Positivism in Poland

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Positivism in Poland was a sociocultural movement that defined progressive thought in literature and in the social sciences in partitioned Poland following the suppression of the January 1863 Uprising against the Russian Empire. The Positivist period lasted until the turn of the 20th century and the advent of the modernist Young Poland movement.[1]


In the aftermath of the 1863 Uprising, many thoughtful Poles argued against further attempts to regain independence from the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire by force of arms. In their polemics over the wisdom of resistance against the partitioning powers, published between 1868 and 1873 in Przegląd tygodniowy ("The Weekly Review") and Prawda ("Truth"), they – often reluctantly and only partly – discarded the stylistics of the earlier Polish Romantic period.[1]

Polish positivism drew its name from the philosophy of French philosopher Auguste Comte, while much of its ideology was inspired by the works of British scholars and scientists including Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill. The Polish positivists advocated the exercise of reason before emotion. They believed that independence, if it was to be regained, must be won gradually, by "building from the foundations" (by creating a material infrastructure and educating the public) and through organic work that would enable Polish society to function as a fully integrated "social organism" (a concept borrowed from a number of European thinkers, including Herbert Spencer).[2]

Positivist objectives[edit]

A leading Polish philosopher of positivism, the journalist, novelist, and short-story writer Bolesław Prus (author of The Outpost, The Doll, The New Woman, and Pharaoh), advised his compatriots that Poland's place in the world would be determined by Poland's contributions to the world's scientific, technological, economic, and cultural progress.[3]

Specific societal questions addressed by the Polish positivists included the establishment of equal rights for all members of society, including peasants and women; the assimilation of Poland's Jewish minority; the elimination of illiteracy among ordinary citizens resulting from the closure of Polish schools by the occupying powers; and the defense of the Polish population in the German-ruled part of Poland against the German Kulturkampf and the German government's displacement of the Polish population.[1][4]

The Polish positivists viewed work, rather than uprisings, as the true path to maintaining a Polish national identity and demonstrating a constructive patriotism. Aleksander Świętochowski (editor of Prawda) held that "All the great problems [abiding] in the [bosom] of mankind can be solved by education alone, and this education must be compulsory."[5]

Leading authors[edit]

Writers and novelists



Philosophers and critics

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Czesław Miłosz, The History of Polish Literature, pp. 281–321. "Positivism." University of California Press, 1983. ISBN 0-520-04477-0. Retrieved October 10, 2011.
  2. ^ Czesław Miłosz, The History of Polish Literature, pp. 283–84.
  3. ^ Edward Pieścikowski, Bolesław Prus, p. 49.
  4. ^ Zygmunt Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa (The Art of Bolesław Prus), 2nd ed., Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1972, pp. 130–51.
  5. ^ Czesław Miłosz, The History of Polish Literature, pp. 285–286.