Goetia Niflheim
15 min readMay 25, 2021


I. Characteristic features of philosophical thought of XIX and XX centuries

Unprecedented progress in science and technology at the end of the 19th — beginning of the 20th centuries. defined the originality of modern European philosophy. If in classical science, starting from the 17th century. it was customary to explain nature, society and man according to the principle of rigid determinism (when a cause unambiguously gives rise to certain consequences), as well as mechanism and reductionism (i.e., reducing the complex to the simple), then from the end of the nineteenth century. and then science began to describe and explain the world as complex, non-linear systems in their development, determined by chance; at the same time in philosophy the transition from rationalism to irrationalism was carried out, the priority of the individual, finite life of a person over the general, whole, the priority of the random over the necessary, the will over reason was affirmed.

Features of philosophical thought of the XIX and XX centuries

  1. Rejection of rationalism as the only and defining way of philosophizing.
  2. Rejection of the rigid division of all schools into materialism and idealism.
  3. Turn to the problem of man, his mortality, factuality.

Directions of philosophical thought of the XIX and XX centuries

Phenomenology — the direction of the 20th century, which set itself the task of describing the world in its immediate givenness through the experience of unprepared consciousness (cleared of empirical experience, traditions, stereotypes, culture, etc.). Husserl strove to overcome the contradictions of subject-object relations in cognition (when the subject “formed”, designed, “painted” with subjectivism the object of cognition itself) and called for returning “back to things”, that is, into the world of phenomena as self-evident given. This path is not easy and requires studying and preparing our consciousness for the intuitive perception of the world of the given. This is what phenomenology serves as a new methodology of modern science.

Philosophical hermeneutics — the theory and practice of interpreting texts based on understanding, interpretation. Representatives: F. Schleiermacher, W. Dilthey, M. Heidegger, H. Gadamer. Interpretation of texts was carried out both in antiquity and in the Christian Middle Ages (exegesis is the interpretation of the Bible, Sacred texts). Since the end of the XIX century. hermeneutics became the main method of social and humanitarian sciences (the sciences of the spirit), since it required not to explain, but to understand the text, which is always behind a certain author, society and culture. Hermeneutics proposed the idea of ​​a hermeneutic circle: movement from part to whole and vice versa, when the meaning of the text is preceded by some knowledge about the author, the era in which he lived, its socio-cultural originality. Pre-understanding makes it possible to better understand individual parts, and individual parts lead to an ever more complete and holistic understanding of the entire text.

Postmodernism (Lyotard’s term)— the philosophical and generally cultural orientation of the modern West, characterized by the logic of decay, absurdity, plurality and equivalence of truths, judgments, rejection of classical rationality and causal connections.

According to Lyotard, postmodernity is “an exit to a culture of diversity through the collapse of totalization and a unifying discourse in narrative and science”. Those. the main goal of postmodernists is the liberation of a person from stereotypes, dogmas, traditions of the modern era, from the dominant influence of reason on the will and behavior of a person. The main method of this kind of liberation is deconstruction — a nihilistic way of thinking in relation to the previous “metaphysics” and decentration — the destruction of meanings, “binary oppositions” (such as high / low, good / evil, beautiful / ugly, etc.). These meanings were once built by the author, narrator, teacher, educator in order to instill ethical, aesthetic, cultural values, help enter the world of culture, and become truly human.

In the era of postmodernism, the “death of the author” is proclaimed, who previously directed the story, was a guide to the world of meanings. But along with the death of the author, the spiritual death of a person as an integral being also occurs (since a person, the reader is drowning in relativism and meaninglessness, cannot distinguish the sublime from the low, the beautiful from the ugly). Relativism, relativity, collage, deconstruction, destruction of meanings are the features of postmodern logic. Postmodernism is characterized by self-irony. Designers of this style in art use completely different objects in interiors, radically changing their original purpose: for example, they turn an ironing or chessboard into a table, a fire extinguisher into a floor figurine, and a saucepan or boot into a flower vase. An ordinary hanger can act as a picture, if it is previously framed with a frame. Postmodernism has become very popular in the West and to some extent in Russia, but today they talk about overcoming it — the emergence of post-postmodernism.

