Gaidenko, Piama

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Piama Gaidenko (b. 1934)

Piama Pavlovna Gaidenko has been a leading historian of West-European and Russian philosophy and intellectual history since the Khrushchev era. Her work bridges the Soviet/post-Soviet divide, displaying a consistent quality through her keen and attentive understanding of both individual texts, with a particular eye for contradictory elements in them, and their complex interaction with various contexts. However, the writing of the history of philosophy has for Gaidenko not been limited to the historical intentions of texts. It has also been a critical project, where her engagement with the ideas of the past aims at figuring out their possible unintended consequences and discerning in them what is dead and what is alive.

Piama Gaidenko was born in 1934 in the Donetsk district in Soviet Ukraine. She studied philosophy at Moscow State University (MGU), from which she graduated in 1957, having specialized in the history of “foreign philosophy” (zarubezhnaia filosofiia). Her graduate thesis was a translation of Hegel’s Jenaer Realphilosophie. At MGU she became part of the circle around Evald Ilyenkov, for whom a central idea was that philosophy was first and foremost historical-philosophical knowledge. It was grounded in a new understanding of Marx’s philosophy as the historical-dialectical culmination of classic German philosophy (Kak eto bylo 308). This meant that philosophy always represents a gradual development and continual reformulation of the ideas of past thinkers. A further implication was a greater appreciation of the historical importance of various kinds of idealism, which was characteristic of several late-Soviet philosophers and stood in marked contrast to the condemnation of idealism in the Stalinist era.

In 1962, Gaidenko defended her doctoral dissertation on Martin Heidegger at the Plekhanov Institute for National Economy in Moscow. In the 1960s she taught at the Department for the History of Foreign Philosophy at MGU, while from 1969 to 1988 she worked at the Institute for the History of Science and Technics at the Academy of Sciences. Here she completed and defended her doctoral dissertation in 1982, an analysis of the history of the concept of science from the sixth century BC up to the sixteenth century AD. In 1988 she became the Director of the Sector of Philosophical Problems in the History of Science at the Academy of Sciences. She was awarded the title of Professor in 1997, and in 2000 she became a “corresponding member” (chlen-korrespondent) of the Academy of Sciences.

In 1992 Gaidenko gave a series of lectures on Max Weber at Heidelberg University, in cooperation with her husband Yuri Davydov. The lectures were later published in German by Suhrkamp as Russland und der Westen: Heidelberger Max Weber-Vorlesungen 1992 (1995). Gaidenko has published 13 monographs in Russian, on Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Fichte, Weber, and on the history of science and of Russian thought. The book Break-Through to the Transcendental (Proryv k trantsendentnomu: Novaia ontologiia XX veka, 1997) collects her main articles from the Soviet and early post-Soviet periods on twentieth-century philosophers. In addition to Hegel, Gaidenko has also translated key works by Weber into Russian.

Hence, we may single out the following three main topics in Gaidenko’s work (Andreeva 212, 224 and 229). The first is existentialism, from Søren Kierkegaard via Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, and Nikolai Berdyaev to Jean-Paul Sartre. The second is the history of science and in particular the philosophical foundations for the natural sciences in the early modern period (rationalism). The third is Russian philosophy, with a particular emphasis on its idealist tradition.



Gaidenko has in several works analyzed Western existentialist philosophers, focusing in particular on their interest in being. She sees the existentialist preoccupation with being as a reaction against modern rationalism from Descartes to Hegel and its denigration of the existence of the individual human being. In addition to several significant articles throughout her career, she published in 1963 Existentialism and the Problems of Culture: A Critique of the Philosophy of Martin Heidegger (Eksistentializm i problemy kul’tury: Kritika filosofii M. Khaideggera) and in 1970 The Tragedy of Aestheticism: Towards a Characterization of Søren Kierkegaard’s Worldview (Tragediia estetizma: K kharateristike mirovozzrenii S. K’erkegora). The latter became one of the most influential and widely discussed philosophical books of the 1970s, in that it presented to Soviet audiences the religious sources of existentialism. She was also responsible for the articles on “Existentialism” and “Heidegger” for the fifth volume of the Philosophical Encyclopedia that came out in 1970, a publication known for its undogmatic approach to non-Marxist thinkers and currents. Gaidenko’s contributions were likewise characterized by their non-dogmatic attempts at philosophical understanding, as well as by their explicit engagement with original sources and their contexts (Ignatow). As for Kierkegaard, Gaidenko portrayed him neither as a Christian thinker nor a bourgeois figure, but as a master of paradox and irony, with a philosophical method that at the same time displays tragic consequences when this worldview for him became totalizing and impossible to escape (Makolkin).

Gaidenko’s studies are often contextual in an ideational sense: they emphasize the questions to which philosophical texts respond, be it Kierkegaard’s reactions to Hegel or Heidegger and Jaspers’ responses to Kant. Furthermore, in the case of Sartre and Berdyaev, Gaidenko argues that both religious and atheistic thinkers develop a nihilistic, gnostic understanding of the world as evil. This leads her to interpret existentialism, with its “titanism” and voluntarism, as predominantly utopian in its rejection of the present, given conditions, be they understood in an abstract, metaphysical sense as “evil” or more concretely as unjust social conditions. However, Gaidenko also points to the parallels between the belief in the metaphysical ability of the individual subject to transform the world, various revolutionary ideologies of socialism, and the scientific world-view of the modern era, all of which have led to an exploitation of nature and culture for the sake of future projects. In all cases she has emphasized existentialism’s lack of recognition of the limitations of humanity and its vulnerability (Proryv k trantsendentnomu 7 and 480).


History of Science

Gaidenko’s inquiries into the history of science has in particular focused on its rationalist foundation and, in turn, the cultural context of rationalism. In The Evolution of the Concept of Science: The Emergence and Development of the First Scientific Programs (Evoliutsiia poniatiia nauki: Stanovlenie i razitie pervykh nauchnykh programm, 1980), her first volume on this topic (a second on the early modern period came in 1987), she writes that “any scientific theory, playing a formative role for scientific knowledge, presupposes its own ideal of explanation, probing, and organization of knowledge, which is rooted in the culture of an epoch” (7). Changing perceptions of the world leads to a reorganization of scientific thinking and calls for a revolution in the domain of scientific theories. Not unlike other studies of the emergence of modern science, for instance her contemporary, the German philosopher and intellectual historian Hans Blumenberg, Gaidenko emphasizes the shift that took place in the late Middle Ages, when the universe as created by God was increasingly conceptualized as rationally ordered and hence accessible to human scrutiny. This led in turn to a perception of the world as an analogue to a machine and of matter as a body consisting of atoms. This discovery would in turn exclude teleology and ethics. Culture and nature became differentiated, while Francis Bacon’s “knowledge is power” became hegemonic (qtd. Andreeva 228). In her later writings, Gaidenko does indeed take a critical stand towards the ways in which the scientific worldview eventually developed. The modern ecological crisis is rooted not only in industrial civilization as such, but, as she argues in an article published in 1991 (“Problema ratsional’nosti na iskhode XX veka”), in a specific type of mentality.


Russian Philosophy

Gaidenko was among those Soviet scholars who were given access to Russian pre-revolutionary idealist writings. Although the possibility of analyzing and discussing them freely was limited, the content of such texts became widely familiar to her generation of scholars and led, in her own words, to the dream about a future when this heritage would become subject to free interpretative engagement. Gaidenko hardly published on Russian thought during Soviet times, but her monograph Vladimir Solovyov and the Philosophy of the Silver Age (Vladimir Solov’ev i filosofiia Serebrianogo veka, 2001) stands out as an achievement in the study and understanding of Russian religious idealism. In addition to critically engaged analyses of Solovyov, Sergei Trubetskoi, Semen Frank and several other “Silver Age” philosophers, the book is a defense of their legacy in a contemporary situation of alleged spiritual confusion and crisis, characterized by a lack of confidence in Russia’s own philosophical traditions. She explicitly identifies this negative or even nihilistic attitude with the critical psychoanalytical approaches to Russian thought of Boris Groys (“Rossiia kak podsoznanie Zapada”) and Evgeny Barabanov (“Russkaia filosofiia i krizis identichnosti”).

However, Gaidenko nevertheless implicitly shares Groys’ and Barabanov’s critique of the affirmative tendency that became so prominent in the 1990s to accept this philosophical heritage uncritically. Among the more prominent examples of the latter tendency was Arseny Gulyga, who in The Russian Idea and its Creators (Russkaia ideia i ee tvortsy, 1995) claimed that philosophy exists only as the history of philosophy, which meant that the philosophy of the past (“the Russian Idea”) has first and foremost to be appropriated and disseminated, but does not really need to be continued. In other words, philosophy remains an achievement of the past. Gaidenko, by contrast, calls for a “creative development” of the philosophy of Solovyov and others, in terms of what she describes as a “problem analysis.” This type of analysis is critical, reflecting also the historical experience that lies between the past and present, such as the rise and fall of Soviet utopianism. More specifically, as Gaidenko sees it, Russian thought needs to free itself from its messianist tradition and its extensive deification of man, which can be found in particular in Berdyaev’s philosophy. Like Sergey Horujy (“Putem zerna”), Gaidenko calls for a critical understanding of the Russian religious idealist tradition, in particular the Silver Age legacy, that formulates a new philosophy for the future. In this position we may also recognize the idea of Ilyenkov and his circle of the late 1950s, or more generally of Gaidenko’s generation, where philosophy was history of philosophy, but in terms of a forward-looking project: new philosophy comes about through a creative and critical engagement with the past. In her post-Soviet historiography, Gaidenko remains in many ways true to this idea. Her approach to philosophy is detached from its Marxist origins and can even be applied to religious philosophy, while retaining its historical-dialectical character.

Kåre Johan Mjør, July 2018



Andreeva, Iskra S. “Russkaia Diotima: Piama Pavlovna Gaidenko.” Filosofy Rossii vtoroi poloviny XX veka: Portrety. RAN, 2009, pp. 206-44.

Barabanov, Evgenii V. “Russkaia filosofiia i krizis identichnosti.” Voprosy filosofii 8, 1991, pp. 102–16.

Gaidenko, Piama P. Eksistentializm i problemy kul’tury: Kritika filosofii M. Khaideggera. 1963.

—. Evoliutsiia poniatiia nauki: Formirovanie nauchnykh programm Novogo vremeni (XVII–XVIII vv.). Nauka, 1987

—.  Evoliutsiia poniatiia nauki: Stanovlenie i razitie pervykh nauchnykh programm. Nauka, 1980.

—. “Problema ratsional’nosti na iskhode XX veka.” Voprosy filosofii 6, 1991, pp. 3–14.

—. Proryv k trantsendentnomu: Novaia ontologiia XX veka. Respublika, 1997

—. Tragediia estetizma: K kharateristike mirovozzrenii S. K’erkegora. Iskusstvo, 1970.

—. Vladimir Solov’ev i filosofiia Serebrianogo veka. Progress-Traditsiia 2001.

Groys, Boris. “Rossiia kak podsoznanie Zapada.” Wiener Slawistischer Almanach 24, 1989, pp. 199–214.

Gulyga, Arsenii V.  Russkaia ideia i ee tvortsy. Soratnik, 1995.

Ignatow, Assen. “Das Existentialismus-Bild der Filosofskaja Enciklopedija.” Studies in Soviet Thought 15 (3), 1975, pp. 225–51.

Khoruzhii, Sergei S. “Putem zerna: Russkaia religioznaia filosofiia segodnia.” Voprosy filosofii 9, 1999, pp. 139–47.

Lektorskii, V.A., ed. Kak eto bylo: Vospominaniia i razmyshleniia. ROSSPEN, 2010.

Makolkin, Anna. “Russian, Stalinist and Soviet Re-Readings of Kierkegaard: Lev Shestov and Piama Gaidenko.” Canadian Slavonic Papers 44 (1/2), 2002, pp. 79–96.

Personal website at the Russian Academy of Sciences:

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