Archives For Russian philosophy

Author Information: Alcibiades Malapi-Nelson, Humber College,

Malapi-Nelson, Alcibiades. “On a Study of Steve Fuller.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 7 (2018): 25-29.

The pdf of the article gives specific page references. Shortlink:

Happy birthday, Steve!

Steve Fuller, seen here just under seven years ago in New York City, gave a name to what is now the sub-discipline and community of social epistemology. Like all thriving communities, it’s gotten much more diverse and creative with time. As has Steve Fuller.
Image by Babette Babich, courtesy of Steve Fuller


Francis Remedios and Val Dusek have written a thorough and exhaustive account of Steve Fuller’s work, ranging (mostly) from 2003 to 2017. Fuller’s earlier work was addressed in Remedios’ previous book, Legitimizing Scientific Knowledge (2003) – to which this one is the logical continuation. Back then Remedios introduced the reader to Fuller’s inaugurated field of research, “social epistemology”, encompassing the philosopher’s work from the late 1980’s until the turn of the century.

Given that Steve Fuller is one of the most prolific authors alive, having published (so far) 30 books and hundreds of articles, Remedios & Dusek’s book (as Remedios’ previous book), fill a practical need: It is hard to keep up with Fuller’s elevated rate of production. Indeed, both the seasoned reader and the neophyte to Fuller’s fairly overwhelming amount of writing, will need a panoramic and organic view of his breathtaking scope of research. Remedios & Dusek successfully accomplish the task of providing it.

The Bildung of a Person and His Concepts

Remedios & Dusek’s book starts with a Foreword by Fuller himself, followed by an Introduction (Ch. 1) by the authors. The bulk of the monograph is comprised by several chapters addressing Fuller’s ideas on Science and Technology Studies (Ch. 2), Social Epistemology (Ch. 3), the University & Interdisciplinarity (Ch. 4), Intelligent Design (Ch. 5), Cosmism & Gnosticism (Ch. 6), and the Proactionary principle (Ch. 7).

There is some connective overlap between chapters. In each one of them, Remedios & Dusek provide an articulated landscape of Fuller’s ideas, the occasional criticism, and a final summary. The book ends up with an appropriately short Conclusion (Ch. 8) and a PostScript (Ch. 9) – an interview’s transcription.

It is worth pointing out that the work is chronologically (and conveniently) in sync with Fuller’s own progressive intellectual development, and thus, the first part roughly focuses on his earlier work, whereas the second part on his later writings.[1]

The first chapter after the Introduction (Chapter 2, “Fuller on Science and Technology Studies” (STS), already provides a cue for a theme that would transfix the arc of Fuller’s thoughts spanning the last decade. As I see it, Steve Fuller is arguably going to extents that some may deem controversial (e.g., his endorsement of some type of Intelligent Design, his backing up of transhumanism, his gradual “coming out” as a Catholic) due to one main reason: A deep preoccupation with the future of humanity vis-à-vis pervasively disrupting emerging technologies.

Accordingly, Fuller wants to fuel a discussion that may eventually salvage whatever we find out that being human consists of – even if this “human” will resemble little the “humans” as we know them now. At this point, the “cue” is not self-evident: Fuller does not like Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network theory. In Fuller’s view, Latour’s framework triggers both an epistemological and an ethical problem: it diffuses human agency and by extension, responsibility – respectively. Equating human agency with the causal power attributed to the “parliament of things” ultimately reverberates in an erosion of human dignity. Here the cue becomes clearer: It is precisely this human dignity that Fuller will later defend in his attack of Darwinism.

Humanity Beyond the Human

Chapter 3, “Fuller’s Social Epistemology and Epistemic Agency”, provides a further clue to Fuller’s agenda. Remedios & Dusek coined a sentence that may constitute one of the most succinct, although fundamental, pillars in Steve Fuller’s grand framework: “For Fuller, humanity would continue if homo sapiens end”.[2] This statement ingeniously captures Fuller’s position that “humanity” (a “project” started during the Medieval Ages and developed during Modernity), is something that homo sapiens earn – or not. Biology might provide a compatible receptacle for this humanity to obtain, but it is by no means an automatic occurrence. One strives to get it – and many in fact fail to reach it.

In the context of this theme, Fuller steers away from an “object-oriented” (social) epistemology to an “agent-oriented” one: Instead of endlessly ruminating about possible theories of knowledge (which would render an accurate picture of the object – social or not), one starts to take into account the possibilities that open up after considering transforming the knowing agent itself. This transition foretells Fuller’s later view: a proactionary approach[3] to experimentation where the agent commits to the alteration of reality – as opposed to a precautionary stance, where the knower passively waits for reality’s feedback before further proceeding.

In chapter 4, “The University and Interdisciplinarity”, Remedios & Dusek treat Fuller’s views on the situation of institutions of higher education currently confronting the relentless compartmentalization of knowledge. Fuller praises Wilhelm von Humboldt’s reinvention of the notion of the university in the 19th century, where the individual would acquire a holistic formation (bildung), and which would produce in return tangible benefits to society out of the growth of knowledge in general and science in particular.

This model, which catapulted Germany to the forefront of research, and which was emulated by several Western nations, has been gradually eroded by neoliberalism. Neoliberal stances, spurred by an attention to clients’ requests, progressively severed the heretofore integral coexistence of research and teaching, creating instead pockets of specialization – along with their own idiosyncratic jargon. This fragmentation, in turn, has generated an overall ignorance among scientists and intellectuals regarding the “big picture”, which ultimately results in a stagnation of knowledge production. Fuller advocates for a return to the Humboldtian ideal, but this time incorporating technology as in integral part of the overall academic formation in the humanities.

Roles for Religion and God

Chapter 5, “Fuller’s Intelligent Design” (ID), deals with the philosopher’s controversial views regarding this position, particularly after the infamous Dover Trial. Remedios & Dusek have done a very good job at tracing the roots and influences behind Fuller’s ideas on the issue. They go all the way back to Epicurus and Hume, including the strong connection between these two and Charles Darwin, particularly in what concerns the role of “chance” in evolution. Those interested in this illuminating philosophical archeology will be well served after reading this chapter, instead of (or as a complement to) Steve Fuller’s two books on the topic.[4]

Chapter 6, “Fuller, Cosmism and Gnosticism” lays out the relationship of the philosopher with these two themes. Steve Fuller recognizes in Russian cosmism an important predecessor to transhumanism – along with the writings of the mystical Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin.

