“There is no specific male or female way of thinking”
– Why did you choose philosophy?
– I used to like my philosophy teacher at school very much and I was really impressed by her conceptual clarity and coherence in arguing about topics. That fascinated me and since then I have been interested in general questions such as, are there values that all of humanity should share, or what are the foundations of knowledge? Or whether we can always criticize received wisdom in order to go beyond its limits and so on. When I decided to study philosophy at university my relatives were against it because they thought I wouldn’t be able to get a good job. And my argument was that I was ready to do any job – even working in a factory, as I did in the summer before starting university – but that they should let me study what I like.
– Your interests in philosophy mainly lay in the domain of the past. What about contemporary philosophy?
– The history of philosophy is not a museum piece. I’ve spent so much time dealing with the philosophy of the 19th century because I thought that dealing with it would help me consider current questions. My favorite philosopher, Johann Friedrich Herbart, claimed that there is no other discipline more boring than the history of philosophy if it is not used to develop a new kind of thinking. So the history of philosophy is not understood as a form of archeology, but it is meant to help us in accessing the conditions of knowledge, for example. As for current trends in philosophy, I am very interested in the discussion about the history of philosophy of science. And again you see that the history of philosophy of science should have an epistemological function. If you study the history of knowledge and the development of conceptual changes then you understand how knowledge works. The point is to identify general trends and general conditions of knowledge from the study of its developments.
– Philosophy of music is also among your interests. Is this a popular topic or is it something exotic?
– Many people work in the philosophy of music and assess, for example, the experience of music that an individual can have. My approach is quite different because I focus on the conditions of perception. The reason why music theory is relevant philosophically is because it shows that there are regularities or conditions that depend on specific domains of experiencing and understanding. To make my point clearer – usually we can identify an object as being that particular object because it occupies a specific place in space and time. But what about music? If you take a chord – you have many sounds that are in the same place at the same time. How can you distinguish them from one another? Space and time are not enough to distinguish that multiplicity. Historically the general relevance of the history of music psychology is really a discussion of Kantian philosophy, and such philosophers as Herbart or Stumpf have also inquired about the most general conditions of perception.
The philosophy of music is also interesting because it helps us analyze relationships between feeling and form. The philosopher Susanne Langer wrote about this. Music is not exactly a free expression of feelings. You need structures in order to let your feelings come through. A masterpiece in music is the ability to combine dimensions, the structures of feeling, from the musical point of view, with proper musical values.
– Do women in philosophy experience any bias?
– When I came to Russia for the first time for my interview, I was surprised that only male colleagues were interviewing me, so when I moved to Russia I was ready to work at a men-only faculty. But later on I discovered that there are a number of female professors and lecturers in philosophy. So, maybe they just don’t have key roles in the university administration.
More generally, there is quite a lively debate currently about gender philosophy and about the special traits of women’s philosophy. I don’t think that there is a specific male or female way of thinking. I guess it’s a matter of social development if women are active in philosophy or not. In Great Britain a great number of scholars who work in the field of philosophy have also gender philosophy as their area of interest. I don’t think there are differences in the methods of thought. There are many famous women philosophers such as Nancy Cartwright, Mary Hesse, Hedwig Conrad-Martius, and I would particularly like to mention Susanne Langer, who was a follower of both Cassirer and Whitehead in the United States. She developed an interesting theory of forms and symbols and was also active in the philosophy of music and tried to explain the relationships between feeling and form.
– Can one still produce new knowledge in philosophy now, or will it inevitably be a repetition of what was invented before?
– It will not be a repetition because we live in a new era. When we look back at the theories of the past we revisit them in light of our current experience. Knowledge in the 19th century had a completely different structure from the experimental setup used nowadays. Therefore some new ideas must be there. But I still think that Kant is the one who delivered the last philosophical revolution.
– Do you feel at home at HSE?
– I have the support of my Russian and international colleagues who share my philosophical interests and wish to foster cooperation. However, to be honest, I had expected to be involved in some seminars and to cooperate with my colleagues on a systematic basis. I think that academic integration should be put on the agenda of our faculties. But still, I wish to thank all my colleagues because they have really helped me to discover and adapt to this new country, its regulations and culture.
The full text of the issue can be found in The HSE LooK 3 (20), March 2015. If you are not on our regular mailing list yet, please subscribe and get fresh issues of our bulletin every month!