Roman Witold Ingarden was a Polish phenomenologist with an extremely rich and diverse body of work. He was a student of Edmund Husserl, interested in exploring ontological, axiological and aesthetic problems. Outside of Poland he is known as a phenomenologist interested mainly in aesthetic issues, although it is the dispute about the existence of the world that was – in his own opinion – the centre of his theoretical investigations.
Ingarden was born on 5th February 1893 in Kraków to a rich middle-class family. He graduated from secondary school in Lviv in 1911. At that time he was most passionate about literature (he also tried to write poetry), music (he completed his violin class at the Conservatory of the Polish Music Society in Lviv) and sport. Disappointed with the methods of literary critique, filled with cognitive passion and curiosity about the world, he became more interested in philosophy, which, as he believed, would allow him to develop a methodology for working with a literary text and satisfying theoretical inclinations. In 1911 he began studying philosophy under Kazimierz Twardowski, the founder of the Lviv-Warsaw School, and a year later he left for Göttingen, where he studied philosophy under Edmund Husserl, mathematics under David Hilbert and psychology under George Elias Müller.
During his studies, he moved from Göttingen to Vienna, from Vienna to Lviv, and finally to Freiburg im Breisgau, where in 1918 he defended his doctoral thesis written with the help of the father of phenomenology (he maintained contact with Husserl for many years, as evidenced by their heartfelt letters) titled Intuition und Intellekt bei Henri Bergson. Darstellung und Versuch einer Kritik. During his studies, Ingarden took part in the bustling intellectual life and philosophical disputes around phenomenology. He also met many of Husserl's students and pupils, including Edith Stein, with whom he formed an intellectual friendship which lasted many years.
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After defending his doctoral thesis, Ingarden returned to Poland, where he began teaching philosophy, mathematics and German. He worked in Końskie, Lublin, Warsaw and Toruń. However, his didactic work did not supersede his theoretical and academic ambitions. He wrote a lot at that time, completing, among other things, his habilitation thesis titled On the Essential Questions, which he announced in 1924 at the Faculty of Humanities of Jan Kazimierz University in Lviv.
Ingarden divided his time between working as a junior high school teacher, academic lecturer, researcher and theorist, working on his own texts and coordinating his own research (he travelled to Germany and France, contacted and collaborated with Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Hedwig Conrad-Martius, Edith Stein) and conducting his private life – he was a husband (in 1919 he married Maria Pol, an ophthalmologist) and a father (to Roman Stanisław, Jerzy Kazimierz and Janusz Stefan).
In 1928 Ingarden returned to Poland with a book in German, later translated into English as The Literary Work of Art: An Investigation on the Borderlines of Ontology, Logic, and Theory of Literature. However, despite Husserl's considerable achievements and support, he did not become an associate professor until 1933, when he could also afford to resign from the post of a junior high school teacher.
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Ingarden disputes with the representatives of the Lviv-Warsaw school, not convinced by the analytical philosophical language of logical positivism, nor does he support the development of romantic thought, in which national and religious elements are intertwined. Therefore, since there was no ready-made philosophical niche in the academy for him, he had to create it for himself – by developing phenomenological thinking and infecting the slowly-forming circle of students attending his seminars with it. After the war, his theoretical solitude continues – he will be in disagreement with both the still-thriving Lviv-Warsaw school and Marxist philosophy. The contrast between abroad, where he studied and where every student of philosophy knew the basics of phenomenology, and Poland (both before and after the war), where phenomenology was neither known nor understood, was tremendous. It is thanks to Ingarden's efforts that phenomenology became established at Polish universities over time.
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In 1937 he published another book: The Cognition of the Literary Work of Art, in which he developed his previous interests in the study of literature and which gained him acclaim and recognition from literary scholars. Here he also described the theory of the structure of the aesthetic experience. He slowly directed his thinking towards ontological issues; he was interested in time, the dispute between realism and idealism and criticism of phenomenology (especially Husserl's concept of transcendental idealism, the primacy of consciousness, from the beginning of his philosophical career he stressed the importance of reality which is independent of consciousness). He included his concepts in his magnum opus entitled Controversy over the Existence of the World, published after the war in two volumes: Volume I: Existential Ontology, published in 1947 and Volume II: Formal Ontology, in 1948.
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He devoted his war years to writing the above-mentioned book. He spent them mainly in Lviv, where he first worked in the Department of German Studies at the University of Lviv, and then in 1942-1944 as a teacher of mathematics in a vocational school for Poles. During the war, he also joined the underground university. In the eyes of the philosopher, his didactic and research work was an expression of patriotism and an attempt to save the sensibility of life. He wrote:
Working on ‘Controversy over the Existence of the World’ has enabled me to spiritually survive perhaps the most difficult times. And its creation in these conditions may serve as one piece of proof that the Polish spirit of resistance was also alive in the field of scientific research.
After the war Ingarden started working at Jagiellonian University. In 1946 he received the title of full professor and the position of head of the 2nd Department of Philosophy of Jagiellonian University. Meanwhile, Ingarden was active in teaching, academia and research. He also participated in many foreign conferences and wrote two volumes of Controversy over the Existence of the World as well as the work Sketches on the Philosophy of Literature, published in 1947. In 1950, however, he was dismissed from the university, and the communist authorities considered his work to be incompatible with the ideological priorities of the time.
