(1952/1937 – #476)

  At the centre of my philosophic creativity is situated the problem of man. And therefore my philosophy is to an utmost extent anthropologic. To posit the problem of man — this means at the same time to posit the problem of freedom, of creativity, person, spirit and history. Therefore I have chiefly concerned myself with the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of history, social philosophy and ethics.

My philosophy is of the existential type, if contemporary terminology be used. But it can be likewise regarded as a philosophy of spirit. In its basic tendency this philosophy is dualistic, although the term is about dualism of a particular sort and to some measure is not ultimate. This is a dualism of spirit and nature, of freedom and determinism, of the person and the in-general, of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar. And in this I sense myself closer to Kant, than to the monistic German idealism of the beginning XX Century. The initial point of my weltanschaung-outlook is the primacy of freedom over being. This provides philosophy a dynamic character and explains a basis for evil, as also the possibility of creativity in the world of something new. Freedom cannot be a determinisation by being, freedom is not delimited even by God. It is rooted in non-being.

In this, as regards thinkers of the past, especially close to me were Heraclitus, Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa amongst the fathers of the Church, Jakob Boehme — who had tremendous significance for my spiritual developement, and to a certain degree also Kant. As regards philosophers of our times those having points contingent with me were Bergson, Gentile, Max Scheler. Amongst the representatives of existential philosophy the closest to me is Jaspers. Dostoevsky, L. Tolstoy, Nietzsche, one after the other they played a large role in the working out of my weltanschaung-outlook, just as did Marx, Carlyle, Ibsen and Leon Bloy — in the forming of my social views.

The Tasks of Philosophy. Philosophy is the discipline or science, scientia, concerning the soul. The scientia concerning the soul is however the scientia concerning human existence. Particularly within human existence is revealed the meaning of being. Being reveals itself through the subject, and not through the object. Philosophy therefore of necessity is anthropologic and anthropocentric. Existential philosophy is a cognition of the meaning of being through the subject. The subject is existential, existentialised. In the object, on the contrary, the inner existence is concealed. In this sense philosophy is subjective, and not objective. It is based upon spiritual experience.

Cognition. It is impossible to set cognition in opposition to being. Cognition is an event within being. Cognition is immanent to being, and it is not that being is immanent to cognition. Cognition is not a mere mirrored reflection of being within the cognitive subject. Cognition bears a creative character and itself represents an act of positing meaning. The opposition of the cognitive subject to the object leads to an annihilating of being both of the subject, and also of the object. The cognition of the object of necessity transforms cognition into objectivisation. There exist various degrees of cognition and corresponding to them degrees of objectivisation. The more objectivised the cognition, the more remote it is from human existence, and is the more universally-binding. This logical universal-obligatoriness possesses a social nature. The logical universal-obligatoriness of objectivised cognition is connected with a lower degree of the spiritual community of people, based upon communication. The sphere of the physico-mathematical sciences can serve by way of an example. For the recognising of truth in the sphere of the mathematical or natural sciences the spiritual community of people is irrelevant. But this communalness has to be already the more noticeable, when the talk turns to the social sciences. Philosophic cognition cannot abstract itself off from human existence, for the positing of this or that truth there is necessary a spiritual in-commonness, since metaphysical cognition cannot be to such a degree universally-significative, as is mathematical cognition. And finally, truths of a religious order demand a maximum of spiritual in commonness between people. On the inside religious truths (the truths of religion) seem very subjective and very disputable, but for the religious communities, which believe in them, these truths are universal and indisputable. Penetration into the mystery of existence presupposes a creative intuition. Objectivised cognition corresponds to a breaking-apart, a disassociatedness of the world, i.e. to its fallenness. But within the limits of this world it has a positive significance.

The sociology of cognition possesses a significance of the first degree. Its scope is to establish the connection between cognition, on the one hand, and the problem of society (obschestvo) and in-commonness (obschnost’) of communication and community (obschenie), on the other hand. Objectivised cognition is always involved with the “in common” (“obschii”), and not with the “individual”, and therefore an objectised metaphysics, based upon a conceptual system, is an impossibility. Metaphysics is naught other, than a philosophy of human existence; it is subjective, and not objective, it rests upon symbol and myth. Truth and reality are not at all identical with objectification.

Anthropologism. The fundamental problem of philosophy is the problem of man. Being reveals itself within man and through man. Man is a microcosm and a microtheos. He is created in the image and likeness of God. But at the same time man is a natural being, and finite. In man there is a twofold aspect: man is the point of intersection of two worlds, he reflects in himself the higher world and the world lower. As the image and likeness of God, man is a person. Person is properly distinct from the individuum. Person is a category which is spiritually-religious, the individuum however is a category naturalistic-biological. Person cannot be a part of anything: it is an integral whole, it is correlative to society, to nature and to God. Man is a spiritual being, but also physical and fleshly. In the capacity of a fleshly being he is connected with all the cycles of worldly life, and as a spiritual being he is connected with the spiritual world and with God. The spiritual basis within man is dependent neither upon nature nor upon society, and it is not defined by them. Freedom is inherent to man, although this freedom is not absolute. The principle of freedom is determined neither from below nor from above. The freedom inherent to man is a freedom uncreated and primordial. There is talk about an irrational freedom: it is not about freedom in truth, but rather about the freedom to accept or deny the truth. Another freedom is the freedom, issuing forth from truth and from God, a freedom pervaded by grace. Only the acknowledgement of uncreated freedom, a freedom, not rooted within being, can explain the emergence of evil, while at the same time it explains the possibility of the creative act and newness in the world.

