Kotarbiński, Tadeusz (1886–1981)

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Tadeusz Kotarbiński, a Polish philosopher and logician, was born in Warsaw in 1886. He studied philosophy and the classics at the University of Lvov, where he obtained his doctorate in 1912. He began teaching at the University of Warsaw in 1918 and soon became perhaps the most influential philosophy teacher in Poland. His enlightened views, integrity, public spirit, and social zeal frequently brought him into conflict with established opinions and with the government, both before and after World War II. Admired by many and respected by all, Kotarbiński commanded a unique position of moral and intellectual prestige in his country. He was a member of the Polish Academy of Science and of the International Institute of Philosophy, and he was for a long time chairman of both bodies. He held an honorary doctorate from the Université Libre in Brussels and was a corresponding fellow of the British Academy and an honorary member of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. and of other foreign scientific organizations.


Kotarbiński began his philosophical career as a minimalist. He advocated the abandonment of such terms as philosophy and philosopher because of their ambiguity and vagueness. The miscellaneous collection of subjects traditionally known as philosophy lacks any factual or logical coherence. These various subjects should be reconstructed as specialized fields of study and thus acquire some recognized criteria of professional competence. "The philosopher" should mean "the teacher of philosophy," and "philosophy" should be used restrictively to denote moral philosophy and logic in the broad sense, which comprises formal logic, the philosophy of language, the methodology of science, and the theory of knowledge. Kotarbiński himself chose logic in this broad sense as the chief subject of his own concern. He wished to transform logic into a science as exact as mathematical logic and he applied himself to the construction of the conceptual apparatus necessary for this task. However, the results of this analytical work, accomplished between 1920 and 1935, exceeded the original design and produced a system known as reism or concretism. Kotarbiński regarded it as a program rather than a set doctrine and for linguistic reasons prefered concretism to reism.

Concretism arose from the puzzle about how qualities can belong to or inhere in the things of which they are characteristics. Kotarbiński believed that the puzzle can be resolved if we recognize that whereas things may be hard or soft, black or white, and so forth, nothing is hardness or softness, blackness or whiteness. Thus, the insight underlying concretism can be expressed in the proposition "only concrete individual objects exist." The expression "a exists" has the same meaning as "something is an a " (ex a =Df (x ) x is a ) and the meaning of is can be explicated as follows:
(a,b )::a b.(x ).x a (x ):x a..x b (x,y ):
x a. y a..x y.
This theorem is an early formulation of the single axiom of Leśniewski's ontology and should be read as an implicit definition of the functor "is" in expressions of the type "a is b," in which "is" has its main existential meaning.

semantic reism

Concretism is both a metaphysical and a semantic doctrine; as metaphysics its basic characteristic is materialism and as semantics it is nominalism. Nominalism is an essential part of concretism, but materialism is not. For instance, Franz Brentano, although a concretist, was a Cartesian dualist.

If the dyadic functor "is" in expressions of the type "a is b " has the meaning defined above, then only genuine, empty or nonempty, shared or unshared names are admissible values for a. This should be clear in view of the fact that if a is b, then for some x, x is a, that is, a exists (therefore, if an empty name is substituted for a, "a is b " always becomes a false sentence). Semantic reism is a set of linguistic and logical rules that allow us to test the meaningfulness and truth of the expressions of language L as determined by their syntactic structure and semantic function.

According to semantic reism, names of concrete objects only, either corporeal or sentient, are genuine names. The names of properties, relations, events, facts, propositions, or classes are objectless and apparent names. Literally understood, sentences involving such fictitious names and implying the existence of properties, relations, events, facts, propositions, or classes are grammatically meaningful expressions, but reistically they are nonsense in disguise or falsehood. Only if, by a suitable transformation, such sentences can be reduced to equivalent expressions involving no apparent names can they become reistically meaningful and either true or false. For instance, in its literal meaning the sentence "the relation being part of is transitive" is either false or nonsensical. But if it is regarded as a shorthand statement of the fact that for all x, y, and z, if x is part of y and y is part of z, then x is part of z, the expanded version of this abbreviated sentence expresses a genuine and true proposition.

ontological reism

Nominalism is the view that the only admissible values for bound variables are entities of the lowest type as understood in the simplified theory of types. To apply this assumption outside logic and mathematics we need operational rules specifying the entities of the lowest type, that is, the referents of genuine names. For this purpose semantic reism must be supplemented by ontological reism; in other words, one's metaphysical commitments must be explicitly stated.

