brief history of the ukrainian philosophy

brief history of the ukrainian philosophy

As it is common with territories that are located on the crossroads of the big trade routes of East and West, Ukraine had a rather turbulent history. Numerous times, except for a brief period in Middle Ages and modern Ukrainian history of the last 25 years, the territory was under foreign occupation and philosophies. The absence of a defined Ukrainian worldview was also the reason why so many of the prominent Ukrainian philosophers, like Hryhoriy Skovoroda, have not been associated with Ukraine, but rather with Russia, Poland, and other countries. Yet, let’s take a look at what has influenced the development of philosophy in modern Ukraine.

It all began around the turn of the first millennium when the Kievan Rus turned from paganism and switched to Christianity in 988 A.D. Granted, it was not done in a proper way and the ramifications still are affecting the beliefs, thousand years later. However, in favor of political needs (and, perhaps, some personal), the decision was made.

Sudden and rather rude switch of religion brought about a change in the philosophical thought as well. From the viewpoint of the theoretical knowledge and ideas, pagan beliefs that were very common and spontaneous were less advanced than Christian teaching that took thinking on a whole new level of abstract and deeper knowledge.

Slavic people were very religious (for better or for worse) and took new faith seriously. Those with more power have adapted the beliefs of the ancestors to the new theology and philosophy, creating a unique blend.

With the coming of Christianity, the development of the Slavic language also began and it was, as tradition goes, two Greek monks – Methodius and Cyril (this is where Cyrillic alphabet got its name). This very Cyril has also given a definition to philosophy as the “knowledge of the things of God and met, thanks to which a man can get closer to God; the knowledge that teach how can a man resemble his Creator better by works. ”

This intellectual and philosophical development, however, was stalled for several centuries by the collapse of the Kievan Rus, the death of prince Vladimir Monomakh, and the invasion of Mongol-Tatars.

In XVI century the country has finally emerged from the “winter hibernation” and welcomed the new beginnings of philosophical thought. An Orthodox priest and metropolitan Petro Mohyla was one of the prominent activists of that time and also a good manager because it was due to his efforts that a Kyiv-Mohyla Academy was formed (from two other smaller academies) and this education center still is active to this day, except for a brief period during the USSR times when the theological academy was transformed into a Navy college.

It was here that Joseph Kononovych-Horbatsky started to teach philosophy and share his world views. Following the teachings of Aristotle, Joseph also taught that the Universe consists of substance and forms, that space and time are real, and that these space and time (since back then they were considered separate things) affect the world we see around us. Being a Christian, he believed in God as a Creator of the Universe and he thought our world and the truth are dualistic. Teachings about God were theological part of the truth and philosophical part of it were the teachings about the material things.

Next great Ukrainian thinker was, as he was called, Hryhoriy “Ukrainian Socrates” Skovoroda. He continued teaching about the dualism of our world, following some of Plato’s ideas. The universe, according to Skovoroda, consists of two natures: seen and unseen, material and ideal, changing and eternal. Just like Plato, he compares this world to a mere shadow of what the reality truly is.

“The entire world actually consists of two worlds. One is visible, another invisible. One is alive, the other one is dead. One is clothes, the other one is the body. This one is the shadow, that one is the tree the shadow belongs to. This one is material, the other one is the foundation that contains this material noise just like a painting contains the paint it was drawn with. Therefore, the world we live in is an eternity in decay, awakening in a dream, life in death, happiness in sadness. ”

This happiness was very important for Skovoroda. That was the main theme throughout his teachings – what is happiness, how to achieve the ultimate bliss, and what is the reason for living. Despite his obvious dualism, Skovoroda’s teaching about the world included a teaching of three existence “modes”: one was the macrocosm (the Universe itself), microcosm (people), and finally the mode of symbols (that is, the Bible.)

…And once again, after a brief rest from divisions, in XIX century the territory of modern Ukraine was divided among nations. This time, the majority of the land came into the hands of Russian Empire. This change added the ideas of Western philosophers, including the prominent thinkers of classic German philosophy such as Kant, Fichte, Schelling (he was especially valued), and Hegel.

One of the outstanding Ukrainian philosophers of XIX century was Pamphil Jurkewicz who was keen on teaching about ideas. The concept of an “idea” for him included both epistemological and ontological meanings. On one hand, it was a form of human knowledge (i.e. epistemology); on the other, it was the basis of everything (i.e. ontology).

The XX century brought about politicization of philosophy, especially after the establishment of the Soviet power in Ukraine, and the names of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels became widely known as the rule setters of the thought and philosophy was divided into scientific (read: Marxist) and non-scientific (read: bourgeois). Suddenly, the ideas of Ukrainian national consciousness became hostile for the approved ideology and this nearly killed the Ukrainian nation in the bud once again, as it was done numerous times before.

Among the famous thinkers of that time was Vyacheslav Lipinski, who considered that aristocracy is the constituent factor that can organize social life with the help of education, erudition, and knowledge. Because of this, he considered monarchy to be the ideal form of government of Ukraine.

Considering the way “elections” took place in the Soviet Union (with only one possible option that you had no other choice but to vote for), Lipinski’s monarchy idea almost became true (even if on paper it was a “democracy.”) Under Stalinist regime, many dissidents who thought “outside the box” were brutally repressed and, as a result, philosophy did not develop as fast as it could have.

In 1944, a Philosophy department was founded in the Kyiv State University and the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 gave the necessary push towards freedom of thought and taming the thirst for knowledge. Besides shifting the focus of study to the cognitive capabilities of man and what is of value in this world, discovering and defining the history of philosophy became one of the main goals of the philosophers like Alexander Chizhevsky and Mykola Shlemkevych.

Modern Ukrainian philosophy is undergoing rapid development in the past several decades due to Ukraine’s gained independence and freedom of thought. It took some time for people to realize what it means to be Ukrainian (except for the parts of Western Ukraine that preserved that old Ukrainian spirit better than Eastern and central parts). The majority of people who were born during the USSR times, it was hard to suddenly change allegiance. Recent events connected with the war in the East and annex of Crimea by Russia have forced the Ukrainian citizens to make a choice and decide who they are, which is great for the national identity as well as for the development of the further philosophy of Ukraine.

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