One of the iconic concepts of postmodernism is the concept of simulacrum (from Latin “simulacrum”— image, likeness). In fact, this is a generalization of phenomena and processes associated with imitation, the substitution of something else, similar to it, its analogue, counterfeit, copy, props, counterfeit product, moreover, passed off as the thing itself, for the original. This is a quasi, pseudo, “as it were”, when, preserving external existence, things lose their essence and serve as an expression of something else. It is no coincidence that in the modern language the phrase “like” is so widespread: wine without alcohol (like wine), coffee without caffeine (like coffee), sex without a partner (like love). A simulacrum is not something new, created for the first time, but something that is introduced into an already existing one, and outwardly reproducing its functions, nevertheless replaces its substrate, substance. For example, a modern man is formally a man, but he does not have a soul, selfhood, he is a functionary, a puppet, a zombie, a robot.

II. Philosophical irrationalism. “Philosophy of life” and its varieties

Philosophical irrationalism or “philosophy of life” is a trend in European philosophy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which placed life and will as the ontological foundations of being at the head.

The very category of life within the framework of the philosophy of life is interpreted in different ways: as natural as opposed to artificial (Nietzsche), as a “vital impulse”, the form-creation of the cosmic force of life (Bergson), as a direct inner experience, unique in its content and revealed in the sphere of spiritual communicative or spiritual and historical experience (Dilthey, Simmel), etc. Despite these differences, there is a certain similarity between representatives of this trend: life is a reality inaccessible to rational, logical thinking.

II.I. Schopenhauer’s philosophy

The world is based not on reason, but on will — a blind objective, unconscious beginning of the whole world, of any form of life. The human concept of the world, based on apparent freedom and rationality, is subjective. The will of man is subordinated to the World Will, which acts as an irrational, blind force, prompting all living things (plants, animals, humans) to live, reproduce and multiply at all costs.

The conflict between the objective power of the World’s will and subjective ideas about the world, built on reason, causes a person to suffer and torment, but there is no way out of this conflict (therefore Schopenhauer is a pessimist). Even love is some kind of trick to force people to bear children. It is impossible to defeat the world will, its action can only be temporarily suspended, for example, by contemplating absolute ideas, which in their purest form are revealed through music. Schopenhauer “opened” his modern eyes to the impossibility of solving all problems with the power of reason, showed the “objective” side of life — “peace as will”.

II.II. Nietzsche’s philosophy

Nietzsche continued the line of voluntarism and irrationalism of Schopenhauer, but gave his views a different, subjectivist and optimistic character.

The main ideas of his philosophy:

  1. The will to live (the Dionysian, spontaneous, sensual beginning, vital unity with nature, ecstasy, a storm of emotions, the joy of being) and the will to power (the desire to dominate, to manifest one’s Self), and not mind at all, are the main characteristics of being and man.
  2. Life is eternal becoming and, at the same time, eternal return, the cycle of the Universe, not subject to logical knowledge.
  3. The new subject of history is the superman. Unlike an ordinary person who obeys the laws of morality, the Christian religion, i.e. humble and submissive, the superman “oversteps the line”, surpasses the “trembling creature” in himself, that is, everything weak, petty, petty bourgeois (“little virtues”, for example, “little prudence, fearful caution, pitiful contentment, happiness of the majority”).
  4. Nihilism is a worldview position that recognizes the illusion and inconsistency of both the Christian idea of a supra-worldly God (Nietzsche postulates the thesis — “God is dead”) and the whole idea of European culture with its idea of progress, cult of reason and metaphysics.
  5. The idea of the death of God as its consequence has the rise of a superman who becomes “on the other side of good and evil” (outside the values of humanity, outside of Christian morality), and therefore everything is allowed to him.
  6. The prototype of the superman is not a lion (destroyer and overthrower), but a child who has the ability to intuitively live and be creative.