The basic proposition of ontological reism states that every object is a thing. Object is the most general ontological term, synonymous with something, the name of an arbitrarily chosen thing and thus extensionally equivalent to thing. Thing is a defined term and means a physical or a sentient body, in the nonexclusive meaning of or. Physical means spatial, temporal, and resistant, and sentient is defined by the Socratic definition as a term appropriately qualifying such bodies as animals or human beings (and probably also plants). Kotarbiński described ontological reism as somatism rather than as materialism, because for a reist "matter" is an apparent, quasi name, unless it is defined as a metatheoretical concept, in terms of which we speak about material or physical objects identified by the attributes of spatiality, temporality, and resistance and not by material substance. But somatism entails pansomatism, the proposition that every soul or mind (sentient entity) is a body. Therefore, a concretist who accepts pansomatism and asserts that there are only bodies in the universe is a materialist in the sense that he subscribes, speaking loosely, to the identity theory of mind and body. He leaves it to science to discover how it came about that there are sentient as well as physical bodies in the world.

In the theory of knowledge concretism implies the abandonment of the epistemological dualism of the theory of representative perception and the adherence to some form of sensational realism. Since there are no mental images or elements or sense data distinct from the object perceived, a concretist believes that all that is known is apprehended directly and that the so-called perceptual content is part of the physical object.


If reality consists exclusively of bodies, and if the soul or mind is identical with part or the entire organism of a human individual, assertions about mental states and processes are not semantically well-formed sentences; they are objectionable on ontological grounds and consequently false. To be reistically acceptable they must be regarded as assertions of special sorts about persons, reducible, when fully stated, to descriptions of human individuals acting upon their environment and being affected by the external world. This view of the nature of psychological statements, together with the procedure by means of which they can be reduced to statements about persons doing and undergoing things, Kotarbiński called "imitationism." This name is intended to indicate that we come to understand the experiences of other people by imitating their behavior and, in general, that psychological knowledge is acquired not from introspection but by imitation or self-imitation.

Imitationism assumes that every singular psychological statement is a substitution of the schema "A experiences this: P," where A is a proper-name variable and P is a variable admitting all kinds of enunciations referring to the physical environment of the person whose name is substituted for A. The first part of the schema is the announcement by the experiencing person, EP, or the observer, O, of what its second part expresses by describing the environment in the same way that EP describes or would describe it. If EP and O are two different persons, the announcement refers to the imitation of EP by O and mentions the respect in which EP will be imitated. If EP and O are the same person, imitation becomes self-imitation and the description of the environment, including EP 's own body, is self-description.

Practical Philosophy

Kotarbiński had a lasting interest in practical philosophy. He saw its main task as the formulation of precepts and recommendations concerning the three questions of how to achieve happiness, how to live a good life, and how to act effectively. It is the second and third set of questions to which he devoted most attention. He was a staunch defender of the autonomy of ethics and approached its problems deontologically. Inspired both by a theoretical interest and by the desire to help his fellow men, he produced a general theory of efficient action known as praxeology. Although he had some predecessors, in particular A. A. Bogdanov (18731928) and Georges Hostelet (18751960), he accomplished pioneer work and opened a new field of study.

See also Brentano, Franz; Cartesianism; Logic, History of: Modern Logic: From Frege to Gödel; Materialism; Nominalism, Modern.


works by kotarbiŃski

Wybór Pism (Selected works). 2 vols. Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawn, 19571958. Includes all important essays and articles published between 1913 and 1954.

