Henri Wald’s Contribution to Romanian
Culture and Philosophy

Alexandru Singer

I would like to thank you for the invitation to participate in this prestigious scientific colloquium and for the interesting title you have suggested for my paper: Henri Wald’s philosophy. For one’s name to be remembered in the history of philosophy one does not necessarily need to develop an original system to explain the world. I think that the last builders of philosophical systems in the Romanian culture were Lucian Blaga and Alexandru Bogza.

Did Wald create his own philosophical system? I have given a negative answer to the question on another occasion, suggesting that he practiced philosophy in a specific manner at a time when the latter had become the “maid-servant to ideology.” I wish to remind you of Bertrand Russell’s assertion that philosophy is not a doctrine, but an activity.

Was Professor Wald a Romanian philosopher! The Dictionary of Philosophical Works, edited in 1992, answered the question, showing that Wald should be counted as a Romanian philosopher because his works and activity delineated a “genuine sketch of philosophical system.” Wald’s creative activity and critical approach contributed to the revival of human sciences, aimed at setting man free from dogmatism, the more so as his spiritual autonomy (or even worse, the spiritual freedom of intellectuals) was in danger of sterility. Our remarks are substantiated by Andrei Pleşu, whose well-known words are worthy to be quoted here:

“Henri Wald is a delightful interlocutor, in whose company there is no room for boredom or stereotyping. Passionate in his theoretical constructions, as well as in


his existential involvement, he is the professor of many generations of Romanian intellectuals who, thanks to him, managed to cross the totalitarian desert with the vital quota of water.”

That is why I am inclined to characterize our professor of dialectical thinking, with his constant critical attitude and clear expression, with his ceaseless search for precision of thought, with his encouragement for us to achieve spiritual autonomy, as a Jewish sage in the rich gallery of Jewish intellectuals in Romania who have substantially contributed to contemporary Romanian philosophy and culture.

Wald’s theoretical achievements lie in logic, philosophy of language, and the understanding of the contemporary interpretation of Judaism. The distorted and oversimplified picture sketched by a biased emphasis on his Marxist stand is a paradox turned into a platitude by people who do not understand metaphorical thinking. As Wald himself has asserted, he constantly detached himself from Stalin’s interpretation of Marxism in a twofold way: starting from the viable ideas of Marxism and removing from them through anti-dogmatism and anti-fanaticism. His steadfastness has a Jewish foundation, because it is grounded on humanism and morality, accompanied by the critical spirit characteristic of a monotheistic culture in permanent dialogue with the Creator. In contrast to the people who, after 1989, were eager to change their attitude, Wald, according to Mihai Şora, had “no reason to reexamine his past in order to somehow adjust it to the present. True to himself, he epitomizes the non-aligned intellectual, whose thinking has been solely guided by a freely acknowledged discipline.” Sorin Vieru has carried out a very fine analysis of Wald’s relationship with Marxism, and I have included several of Wald’s remarks, made in his conversations with me, in a book entitled Confessions.

For those who have forgotten or were too young in the fifties, I have to remind them that Wald launched the innovative project of a dialectical logic in a time when Romanian philosophy was represented by Joja, Gulian and Tismǎneanu, guided by Soviet mentors. It was a period in which no one was speaking about the tradition in Romanian logic, Titu Maiorescu’s logic, E. Petrovici or even about Florea Ţuţugan’s contribution (which was nevertheless still taught in universities). Wald’s courage in laying the foundations of a logic inspired by Hegel rather than by Marx and also related to contemporary Western trends caused him much trouble. Eventually, only the works of Grigore Moisil, Solomon Marcus, and Wald were translated into English, contributing to the international recognition of the Romanian specialists’ original creative effort in establishing relations between mathematics,


