Journal Put', juil.-sept., 1934, No. 44, p. 44-49.
N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
KNOWLEDGE AND COMMUNION
(Reply to N. N. Alekseev).
(1934 - #392)
The positive critique by N. N. Alekseev of my book, "I and the World of Objects" [English title: "Solitude and Society"], demands a response, since it can give rise to misconceptions and to an inaccurate understanding of me. With N. N. Alekseev has transpired, what often occurs with those critics of a philosophy, foreign to what they have as their own philosophic world-concept, their own themes and trends of awareness, -- he noted within my book merely what was most of interest to him himself and almost failed to note in it the central thought, from which only all the remaining can be grasped. First of all is about my attitude to existential philosophy. My "world-view" is not only very distinct from the "world-view" of Heidigger and Jaspers, but in much is polarly the opposite from them, particularly Heidigger. This ought to be totally clear from the book, "I and the World of Objects". But I regard the very idea of an existential philosophy as the sole correct understanding of the task of philosophy, the sole fruitful path of philosophic cognition. Only an existential philosophy leads out from the impasse, into which philosophy has fallen. I have always thought thus, though I expressed this in different a terminology. I thought thus, when twenty years back I wrote the book, "The Meaning of Creativity. An Endeavour in the Justification of Man" [English title: "The Meaning of the Creative Act"] and twenty-five years back the book, "The Philosophy of Freedom", which at present does not satisfy me regarding form of expression and developement of thought. In contrast to idealism, Neo-Kantianism, rationalism, and to positivism I posit namely existential philosophy. My independent philosophising originated with pondering over this, that through the object, through objectification it is impossible to know the mystery of being and that there is another differing path of cognition, in which the knower comes into communion with the inner mystery of being, since the knower himself is a being, i.e. existentialised. I have always thought, that being is knowable only within human existence, wherein it is not objectivised, and therefore I have always defended a conscious anthropologism within philosophy. This is my fundamental motif. And this was best expressed in my book, "The Destiny of Man". I am therefore not able to be sympathetic to the complex results arrived at by the contemporary existential philosophy of Heidigger and especially Jaspers, although they arrive at this by altogether different a path and their ontology is altogether different, from mine. I am inclined indeed to put to Heidigger and Jaspers the reproach, that their academic philosophy is insufficiently existential, and that they are too inclined towards objectification in it. But N. Alekseev has turned insufficient attention to this, that Heidigger and Jaspers have approached existential philosophy not altogether under the influence of Husserl, but under the influence of Kierkegaard. The influence of Husserl rather moreso hinders, than help Heidigger. Jaspers however does not belong in proper a sense to the phenomenological school. I myself have little in common with Husserl, since Husserl has always contended against anthropologism and never has asserted, that being is cognitive within man and through man, that cognitive knowledge is a creative act of man. But I do not deny the illuminating influence of the phenomenological method in that musty atmosphere, which was created for philosophy by the Neo-Kantian scholasticism.
Now for a chief matter. What was striking for me, is that N. Alekseev has as it were failed to note the fundamental theme of my book, from which everything for me gets brought to light, -- the theme about the connecting of cognitive knowledge with the degrees of community of people. I sought to posit the problem of cognitive knowledge in connection with the problem of solitude and society. And therefore my book is an unique sociology of cognition, a metaphysical, indeed, sociology. This theme centres upon this, in that I deny the catholicity, the universality of reason in the sense, in which rational philosophy admits of it. For me reason cannot automatically define an all-compelling common aspect of cognitive knowledge, since reason is variable, it is not present alike, in simultaneous a form for all people and for all human groups, it is dependent upon the spiritual condition of people, upon psychical a structure, worked out by a community of people, i.e. upon the form and degree of the community of people. Cognitive knowledge possesses metaphysically a social nature and therefore is dependent upon the character of correspondence (communication) and correlation (communion) of people. A brotherly communion of people is transformative of reason itself and has to lead to different a cognition, than objectified knowledge, which corresponds to the dissociation of people, a disintegration of world, a lowered degree of community. I nowise dent the positive value of objectified knowledge, e.g. knowledge in the physico-mathematical sciences, but it relates to a disintegrated, i.e. a fallen world. It is not the knowledge itself that is manifest as fallen, but rather this world is manifest as fallen. Only a fallen world is subordinated to quantitative number, only to it is applicable "twice two is four". This indeed basic theme for me regarding the connection of cognitive knowledge with the forms of communing has had for me two distinct sources, foreign to the traditions of the typical academic philosophy, numbered amongst which is the philosophy of Heidigger and Jaspers. One of these sources is sociological and connected with Marxism. When I wrote my first youthful book, "Subjectivism and Individualism in Societal Philosophy", I was a Marxist and a Kantian (i.e. not orthodox a Marxist). I was then immersed in the theme concerning the correlation between transcendental cognition, a discerning of universally-binding truth and justice, and the psychical structure, determinative of by the social position of people, the class position first of all. But this is also a theme about the connection of cognition with the forms of communion among people, with the forms of their cooperation. For Marxism, this is expressed in the form of the dependency of cognition upon the class psyche. The proletarian knows otherwise, than does the bourgeois, to him is revealed truth, hidden from the bourgeois, consequently because, that the proletarian -- is a labourer, the bourgeois however -- is an exploiter. There is thus not one and the same catholicity of reason, present alike for the bourgeois and for the proletarian. I was an idealist, and not a materialist, and therefore I could not confess the absurd theory concerning the existence of a class truth, but I was convinced and remain til now convinced, that there exists a class lie and that there exist both favourable and unfavourable conditions within class psychology for the knowing of truth, not dependent upon whatever the class. But this means also, that truth is revealed only amidst a certain form of communion and community of people. This is a theme I remain faithful to even at present. But this theme has for me also deeper a source -- religious. Cognitive knowledge is dependent upon the spiritual condition of people, upon their spiritual aspect of community, it is different amidst the existence of Christian brotherhood amongst people. Faith and love spiritually alter and transform reason, they alter the result of cognitive knowledge. Within the lofty spiritual aspect of the community of people knowledge becomes altered, there occurs a conjunction to the mystery of being, a surmounting of the objectification, which is always an alienation. Sobornost' implies a community of people, a communality, in which no man is manifest as an object of another, but rather is always a relational "thou" and "we". Objectified mathematical and physical knowledge are alike obligatory for both the "bourgeois" and for the "proletarian", for one who is godless, denying any sort of spiritual life and any sort of spiritual community of people, as well as for the believing Christian, entering into the spiritual world and the spiritual community of people. But an enormous difference obtains, when the discussion involves human existence and human fate. This is one and the same theme, which has both a sociological and a religious aspect. And with this is connected the insight, that Communism is but a distorted and secularised form of Christian sobornost', communality, of Christian communion. And this has a direct relationship also to cognitive knowledge.
N. Alekseev wants to compel me to admit, that the truth, which I have attempted to affirm in my philosophy, is also for me an objectified truth. I fear, that our dispute is to a remarkable degree one of terminology. N. Alekseev posits a point of identicalness between truth and objectification. But I am not amenable to this terminology or in any case I regard it as conditional. The "subjective" for me nowise signifies something arbitrary, of interest and endowed with value merely for me. Truth, the truth namely concerning being is revealed in the subject, and not in the object. