Eugenio Bulygin (1931-2021)

by Juan Pablo Alonso,
Buenos Aires University, IVR Executive Committee member

Eugenio Bulygin was born on the 25th of July 1931 in Jarkov, the second most important city in what is today Ukrainian territory. Born into a college educated family well-versed in literature and science, his childhood was defined by the difficulties of World War II.

           After finishing elementary school in Jarkov, his family had to allocate to the rural areas of Ukraine for several years due to the German invasion. During those years, his father, mother and uncle took over his education. He learned mathematics and he could soon read and write well in Russian, as well as English, German and Spanish. Russian became one of the primary languages of his scientific work.

           Although his family intended to move to Paris, where they had relatives, their journey led them to Linz, along the Austrian Danube. Between 1945 and 1948 Eugenio studied in the prestigious Bundesrealschule school, home to well-known philosophers such as Wittgenstein. There, he mastered the English and German language.

           By then, the UN was carrying out several relocation programs for families who had lost their homes during the war. There were multiple options: Canada, Australia, Iraq, Chile and Argentina. So, in 1949, the Bulygin family, which consisted of his mother, father, two uncles, his cousin, the babysitter and Eugenio himself, settled down in Lanus, in the province of Buenos Aires. He was 18 years old at the time.

           He finished high school in the Bartolomé Mitre School in Buenos Aires. In 1953, he entered Buenos Aires University of Law, from which he graduated in 1958.

           While still being a law school student, he joined a group led by Ambrosio Gioja, as a part of the most important team of legal philosophers in Argentina and the whole of the Latin American region. Manuel Atienza, in his doctoral thesis Philosophy of law in Argentina, called this group “la generación dorada”(the golden generation). This elite group included Ambrosio Gioja, Genaro Carrió, Jorge Bacqué, Carlos Alchourrón, Martín Farrell, Eduardo Rabossi, Ricardo Guibourg, Carlos Nino and Eugenio Bulygin.

           After finishing his doctorate in Buenos Aires University with the highest possible score, he finished his post-doctoral studies in Europe from 1963 to 1969, alongside Ulrich Klug in Cologne, Hans Welzel in Bonn and Herbert Hart in Oxford. For the last few months, he shared the halls of Oxford with Herbert Hart, Ronald Dworkin and Joseph Raz, gathering together four of the most important philosophers of the 20th century.

           Bulygin made the most of his stay in Oxford, where he discussed an unprecedented essay that he had been writing with his friend Carlos Alchourron. On his part, Alchourron shared said essay with Von Wright, the creator of deontic logic.

           Bulygin, the jurist, exchanged ideas with Hart; Alchourron, the logical philosopher, did so with Von Wright. This was the birth of Normative Systems, published in 1973 in English, sponsored by Mario Bunge.

           This book is probably one of the most important works of legal philosophy of the 20th century and, therefore, it should come as no surprise that it has been published in five different languages: English, Spanish, Italian, German and Russian.

           Juan Jose Moreso, professor of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, has said on numerous occasions that “Normative Systems is the book that every philosopher of law would’ve loved to write.”

           But the works of Bulygin didn’t end there. On the contrary, his later publications, sometimes alongside Carlos Alchourron and sometimes by himself, generated a new way of thinking for legal philosophers, with scientific rigor, rationality and logical thinking. The complete works of Eugenio Bulygin include 15 books and 147 articles written in English, Spanish, German and Russian.

           Bulygin has alumni all over the world, all of whom are well-known professors and philosophers of law that have left their stamp in their respective countries: Comanducci, Chiassoni & Redondo in Italiy, Atienza, Ruiz Manero, Moreso & Bayón in Spain, Lisanyuk & Antonov in Russia, Dalmeida in Escocia, Cerdio in México, Mendonca in Paraguay, and finally Caracciolo, Zuleta, Navarro, Rodríguez amongst many others in Argentina.

           I do not intend to bore the reader by enumerating all of the distinctions Eugenio has received over the years. A few of them include receiving the Humboldt, Guggenheim and British Council Scholarships, the Konex Award and being professor emeritus of Buenos Aires University since 1997. He was elected by Raul Alfonsin (the president of Argentina at the time) to be the first Dean of Buenos Aires University of Law in 1983, after the country’s return to democracy.

           He was awarded an honorary doctorate by six different universities around the world.

           He was president of the International Association for the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy (IVR) from 1999 to 2003, and has as of yet been the only Latin American to hold such a position. Despite not having been born in Latin America, his life’s work has been rooted in Argentina ever since he was 18 years old, with the University of Buenos Aires as his base of operations.

           There’s an anecdote that lets us understand the importance of Eugenio Bulygin’s work: in 2004, in the Kelsen Institute in Vienna, it was determined that an essay attributed to Kelsen, was in fact written by Kelsen. In said essay, Kelsen argued about a paper written in German in 1965, by Eugenio. This resulted in the publication of a single volume, including Bulygin’s first essay, Kelsen’s reply, and Walter’s rejoinder (Director of the Institute, writing on Kelsen’s behalf). Very few legal philosophers that were active until the 21st century can safely say that they have argued with Hans Kelsen.

           I met Eugenio Bulygin in 1991, when I was a doctoral student in Barcelona, during a speech in which he was the guest lecturer. His teachings motivated me to ask him to be my research director, which he accepted. When I came back to Buenos Aires in 1994, I joined his department at the University and the Alchourron & Bulygin’s permanent seminar of the logic of norms and legal theory, lead to this day by Eugenio Bulygin and Hugo Zuleta, and taking place in the University of Buenos Aires every Tuesday, for over 50 years.

           Personally, I saw farewell to Eugenio with sadness, but also with joy, as fate has given me the opportunity of getting to know him, of having him be my research director for almost 30 years, my advisor and my friend.

                                                                                      Buenos Aires, May 11, 2021.

See also: EUGENIO BULYFIN (1931-2021)

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