He is lately catering to a re-emergence of interest among Slavs regarding these connections, giving talks and seminars in Russia. Cosmism, a heterodox offspring of Russian Orthodoxy, aims at a reconstruction of the (lost) paradise by means of reactivation of a type of “monads” spread-out throughout the universe – particles that disperse after a person dies. Scientific progress would be essential in order to travel throughout the cosmos retrieving these primordial “atoms” of people of the past, so that they could be one day resurrected. Russia would indeed have a cosmic ordering mission. This worldview is a particular rendition of the consequences of Christ’s Resurrection, which was denounced by the Orthodox Church as heretical.

Nevertheless, it deeply influenced several Slavic thinkers, who unlike many Western philosophers, did have a hard time reconciling their (Orthodox) Christianity with reason and science. This syncretism was a welcomed way for them to “secularize” the mystical-prone Christian Orthodoxy and infuse it with scientific inquiry. As a consequence, rocket science received a major thrust for development. After all, machines had to be built in order to retrieve these human particles so that scientifically induced global resurrection occurs.

One of the more important global pioneers in rocket engines, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (who later received approval by Joseph Stalin to further develop space travel research), was profoundly influenced by it. In fact, increasingly more scholars assert that despite the official atheism of the Soviet Union, cosmism was a major driving force behind the Soviet advances, which culminated in the successful launch of the Sputnik.

Chapter 7, “Proactionary and Precautionary Principles and Welfare State 2.0”, is the last chapter before the Conclusion. Here Remedios & Dusek deal with Fuller’s endorsement of Max More’s Proactionary Principle and the consequent modified version of a Welfare State. The proactionary approach, in contradistinction with the precautionary principle (which underpins much of science policy in Europe), advocates for a risk-taking approach, justified partly in the very nature of Modern science (experimentation without excessive red tape) and partly in what is at stake: the survival of our species. Steve Fuller further articulates the proactionary principle, having written a whole book on the subject[5] – while More wrote an article.

The Roles of This Book

Remedios & Dusek have done an excellent job in summarizing, articulating and criticizing the second half of Steve Fuller’s vast corpus – from the early 2000s until last year. I foresee a successful reception by thinkers concerned with the future of humanity and scholars interested in Fuller’s previous work. As a final note, I will share a sentiment that will surely resonate with some – particularly with the younger readers out there.

As noted in the opening remarks, Remedios & Dusek’s book fill a gap in what concerns the possibility of acquiring an articulated overview of Fuller’s thought, given his relentless rate of publication. However, the sheer quantity to keep up with is not the only issue. These days, more than “the written word” may be needed in order to properly capture the ideas of authors of Fuller’s calibre. As I observed elsewhere,[6] reading Fuller is a brilliant read – but it is not an easy read.

It may be fair to say that, as opposed to, say, the relatively easy reading of an author like Steven Pinker, Steve Fuller’s books are not destined to be best-sellers among laymen. Fuller’s well put together paragraphs are both sophisticated and precise, sometimes long, paying witness to an effort for accurately conveying his multi-layered thought processes – reminding one of some German early modern philosophers. Fortunately, there is now a solid source of clarity that sheds effective light on Fuller’s writing: his available media. There are dozens of video clips (and hundreds of audio files[7]) of his talks, freely available to anyone. It may take a while to watch and listen to them all, but it is doable. I did it. And the clarity that they bring to his writings is tangible.

If Fuller is a sophisticated writer, he certainly is a very clear (and dare I say, entertaining) speaker. His “talking” functions as a cognitive catalyst for the content of his “writing” – in that, he is returning to the Humboldtian ideal of merged research and teaching. Ideally, if one adds to these his daily tweets,[8] now we have at reach the most complete picture of what would be necessary to properly “get” a philosopher like him these days. I have the feeling that, regardless of our settled ways, this “social media” component, increasingly integrated with any serious epistemic pursuit, is here to stay.

Contact details:


Fuller, S. (2007). Science Vs. Religion?: Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evolution. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Fuller, S. (2008). Dissent Over Descent: Intelligent Design’s Challenge to Darwinism. Cambridge, UK: Icon.

Fuller, S. (2014). The Proactionary Imperative: A Foundation for Transhumanism. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Malapi-Nelson, A. (2013). “Book review: Steve Fuller, Humanity 2.0: What it Means to be Human Past, Present and Future.” International Sociology Review of Books 28(2): 240-247.

Remedios, F. and Dusek, V. (2018). Knowing Humanity in the Social World: The Path of Steve Fuller’s Social Epistemology. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

[1] With the exception of the PostScript, which is a transcription of an interview with Steve Fuller mostly regarding the first period of his work.

[2] Remedios & Dusek 2018, p. 34

[3] Remedios & Dusek 2018, p. 40

[4] Fuller 2007 and Fuller 2008

[5] Fuller 2014

[6] Malapi-Nelson 2013


[8] Some of which are in fact reproduced by Remedios & Dusek 2018 (e.g. p. 102).

Author Information: Boris I. Pruzhinin, Russian Academy of Science,; Tatiana G. Shchedrina, Russian Academy of Science

Pruzhinin, Boris I., Tatiana G. Shchedrina. “On the Specifics of Russian Philosophy: A Reply to Mikhail Sergeev.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 8 (2017): 37-41.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to:

Image credit: jaime.silva, via flickr

Mikhail Sergeev presents a view on Russian philosophy that, until recently, dominated both Russian and international historical-philosophical literature.[1] On this view, one interprets Russian philosophy as religious-orthodox in its essence. Accordingly, everything else comprising Russian philosophy gets presented as the result of western European influence and, therefore, is not original to it. However, since the 1990’s, the character and the direction of philosophical investigation in Russia has changed. Beginning in 2010, different views on the cultural-historical sense of the Russian philosophical tradition have arisen and reduced the role of religious orthodoxy. Still, this approach unrightfully narrows the circle of personalities, ideas, and topics that actually formed the Russian philosophical tradition and, as a result, limits an understanding of Russian culture as an intellectual and existential source of this tradition.