logic, and linguistics. Wald’s views on dialectical logic stemmed from a wide investigation into the history of logic (and perhaps from long conversations with his friend Anton Dumitriu) and aimed at developing Aristotelian logic to conform with the evolution of mathematics and physics, while nevertheless maintaining the relationship with Hegel’s dialectics and the taxonomy of traditional logic. It is true that the laws of dialectical logic formulated by Wald (contradictory predication, determined and double negation) had not been further developed, as he gradually turned to the mathematical logic and analytic approach of the English school, with many applications in linguistics. In spite of communist slogans such as “the struggle against bourgeois ideology,” there was a growing tendency to shift from system construction to predicative analysis, from logic to linguistics and from neutral explanations to the constantly disquieting questions raised by the pragmatics of communication. More and more interested in debates dedicated to the theory of knowledge, Wald started to develop some elements of philosophy of language and, as is well-known, 1968 and 1991, he published seven books: Realitate şi limbaj (Reality and Language), Homo significans, Limbaj şi valoare (Language and Value), Puterea vorbirii (The Power of Speech), Ideea vine vorbind (Ideas Come Up As We Speak), Expresivitatea ideilor (Expressiveness of Ideas), Tensiunea gândirii (Tension of Thought). Philosophy of language had been his constant concern until the last article he had the intellectual strength to write for the journal that honored him with the ALIA (Adevǎrul literar şi artistic) Prize, Adevǎrul literar şi artistic. I spoke with him several occasions about his interest in the studies of pragmatic linguistics. He was familiar with them but he chose to follow his own path in the dialectical philosophy of logic and language.

In order to illustrate the way in which Wald’s interest in the philosophy of language is integrated in contemporary trends in linguistics, I shall deal only with his opinions on the significance of dialogue. Generally speaking, Wald saw in language the dialectical unity of speech and thought, knowledge and attitude, and he believed that dialogue was the essence of communication. For him, “dialogue does not consist in an alternation of monologues, but in their clash . . . dialogue is the feed-back through which the creative power of the monologue regulates itself.” It is well-known that the evolution of linguistics has led to the development of the theory of utterance by passing from subjectivity to inter-subjectivity, by approaching the locutor in relation to the interlocutor. The dialogical structure of the utterance is primordial and discourse founding, making the transition from the formal aspect of the utterance to the discourse strategy. Going beyond linguistics, Wald criticized the overrating of the persuasive monologue promoted by media.


It might seem strange, but his linguistic concerns drew him closer to the contemporary meanings of Judaism. This is his answer to one of my questions about the special part played by the dialogue:

“At a time when image has started to overwhelm the word, the rehabilitation of the dialogue, the reestablishment of its part in the development of culture is an urgent requirement. Not by accident did Martin Buber and Levinas turn dialogical philosophy into a philosophy of the contemporary world, starting from Judaism and from what is viable in Hasidism.”

For Wald, the present significance of Judaism and its relationship with the main ideas of European culture consist in:

• the central part played by the word in the creation of man, culture, and spirituality,

• the stress on human individuality as supreme social value,

• the belief that the future is not an extension of the present, but a superior stage in the history of mankind,

• the moral strength which enabled man to place to have in the service of to be.

For his entire life, Wald was faithful to Judaism, according to which the belief in the moral improvement of man and human relations is based on education through the critical power of the word, on the stimulating part played by intellectuals. He believed that every Jew had to dedicate himself to the study of Judaism and that the survival and significance of Judaism in the world of today and tomorrow were rooted in its capacity for constant self-improvement. Wald wrote:

“In its essence, Judaism is still a lasting hymn dedicated to man’s trust in his power of self-improvement. In Judaism, the struggle on the side of virtue against vice is more important than the final triumph of good over evil . . . Strictly speaking, the Law of Moses is a world view rather than a cult, the synagogue is a house of learning rather than a house of prayer, the rabbi is a teacher rather than a priest.

Wald’s thorough knowledge, displayed in his articles on the contemporary significance of Judaism, was based on wide readings, starting with the Bible and the works of prestigious specialists, such as: Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Emmanuel


Levinas, Gershom Scholem, Hermann Cohen, Armand Abecassis, Leo Baeck, and others.