Elementy Teorii Poznania, Logiki Formalnej i Metodologii Nauk (Elements of the theory of knowledge, formal logic and methodology of science). Lvov, 1929; 2nd ed., Wrocław, Warsaw, and Kraków: Ossolinskich, 1961.

Kurs Logiki dla Prawników (A course of logic for lawyers). Warsaw: Gebethner and Wolff, 1951; 6th ed., 1963.

Traktat o Dobrej Robocie (Treatise on good work). Lodz: Zaklad im Ossolinskich we Wroclawiu, 1955; 2nd ed., Wrocław and Warsaw, 1958. Translated as Praxiology: An Introduction to the Sciences of Efficient Action. Oxford and Warsaw: Pergamon Press, 1965.

"The Fundamental Ideas of Pansomatism." Mind 64 (1955): 488500.

Wyklady z Dziejów Logiki (Lectures on the history of logic). Lodz: Zaklad Narodowy im Ossolinskich we Wroclawiu, 1957. Translated as Leçons sur l'histoire de la logique. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1964.

"Filozof" (The philosopher). Studia Filozoficzne (1) (1957): 416.

"Essai de réduire la connaissance psychologique à l'extraspection." In Atti del XII Congresso Internazionale di Filosofia (Venezia, 1218 Settembre 1958 )Proceedings of the XIIth International Congress of Philosophy, 12 vols. Florence, 19581961. Vol. V (Florence, 1960), pp. 295299.

"Zasady Etyki Niezależnej" (Principles of autonomous ethics). Studia Filozoficzne (1/4) (1958): 313.

"Fazy Rozwojowe Konkretyzmu" (The Stages of the development of concretism). Studia Filozoficzne (4/7) (1958): 313.

"La Philosophie dans la Pologne contemporaine." In Philosophy in the Mid-Century: A Survey. 4 vols., edited by Raymond Klibansky. Florence: Nuova Italia, 19581959. Vol. I, Logic and the Philosophy of Science (Florence, 1958), pp. 224235.

"Psychological Propositions." In Scientific Psychology: Principles and Approaches, edited by Benjamin B. Wolman and Ernest Nagel, 4449. New York, 1965.

works on kotarbiŃski

Ajdukiewicz, Kazimierz. Review of Kotarbiński's Elementy Teorii Poznania, Logiki Formalnej i Metodologii Nauk. Przegląd Filozoficzny 33 (1930): 140160. Reprinted in Jezyk i Poznanie. 2 vols. Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawn, 1960, 1965, Vol. I, pp. 79101. Available in Polish only.

Ajdukiewicz, Kazimierz. "Der logistische Antiirrationalismus in Polen." Erkenntnis 5 (1935): 151161.

Grzegorczyk, Andrzej. "O Pewnych Formalnych Konsekwencjach Reizmu" (On certain formal implications of reism). In Fragmenty Filozoficzne, Seria Druga, 714. Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawn, 1959. Available in Polish only.

Jordan, Z. A. The Development of Mathematical Logic and Logical Positivism in Poland between the Two Wars. London, 1945.

Jordan, Z. A. Philosophy and Ideology: The Development of Philosophy and Marxism-Leninism in Poland since the Second World War, 3438, 195197. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Reidel, 1963.

Jordan Z. A. "Próba Analizy Teorii Zdań Psychologicznych Prof. T. Kotarbińskiego" (An analysis of Professor Kotarbiński's theory of psychological statements). Psychometria 2 (1935): 347375. Available in Polish only.

Lejewski, Czeslaw. "On Leśniewski's Ontology." Ratio 1 (1958): 150176.

Rand, R. "Kotarbińskis Philosophie auf Grund seines Hauptwerkes: 'Elemente der Erkenntnistheorie, der Logik und der Methodologie der Wissenschaften.'" Erkenntnis 7 (19371938): 92120.

Z. A. Jordan (1967)