Beyond this narrow scope are dozens of original thinkers and the entire directions of thought—Russian philosophy of psychology (Georgiy Ivanovich Chelpanov, Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky, Sergey Leonidovich Rubinstein, etc.),[2] unique logical investigations (Mikhail Ivanovich Karinsky, Nikolay Aleksandrovich Vasiliev, Vladimir Nikolaevich Ivanovsky),[3] the ideas of phenomenology, hermeneutics, semiotics (Gustav Gustavovich Shpet, Roman Osipovich Yakobson)[4],[5] and others. Even the ideas of religious philosophers are impoverished (for example, the semiotic ideas of Father Pavel Florensky).[6] Further, these developments do not include directions such as Russian neo-Kantianism.[7]

“Impoverishing” Thought

To clarify of our thesis regarding the “impoverishing” of Russian philosophical thought, we offer an analogy to the Western-European philosophical tradition. Christianity, of course, played an important role in its formation, but its intellectual content, its personalities, and its basic themes are not limited to Christian influence, just as the European culture that sustained philosophy for two thousand and fifty hundred years is not limited to Christian ideas. In European philosophy, one studies thinkers as different as Kant and Nietzsche, Pascal and Descartes, Spinoza and Kierkegaard alongside one another. European thinkers do not try to reduce French philosophy to Catholic doctrine, or the German intellectual tradition to Protestant canons.

There is an idea of philosophy as a cultural phenomenon, the specifics of which are in a particular relation to the world—a reflexive and self-reflexive one—and the icons of its expression vary in different nations. Meanwhile, international specialists in the history of Russian philosophy often reduce Russian philosophy and, by extension, Russian culture to Orthodoxy. A powerful influence in developing of this point of view were the publications of histories of Russian philosophy prepared by philosophers—emigrants of the orthodox orientation in different years (Vasiliy Vasilievich Zenkovsky, Nikolay Onufrievich Lossky, Sergey Aleksandrovich Levitsky and others). However, in analysing the positive aspects of their works, it was not often mentioned that emigration resulted in these philosophers knowing only one social sphere of “Russian” reality—the Orthodox church (all other forms of sociality such as state, language and culture were alien). Consequently, philosophers stressed in their work the role of Orthodox religion in the formation of Russian intellectual culture. Detecting the Orthodox specifics of the Russian intellectual tradition, therefore, can be counted as a form of philosophical self-identification (as mentioned above regarding historians of Russian philosophy).[8] The spread of these self-identifications in broad humanistic and historical-philosophical circles provides clear evidence of these “orthodox” influenced schemes of Russian thought and cultural development in Western world.

Today, it is obvious that the excessive emphasis on the confessional component stimulates interest in Russian philosophy and culture; yet, to rather exotic, mysterious and mystical phenomena. In addition, the accentuation of Orthodox religion deepens the gap between Russian pre-revolution philosophy and philosophical approaches of the Soviet period—the continuity becomes lost, the interconnection of these two periods of Russian intellectual cultural development vanishes (a connection not recognized by many at first glance).[9] Thus, the confessional focus of the Russian intellectual tradition greatly impoverishes the intellectual content of Russian culture and its philosophy.

Issues of Translation

Mikhail Sergeev points out, in particular, that there exists a tradition of translating the term tsel’noe into English as integral. We are familiar with the reasons for this translation. But we are not satisfied with the translation itself. The fact of the matter is that the basis of both the English word integrity and its Russian calque integrativny are lay Latin words—integrum (complete, tseloe), integration (integration, vosstanovlenie, vospolnenie)—that in Russian mean unity (ob’edinenie), interpenetration (vzaimoproniknovenie). In its origin the condition of integral knowledge is disconnected—after it is restored, completed—that presupposes the integration of various elements (or parts) into one. However, whole—tsel’noe—knowledge in the Russian philosophical tradition is not restored from different parts but originally whole, complete, undividable, indecomposable on various separate elements, self-evident—i.e. requesting the grasp and understanding of the sense in communication, in the sphere of talk. Only such knowledge has a concrete nature, has dignity (to use a term of Pamfil Danilovich Yurkevich). The concreteness and focus on communication today can be considered a characteristic feature of Russian philosophy. In our translation, we relied on the change in the content of term tsel’noe that occurred in Russian philosophy in the 20th century. We find it important to outline the differences of the apparent philosophical sense that began to form in the religious-philosophical works of Ivan Vasilievich Kireevsky, Vladimir Sergeevich Solovyov and Pamfil Danilovich Yurkevich which adds further concrete logical, phenomenological and hermeneutical connotations in the works of Mikhail Ivanovich Karinsky, and Gustav Gustavovich Shpet.

If we lose these perspectives it means, for example, that we overlook the basis of Gustav Shpet’s phenomenological ideas (the originality of which was valued by Husserl). We also lose Shpet’s emphasis on hermeneutics’ epistemological role. On this issue, Shpet wrote with reference to the Russian tradition of “positive (polozhitel’naya) philosophy” [10] that remains unmentioned by Sergeev as his attention is focused on the idea of integral knowledge based on faith. Meanwhile, Shpet wrote to Husserl that he searched for the basis of phenomenology in Plato’s works.[11] In the process of writing History as a Problem of Logic,[12] Shpet was interested in how the problem of the cognition of historical reality was postulated before Kant, who tore reason from sensuality.

The theory of knowledge which followed Kant’s raised the question of how to “stitch” together what Kant pulled apart (in the works of the neo-Kantians, for example, and of religious philosophers). Some philosophers who took this road followed reason, some followed sensuality, and some pursued mysticism. Shpet (as well as structuralism and semasiology) demonstrated that dividing reason and sensuality is not productive, and suggested that Kant made a mistake. Knowledge is indeed a primarily whole and the source of cognition are words since—even in the case when we represent the outer world with our sense organs or if we logically construct, and after substantiate, the imagined world—we can justify ourselves only when we verbally inform other people about our actions.

