Adam Schaff

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Adam Schaff, 1945

Adam Schaff (March 10, 1913 – Nov. 12, 2006) was a Polish Marxist philosopher, Professor at the University of Warsaw, and director of a sociological institute in Vienna. Schaaf made notable contributions to the fields of semantics (1962), the philosophy of man (1963), language and cognition (1964), marxism and individualism (1970), history and truth (1971), alienation as a social phenomenon (1980), microelectronics and society (1982), and pragmatism (1984).


  • Humanism does not exist in itself, just as man taken in himself and for himself does not exist. Only concrete man exists, man set in a particular age, living in a particular country, belonging to a particular social class, representing a particular tradition and particular personal ideals.
    • Adam Schaff (1947), cited in: Susan Petrilli and Augusto Ponzio (2007) "Adam Schaff: from Semantics to Political Semiotics." 9th World Congress of IASS/AIS. 2007.
  • Neglect of the problem of the human individual leads to impoverishing Marxism at the theoretical level and to distorting it at the practical level. In this mistake lies the deep secret of Stalinism. This is why the protagonists of “true” Marxism — where the individual is absent—are so dangerous. I am referring not only to those who put Stalinism into practice, but also to its theorists, whose various political lucubrations and theoretical mistakes have resulted in the thesis that Marxism is anti-humanism. If this were the case, we would have to fight it. But it is a pure lie: Marxism is humanism, and it is the concern of Marxists to fight in the name of such humanism. This has always been my firm belief, as a Marxist and as a Communist. And this fact explains the choice of the lietmotif of my philosophical works.
    • Adam Schaff (1967) in: "Conversation with Ponzio," in Ponzio 2002; as cited in: Petrilli and Ponzio (2007)
  • A system of opinions which, being founded on a system of accepted values, determines the attitudes and behavior of men with respect to desired objectives of development of the society, social group or individual.
    • Adam Schaff (1967), "Functional Definition, Ideology, and the Problem of the 'fin du siècle' of Ideology." L’Homme et la Société, April-June 1967. pp. 49-61; p. 50
  • Through the prevailing social consciousness, social relations give shape to the individual who is born and educated in a specific society. In this sense, social relations create the individual.
    • Adam Schaff (1970:66), as cited in: John F Schostak (2012), Maladjusted Schooling (RLE Edu L). p. 25

Introduction to semantics, 1962


Adam Schaff (1962). Introduction to semantics, Oxford, New York: Pergamon Press.

  • Semantics (semasiology) is a branch of linguistics. The questions which are of particular interest in this connection are — with what is that branch of linguistics concerned, and in what does it see the distinction between itself and the semantic problems found in contemporary logic.
To begin with the term itself: it comes from the eminent French linguist Bréal and is genetically connected with linguistics. In the late 19th century Michel Bréal published his Essai de semantique. Science des significations.
  • p. 3
  • For Bréal, semantics was the science the subject matter of which was study of the cause and structure of the processes of changes in meanings of words: expansion and contraction of meanings, transfer of meanings, elevation and degradation of their value, etc.
Such a delineation of semantics as a branch of linguistics is maintained to this day, for all the differences between the various schools in linguistics. Such degree of uniformity is not confined to the definition of semantics alone. Not all authors give such a definition; some of them approach the issue from a different point of view as regards general classification... but all schools of linguistics engage in the study of the meanings of words and their changes. Thus all of them, in one way or another, engage in semantics as understood by Breal.
  • p. 4
  • De Saussur... develops the concept of semiology as the science which studies the functioning of signs in society, and treats linguistics as a branch of such a general science of signs.
    • p. 4
  • For Witold Doroszewski, at the root of semantic analysis lies the philosophical issue of the relationship between the general and the particular, the starting point being the analysis of the function of the copula "is". Doroszewski analyses the problem of meaning as closely linked with denotation. It is in that question that he sees the focal point of semantics.
According to Doroszewski, the history of meaning consists in the growth of a "gap" between the sign and its designatum. and the cause of changes in meanings lies in the conflict between the general character of the sign and the need for its being made to rise to the occasion whenever it is concretely embodied.
The attitude of Doroszewski, a representative of linguistic semantics, is of interest not only because he draws concrete conclusions from the general definition of semantics, but also because of his reflections on the relationship between semantics as pursued by linguists, and semantics as pursued by logicians. By touching here upon that issue, I anticipate further analysis. This does not advance the clarity of exposition, but is, unfortunately, often inevitable. In this case, it is justified in so far as it helps us to realize better the specific traits of linguistic semantics and its research objectives.
  • p. 6
  • Ajdukiewicz's view, published in the Erkenntnis, certainly did not fail to influence the opinions held by the neo-positivist supporters of semantic philosophy. But Ajdukiewicz was not alone in his opinions which fitted Carnap's principle of tolerance and, e.g., the theories of C. G. Hempel.
    • p. 80-81
  • Carnap : a language, as e.g. English, is a system of activities or, rather, of habits, i.e., dispositions to certain activities, serving mainly for the purposes of communication and of co-ordination of activities among the members of a group.
Gardiner : As a first approximation let us define speech as the use, between man and man, of articulate sound-signs for the communication of their wishes and their views about things.
Morris : A language in the full semiotical sense of the term is any intersubjective set of sign vehicles whose usage is determined by syntactical, semantical, and pragmatical rules.
Szober : We shall call phonic language the set of sounds used for the purpose of establishing communication with one's milieu or reproduced in one's mind for th purpose of clearly realizing one's own thought.
  • p. 314 footnote
  • The distinction between "language" and "speech" rests on easily observable facts. The theoretical aspect of the issue has been raised in contemporary literature only by de Saussure, although in the terminological sense all the languages (I refer here to our cultural circle and its traditions), beginning with the distinction ... lingua and sermo in Latin, accept the difference between "language" as a system of linguistic facts and "speech" as the name of a type of action. Following de Saussure, that theoretical distinction has been adopted in all contemporary linguistics. Gardiner distinguishes between speech as an activity with clearly utilitarian ends in view, and language as a precise knowledge pertaining to communication by means of verbal signs'*. The differentiation has been adopted in the Marxist literature of the subject, linguistic, psychological, etc. In his Psychology (in Russian) S. L. Rubinshtein defines speech as language functioning in the context of individual consciousness, and compares the difference between speech and language to the difference between individual and social consciousness.
    • p. 316

