Beatrice Popescu and Andrei Simionescu-Panait (EJOP): The last decade has hosted a
fast pace of publishing from your part. What was the project towards which your efforts
were directed over the last three years? Is it editorial?
Mircea Flonta: Many do not like to talk about their plans, about what they intended
to do but never did. I can say certain things. I watched the daughter of Serban Ţiţeica
- who recently translated a work of Heisenberg and one of Bohr's - I watched a project
related to the interpretation of quantum mechanics, of the Copenhagen School, plus
the controversies that have erupted from it. All this concerns a subject that interests
me: the philosophy of the researcher. I mean, there is a philosophy of philosophers,
you know? The philosopher of science seeks a better understanding of science in general,
or of a particular field of science, in terms of conceptual aspects, while the researcher
has its own philosophy, but this faces the following question: what the scientific
achievements of the present represent, especially of the fundamental theories, and
which further direction of research these theories seem to indicate. In this regard,
scientists can hold different views and, furthermore, despite discussions carried
with perseverance for a long time, within which the prospects are better clarified,
they do not get to an agreement. That is because they have different background representations
of what a scientific description or a scientific explanation, for instance, would
be. These things change even under the influence of scientific developments over time
and sometimes even men of the same generation come to controversies and misunderstandings
due to their background influence. It is an interesting thing, which has preoccupied
me for a long time. In 1985, I wrote a book named “Philosophical presuppositions in
science” („Presupoziții filosofice în știința exactă”), which refers to this type
of discussions – I published another book that went unnoticed, as well – “Images of
science” („Imagini ale științei”) – on the same subject. So during the last year and
something I was caught up in this. I am not finished yet; I will get back to it, to
reach a conclusion.
There was another important preoccupation during the last year and a half. Now, if
you ask, I cannot hide it. I wrote a text, with the volume of a book, of about two
hundred and something pages, entitled “My path to philosophy” („Drumul meu spre filosofie”).
I went to the Faculty of Philosophy between 1951 and 1955 and I have been at the university
ever since, 60 years now, and my colleagues have prepared a volume of homage, a Festschrift.
To continue the text, I wrote another about 100 pages of comments on the work of my
colleagues. This is what I did. The text should be published in summer or autumn.
EJOP: Accomplishing works of this caliber requires a labor discipline that transpires
especially in the process of writing. How does a day of work go and how do you outline
the steps of preparing a philosophy volume?
Mircea Flonta: I retired in 2002. This means that my work is reduced and I have more
time. Of course, as the years pass by, I do not have the same resources, but I have
much more time at my disposal. I feel better if every morning I stay 4-5 hours and
work on something. I can read as well, but always seeking something. I learned during
a long time and going through hard enough lacks, that you can read well only if you
already have certain representations about the problem in question, because only then
can you show active reading and take what is important from the rest. If that derives
satisfaction, it means that I am having a good day and I feel fine the rest of the
About preparing manuscripts, I learned this: it is very bad when you have time, and
I am referring here to doctoral theses. If you have a manuscript and do not stay on
it for a few weeks, you will just leave it. Turning to it, you can easily make improvements.
Usually, I do not impose restrictive time limits and I allow myself this opportunity
to get back to that work a second time, perhaps even a third time, and it allows me
to construct a better text than that I would have initially constructed. You can produce
better things this way.
EJOP: We go back to the period when you were a professor. Both writing and teaching
require time and reinterpretation. What is the history of the two aspects and how
did the two combine?
Mircea Flonta: They are closely related. I fully agree with a close colleague from
Germany who told me when I retired that “it’s hard to imagine how to carry on with
philosophy without students”, him being a very active author. I am talking about Herbert
Schnädelbach. I agree, because the practice of philosophy as an exercise of thinking
is stimulating that way. Many of the things people do at some level is based on reading
some other significant or first-rate authors, stimulators. If you discuss with students,
for example at the seminars, such texts, you have the opportunity to see some things
that do not come to light if you read the text three times sitting alone in a room.
It is very important. In addition, there is the need to clarify things. My mentors
(e.g., Wittgenstein) are people who felt this need to practice and are willing to
go beyond clarification. For this, working with students helps a lot.
On the other hand, there is something else. If you are a teacher, you must have a
broader thematic scope, as opposed to someone who is employed as a researcher. There
are those institutes of the Academy, the philosophy and the psychology one at Constantin
Radulescu Motru. The researcher has a work to plan, chooses to participate in collective
works with a specific theme, and focuses all the lectures on the topic. It is never
constrained by its professional duties to encompass a much wider scope, while a teacher
should have a culture in specialization. I must have, at least in the philosophy of
knowledge, the philosophy of science, etc., the obligation of reading great classic
and contemporary works. During the last two decades, we insisted on master and doctoral
seminars, and this is how I proceed: hold an introductory statement for the theme,
present a list of texts, and then discuss them all, each at a time and this is not
just for the benefit of the students. Moreover, I always take advantage of this -
and feel the thematic horizon constantly remodelling. Therefore, I think the teaching
profession and philosophical practice are closely linked.
