Klemens Szaniawski


Jan Wolenski


From K. Szaniawski, On Science, Inference, Information and Decision-Making. Selected Essays in the Philosophy of Science, ed. by Adam Chmielewski and J. Wolenski , Kluwer Acad. Publisher, Dordrecht/Boston/London 1998

 This Preface appears courtesy of Kluwer Academic Publisher


 Klemens Szaniawski was born in Warsaw on March 3, 1925. He began to study philosophy in the clandestine Warsaw University during World War II. Tadeusz Kotarbinski, Jan Lukasiewicz, Maria and Stanislaw Ossowskis , Wladyslaw Tatarkiewicz, and Henryk Hiz were among his teachers. Szaniawski was also a member of the Polish Home Army (AK), one of the youngest. He was arrested and spent the last period of the war as a prisoner in Auschwitz. After 1945, he continued his studies in the University of Lódz; his Master thesis was devoted to French moral thought of the 17th and 18th centuries. Then he worked in the Department of Ethics in Lódz. In 1950, he received his Ph.D. on the basis of the dissertation on the concept of honour in knight groups in the Middle Ages; Maria Ossowska was the supervisor. In the early fifties he moved to Warsaw to the Department of Logic, directed by Kotarbinski. He took his habilitation exams in 1961. In 1969 he became a professor. Since 1970 he was the head of Department of the Logic at the Warsaw University. In the sixties Szaniawski was also the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Sociology. In 1984 he was elected the Rector Magnificus of the Warsaw University but the Ministry overruled the autonomous democratic vote of the academic community. He served as the President of the Polish Philosophical Association (since 1977) taking this post after Kotarbinski. He was also the Editor-in-chief of Studia Logica (1970-1974) and a member of editorial boards of many other journals, Synthese included.

Klemens Szaniawski was also a very important political and public figure. He never accepted communism and its ideology. In the late sixties, he became one of the leading Polish dissidents. As the Dean of the Faculty in 1968, he inspired a very strong protest of the Council of the Faculty against antisemitism in Poland. In the seventies, he was one of the organizers of the group called "Experience and Future", which discussed the political situation in Poland and elaborated several warning reports on the decline of Polish social life. When "Solidarity" movement came into being in 1980, Szaniawski immediately joined its ranks and soon became one of its most important members. As a great master of dialogue and compromise, he successfully participated in several negotiations between "Solidarity" and the government. He also organized a special association of Polish artistic and scientific societies responsible for independent cultural life in Poland. He was the chief person responsible for the organization of the Congress of Polish Culture which was to be held in the middle of December 1981. The Martial Law introduced in Poland on December 13, 1981 prevented this event. Immediately after introduction of the Martial Law, Szaniawski was detained, but he was released after two days. He immediately became a part of various underground activities. In particular, he was the head of the special committee which organized financial support for repressed scientists and artists in Poland. He also served as one of the closest political advisors of Lech Walesa. When the so-called Round Table was prepared in Poland in 1989, Walesa asked Szaniawski to join the official representation delegation of representatives of "Solidarity" for negotiations with the government. I well remember TV news on the day when the Round Table started. When the "Solidarity" group led by Walesa entered the building, Szaniawski was the fourth from the top. It shows his actually high position in "Solidarity". However, he faced a very difficult dilemma at the time. After seven years of a strict prohibition of going abroad, Szaniawski had just received a permission and wanted to go for a scholarship in the USA, which had waited for him since the early eighties (it is quite possible that the government intended to prevent his participation in the Round Table). Since any further prolongation was absolutely impossible, Szaniawski decided to resign from his place at the Round Table and informed Walesa about his decision, but the leader of "Solidarity""insisted that he should stay with the entire group at least for one more day which he did. In the end of 1989 he was nominated the Polish ambassador in the United States of America. He contracted cancer in December 1989 and died on March 5, 1990.

Klemens Szaniawski was a charming person. Everybody who knew him was greatly impressed by his personality, a unique sense of humour, openness in personal contacts and his way of thinking that combined refined scepticism with a very firm belief in human rationality. In this he resembled Russell, who was one of Szaniawski’s main intellectual heroes.