Essays in the Philosophy of Language, 1967


Adam Schaff. Essays in the Philosophy of Language, 1967; It. trans., 1969:

  • When in accordance with the materialistic analysis of the cognitive process we consider thought and human consciousness as linguistic thought, as thought made of language (Marx maintained that language is “my consciousness and that of others”), it is evident that any analysis of the cognitive process must also be the analysis of the linguistic process, without which thought is simply impossible.
    • p. 20-21
  • By contrast to the thesis which sets science against ideology, another thesis is presented here contrasting that which sets science against ideology. It maintains that not only are the propositions of science and ideology linked, in some cases they are even identical.
    • p. 51
  • Science and ideology are closely connected to each other, in spite of those pedants who would like to separate them. In any case, since social praxis, which produces and promotes the develópment of language, is the common basis for both the relatively objective knowledge of the world, and for attitudes of evaluation, a genetic link exists.
    • p. 127

Quotes about Adam Schaff

  • Adam Schaff studied law and economics in Paris at the Ecole des Sciences Politiques et Economiques, philosophy in Poland and Russia and worked about epistemology and semiotics... Adam Schaff was the only well-known Marxist with academic background in Poland during the postwar period. In the initial phase of his work he was regarded as an admirer of the work of Josef Stalin... He got the first Polish professorship for Marxist philosophy at the University of Warsaw in 1948. In the time from 1952 to 1953 he was director of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the Warsaw University. At the same time he was the main-ideologist of the communist party of Poland... Since 1963 he directed a sociological institute in Vienna. In 1965 he published his book “Marxism and the human individual” with which he moved away from the orthodox Marxist opinion and conceded that also in socialist societies alienation keeps on existing. In the course of these modifications he got the reputation to be a revisionist of Marxism... In 1969 he became member of the Club of Rome.... After the radical social changes of the year 1989 Schaff remained faithfully to his Marxist world view and kept on representing furthermore democratic socialism as an alternative to capitalism.
    • Burkhard Bierhoff. "Adam Schaff: (1913-2006)," in: Fromm Forum. No. 12 (2008), Tuebingen (Selbstverlag) 2008, p. 41.
  • Adam Schaff... was a Polish Marxist philosopher with a special interest in philosophy of language and semiotics, in theory of knowledge and political economy. He focused on problems of semantics, theory of ideology, the relation between language and reality, formal logic, and dialectics. But he also showed a great interest in ethics dealing with the problem of the human individual and the relation between humanism and Marxism. Concerning this aspect he evidenced the connection between the interpretation of Marxism and translation of Marxian terminology, showing the influence of ideology in the practice of translation. As a polish philosopher, Schaff oriented his analysis in a semiotic sense, examining in particular the symptomatology of today's social politics. During the 1980s, he promoted a series of meetings in different countries throughout Eastern and Western Europe to analyze and compare the different versions in different languages of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 from a semiotic perspective. Certain of the topical relevance of his work in semiotics, in this paper we examine a series of issues at the center of Schaff's attention such as the conception of the human individual, the relation between language and knowledge, language and dialectics, the influence of ideology in translation, linguistic fetishism and stereotypes, critique of Chomskyian theory of language, and of hypostatization of such concepts as “structure” and “structuralism.”
    • Susan Petrilli and Augusto Ponzio (2012). "Semantics and critique of political economy in Adam Schaff." Semiotica Vol. 2012, Issue 189 (Apr 2012): 133-168; Abstract
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