RussianNeo-Kantianism: Marburg in Russia.  Historical-philosophical sketches.

By Nina Dmitrieva.  Review by Michael Zank.

Nina Dmitrieva, Russian Neo-Kantianism: Marburg in Russia. Historical-philosophical sketches, Moscow, 2007 (ISBN 978-5-8243-0835-8) 511 pp., in Russian, with a table of contents and a six page summary in German; including also an appendix of letters, an extensive bibliography, and twelve pages of photographic images between text pages 256 and 257.

 Based on meticulous archival research, Nina Dmitrieva’s monograph documents the intellectual biographies of a group of hitherto neglected Russian philosophers whose work constituted an alternative to the materialism that, for most of the 20th century, was the dominant philosophical doctrine of Stalinist Russia. It so happens that many of these thinkers received their training in Marburg, Germany, a place that, in the first decades of the 20th century was a Mecca for philosophically inclined youths from across Europe and the US, among them such well-known figures as Ortega y Gasset, Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, T.S. Eliot, and Boris Pasternak. Whereas critical idealism was obliterated in Marburg after Heidegger replaced Paul Natorp in 1924, the Russian reception of Marburg neo-Kantianism was profound and of lasting import, as Dmitrieva documents. Her book should be of particular interest to scholars of modern Russian intellectual history.

 Nina Dmitrieva argues that it is possible to distinguish Russian from German neo-Kantian writings because of a particular focus, present in the former, on the problem of “the correlation (Wechselbeziehung) between the rational and the irrational” (N. Alekseev). This thematic focus derives from the polemical situation that characterized the intellectual struggle of Russian neo-Kantians with the more popular religious-mystical direction that began to become quite popular among Russian intellectuals around 1910. Discussions on the “irrational” revolved around the problems of psychology, intuition, and individuality.

 Among the most significant findings of this study is influence of the specifically Russian preoccupation with the irrational on the later development of the Marburg school itself, from around 1911. Dmitrieva shows that the Russian focus on the irrational in its relation to the rational left a decisive imprint on the work of Marburg philosophers Paul Natorp, Ernst Cassirer, and Heinz Heimsoeth. Examples of this are, W. Sesemann’s studies on the irrational (1911) and their influence on Natorp; Natorp’s debate with Wischeslavzeff on the problem of the correlation between morality and law; B. Vogt’s conversations with H. Heimsoeth, which led to the latter’s dissertation on Descartes’ method (1911); Cassirer’s discussions with D. Gawronsky on the problem of continuity in Poncelet (1910-12) and on the philosophical and physical meaning of Einstein’s theory of relativity (around 1920); and--of particular interest--a conversation between B. Pasternak and Ernst Cassirer in 1912 in which Pasternak articulated the desideratum of a critical philosophy of language.

It is to be hoped that this book will find a translation into English or another more widely accessible language so as to find the reception it deserves. There is no doubt that Dmitrieva’s study will change our understanding of Marburg neo-Kantianism, especially with respect to the shifts in the programmatic orientations, occuring around the time of Cohen’s retirement, and as evidenced in the late philosophy of Paul Natorp, as well as perhaps also in Cassirer’s turn to a philosophy of symbolic forms.