I met Szaniawski for the first time in July 1957 during summer holidays. At that time, I was in the secondary school and I did not think that I would become a philosopher myself. When I began my undergraduate studies and philosophy of science became one of my favourites, I very often read his exceptionally clear writings; I learned very much from them. Then, we met occasionally on various meetings, but these encounters were rather formal, although he well remembered that we had met earlier. In the seventies, our contacts were more frequent, because we both participated in regular meetings in philosophy of sciences. Once he said to me: "Jan, I do not understand why we still address each other so formally. I am Klemens." I was very proud that such a distinguished academic and political figure offered me this cordial relationship. In the eighties, we met very often. I always visited him in Warsaw and he did the same when he came to Wroclaw, where I lived at the time. He enjoyed very much eating red borsch prepared by my wife. Once he said: "Oh, I must come to you every month to taste this excellent soup.

Klemens was an extraordinary authority in all problems. I remember the following event. The Austrian Cultural Institute in Warsaw planned to organize an international seminar on Austro-Polish philosophical relationships. Mr. Sickinger, the head of the institute invited a few Polish scholars, including Klemens and myself, in order to discuss this project. I was asked to prepare a list of participants and a preliminary program. Toward the end of an excellent dinner, I made some notes in my notebook. After returning to Wroclaw, I found a very elegant gold "Parker" ball-point in my pocket. I immediately realized that it belonged to Mr. Sickinger who had lent it to me for making notes and which I automatically put in my pocket. I was very desperate and I immediately called Szaniawski for advice. I started with something like this: "Klemens, something terrible happened", and then I reported the story. He answered: "Only this. At first, I thought that really something terrible happened. Do not worry. Call the Austrian Institute and tell them what happened. Mr. Sickinger probably did not realize that you took his ballpoint." I followed his advice; Klemens was right: the secretary to Mr. Sickinger was very surprised by my phone call and the whole problem. Let me remark that it was 1984 and much more terrible things happened in Poland at that time; hence, Klemens’ answer was "I thought that really something terrible happened."

Szaniawski left Poland in April 1989 and returned in October of the same year. I went to the USA in September 1989 and spent three months there. Once more I visited the USA in January and February of 1990. My contacts with Klemens were limited only to talks on the phone. In September 1989, I called him in Washington, D.C., and we had a long conversation. He told me about his scientific plans which he began to implement during his visit in America. Our last contact took place, also on the phone, in December. He told me: "I am not quite well, I got only a little cold." Nobody expected that it was the beginning of the mortal illness.

Szaniawski’s first philosophical interests concerned ethics. However, the period of the early fifties in Poland was not conducive for an independent research in this field. Szaniawski decided to move to formal logic and philosophy of science. When Kazimierz Ajdukiewicz came to Warsaw in 1955, Szaniawski began to work with him. Their common scientific interest concerned fallible inferences. Both intended to build a theory of such reasonings based on results of decision theory and mathematical statistics. Ajdukiewicz’s conception of the so-called pragmatic methodology which takes inferential procedures as closely connected with human epistemic activities, became a general background of this research.

Szaniawski was educated in the tradition of the Lvov-Warsaw Philosophical School for which the idea of logical inference played the main role in rational procedures. On the other hand, he was also very strongly influenced by ideas coming from modern statistics. Now, as it is widely known, many statisticians doubt whether the classical concept of inference has any sound application in statistical procedures and their analysis. For example, they think that we have to do with inductive behaviour rather than induction as an inference. Szaniawski wanted to find a compromise between various competing general proposals in the foundations of statistics, probability and decision theory. In particular, he believed that there was a possibility of reconciling Bayesian and non-Bayesian ideas on the one side, and objectivistic and subjectivistic on the other. He observed that the problem of rationality was a common denominator of conflicting ideas in the foundations of inductive inference. Assuming this key idea, Szaniawski attempted to demonstrate that an opposition between inferential and behaviouristic account of induction was fairly apparent. In the sixties, he began to work on an approach according to which science was an information-searching process. During his last visit in the USA, he collected a lot of material for a large monograph on this topic, unfortunately, however, this project was interrupted by his early death. Szaniawski also worked on more specific problems in statistics. In particular he introduced an original b-criterion of rational decision-making, and he generalized the method of sequential tests.

Szaniawski always thought about applications of formal methods in social sciences and ethics. He believed that formal models, for example of distributive justice or distributing of goods, realized basic principles of rationality. In fact, rationalism, understood as anti-irrationalism, was the guiding idea of his philosophy. The maxim plus ratio quam vis was particularly important for him. He devoted his life to realize this motto everywhere, also in the social practice. The papers collected in this volume give a picture of Klemens Szaniawski’s philosophical thought which is a continuation of the best Polish intellectual tradition. Let this book be also a tribute to an exceptional human being, a teacher, friend and colleague.


Jan Wolenski


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