For Shpet, knowledge is born from the act of communication. Thereafter, the problematics of cognition shift from the problem of reason and sensuality corresponding to the problematics of expressing what is known. In order not to miss this principal change in epistemological problematics that is found in the Russian philosophical tradition we, speaking of whole knowledge, do not use the term “integrative knowledge” (because this term is associated and assigned with a certain epistemological tradition). We refer the reader to Shpet’s idea of “intelligible intuition” that allows people, including scientists, to understand each other. Exactly this aspect of wholeness puts Shpet in the tradition of Russian philosophy because, as a foundation of communication, it unites the concreteness and universality of knowledge. As a consequence, Shpet addresses Yurkevich who rigidly follows epistemological traditions of Plato and Kant. After Yurkevich relates his ideas on God, Shpet corrects him. In epistemology, we must speak not about God but about humans. This is the main point that we articulated in considering the Russian epistemological tradition. In the framework of this tradition, knowledge emerges as having a certain and special sign-symbolic structure the investigation of which requires a special theory of knowledge—a hermeneutical one.

Russian Philosophy’s Emergence

We could give quotes of Russian philosophers who support our thoughts about the existence of a specific Russian epistemological tradition. Also, we could offer numerous arguments by contemporary Russian investigators on this topic. For example, we could detail Chubarov’s position who wrote about Kireevsky, Solovyov and Homyakov as precursors of phenomenology in Russia in the Anthology of Phenomenological Thought on Russia.[13] But, to sum up the results of our discussion with Sergeev, let us point out the following.

A modern look at the content, cultural sense, and place of Russian philosophy at the end of the 19th, and the beginning if the 20th, centuries connects with the emergence of a new dimension in the research work of historians of Russian philosophy—of the orientation on actualizing the Russian philosophical legacy as a whole cultural phenomenon, and on its correlation with modern philosophical problematics. The formation of this view on the specifics of Russian philosophy was realized by the project “Russian Philosophy of the First Half of the 20th Century.” During the period between 2012 and 2017, 26 volumes about Russian philosophers were published. These publications focus on the modern character of Russian philosophers’ ideas, fitting them within the framework of actual philosophical problematics. More than 100 Russian and international researchers of Russian philosophy collaborated on the project.

It is to the project’s findings that we addressed our article—“The Ideas of Cultural–Historical Epistemology in Russian Philosophy of the Twentieth Century”—in Social Epistemology. The article did not pretend to be historically-philosophically complete; its main aim was to lend this unique view on Russian philosophy to one aspect of epistemology. Given the article’s length and purpose we neither explored the new, now forming, view on Russian philosophy, nor the overall historical-philosophical investigation of terminological apparatus (and conceptual language) of the Russian philosophical tradition.

We are grateful to Social Epistemology and Mikhail Sergeev who provided us the opportunity to touch on these topics in the response to his critical considerations.

[1] Sergeev, Mikhail. “‘Integral Knowledge’ and Enlightenment Rationalism: A Reply to Pruzhinin and Shchedrina.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 4 (2017): 1-3.

[2] Lektorsky V.A. (ed.) Philosophy of Psychology. Moscow: Politicheskaya Encyclopedia (ROSSPEN), 2016 (series “Russian Philosophy of the first half of the XXth century” edited by Pruzhinin B.I.). (In Russian).

[3] Bazhanov V.A. (ed.) “Logical-Epistemological Direction in Russian Philosophy” (first half of the XXth century): M.I. Karinsky, V.N. Ivanovsky, N.A. Vasilyev. Moscow: Rossiiskaya Politicheskaya Encyclopedia (ROSSPEN), 2012 (series “Russian Philosophy of the first half of the XXth century” edited by Pruzhinin B.I.). (In Russian).

[4] Shchedrina T.G. “I Write as Though I Was an Echo of the Other”: Outlines of the Intellectual Biography of Gustav Shpet. Moscow: Progress-Traditziya, 2004. (In Russian). Shchedrina T.G. “Gustav Gustavovich Shpet.” Moscow: Politicheskaya Encyclopedia (ROSSPEN), 2014 (series “Russian Philosophy of the first half of the XXth century” edited by Pruzhinin B.I.). (In Russian).

[5] Avtonomova N.S., Baran H., Shchedrina T.G. (ed.) “Roman Osipovich Yakobson.” Moscow: Politicheskaya Encyclopedia (ROSSPEN), 2017 (series “Russian Philosophy of the first half of the XXth century” edited by Pruzhinin B.I.). (In Russian).

[6] Parshin A.N., Sedykh O.M. “Pavel Aleksandrovich Florensky.” Moscow: Rossiiskaya Politicheskaya Encyclopedia (ROSSPEN), 2013 (series “Russian Philosophy of the first half of the XXth century” edited by Pruzhinin B.I.). (In Russian).

[7] Bryushinkin V.N., Popova V.S. (ed.) “Neo-Kantianism in Russia: Aleksandr Ivanovich Vvedenskiy, Ivan Ivanovich Lapshin.” Moscow: Rossiiskaya Politicheskaya Encyclopedia (ROSSPEN), 2013 (series “Russian Philosophy of the first half of the XXth century” edited by Pruzhinin B.I.). (In Russian).

[8] Pruzhinin B.I., Shchedrina T.G. (ed.) Epistemological Style in Russian Intellectual Culture of the XIX-XX Centuries. From Personality to Tradition. Moscow: Rossiiskaya Politicheskaya Encyklopedia (ROSSPEN), 2013: 447. (In Russian). Shchedrina T.G. “The Archive of an Epoch: Thematic Unity of Russian Philosophy.” M.: Rossiiskaya Politicheskaya Encyclopedia (ROSSPEN), 2008. (In Russian).

[9] Pruzhinin B.I., Shchedrina T.G. “Russian Philosophy as a Culture-Historical Phenomenon: The Problem of Integrity.” The Herald of Vyatka State University for the Humanities no. 2 (2015): 17–24. (In Russian).

[10] Shchedrina T.G. “The Archive of an Epoch: Thematic Unity of Russian Philosophy.” M.: Rossiiskaya Politicheskaya Rncyclopedia (ROSSPEN), 2008, 43–44. (In Russian).

[11] Shpet Gustav, Edmund Husserl. G. Shpet’s Response Letters. Translated by V. Kurennoy, Igor Mikhailov, Igor Chubarov, notes and attachment by Vitaliy Kurennoy. Logos, no 7. (1996): 123-133. (In Russian).

