Rediscovered: the Jan Łukasiewicz Papers

Dr James Peters writes another in our occasional series of posts on some of our lesser known collections.

Jan Łukasiewicz (1878-1956), photographer unknown. Wikimedia Commons public domain image.

Jan Łukasiewicz (1878–1956) was one of the most significant Polish philosophers of the twentieth century. He was a member of the Lvov–Warsaw school of philosophy, which made ground-breaking contributions to the study of analytical philosophy and logic.


Łukasiewicz himself was one of the stars of Polish philosophy in the inter-war period. For many years Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warsaw, he was also Rector of the University on two occasions. In addition, in 1919–20 he served in Ignacy Paderewski’s cabinet as minister of education.

Łukasiewicz’s world collapsed with the German invasion of Poland in 1939. German victory saw the country’s universities closed, and its intellectuals persecuted. Łukasiewicz worked for the Polish Underground University during the occupation, but his attempt to flee to Switzerland failed, and at the War’s end, he was effectively a displaced person. Eventually Łukasiewicz and his wife were offered residence by the Republic of Ireland, and having moved to Dublin, he was appointed Professor of Mathematical Logic at the Royal Irish Academy.

Carnap letter
Letter from the philosopher Rudolf Carnap referring to Łukasiewicz’s employment problems (Łukasiewicz Papers).

Despite this opening, exile proved difficult for Łukasiewicz. Although he continued to publish important work during this period, Łukasiewicz felt cut off from a like-minded community of philosophers. Surviving letters in his archive hint at a desire to move to a post in England, particularly to Oxford, but these hopes came to nothing, perhaps unsurprisingly given his age and background.

Łukasiewicz’s letters also refer to his frequent ill-health, something he believed was exacerbated by his hostile landlord: he told one correspondent in 1954 that as a result: “My health is now ruined and could be restored only if all this vexation will be stopped indefinitely”. His sense of persecution led him to tell another associate that “some agents of the [Polish] secret police may be involved” in his problems.  It was a sad end to a prestigious career.

Łukasiewicz’s papers came to the Library by an unconventional path. All of his pre-War papers, as well as his library, had been destroyed during the siege of Warsaw. His post-war papers were initially deposited at the Royal Irish Academy, but Łukasiewicz’s former pupil, Czesław Lejewski (1913–2001), who was professor of philosophy at the University of Manchester, negotiated their transfer to Manchester in the 1960s.

Unfortunately Łukasiewicz’s papers have not received much attention since then. They are uncatalogued, and present some challenging problems for future cataloguing. The archive is disordered, some of the content about logical theory is highly technical, and much of it is written in Polish.

The papers are however undoubtedly significant for history of modern philosophy and logic. An extensive body of correspondence includes numerous letters from former colleagues and pupils such as  Bolesław Sobociński, Józef Maria Bocheński, Heinrich Scholz, Czesław Lejewski, Ivo Thomas, Jerzy Słupecki, Tadeusz Czeżowski, and Henryk Hiz.

This correspondence is likely to be revealing about issues of exile and displacement in the post-war period, as several of Łukasiewicz’s correspondents were fellow émigrés. Equally, some of his correspondents remained in Poland, and their letters may be a useful  source of information for intellectual life under the Communist regime.

Although Łukasiewicz’s reputation faded somewhat after his death, some of his ideas have re-emerged in contemporary conceptions of ‘fuzzy’ logic.  He remains an esteemed figure in his native Poland, and is one of the Lvov–Warsaw philosophers represented in the imposing statue group at the University of Warsaw library.

Warsaw statues
University of Warsaw Library, statues of the Lvov-Warsaw School: Łukasiewicz is second right, with Stanislaw Leśniewski,  Alfred Tarski, and Kazimierz Twardowski.
Courtesy of the University of Warsaw. Photographer: Mirosław Kaźmierczak (University of Warsaw).

Further information on Łukasiewicz can be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

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