EJOP: How was the philosophical atmosphere during doctorate, how did the meeting with
Piaget go and what impact did a change of air have for you?
Mircea Flonta: The doctorate was then considered a work of maturity. I do not think
that this was a happy vision, because there were some who took the teacher’s chair
for twenty years and gave up finishing their doctorate. For others, having the doctorate
lasted for their entire life, you know? Now, Ph.D. is a first attempt to start researching
on a topic, to get a minimum of experience and assess the possibilities, capabilities
and perspectives of a person. To not run late on the matter. A French mathematician,
the friend of a Romanian mathematician, said that he had his doctorate quickly and
the project's first sentence said this: “The main purpose of my work is to obtain
the doctorate in mathematics.” It was a kind of statement of his, that he wanted to
carry out research and that the doctorate was a first step; and I agree with that.
As it regards Piaget, genetic epistemology gave me a way out from the conventional
dialectical materialism. Back then, in 1967, I was teaching a course called Theory
of knowledge. I was a lecturer. Then I read Piaget, “Biologie et connaissance” convinced
me. Piaget attracted me through the manner in which he stated that in the middle of
the theory of knowledge there was the issue of the relationship between subject and
object in building knowledge, whilst believing that it was not speculative, but based
on clear research of genetic epistemology. Of course, I exaggerated the importance
that I gave it then, but it was a way I could discuss something more professional
at the time. Then Piaget came to Romania in 1971 because he received a Doctor Honoris
Causa - and then I met him, after which I went to him with a von Humboldt scholarship.
Nevertheless, I was already beginning to get far from genetic epistemology, as in
Germany I had gotten in contact with analytic philosophy. It was a fleeting episode.
EJOP: We know that Americans are working with Major-Minor axes when it comes to offering
expertise, which would provide premises for imminent professional skills, which brings
a high level of performance that ultimately meets market requirements. Here, schools
do not only become desirable, but they reconfigure their programs from a strictly
mercantile perspective. Because of the recession, Greeks have recently wanted to take
out organizational philosophy and psychology from the University of Athens. What are
your hopes for the next century philosophy? Since the young philosopher does not have
a domain in which to work, do you think that they can find a solution in interdisciplinarity,
or would they better abandon philosophy?
Mircea Flonta: Many questions, I will try to answer, though. Philosophy today prepares
mainly teachers of philosophy, although there are more graduates than education could
absorb today. The usual destiny is the following: secondary education. Before, it
was more room, with a single college in Bucharest and two departments at the faculties
of History in Iasi and Cluj. Now things have changed. A graduate of philosophy can
be used in a huge variety of activities, provided they think well independently, and
speak and write well. In these conditions, you can be employed in any business! Same
with any psychology graduate with similar characteristics. It is only that most graduates
of philosophy of the last 15 years do not satisfy this condition. It could be wrong,
but philosophy is now the path of young people who just come to have a degree, and
I think it is easier than elsewhere. On the other hand, universities need students
and there is competition to attract students, hence the decisive factor of lowering
requirements. There is no other way. We do not have the American situation, where
someone is impressed that you have a doctorate in philosophy at Harvard or at CUNY,
etc. Here, grades are not representative and the faculty is not able to sort students.
Therefore, there are increasingly fewer students, especially in theoretical philosophy,
because it is considered more difficult - when telling stories about philosophical
history seems easier and topics like politics and morals are more familiar than the
logical themes of philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, etc. It is difficult
to make a selection and there is no coverage for diplomas. My opinion is that both
master and doctorate titles are given for the same qualifications to persons whose
performances are very different, unacceptable different. I believe that things cannot
continue in the current manner.
I think that the future of philosophy at the university would be other. Maybe a Department
of Philosophy for the University, not for college. We give every student the opportunity
to take a course in philosophy, or maybe two or three, to work and to obtain a degree,
then those with a particular interest – a PhD in philosophy. Therefore, there are
always students. I think intellectually active people, interested in ideas, in the
company of such department and teachers with a professional attitude, who discuss
topics of interest for good minds, can capitalize on opportunities and would take
a bit of philosophy. My wife works with neuroscience and different projects in collaboration
with universities in Europe, and some years ago, she has brought us a colleague in
Hamburg. I did not know him, during our conversation, he asked me what I do for a
living and I said philosophy. A, he says, I graduated from Heidelberg University (strong
in biology and medicine) and I remember that I went to all of Gadamer’s classes. Gadamer
was a professor at Heidelberg, i.e., if you have a modicum of pretention, you go there
to see what people are talking about, right? It is as if you go to a show: they say
there is a new play in town, right? People go; they should. This is how I see the
future. However, it also takes another attitude from teachers from other faculties
regarding their disciplines’ fundamental issues, which inevitably fall in connection
with philosophy. This is what a true university professor should be like, one who
can give students guidance.