[12] Shpet G.G. History as a Problem of Logic. Critical and Methodological Investigations. Part 1: Materials (1916) / Editor in-chief and complier Shchedrina T.G. M., St. Petersburg: Universitetskaya Kniga, 2014 (In Russian).

[13] Chubarov I.M. (ed.) Anthology of Phenomenological Philosophy in Russia. Vol. I. M.: Russian Phenomenological Society, Logos, 1998. (In Russian).

Author Information: Ilya Kasavin, Russian Academy of Science,

Kasavin, Ilya. “Why so Romantic and A Priori? A Reply to Bakhurst and Sismondo.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 5 (2017): 20-22.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

Please refer to:

Image credit: Yakub Annanurov

It is my pleasure and privilege to respond to the critical comments on my paper provided by David Bakhurst and Sergio Sismondo (2017). These comments represent a clever combination of significant knowledge of both STS and Russian philosophy—a rare occurrence. Bakhurst and Sismondo help me realize that my style of discourse relies, perhaps, too much on tacit knowledge and shared opinions that should be articulated in order to serve if not as an additional argument then, at least, as an apology.

Toward a New Agenda

I am aware that the idea of searching for a new agenda in the philosophy of science and STS, which appeals to the Russian tradition (even putting aside Russian religious philosophy as I do), is an ambitious task and might look too brave. Yet, mainstream philosophy does pursue such ambitious agendas—one might consider John Stuart Mill, the Vienna Circle, Karl Popper, Willard Quine, Thomas Kuhn—and well-elaborated concepts interpreted, reinterpreted, and developed by contemporary scholars. French historical epistemology and German Neo-Kantianism are much less popular. Surprisingly, the same is true in the case of William Whewell who launched the program of historically-oriented philosophy of science over one hundred years before Kuhn. Still, Whewell remains largely forgotten in the shadow of Mill, his liberal rival.

A similar lack of attention to the Russian tradition in the philosophy of science also makes it difficult to provide clear guidelines for extracting a kind of unified picture of science, or knowledge, out of the works of Russian thinkers. Hence, my efforts to compose a more or less unified pool of Russian scholars for my purpose might look implausible. And this moves Bakhurst and Sismondo to assert that “Russian cosmism, for example, is a million miles from Ilyenkov’s Marxism” (21). My counter-argument for this case is as follows. Pantheism builds the common historical roots for Russian cosmism as well as for Hegel who inspired the version of Marxism elaborated by Ilyenkov. This is a crucial point for the “objective ideal forms” (Ilyenkov) and “noosphere” (Vernadsky) that seem to be very close to one another. Also, cosmism and Marxism might be portrayed by someone like Popper, from the perspective of his gradual social engineering, for their faith in long-term social forecasting, which serves a basis of every global project. It would be naïve to justify a theoretical unity of Russian philosophical tradition using a thorough historical/philosophical analysis. Still, the Russian thinkers I mention share a holistic view of human knowledge that might be well dubbed “integral knowledge”.

Bakhurst and Sismondo are quite right pointing out the origin of “integral knowledge” concept in Ivan Kireevsky’s works. Nevertheless, I appeal to this concept in the later interpretations by Shpet—where it is released from any religious meaning. Following this interpretation, I propose an expanded concept of knowledge and the corresponding expansion of epistemological subject matter. According to the latter, every conscious phenomenon (perceptions, notions, beliefs, values, norms, ideals etc.) and, moreover, every cultural and social artifact have epistemic content. This notion leads beyond the limits of classical epistemology which continues to define knowledge as justified true belief (in spite of Gettier problems). I am sure that one needs an expanded concept of knowledge to deal with global projects (large technosocial units) within STS. Thus, appealing to “integral knowledge” is a normative rather than a descriptive stance; it is primarily a requirement of the current development within the “social philosophy of science” than an extraction from the history of (Russian or whatever) thought.

On Case Studies

I share the critical evaluation of what Bakhurst and Sismondo call “whiggish accounts” (21) of science (the “armchair image” of science also applies), which is typical in some aspects of analytical epistemology. The best representatives of Russian philosophical tradition were proponents of a historical/sociological vision of science and also dealt with case studies (Boris Hessen). So, I have no doubt in case studies as a significant means of philosophy of science seeking an empirical foundation. Moreover, there should be no bias between philosophy, on the one side, and history and sociology of science, on the other side; such a boundary looks obsolete. Nevertheless, many case studies (perhaps it is better to call them “empirical studies”) have very little theoretical/philosophical outcome, or their outcome is trivial. (I won’t mention here any names in order to avoid an unnecessary quarrel.) And I am sure these cases can stimulate a vivid interdisciplinary interaction, especially if philosophers get involved in their interpretation. Still, there are brilliant examples of a different kind, case studies that provide real theoretical progress and serve as the gold standard for STS research (works by Harry Collins, Steven Shapin, Karin Knorr-Cetina and Peter Galison among others) that justifies the constructivist and anti-cumulativist view of science. Perhaps the expanding community of STS empirical researchers should be more alive in practice to case studies that follow such standards.

As to my Karakum Canal research, which I did exactly as a standard case-study, there was no place in the general article in Social Epistemology for the detailed historical and sociological evidence. I might refer here only to my paper[1], where one finds some more empirical evidence based on rare Russian sources in the Karakum Canal history and in-depth interviews with specialists in hydrogeology and hydraulic engineering. Actually, such a huge artifact like Karakum Canal altogether can hardly be a subject matter of a case study, though most of my empirical evidence deals only with the first four years of its history. Moreover, Bakhurst and Sismondo might be correct in pointing out certain “romantic” and “a priori” elements in my attitude. These elements will be more understandable in terms of the current discussions between Russian economists, who contrast a social-engineering approach (Alexej Kudrin who supports financiers following Georgii Schedrovitsky’s ideas) with a global project approach (Ruslan Grinberg who acts in favor of “industrialists”) in search for a state strategy for economic growth. In this framework, the Karakum Canal history acquires a more normative, than descriptive, meaning in the Russian context going beyond STS towards the social philosophy of science and technology. But this is the other side of the coin.


Bakhurst, David and Sergio Sismondo. “Commentary on Ilya Kasavin’s ‘Towards a Social Philosophy of Science: Russian Prospects’.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 4 (2017): 20-23.

Kasavin, Ilya. “Towards a Social Philosophy of Science: Russian Prospects.” Social Epistemology 31, no. 1 (2017): 1-15.

Kasavin, Ilya. “Mega-Projects and Global Projects: Science Between Utopia and Technocracy.” Voprosy filosofii 9, (2015): 40-56 (in Russian).

[1] “Mega-Projects and Global Projects: Science Between Utopia and Technocracy.” Voprosy filosofii 9, (2015): 40-56 (in Russian).

Author Information: David Bakhurst and Sergio Sismondo, Queen’s University at Kingston,;

Bakhurst, David and Sergio Sismondo. “Commentary on Ilya Kasavin’s ‘Towards a Social Philosophy of Science: Russian Prospects’.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 4 (2017): 20-23.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

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Ilya Kasavin’s paper[1] argues for a renewed conception of the philosophy of science. He laments what he sees as the present division of labour, which gives philosophy of science responsibility for the logical and methodological analysis of scientific knowledge, while the history, sociology and psychology of science are conceived as separate domains of enquiry, each with its distinct subject matter. 

Kasavin’s Project

Kasavin proposes a more holistic vision inspired by a range of Russian thinkers—including Hessen, Shpet, Vygotsky, Bakhtin, Ilyenkov, Fedorov and Vernadsky—who all offer profoundly holistic views that seek to transcend familiar oppositions between mind and world, individual and social, nature and culture. The Russian tradition yields “a more realistic image of knowledge as a complex, self-developing, human-dimensional system that can be separated from its context only by abstraction” [p. 6; translation corrected—D.B.]. Thus we cannot put the study of the philosophy, history, sociology and psychology of science into different silos. They need to be properly integrated, and when they are, philosophical insight will both inform and issue from the study of science in its various dimensions.

To illustrate his position, Kasavin invites us to consider “megaprojects”, which, in contrast to the historical and sociological case studies so characteristic of contemporary Science and Technology Studies (STS), are endeavours of such “technical complexity and political-economic significance”, that they cannot be understood without a philosophical vision. He takes as his example the building of the Kara-Kum Canal in the Stalin era, a project that, though its primary purpose was the irrigation of desert lands, had its origin, Kasavin argues, in Peter the Great’s ambition to construct a water transportation route that would unite northern and southern Russia and open up further routes to Persia, India and China. Such massive undertakings cannot be treated as if they are merely scaled up versions of smaller engineering projects. On the contrary, they present distinctive problems of explanation and analysis, and carry within them profound philosophical significance that any attempt to understand them must bring into view.

This is even more true of what Kasavin calls “global projects”, such as Isabella of Castile’s sending Columbus on his voyage of discovery, a project of truly world-historical significance that “intertwines science and everyday life, traditions and innovations, history and geography, the spontaneous inhomogeneity and constructive purposefulness of development, national mentality and the spirit of an epoch” (12). Any hope of understanding such phenomena requires more than a multi-disciplinary collaboration. It demands a “transdisciplinary reorientation” animated by the right philosophical sensibility—creative, open and holistic.

Unity? But What Unity?

How plausible is Kasavin’s optimism that the requisite philosophical sensibility is to be found in the Russian tradition? The difficulty here is that while it is relatively easy to say what the many and various Russian thinkers he presents jointly dislike, it is far harder to articulate a positive vision that they share. As Kasavin brings out, they all dismiss representationalist conceptions of mind and correspondentist theories of truth; reject scientism; distrust views that are sceptical of human creativity, and disdain those that fail to countenance the fundamentally social character of mind. It would be wrong, however, to suppose that anything like a common philosophy emerges from their work. Russian cosmism, for example, is a million miles from Ilyenkov’s Marxism. It is true, of course, that all these thinkers (with the probable exception of Bakhtin) look to philosophy for a unifying vision and represent knowledge as a oneness with reality achievable by individuals only in community with others. But there is little unity in their respective ways of developing such insights.

Kasavin invokes the distinctively Russian notion of “integral knowledge” as a unifying theme, representing it as introduced at the turn of the 20th century by a number of Russian thinkers, including Shpet and Solovyev, and subsequently taken up by Vygotsky and Bakhtin. But the notion of “integral knowledge” actually derives from the 1850s and the work of Ivan Kireevsky, one of the key figures of the Slavophile movement, and while it found various expressions in the ideas of later thinkers, it is hard to liberate it entirely from its original associations with Orthodoxy, the Russian Soul, and the transcendence of reason. These are not ideas usually associated with Vygotsky or Bakhtin, let alone Ilyenkov. We do not doubt that there is much in the Russian tradition that could contribute to the revitalization of philosophical conceptions of science, but there remains a good deal of work to be done to make this explicit.

Case Studies 

Kasavin is concerned that STS is overly focused on case studies that only rarely make philosophical contributions. Of course, it is implicit in the idea of a case study—as opposed to a study of purely antiquarian interest—that it illuminates something larger than itself: it should provide a case of something general, abstract or fundamental. Whether STS’s case studies make philosophical points will depend in part on the boundaries of philosophy, although certainly STS has helped to reshape ideas of such things as scientific argumentation and objectivity, of relations between theory and experiment, and of the application of science, all of which are important to the philosophy of science and technology.

One of the effects of ethnographic and historical case studies in STS has been to show how philosophy has often relied on idealized visions of science and technology that line up poorly with science as it is actually practiced. Philosophers have often based their views on textbook or other whiggish accounts of scientific practice, accounts that tend to draw scientific beliefs toward presently accepted truths. We might see this in terms of a kind of distance between philosophical views and actual practice. STS has replaced whiggish accounts by relentlessly constructivist ones: STS looks to how things are constructed from the ground up. The concrete details of materials, actions and representations matter to scientific and technological constructions.


One of the risks of doing empirical studies is that they may not turn out to be of any larger significance. To guard against that, Kasavin, as we observed above, turns to what he considers an empirical topic of intrinsic significance, a megaproject.

