Kantian Journal

2019 Vol. 38. №4

“The Turn towards Ontology” in Russian Neo-Kantianism in the Late 1910s and Early 1920s (Lev Salagov and Nikolai Boldyrev)


The period between the late 1910s and early 1920s saw the emergence of onto-epistemological philosophical projects in Russia that was determined by criticism and attempts to overcome the domination of epistemology in philosophy which was the result of the intensive development of Neo-Kantianism and the influence of Husserl’s phenomenology. Attempts to turn towards ontology were made both by Russian religious philosophers and by Russian Neo-Kantians. I look at the little-studied philosophical projects of the Russian Neo-Kantians Lev Salagov and Nikolai Boldyrev. Their philosophical concepts share the tendency to transpose epistemological problems to ontology, and to identify and bring closer together epistemology and ontology. Russian philosophers ontologise the theory of cognition through the analysis of subjectivity, the complete elimination of psychological motives and the separation of transcendentalism from transcendentism. These principles enable Salagov to ground a three-part structure of cognition (consciousness, being, committing to consciousness) and to assert that the main task of genuine epistemology is exclusively the study of the cognitive relationship, committing to consciousness. They enable Boldyrev, proceeding from the separation of reflection and sensibility, to build a doctrine on the self-unfolding of being. Similar tendencies — a turn towards ontology — were observed in the same period in West European philosophy, including German Neo-Kantianism. However, the concepts of Russian Neo-Kantians, which imply a new orientation towards ontology, are fairly independent, and not only on account of the original interpretation of Kantian critical philosophy and Neo-Kantian epistemology, but also on account of internal discussion with the Russian philosophers belonging to other movements (for example, intuitivists). The analysis of the onto-epistemological projects of Russian Neo-Kantians makes important additions to the picture of the reception of Neo-Kantianism in Russia.

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