Dr Smith's Public Lecture
Date: 18 November 2008
Venue: The Birley Room, Hatfield College
Title: Being Human in Russia: Free Will and Psychology under the Tsars
In the 1860s, under the new tsar Alexander II, there was an outpouring of hope for change in Russia. Liberal reformers and the first generation of revolutionaries alike looked to science for enlightened ways to build ‘the New Man', a human being free from ignorance and prejudice. There was a highly charged debate about establishing psychology as a science and about human free will and the soul - with more than a few parallels to our modern debate about neuroscience, human nature and religious belief. Autocratic politics, revolutionary action, a vivacious women's movement, the great novels of Turgenev, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, all addressed the question of free will.
This lecture will identify the leading actors in the debates and their hopes for human science. Then as now, elsewhere in Europe as in Russia, arguments about what sort of science of ‘being human' is possible and desirable affected both the course of history and human self-understanding. The rich Russian debate of the 1860s, about the way forward for psychology, opened up still-running questions concerning mind, body and spirit - concerning the very ‘being' of being human.