Alexander Piatigorsky (Russian: Алекса́ндр Моисе́евич Пятиго́рский; 30 January 1929, Moscow – 25 October 2009, London) was a Russian philosopher, scholar of South Asian philosophy and culture, historian, philologist, semiotician, and writer.
In an obituary appearing in the English-language newspaper The Guardian, he was cited as "a man who was widely considered to be one of the more significant thinkers of the age and Russia's greatest philosopher." On Russian television stations he was mourned as "the greatest Russian philosopher.
His father, Moshe, an engineer and lecturer at the Stalin metallurgical college was sent to a weapons production facility in the Urals (city of Nizhny Tagil) at the outbreak of WW2, where he took up a post as chief engineer in weapons production.
Being a poor student of mathematics, chemistry and physics, Alexander was expelled from school twice, but at this time he learned Latin and some other languages out of sheer curiosity. He was an avaricious reader, and read just about everything he could get his hands on.
Studying and work in USSR
At Moscow State University he studied philosophy, graduating in 1951. He moved to Stalingrad where he taught high-school history before returning to Moscow to join the Institute of Oriental Studies as "a specialist in Tamil languages and Hindu studies."
He compiled the first Russian-Tamil dictionary in 1960. In 1963, influenced by Yuri Lotman who was working in Tartu University, he was involved with Lotman, Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov, Vladimir Toporov and others, in the establishment of Tartu-Moscow Semiotic School.
- "...signed a letter deploring the violation of the writers' human rights, and later took part in the first human rights demonstration in Pushkin Square. "
His investigations and theoretical observations of the role played by thinking and philosophy in ancient South Asian culture and society were viewed with suspicion by some as a subtly indirect way of attacking the Soviet system.
Knowing themselves to be likely targets of KGB surveillance, he and his fellow Indologists would gather in a room of the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies where they would enter into "fiery debates... in Sanskrit." He was expelled from the Oriental Institute in 1968.
Influenced by German Idealism, Mamardashvili was a Deputy Editor of the leading journal, Voprosy Filosofii ("Problems of Philosophy"), and was also a principal representative of the so-called "Moscow School of Methodology."
The School remains virtually unknown in the West because its members were forced to operate behind the "Iron Curtain" in a context of severely reduced operational visibility and Soviet-style repression.
One of his friends was also an indologist and culture theoretician David Zilberman, who in 1968-1972 was a postgraduate student working under prof. Yuri Levada. Together they used to discuss problems of consciousness development.
Piatigorsky's book" Myshlenie i nablyudenie" (Thinking and Observation), published in Riga in 2002, was dedicated to David Zilberman and included an explicit confession of Zilberman's influence on the author's thought.
- "...explores the theory of consciousness, and is a kind of philosophical conversation between [Mamardashvili and Piatigorsky), from the respective perspectives of Edmund Husserl's Phenomenology and the Buddhist School of Vijnanavada.
But early times in London were severe for his family (at the moment of departure he has some children and pregnant wife). He arrived to London in the summer and had no normal job, he earned only 6.5 pounds a day.
He accepted some invitations to lecture, but decided to stay in London. At Oxford he quickly became acquainted with Isaiah Berlin and Leszek Kolakowski. He joined the staff of the School of Oriental and African Studies,
is remarkable that ]]Piatigorski\\ didn't consider himself a dissident, he left Soviet Union just because he was bored, he felt that something was missing there.
His first, The Philosophy of a Small Street, was published in Moscow in 1994. The book was well-received, further establishing his reputation in Russian intellectual circles, while placing him in the forefront of public consciousness.
As a novelist he joins the select company of those few philosophers who successfully managed to cross over into the world of literature, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Umberto Eco, and Alexander Zinoviev. He also crossed over successfully into the world of cinema.
He was made the subject of 'Philosopher Escaped' (2005) a documentary film directed by Uldis Tirons about the life of a philosopher, and he played "the part of an Indian merchant in his friend Otar Iosseliani's film Hunting Butterflies."
Piatigorsky disliked traditional academic jargon and for most of his life he upheld the principle that scholars should publish as little as possible on the grounds that publishing interrupts thinking.
Pacing back and forth, smoking, when it was still permitted, he sometimes stopped to observe his cigarette as it burned, pausing before making the next point.