Kolakowski, who is also a poplarizer of the great philosophers’ thoughts, was born in 1927 in Radom to a family with socialist and anti-religious traditions.
A firm believer in Marxism as a youth, he joined the Communist Party after World War II. Later he would become a fervent anti-Marxist.
Between 1945 and 1950 he studied philosophy at the University of Lodz and Warsaw University.
As a student he became an assistant to Prof. Tadeusz Kotarbinski of Warsaw University, one of Poland’s foremost philosophers and an authority on ethics.
In 1953 Kolakowski earned a Ph.D. at the university with a dissertation on Baruch Spinoza, a Dutch philosopher who was one of the great rationalists of the 17th Century.
Between 1953 and 1968 he was a professor in the Department of Modern Philosophy at Warsaw University.
He also worked at the Communist Party’s Institute of Social Sciences and the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Philosophy and Sociology from 1953 to 1955.
In 1968 he lost his job at Warsaw University for supporting student protesters. This forced him to emigrate.
Since 1970 he has been a faculty member at Oxford University in England, but he has also lectured at other prestigious universities, including Yale, the University of Chicago and the University of California at Berkeley.
Kolakowski’s criticism of Marxism in his book “Main Currents of Marxism,” published in 1976, led to the Communist Party
His philosophical thought has often touched on the link between the mind and religion.
For example, he has delved into the question of God’s presence in human life. That work has included a look at the question of whether the mind is able to do without religion.
Some of Kolakowski’s writings have grown out of his fascination with the religious thought of Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher. For example, Kolakowski has written about human existence when humans believe in God and human existence when humans don’t believe in God.
Kolakowski’s 400 works have been translated into numerous languages. Many had a significant influence in shaping the Polish opposition’s attitude toward Communist rule.
Some of his most important works are “The Key to Heaven” (1957), “Tales from the Kingdom of Lailonia” (1963), “The Presence of Myth” (1972) and “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?” (2007). He has received many prestigious awards, including the Polish Pen Club Award for outstanding literary achievement and the John Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the humanistic and social sciences.