russian neo-Kantians.
Nevertheless, it is hard to overestimate the significance of neo-Kantianism for Russian philosophy and culture. The general philosophical significance of neo-Kantianism should be emphasized above all: the debates and discussions of common themes had an undeniable influence on the formation of such seminal philosophical schools of thought as the Russian religious philosophy, the phi- losophy of dialogue of M. Bakhtin and hermeneutic phenomenology of G. Shpet.
The impact on culture is also undoubted: many Russian cultural figures — B. Pasternak, A. Beliy, A. Scriabin were educated in neo-Kantian paradigm.
General scientific significance of neo-Kantianism had a visible outcome: many famous Russian scientists, such as a psychologist S. Rubinstein, educator S. Hessen and others were the trainees of Marburg school.
Russian neo-Kantianism played a significant international role: F. Stepun became a famous German culture expert, D. Gawroński, a friend of E. Cassirer, taught for a long time in Switzerland. We can’t but mention N. Hartmann, who began his philosophical education in St. Petersburg, completed it in Marburg, and later became a prominent German philosopher of the XX century.
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This article was firstly published in collected articles “Kantovsky Sbornik” (2013):
Belov V. Russian neo-Kantianism: history and characteristics of its development// Kantovsky Sbornik. Selected articles. 2012: academic journal. 2013. P. 64 – 75.