Conclusion: Nietzsche became the spokesman for the spiritual decline, decadence of European culture in the 19th century. He designated the crisis of classical philosophy, which pinned all hopes on the human mind. And he tried to find a way out in returning to life itself in all its fullness. The identification of Nietzscheism with the ideology of fascism is incorrect, since Nietzsche speaks not of the “soil and blood” of the new superman (not of the Aryan race), but of his spirit, the three transformations of the spirit on the way to the superman. Philosophy of F. Nietzsche should be understood not literally, as a call to dominate and subjugate slaves, subhumans, but as a metaphor, a call to become more than oneself, to discover creative abilities in oneself, to transcend, to surpass everything weak and unworthy of man.

III. Freud’s psychoanalysis. The structure of the human personality in neo-Freudianism

Psychoanalysis is a direction of the XX century that studies the unconscious structures of the human psyche in their complex with the conscious and superconscious.

III.I. Freud’s individual unconscious

Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) — Austrian psychiatrist, philosopher, creator of psychoanalysis.

Main discovery!

The human psyche includes not only consciousness, but also the unconscious, which is not at all a forgotten conscious (like, for example, automatic writing, a forgotten lullaby, etc.). For Freud, the unconscious is a fundamentally different side of the psyche, something that has never been in our consciousness (instincts):

  • instinct of pleasure — Eros, libido (from Latin “libido” — passion), i.e. sexual energy, attraction.
  • instinct of death — Thanatos, attraction to destruction and death.
    These instincts are demonic in nature, it is impossible to defeat them with the power of reason.

According to Freud, the psyche of any person has a structure

  1. It (Id) — unconscious, instincts.
  2. I (Ego) — conscious beginning, the mediator between It and the Super-I.
  3. Super-I (Super-Ego) — upbringing, a system of learned norms, values, conscience, prohibitions — culture as a whole as a social overseer, censorship. According to Freud, the Super-Ego is also largely unconscious (for example, the taboo on incest).

The tragedy of man is that the It (instincts) and the Super-I (culture) are fighting in him, which does not allow instincts to break into our consciousness and destroy the personality. As a result, unconscious desires are repressed, and complexes and neuroses appear. For example, a child’s repressed sexual attraction to the opposite parent gender can manifest itself in the form of some unconscious actions (fears, nervous tics, etc.)

Psychoanalysis is aimed at translating the material (complex) displaced from consciousness into consciousness with the help of pronunciation. Knowing the enemy by sight, you can already fight him — this is the principle of Freudianism. Psychoanalysis is not possible without a psychoanalyst, since independent analysis is hampered by resistance from the I. The role of the psychoanalyst is that he listens to the person when the patient’s self is asleep, at rest, and this most often happens during a dream, hence, by the way, the methods of psychoanalysis : analysis of dreams,
unconscious slips of the tongue, slips of the tongue, the method of free association.

As an attraction, Freud takes a pathological sexual attraction: the Oedipus complex — the boy’s attraction to his mother and the Electra complex — the girl’s attraction to her father.

Conclusion: Freud made the greatest discovery — he found those areas of a person that are beyond our control.
His psychoanalysis is designed to free a person from repressed complexes. However, having eliminated one complex, new ones appear: this process is eternal, and therefore a person is always unhappy. Freud talks about an acceptable way of introducing the demonic, unconscious energy of libido: this is sublimation, i.e. the release of libido energy into socially and culturally acceptable forms, for example, into creativity. Freud’s unconscious is individual and has the biological character of sexual attraction, for which he was often criticized.

III.II. Jung’s collective unconscious

Gustav Jung (1875–1961) — Swiss psychiatrist, founder of one of the areas of depth psychology — analytical psychology. Criticizes Freud for biologizing the unconscious and develops his teaching. The unconscious is no longer only individual, it is much wider and deeper, goes to the origins of collective life and wears cultural character. The human soul (personality) consists of three separate, involved structures: the ego, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious.