I also have something more. Wittgenstein did not have any appreciation for philosophy
as a profession; instead, he considered that every man who thinks with his mind must
dabble in philosophy because philosophy is an exercise of the mind. Even if this exercise
is not a routine, reaching towards philosophy is beneficial in key moments. Many believe
that it is a matter of erudition – what you know about Plato, about Toma, about Descartes,
Kant, etc. - but that is something that interests few people, and only esoterically.
Instead, this thing, what advantage we have regarding our contact with representative
philosophers to help us think better on what interests us as people active in a certain
field, and as people who think about life and our relationships with others, is a
work that seems to be important.
EJOP: Do you think the over-specialization in philosophy damages the philosophical
work of an author?
Mircea Flonta: This is often the condition for a person with possibilities of performance
in research. It is also compulsory. Let me tell you a little story. Einstein, from
the 1920s until his death, worked all the time, intensely, but unlike the period before,
he published almost nothing. He gave the following explanation - because I was only
interested in matters of fundamentals and attempts to find a new path, I worked a
lot with few results. Well, the common person cannot afford that. He or she does not
have that capital. With capital, you can engage in some intellectually adventurous
undertakings, meaning that they have a higher risk rate. The researcher cannot usually
do that. He or she specializes, knows very well the literature of that narrow field,
works and thinks by himself or herself, waiting for a result that falls like in a
mosaic of science, like a pebble right where it should fit. It is what Thomas Kuhn
calls “normal science” and it is studied by most scholars, most of their lives. It
is somewhat mandatory. Of course, it is possible to obtain good quotations, academic
positions, honors, influence, prestige, etc., but usually, this does not cause things
to be remembered. Those who managed the opposite escaped the normal and narrow specialization
of research, with a few risks here and there, because such work does not favour undertakings
of large scale, while those who were accustomed to 30-40 years like this will continue
so for the rest of their lives. Of course, they are very important as well.
In philosophy, there are three major examples – the specialized researcher who can
publish quality works anywhere, and there are few here. The second figure is the writer
of philosophy, who looks down on it and writes for a wide audience. The last one is
the teacher who can afford to have research interests in a broader horizon, because
he or she does not fall under pressure like the one who only deals with research.
It is good to have room for all. We usually exaggerate with the criticism of one direction
or another. Moreover, here, there is an editorial performance style, we do not have
the peer-review system, the impartial referees, the conscientious, the ones who do
not know who the author is, who have standards, read carefully, write a comprehensive
report – we do not have that. From this point of view, we hold a peripheral position,
we not master English as natives, plus many other aspects resulting from here - we
are not in relationships with people of important centres, etc. Yet, not only research
should be encouraged, as in Romanian will appear only what is regarded as worthless,
because it cannot occur in English! The other danger is the formally executed work,
books written to qualify for various posts, usually compilations, and so on.
We need a competent publisher, willing to invest time. We do not have the willingness
to look seriously at things. You know how a journal rejecting an article looks like:
it is a little piece of work, which is not paid for, perhaps only with prestige, according
to the magazine and its board. Things are done very conscientiously. It is considered
a second-class activity, like our situation. See doctoral papers. Do we have the guarantee
that the reviewer has read everything with all the attention necessary and that the
reviewer is one of the people who knows very well the literature of that particular
theme? I have reasons to doubt.
EJOP: Do you think that the desire to write becomes more intense with age?
Mircea Flonta: With age, something not desirable can happen, but it does happen very
often. As the years pass, you become more independent, look things up and you tend
to think you have to say things more important than before, but you lose sight of
the fact that regarding inventiveness and creativity, you do not gain points over
the years. Therefore, many people are too active from a certain age, especially in
the humanities, and if they hold a position, they cannot find anyone to say to them,
with great respect, consideration and affection: “please know that you have written
better before”. It is good to know where you can go once the years pass by. I read
some things that I wrote when I was about 50-60 years old and I know I would not be
able to do this thing, because I would not be able to hold and lead such a high number
of threads in the analysis. There are disadvantages.
EJOP: Dear Professor, we thank you so much for the interview and we wish you the best.