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Leszek Kołakowski

Leszek Kołakowski photo: Elżbieta Lempp

Born in Radom in 1927, Kołakowski was the outstanding Polish philosopher. He lived in exile since 1968 and was a Fellow of All Souls College at Oxford. He died on July 17, 2009.

His primary interest was the history of philosophy, especially since the eighteenth century liberalism, the philosophy of culture, and the philosophy of religion. Aside from philosophical texts, Kołakowski wrote literary works. These, however, are closely associated with the author's professional concerns, and would have to be classed as philosophical tales (Thirteen Tales from the Kingdom of Lailonia and Conversations with the Devil). In these tales, Kołakowski uses an accessible and attractive literary form to analyze philosophical problems and paradoxes and to present discussions among different philosophical schools and doctrines. These stories are marked by intelligent wit and a mastery of literary conventions and styles, especially in the Biblical tales.

Kołakowski's books long appeared in Poland in underground editions, playing a prominent role in shaping the Polish intellectual opposition. Especially significant was the essay The Chaplain and the Jester, which analyzed the attitudes of the intelligentsia toward authority. The first text of Kołakowski's to be confiscated by the censor - and, subsequently, the first to begin to function underground - was the 1956 manifesto "What is Socialism?", which he wrote for "Po prostu" magazine. In 1996, Leszek Kołakowski recorded ten short lectures on issues in the philosophy of culture (on authority, tolerance, betrayal, equality, fame, and falsehood, among others) for Polish Television. These were then published in book form as Mini-Lectures on Maxi-Issues.

Source:; copyright: Stowarzyszenie Willa Decjusza, 2001.

Selected bibliography:

  • Szkice o filozofii katolickiej (Sketches on Catholic Philosophy). Warsaw: PWN, 1955.
  • Klucz niebieski albo opowieści budujące z historii świętej zebrane ku pouczeniu i przestrodze (The Key to Heaven, Or Moral Tales from Sacred History Chosen for Instruction and Warning). Warsaw: PIW, 1964.
  • Światopogląd i życie codzienne (Ideology and Everyday Life) (philosophical essays). Warsaw: PIW, 1957.
  • Notatki o współczesnej kontrreformacji (Notes on the Contemporary Counter-Reformation). Warsaw: Książka i Wiedza, 1962.
  • 13 bajek z królestwa Lailonii dla dużych i małych (Thirteen Tales from the Kingdom of Lailonia for Readers Large and Small). Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1963.
  • Rozmowy z diabłem (Conversations with the Devil) (stories). Warsaw: PIW, 1965.
  • Kultura i fetysze. Zbiór rozpraw (Culture and Fetish: Collected Articles). Warsaw: PWN, 1967.
  • Obecność mitu (The Presence of Myth). Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1972.
  • Główne nurty marksizmu (Main Trends in Marxism). Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1976-1978.
  • Tezy o nadziei i beznadzejność (Theses on Hope and Hopelessness). Poznań: Studencka Inicjatywa Wydawnicza, 1981.
  • Moje słuszne poglądy na wszystko (My Correct Views on Everything). London: Aneks, 1978.
  • Trzy bajki o identyczności (Three Tales on Identity). Wrocław: Wolni i Solidarni, 1986.
  • Eseje (Essays). Warsaw, 1981.
  • Czy diabeł może być zbawiony i 27 innych kazań (Can the Devil Be Saved and 27 other Sermons) (essays). London: Aneks, 1982.
  • Religion. If there is no God... On God, the Devil, Sin and Other Worries of the So-called Philosophy of Religion (essays). New York: Oxford UP, 1982.
  • Bajki różne: opowieści biblijne, Rozmowy z diabłem (Diverse Tales: Bible Stories, Conversations with the Devil). London: Aneks, 1987.
  • Horror metaphisicum (Metaphysical Horror). Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988.
  • Pochwała niekonsekwencji. Pisma rozproszone z lat 1955-1968 (In Praise of Inconsistency. Uncollected Writings, 1955-1968). London: Puls, 1989.
  • Cywilizacja na ławie oskarżonych (Civilization in the Dock). Warsaw: Res Publica, 1990.
  • Mini wykłady o maxi sprawach. Seria druga (Mini-Lectures on Maxi-Issues. Second Series). Krakow: ZNAK, 1999.
  • Moje słuszne poglądy na wszystko (My Correct Views on Everything). Krakow: ZNAK, 1999.
  • Mini-wykłady o maxi-sprawach. Seria trzecia i ostatnia (Mini-Lectures on Maxi-Issues. Third Series). Krakow: Znak, 2000.
  • O co nas pytają wielcy filozofowie (Great Philosophers and Their Questions), Krakow: Znak, 2004.
  • Wśród znajomych (Between Friends), Krakow: Znak, 2004.
  • O co nas pytają wielcy filozofowie. Seria druga (Great Philosophers and Their Questions. Second Series), Krakow: Znak 2005.
  • O co nas pytają wielcy filozofowie. Seria trzecia (Great Philosophers and Their Questions. Third Series), Krakow: Znak 2006.
  • Czas ciekawy, czas niespokojny. Część 1 (z Leszkiem Kołakowskim rozmawia Zbigniew Mentzel) - conversations with Professor Leszek Kołakowski, part 1, Krakow: Znak, 2007.
  • Czas ciekawy, czas niespokojny. Część 2 (z Leszkiem Kołakowskim rozmawia Zbigniew Mentzel) - conversations with Professor Leszek Kołakowski, part 2, Krakow: Znak, 2008.

Selected translations:

  • English: The Key to Heaven: Conversations with the Devil. Chicago-London, 1989; Tales from the Kingdom of Lailonia. Chicago-London, 1989; The Presence of Myth. Chicago-London, 1989.
  • French: Le clef des cieux. Brussels, 1986; L'esprit rÉvolutionnaire. Paris, 1985; Philosophie de la religion. Paris, 1985.
  • German: Der HimmelsschlÜssel. Dreizehn Fabeln aus dem Königreich Lailonien. München: Piper, 1961; Gespräche mit dem Teufel. Acht Diskurse über das Böse und zwei Stücke. München: Piper, 1975; Der Mensch ohne Alternative. Von der Möglichkeit und Unmöglichkeit Marxist zu sein. München: Piper, 1964; Die Gegenwärtigkeit des Mythos. München: Piper, 1973; Falls es keinen Gott gibt. München: Piper, 1983; Horror methaphisicus. München: Piper, 1989.
  • Croatian: Kljuc nebeski. Razgovor z diavolom. Zagreb, 1981.
  • Czech: Nebeklic. Rozhovory s d'ablem. Prahá, 1969.
  • Dutch: De hemelsleutel. 13 fabels voor groot en klein uit hetkoninkrijk Lailonie. Amsterdam, 1968; Horror methaphysicus. Kampen, 1989.
  • Serbian: Kljuc nebeski. Razgovori sa davolom. Belgrade, 1990; 13 bajki iz kraljevine Lajlonije za velike i male. 1987; Prisutnost mita. Belgrade, 1989; Religija. Belgrade, 1987.
  • Spanish: La presencia del mito. Buenos Aires, 1975.
  • Swedish: Den himmelska nyckeln. Stockholm, 1991; Sagor for stora och sma. Stockholm, 1984.'s picture
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Leszek Kołakowski


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