The collective unconscious is a repository of the experience and memory of our ancestors accumulated over many millennia (common emotional past). “The collective unconscious contains all the spiritual heritage of human evolution, reborn in the structure of the brain of each individual”. The content of the collective unconscious is formed due to heredity and is the same for all mankind. The emotional experience of mankind has sunk into the depths of our psyche and appears in the form of archetypes (literally, “primary models”) — some mental prototypes, similar to a crystal lattice, on which the life of a particular person is layered. For example, there is the archetype Anima — the presence of the feminine in a man, Animus — the presence of the masculine in the feminine.

Examples of archetypes described by Jung

According to Jung, it is important that the archetype finds an adequate symbolic form for itself, otherwise complexes and neuroses arise that can only be eliminated by a psychoanalyst who turns to the study of the patient’s dreams on the basis of myths, legends, religious plots (based on the cultural past). The essence of Jung’s analytical psychology lies in bringing the constellated unconscious content to consciousness as fully as possible, as well as in achieving the synthesis of this content with consciousness in a cognitive act.

Jung believes that the 20th century is a century of neurotics, mass psychosis, since it was during this period that a tragic gap between nature and culture occurred: the industrial revolution, the rationalization of life, the destruction of symbols of culture and religion further alienated a person from his unconscious and nature. Jung called for the preservation of symbols, because only they can curb the irrational power of the collective unconscious.

IV. Positivism, neo-positivism, post-positivism. Scientism and anti-scientism in the philosophy of the twentieth century

Since the 19th century, with the development of science and technology in philosophy and culture, two opposing attitudes have emerged in understanding the role of science in the life of society — scientism and anti-scientism.

Scientism — (from Latin “scientia” — knowledge, science) — an ideological position, which is based on the idea of scientific knowledge as the highest cultural value and a determining factor in a person’s orientation in the world.

Anti-scientism is an ideological position consisting in a critical (up to hostile) assessment of science and its role in the system of culture and scientific knowledge as a factor in a person’s attitude to the world. Antiscientists: existentialists, philosophers of life,

Positivism in all its three manifestations is considered scientism

Classical positivism is a philosophical trend of the 30–40s. XIX century, emphasizing the reliability and value of positive scientific knowledge in comparison with philosophy and other forms of spiritual activity, giving preference to empirical methods of knowledge and indicating the unreliability and precariousness of all theoretical constructions.

Main ideas:

  1. Knowledge of the world should be based on empirical observation.
  2. Philosophy should investigate facts, not their reasons (to answer the question “how”, not “why”).
  3. Philosophy must abandon value and evaluative approaches in research.

Empirio-criticism is a “critical study of experience” (late 19th — early 20th centuries).

Main ideas:

  1. The crisis in physics — the emergence of quantum physics and a new kind of research objects (elementary particles) — has led to the need to revise the empirical methodology of scientific knowledge.
  2. Empirio-criticists criticized the experience itself, our sensations, the relationship between the subject and the object of cognition, mental and physical (in science itself, this resulted in the postulation of the principle of observability — the dependence of the object of cognition on observation means and sense organs).

Empirio-criticism was not widespread, since it was distinguished by subjective idealism.

Neopositivism is a continuation of positivism, but with significant changes (20–30 years of XX century).

Main ideas:

  1. Philosophy is not a theory, but an activity, a methodology, it must deal with the analysis of language, that is logic of modern science. After all, it is language that determines the picture of the world.
  2. The standard of science is a simple, logical and easily verifiable linguistic formalized system consisting of statements about the world (protocol sentences) and their logical connectives.
  3. These statements can be verified using the verification method — the confirmation of the theory with facts.
  4. Science is a description of facts, everything that cannot be verified is considered unscientific (all the traditional problems of philosophy are being, consciousness).


Main ideas:

  1. Departure from the analysis of the language of science to the analysis of the development of scientific knowledge.
  2. The convergence of science with the human world, the system of his ideals, norms, values ​​(cultural values). Previously, the influence of sociocultural factors on the development of science was denied.
  3. Disclosure of the mechanisms of the birth of new knowledge:
    from traditions (the paradigm of the dominant style at this stage of time
    thinking) to revolution (T. Kuhn’s concept of scientific revolutions).
  4. Method of falsification: theory should not be confirmed, but refuted by fact. If the theory is refuted, then you need to abandon it and create a new.