At that time Ingarden translated Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason into Polish for the Library of Philosophy Classics published by the Polish Scientific Publishers PWN and completed the third volume of Controversy over the Existence of the World: On the Causal Structure of the Real World. In 1957 he returned to the position of Head of the Department of Philosophy, where he worked until his retirement in 1963. Before his sudden death on 14th June 1970, Ingarden was an active philosopher: he wrote, travelled with lectures, and maintained contact with a large circle of his students, including Danuta Gierulanka, Daniela Gromska, Irena Krońska, Tadeusz Kroński, Halina Poświatowska, Władysław Stróżewski, Józef Tischner and Karol Wojtyła.
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Ingarden gained fame and recognition mainly due to his contributions to the field of aesthetics, which belongs to both Polish and world classics. Ingarden's concept of aesthetics starts with a reflection on a literary work, but it is also supposed to be (or at least this is the philosopher's intention) applied to the analysis of other fields of art such as painting, theatre, architecture or music. Ingarden puts a work of art into a very broad context. He wrote about his research approach:
The examinations [...] can [...] be carried out in two different ways: either in that they are treated as a certain whole for themselves, or as a part of a whole system of philosophical knowledge about the reality surrounding the man and about the man himself. I can only do it the second way. For only this seems appropriate to me, in line with the relationships that take place between the different areas of reality with which a man interacts and his multiple interests and ways of life. But then things become much more complicated and issues emerge that would not have appeared at all if art-related matters had been treated separately.
Thus, when asking about a work of art, the philosopher will at the same time ask about its inherent intertwining with fundamental philosophical issues: ontological, epistemological and axiological. The issues that Ingarden takes up, despite their diversity, are intertwined and overlapping. He is aware of that, writing:
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[...] all the facts which I tried to become aware of and which I tried to describe in these works are themselves such that they belong to one, all-encompassing field [...] they are similar to photographs, taken in different places in a given country. Naturally, this very field [aesthetics] is only a certain isolated fragment of a larger whole and opens up perspectives on neighbouring 'countries' or deeper areas.
First of all, Ingarden is interested in how a work of art exists – does it exist only in consciousness? Or does art also exist outside of itself? Is it possible to speak of some kind of manner of existence applicable to a work of art? According to Ingarden, this is very much possible. A work of art exists in a way that is specific to itself, different from the way thoughts, sensual impressions, table, man, cat or tulip exist; it is an intentional object. Moreover, a work of art is always multi-layered, dependent on other entities such as the creator, his intentions and creative capabilities, language and the reception of the work of art by the viewer or reader.
Aesthetic experience and the method of approaching a work of art is the second group of issues of interest to Ingarden in his multi-faceted analysis of a work of art. The philosopher penetrates the processes of reception, interpretation, evaluation, criticism and experience of works of art. He believes that an encounter with art is a cognitive process. Without the awareness of what a literary text is (a theatrical performance, a painting or a film), what its essence is and how it differs from the artist’s creative intentions, interpretation of the audience, performers or its materiality (paper, number of pages, typeface, cover, etc.), we will not be able to – according to Ingarden's interpretation – grasp the essence of a work of art and analyse its relations with its other aspects.
Ingarden's concept of aesthetics aims to reconcile two currents in the study of aesthetics: ‘objective’ (focused on an object, a work of art) and ‘subjective’ (the distinctive experience of the entity). In Ingarden’s view, aesthetics deals with the study of the sphere of ‘the meeting of a certain experiencing subject with a certain object’. This meeting results in aesthetic experience and the constitution of an aesthetic object, which includes on one hand the artist or the recipient of art, and on the other hand – the object, an item.
Aesthetics, values, and more broadly, culture, are not only Ingarden's favourite philosophical themes; he also considers them to be manifestations of the human being. As Gierulanka writes:
Ingarden says that the trait that allows a man to be considered human is the ability to realise values and serve them and to create – on the basis of the primaeval world of nature – a distinctive human reality: the world of intentional works of culture.
It is worth stressing that this means the realisation – as Ingarden writes in Little Book About Man – of values in their immanent absolute quality, although their realisation depends on the creative strength of man, in a word: on his moral and aesthetic values. By creating culture, man creates the ‘real conditions for the existence and appearance in the world’ for these values. In this human activity not only is humanity manifested, but also the sense of human life and its possibilities. The man – in Ingarden's view – is someone who constantly makes efforts to ‘cross the boundaries of the animality inherent in man and rise above it with humanity and in the role of man as a creator of values. Without this mission and without this effort of transcending himself, man falls back into pure animality, which is his death [and despair], without being rescued’. Therefore, in Ingarden's work aesthetics is also linked to the science of values and to ethical reflections on humanity.
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Ingarden – this judgment appears in many memories – was not a historian of philosophy, but a philosopher in the fullest sense. He did not have the ambition to give an account of the complexity of phenomenological inquiries or to present positions and debates. From the very beginning, he started to reflect on phenomenology on his own, to argue with this way of philosophising and to present his own solutions. He was also a philosopher in the sense that Husserl recalls in his letter to him: ‘one can only be a philosopher as an ethical person, otherwise he is not’. This ethical dimension of being a philosopher is confirmed by Ingarden’s words, who, during one of his last seminars, reflecting on Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations, said: ‘Whoever wants to be a philosopher, must at once start to live intellectually on his own accord – otherwise it's not worth taking up philosophy at all.’
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