Fifty years ago, Wald had taught me to read rather than to write. In his last years, he supported my editorial activity at the Hasefer Publishing House, helping me to select works that were to be models for everyone in Romania, and he was very glad to hear that most of our readers were Romanians of different persuasions. He encouraged me to find competent translators, in order to endow Romanian culture with a good version of the Babylonian Talmud, side by side with the translation of Josephus Flavius’s complete works, which we had already managed to publish. He cast a critical eye on obsolete ritual practices, but he agreed that culture without ritual was in danger of turning into immoral arrogance, just as ritual without culture could turn into fundamentalism. He appreciated technological progress, but he constantly repeated that all man’s creations were means to an end; only man himself was a goal. He made a clear-cut distinction between utopia and uchronia, ceaselessly emphasizing the fact that Jews had lived more in time than in space and that Jewish memory contained much more hope than nostalgia. He was constantly concerned with the evolution of the State of Israel, the homeland of all Jews. He was against assimilation, but nevertheless believed that the Diaspora was an eternal source of renewal for Jewish thought through multiculturalism. His thinking was permanently focused on pointing out nuances and distinctions, overlooked by people who believed that concepts were elaborated once and for all. According to him, no utterance was complete and final in a dynamic reality. His personality was charming. His charisma was appreciated by all the people who knew him, from students to close friends. Everybody admired the style of the analyst who turned paradoxes into knowledge, accompanying them with edifying puns. Ideas came to him as he was speaking and were shared in the light of the spirit, spreading the perfume of wisdom.

Concentrating the essence of Wald’s personality, academician Nicolae Cajal wrote:

“The entire life of this octogenarian is an example of consistency, creative spiritual autonomy, dignity and refusal of any interference in the free self-assertion of the human personality. In everything he wrote or said ‑ always to an ever admiring audience ‑ the idea that man is the supreme value was essential. Rejecting any pressure of the circumstances with the ability of philosophical language and the subtlety of a skilful writer, Henri Wald has emphasized in his entire work the value of culture and the demands of civilization.”


As a conclusion to this brief presentation of the main features of the man and philosopher, allow me to read the reasons why he was awarded the ALIA Prize in 1999:

“For his stubbornness in believing in reason when conceited irrationality was in fashion.

For practicing the ‘vice’ of thinking in a world of vapid sensations.

For his love of living dialogue, exchanged between living people, in a time of screams howled by electronic ghosts.

For dedicating his Jewishness to Romanian culture, in a country that has for several times burned its book, like a ancient, serene messenger of the people of the Book.”

Henri Wald died not when his time had come, but when he could write no more, when his life ceased to be a creative effort. On his tombstone he wished to be written: this has never happened to me before!

SOURCE: Singer, Alexandru. “Henri Wald’s contribution to Romanian culture and philosophy, ” Studia Judaica 11-12 (2004), pp. 220-225.

Studia Judaica: “Babeş-Bolyai” University, Cluj-Napoca, The History and Philosophy Faculty, “Dr. Moshe Carmilly” Institute for Hebrew and Jewish History.

Wald gets only a brief mention (p. 135) but the larger repressive national context can be found here:

Tismaneanu, Vladimir. “From Arrogance to Irrelevance: Avatars of Marxism in Romania,” in The Road to Disillusion: From Critical Marxism to Post-communism in Eastern Europe, edited by Raymond Taras (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1992), pp. 135-150.

Negativity” by Henri Wald

"On Trends in the Status of Dialectical Logic: A Brief Study of Lefebvre, Ilyenkov and Wald" by Claude M. J. Braun

Selections from Contemporary East European Philosophy, Revolutionary World, B. R. Grüner Publishing Co, & Related Publications:
Bibliography & Web Links

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Marx and Marxism Web Guide


Henri Wald - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wald, Henri
by Andrei Corbea-Hoisie, trans. Anca Mircea
(The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe)

Henry Wald - 80 (Romanian Jewish Heritage)
[also at archive.org]

Henri Wald (1920 - 2002) Manuscripts archive

Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Coming Attractions | Book News
Bibliography | Mini-Bibliographies | Study Guides | Special Sections
My Writings | Other Authors' Texts | Philosophical Quotations
Blogs | Images & Sounds | External Links

CONTACT Ralph Dumain

Uploaded: 8 November 2018

Site ©1999-2018 Ralph Dumain