V. Existentialism. The problem of human freedom and responsibility

Existentialism (from Latin “existentia” — existence) is a philosophy of existence that considers a person as the main value, unique and contradictory in its existence.

Existentialism arose as a result of a spiritual crisis, disillusionment with reason, which did not keep people from two world wars of the 20th century.

The forerunner of XX century existentialism is considered Danish philosopher of the XIX century S. Kierkegaard. He moved from considering a person from the position of an eternal essence (mind, innate character, generic essence) to considering a person from the position of his final existence (existence). Identified three types existence:

a) Esthetician: lives by feelings, emotions, but not free
(Don Juan, Roman Emperor Nero);
b) Ethic: lives by reason and ethical standards (makes
choice, but is within the general, whole);
c) “Knight of faith”: he lives with an irrational faith in God, is directed towards the infinite (Abraham). Kierkegaard puts the “knight of faith” above all. Indeed, it is in the absurd, incomprehensible and terrifying faith (Abraham leads his son to the slaughter, as God himself commanded) a person finds himself alone with God. “Single” before God is the ideal for Kierkegaard.

Main ideas of existentialism:

  1. Existence is not just being in this world (being “in oneself”), like things, but being “for oneself,” that is. free being, designing, doing oneself. If an animal, a stone cannot change itself, then a person can.
  2. Existence precedes essence: a person is initially free, and there is no innate “nature”, and therefore he must create himself. “We are in the position of actors who were released on stage without a pre-learned role, without a text and even without a prompter who would whisper in our ear what to do”.
  3. Man is a temporary, finite being destined for death. But a person also realizes, experiences his mortality. This idea was rejected in every possible way and was not allowed by classical philosophy. And only in existentialism did it become central.
  4. A person sometimes finds himself in borderline situations — situations of experiencing death, a collision with his ultimate finitude, abandonment. This experience accompanies such a feeling as fear, horror (fear of one’s own capabilities, of uncertainty, and not at all objective fear, like fear of heights, confined space or spiders).
  5. Freedom imposes on us the obligation to create someone out of ourselves, to be realized, otherwise our existence will not be “authentic”.
  6. A person lives in a world of possibilities and chances, which is why “today’s coward can become a hero tomorrow”. This means that every person can change, improve, because only he decides who he is. Despite the circumstances, a person always has a choice, even a disabled person confined to a bed, if he is conscious, and not in a vegetative state, there is a choice: to accept the disease or resist it.
  7. A person’s ability to create himself, his destiny, the world of other people is freedom, which is inseparable from responsibility. A person is responsible for the whole world around him, because he projects it, changes it, makes a choice. You cannot run away from a choice, a person cannot but choose. But choice also imposes a great responsibility — the need to be aware of the consequences of their actions.
  8. Existentialism is humanism”, Sartre said. He saw humanism in the fact that for the first time he began to consider a person without props, without relying on some universal, whole (reason, ethics, moral norms). A person is given in existentialism to himself, he is given complete freedom, limited only own responsibility.
  9. The existence of a person is absurd, a person is involved in the world of the absurd, for example, performing “Sisyphean labor.” Sisyphus is a mythological hero, sentenced by the gods to roll a stone up a mountain and go down after it again and again. In everyday life, a person often does unnecessary work,
    shifting, at the behest of the authorities, papers from one folder to another, waiting for “Godot”, which never comes, etc. The absurd cannot be eliminated. Man is “thrown” into his world. But you cannot accept it, you need to actively resist it: “I rebel, therefore, I exist”. This means that humanity manifests itself in active, volitional action (being “for oneself”), and not in passive merging with the situation (being “in oneself”).

Conclusion: existentialism opened a new page in philosophy, becoming the basis of a new philosophical science about man — philosophical anthropology.