Construction on the Kara-Kum Canal, running from the Amu Dar’ya River across the Kara-Kum Desert, began in 1954 under Stalin and was completed in 1988. As Kasavin describes, the canal was one of the largest engineering projects undertaken by the Soviet Union, is one of the longest waterways of the world, permitted the irrigation of what could become valuable agricultural land, and led to extensive development in Turkmenistan.  Kasavin argues that the real origins of the canal lie in the era of Peter the Great, who in the early years of the eighteenth century saw commercial and political possibilities in the creation of a navigable waterway through the Kara-Kum Desert. The canal would form an important leg in the passage from the heart of Russia to India. Although Peter did not progress beyond preliminary surveying of the possible canal bed and building a few necessary political alliances, Kasavin suggests that the idea remained alive through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, an element of a general Russian enthusiasm for hydraulic engineering. Is the implication of the line drawn from Peter the Great’s Kara-Kum Canal to Stalin’s Kara-Kum Canal that megaprojects like these can have lives of their own?

For Kasavin, we should not assume that megaprojects are the products of economic opportunities or political circumstances. The Kara-Kum Canal did not depend on a calculation of costs and benefits, but instead issued from acts of will: first Peter’s, who did not have the power to bring it into being, and then Stalin’s, who did. Here lies a kind of romanticism in Kasavin’s account, which fuels his impatience with merely technocratic approaches to megaprojects (exemplified in his article by the Danish authors who attempt to address the anarchic tendencies of megaprojects by deciding how best to budget, plan and execute them).  What needs to be understood, is that, while born of pure will, the Kara-Kum Canal was built by workers who, in Trifonov’s image, were doing a kind of practical philosophy as they reshaped space and time, a kind of embodied metaphysics. Nature was mastered and transformed to human ends, most immediately the ends of Soviet society. The result is something of almost unbelievable grandeur and gravitas, producing experiences of what David Nye (following Perry Miller) calls the “technological sublime”, in which the individual human agent is dwarfed by the scale of megaprojects as the social giant unleashes its Promethean aspirations to reshape nature to human ends.

Yet to support Kasavin’s picture we surely need to study the details of how the Kara-Kum Canal and other megaprojects are actually realized.  Kasavin offers us a unifying vision, but it yields an a priori narrative, illustrated by literary texts (Platonov, Trifonov) rather than close study of historical detail. STS’s current, and very different, sensibility would suggest a need to drill down into the details of megaprojects to understand how they are made, how they work and don’t work, and how they are understood. What traces and records were left of the project imagined by Peter the Great, how were they interpreted and reinterpreted over the course of hundreds of years, and how, if at all, did they influence Stalin’s project? In what sense are these two projects connected? Planning the canal was begun under Stalin—and it is certainly plausible that the canal arose out of his force of will—but the digging, blasting and pouring of cement did not begin until after Stalin’s death, and continued for more than thirty years before the project was complete. Why did Stalin’s canal not suffer the fate of Peter’s? What important decisions, obstacles and compromises gave the canal its eventual shape?

No doubt it is only the kind of philosophical vision that Kasavin applauds that draws us to the subject matter about which we ask these questions, but it is only by attention to empirical detail that we stand a chance of answering them. But it is precisely the kind of case studies favoured in contemporary STS that have taught us a lot about the profundity and complexity of the empirical study of science and technology. We should not scorn that legacy, as Kasavin sometimes seems to, and embrace instead a diet of speculative narratives and a priori reflections, but find a way to ensure that a due appreciation of philosophical richness of our subject matter informs our efforts to bring out its empirical reality in all its depth and richness. That, we contend, is the guiding principle that must inform any attempt to rethink the nature of case studies or the role of philosophy in contemporary studies of science.

[1] Kasavin, Ilya. “Towards a Social Philosophy of Science: Russian Prospects.” Social Epistemology 31, no. 1 (2017): 1-15.

Author Information: Mikhail Sergeev, University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA

Sergeev, Mikhail. “‘Integral Knowledge’ and Enlightenment Rationalism: A Reply to Pruzhinin and Shchedrina.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 6, no. 4 (2017): 1-3.

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In “The Ideas of Cultural–Historical Epistemology in Russian Philosophy of the Twentieth Century” Boris Pruzhinin and Tatiana Shchedrina write about the socio-cultural dimension of Russian epistemological theories.[1] They maintain that since the turn of the twentieth century those theories were characterized by the concepts of “wholeness” and “whole knowledge,” which “consists of the unity of value and cognitive elements” (17). The Russian philosophical project of “positive philosophy” (not to be confused with “positivist philosophy” or “positivism”) consisted in arguing that “[k]knowledge acts as the most important element in cultivating the human soul” and as such has to “meet not only the requirements of our mind, but also the demands of our hearts” (17).

This epistemological perspective has led Russian thinkers to emphasize the cultural-historical circumstances and the existential condition of the human cognizer. As the authors of the article write, “Cognitive content of knowledge always has a concrete meaning for the person, for it is always to be found in particular life context. And in this context knowledge acquires value for a human: not only practical (or everyday) usefulness, but also of an existential significance (or higher value)” (18).

Pruzhinin and Shchedrina believe that this existentially oriented Russian epistemological tradition not only exerted significant impact on the development of semiotics and structuralism in the twentieth century—they trace its influence back to the Russian phenomenologist Gustav Shpet (1879-1937) and linguist Roman Jakobson (1896-1982)—but also retains its philosophical value and potentials in our contemporary post-structuralist world.

Historical Dimension

I would like to make several comments with regard to the thesis of the article—the first one being related to its historical roots. The origin of the idea of “integral cognition” goes farther in history than the turn of the twentieth century. I prefer to translate the Russian expression “tsel’noe znanie” as “integral” rather than “whole” knowledge—as it is rendered in the anthology of Russian philosophy first published in 1965 and still used as a standard textbook on Russian thought in American universities.[2]

The concept of “integral cognition” was introduced into Russian philosophy by one of the founders of the Slavophile movement Ivan V. Kireevsky (1806-1856). A religious and philosophical school in Russian thought, Slavophilism was conceived in the nineteenth century as a response to the challenge of European Enlightenment and its supposedly one-sided notion of abstract reason. The Slavophiles searched for new principles in philosophy—ones that are based on the Orthodox Russian tradition and are capable of providing new impetus to modern thinkers who were torn apart by the separation of human rationality and faith.