The Teaching about Creativity. The problem of creativity occupies a central place in my world-outlook. Man was created for this, that he in his own turn should become a creator. He is called to creative work in the world, he continues the creation of the world. The meaning and purpose of his life is not accounted for merely as salvation. Creativity is always a passing over from non-being to being, i.e. a creation from out of nothing. Creativity from nothing is a creativity from freedom. In distinction to God, however, man has need of material in order to create, and in his creativity there is enclosed an element issuing forth from the freedom of man. In the fount of his creativity there is a soaring upwards, a victory over the heaviness of the world. But in the results, in the products of creativity, there is discovered a downwards tugging and pull. In place of new being they create books, articles, pictures, social institutes, machines, cultural values. The tragedy of creativity consists in the non-correspondence of the creative intended design with its realisation. Creativity presents itself as the complete opposite of evolution. Evolution is determinism, a matter of sequential effects. Creativity however is freedom, a primordial act. The world has not ceased to be created, it is not finished, the creation is continuing.

The Philosophy of Religion. Revelation is twofold. It presupposes God, from Whom issues forth the revelation, and man in receiving it. The acceptance of revelation is active and dependent upon the breadth or narrowness of consciousness. The world of things invisible is not forcefully compelling for us, it reveals itself in freedom. Man is not free in his denial of the sensory world, which surrounds him, but he is free in his denial of God. With this is connected the mystery of faith. Revelation does not contain within itself any particular philosophy, any particular system of thought. Revelation however has to be assimilated by human thought, which is made distinct by a constant activity. Theology is dependent always upon philosophic categories. But revelation cannot of necessity be bound up with any especial one philosophy. The capacity for changes and the creative activity of the subject, receiving the revelation, justify an eternal modernism. In their own time both the works of the fathers of the Church and of the Scholastics were regarded as modernism.

Religious cognition is symbolic. It cannot express religious truth in rational concepts. For the mind, truth is antinomic. Dogma — is symbol. But this is a realist symbolism, reflective of being, and not an idealist symbolism, reflective merely of the condition of man. Metaphysics cannot find its completion in a system of concepts, for its end-purpose is in myth, beyond which reality conceals itself.

Religion is the connection between God and man. God is born within man, and man is born within God. God awaits from man a creative and free answering. With this is connected the mystery of God-manhood, of unity within duality. Christian philosophy is a philosophy of God-manhood and Christology. Religious life, the primal source of which is manifest by revelation, undergoes the influences and actions of the social surroundings. This bestows on the religious history of mankind an especial complexity. There is therefore necessary a re-working of it by a constant cleansing, working it through and the reviving of it.

The Philosophy of History. The acknowledging of the meaning of history is an aspect of Judaism and Christianity, but not of Greek philosophy. The relationship of Christianity to history is twofold. Christianity is historical: it is the revelation of God within history. But Christianity cannot be confused with history. It is a process within history. The philosophy is history is connected with the problem of time. We live within a fallen time, fragmented into the past, the present and the future. The victory over the death-bearing current of time is a fundamental task of the spirit. Eternity is not an infinitude of time, numerically immeasurable, but rather qualitative, a surmounting of time. The past for us is always already a transformed past. The meaning of history is gained through tradition, which presents itself as a creative connection between the past and the present. The meaning of history ought to have meaning for each human person, it ought to be commensurate with its individual fate. Progress however regards each man and each generation as a means for succeeding peoples and generations. Ruptures are inevitable within history, just as crises and revolutions are inevitable within it, which witness to the lack of success of all human accomplishments. History ought to have an end, for the meaning of history is bound up with eschatology.

The Philosophy of Culture. Culture is the creative activity of man. In culture the creativity of man finds its own objectivisation. In theocratic societies, based on sacralisation, the creative powers of man are not sufficiently free. Humanism is a liberation of the creative person of man, and in this is comprised its truth. Beyond the theme of culture lies concealed the theme of the relationship of man to God and to the world. But either way it is God against man, or man rises up against God. Humanism in its developement led to a secularisation of culture, and in this secularisation there was its own truth and unmasking of lie. Humanism however finished up with a self-deification of man, and with a denial of God. And therein the image of man, which is in the image of God, began to disintegrate. Humanism passed over into anti-humanism. We see this with Marx and with Nietzsche. The crisis of humanism presents itself as a movement towards principles supra-human, either towards Christ, or towards the Anti-Christ. The force of technology is one of the moments of the crisis of humanism. The incursion of the masses modifies culture from above downwards, lowers its quality and leads to a crisis of spirituality. Technical civilisation rends the integral wholeness of the human being and transforms him into a function. Only a spiritual renaissance would allow man to subordinate the machine to himself.

Social Philosophy. The fundamental problem is the problem of the relationship between the person and society. Society presents itself as the objectivisation of human relationships. In society the “I” can remain solitary and not meet up in encounter with the “thou”. For sociology the person is an insignificant part, subordinate to society. For existential philosophy, on the contrary, society assumes the appearance of being part of the person, its social side. In the person there is inherent a spiritual principle, a depth, which is not defined by society. Men belongs to two spheres: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar. Upon this is grounded the right and the freedom of man. And thus also, there exist limits to the domination of the state and society over man. Society is not an organism. The reality of human society defines itself by the reality of the human community. An objectivised society, suppressing the person, arises from the disassociation of people, from their sinful egocentrism. In such a society there exists communication between people, but not community. The highest type of society appears to be the society, in which there are united the principle of the person and the principle of community. Such a type of society might be termed a personalist socialism. In such a society, for each human person there would be acknowledged an absolute value and utmost worth as a being, called to eternal life, and therein the social organisation would guarantee for each the possibility of attainment of the fulness of life. It is necessary to strive towards a synthesis of an aristocratic, a qualitative principle of person, and a democratic, socialist principle of justice and the brotherly collaboration of people.

In the epoch of the active incursion of the masses into history and the giddying developement of technology society becomes technically ordered. Mankind forsakes the organic rhythm of life and subordinates itself to a mechanical and technical organisation. For man as an integrally whole being, this process is sickening and tormentive. The tellurgic period of the life of mankind approaches its end. The might of the machine signifies the beginning of a new period — cosmogonic, since it subordinates man to a new cosmos. Man already no longer lives amidst bodies inorganic and organic, but amidst organised bodies. In such an epoch especially there is need for a strengthening of spirit and spiritual movement for the preservation of the image of man. Without a spiritual renewal it is impossible to attain social restructuring.

Ethics. Personalism is a basis for ethics. Moral judgements and acts are always personal and individual, they cannot be defined by the concepts or choice of a collective or society. The distinction between good and evil is a consequence of the fall into sin. The paradisical existence was situated above good and evil. There exist three views of ethics: the ethics of law, the ethics of redemption and the ethics of creativity. The ethics of law is the most widespread amongst sinful mankind. The ethics of law is the ethics of a social everydayness, it is based upon the subordination of man to norms, and for it there does not exist the human individuality. For it man exists for the Sabbath. The “good” however, which observe the law, shew themselves often to be “evil”. In this ethics it is the idea of an abstract good that governs. The ethics of law found its most extreme expression in Phariseeism. This is a normative ethics. The ethics of redemption issues forth from a lived human existence, and not from an abstract idea of the good. The ethics of creativity is based on the creative gifts of mankind. The creative act has a moral significance, and a moral act is a creative act. The true moral act is unique, it cannot be repeated. The moral act is not a fulfilling of the law, of norms, but is rather a creative newness in the world. Every creative act has moral significance, though this be a creativity of cognitive or aesthetic values. Ethics is bound up with the eschatological problem, the problem of death and immortality, of heaven and hell. Hell is situated in the subjective, and not in the objective, and it remains within time, within unending time, and does not pass over into eternity. The ontology of an eternal hell is impossible. Hell is created by the “good” for the “evil”, and therein they render themselves evil. The kingdom of God is on the other side of our here and now “good” and “evil”, and the thought about it can only be apophatic.

Basic works for the understanding of my philosophic world-view are: “The Meaning of Creativity” (published in English title “The Meaning of the Creative Act”), “The Meaning of History”, “Philosophy of the Free Spirit” (published in English under title “Freedom of the Spirit”), “The Destiny of Man”, “I and the World of Objects” (published in English under title “Solitude and Society”).

And in matters that touch upon the philosophy of culture, one might refer to suchlike works of mine, as  “The New Middle Ages” (in English text “The End of Our Time”), “Christianity and Class War”,  “The Truth and Lie of Communism” (in English text “The Russian Revolution” Chapter entitled “The Religion of Communism”), and
“The Fate of Man in the Modern World”.

Nikolai Berdyaev

1937 / 1952

©  2000  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1952/1937 – 476 -en)

MOE  PHILOSOPHSKOE  MIROCOZERTSANIE.  First published 1937 in German as entry in “Philosophen Lexicon” compendium under title “Die philosophische Weltschaung  N. A. Berdiaef”.

As journal article, first published posthumously in 1952 in Russian, in the journal “Vestnik Russkogo studentcheskogo khristianskogo dvizheniya” (“Messenger of the Russian Student Christian Movement”), No. 4-5.

We have not reproduced here the numerous bibliographic philosopher footnotes provided in the 1990 Russian journal “Philosophskoe nauki” (Bk 6 p. 85-89). This was reprinted in the 1994 A. A. Ermichev (editor) text, “N. A. Berdyaev: Pro and Contra”, p. 23-28.