As we read in the anthology, “Kireevsky’s chief philosophical contribution to this task was centered in his doctrine of ‘integral cognition’ … which he also called ‘faith’ and sometimes imperceptibly identified with Russian Orthodox belief.”[3] In his philosophical program Kireevsky did not oppose abstract reason or logical thinking per se. Rather he maintained that

… there is a kind of cognition which underlies such logical thought, which is identical with the “whole personality” of the individual … is not a separate faculty [and] includes the realms of feeling, motivation, desire, and intention which put man in contact with reality and with other men prior to any process of abstract thinking. [4]

Introduced by the Slavophiles, the concept of “integral knowledge” was picked up by Vladimir Soloviev (1853-1900) whom Pruzhinin and Shchedrina refer to in their article. Soloviev was a philosopher and religious thinker who tried to formulate the middle way between the two extremes of Russian Slavophilism and Westernism. A devout Orthodox Christian himself he attempted to navigate between the Scylla of Orthodox nationalism and the Charybdis of Western secularism.[5]

In the center of Soloviev’s philosophical speculations lied the notion of vseedinstvo, which is usually translated into English as “all-unity” (or sometimes as “total-unity”). In “his doctoral dissertation, the Critique of Abstract Principles (1880) Soloviev described those ‘abstract principles’ as “various aspects of All-Unity, which, by separating from the whole and establishing their autonomy, lost their true character, conflicted with each other, and plunged humanity into a state of disunity and chaos.”[6]

Soloviev’s program of philosophical reintegration was directly influenced by Kireevsky’s concept of “integral cognition” to which (reintegration or the achievement of “all-unity”) it fits nicely as its epistemological hypostasis.[7] Later Kireevsky’s and Soloviev’s ideas were explored by other Russian philosophers in both religious and secular directions.

Modern Implications

The second comment that I would like to make is in reference to modern applications of the concept of “whole” or “integral” knowledge. In their article Pruzhinin and Shchedrina point out that the “specificity of cultural-historical epistemology is related to a special interpretation of knowledge as a cultural phenomenon that has an existential-symbolical meaning for the cognizer.” They further argue—and I repeat this key idea of the article—that “[k]nowledge acts as the most important element in cultivating the human soul (cultural and cults designating, correspondingly, the cultivation, of the soul)” (17).

In Kireevsky’s mind, as well as in Soloviev’s, the existential dimension of such an epistemology had a very specific meaning and presupposed Orthodox Christian moral and religious values as a necessary condition for the spiritual growth of the human soul. When divorced from its original religious background the notion of integral cognition, in my view, loses its essential orientation and turns into an idea that is quite ambiguous.

What would the “growth of the human soul” mean in the context of secular culture? It could mean very many, in fact, quite the opposite things, to different people. Without the initial religious and spiritual compass the concept of “integral cognition” seems to lose its existential precision and may as well be used as justification for any ideology that claims to serve as an instrument of “human growth.”


I would like to commend Pruzhinin and Shchedrina for raising awareness of the American readers and for an in-depth discussion of one of the key concepts in classical Russian philosophy. I believe that this cultural and philosophical exchange of ideas is not only productive but essential for the growth of humanity (pan intended). In the spirit of such a dialogue I would like to offer a short list of the most important books and anthologies of Russian thought that were published in English over the last half-century.[8]

[1] Pruzhinin, Boris and Tatiana Shchedrina. “The Ideas of Cultural–Historical Epistemology in Russian Philosophy of the Twentieth Century.” Social Epistemology 31, no. 1 (16-24): 2017.

[2] Russian Philosophy, eds. James M. Edie, James P. Scanlan, and Mary-Barbara Zeldin with the collaboration of George L. Kline, Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1987, Vol. I, 168.

[3] Ibid, 168.

[4] Ibid, 168-69.

[5] For more on Vladimir Soloviev’s project of modern Orthodoxy see, for example, my article “Liberal Orthodoxy: From Vladimir Solov’ev To Fr. Alexander Men.” Religion in Eastern Europe, vol. XXIII, no. 4 (2003), 43-50.

[6] Andrzej Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: from the Enlightenment to Marxism, tr. Hilda Andrews-Rusiecka, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1979, 379.

[7] For more on Kireevsky’s influence on Soloviev see Walicki, A History of Russian Thought, 375-76. On page 376 Walicki writes, for instance: “The first work in which Soloviev outlined a system of his own was Philosophical Principles of Integral Knowledge (1877). The title itself clearly harks back to the notion of tselnost’, or “wholeness,” which was the kernel of Kireevsky’s philosophical works.”

[8] (1) Lossky, N. O. History of Russian Philosophy. New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1951; (2) Zenkovsky, Vasilii V. A History of Russian Philosophy, 2 vols. translated by George L. Kline. New York: Columbia University Press, 1953; (3) Russian Intellectual History. An Anthology, edited by Mark Raeff, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1966; (4) Russian Philosophy, 3 vols. (1965) edited by James M. Edie, et al. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1976; (5) Ultimate Questions: An Anthology of Modern Russian Religious Thought, edited by Alexander Schmemann, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965, 2nd. ed., Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977; (6) Andrzej Walicki, A History of Russian Thought: from the Enlightenment to Marxism, translated by Hilda Andrews-Rusiecka, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1979; (7) Frederick C. Copleston, Russian Religious Philosophy: Selected Aspects, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988 and Philosophy in Russia: From Herzen to Lenin and Berdyaev, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986; (8) A Documentary History of Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to Marxism, translated and edited by W.J. Leatherbarrow and D.C. Offord, Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1987; (9) Georges Florovsky. Ways of Russian Theology translated by Robert L. Nichols in Collected Works. Vol. VI, Vaduz: Büchervertriebsanstalt, 1987; (10) A History of Russian Philosophy. From the Tenth Through the Twentieth Centuries, 2 vols. edited by Valerii Kuvakin. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1994; (11) James Scanlan, Marxism in the USSR. A Critical Survey of Current Soviet Thought, Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1985; Evert van der Zweerde, Soviet Historiography of Philosophy. Istoriko-Filosofskaia Nauka. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1997.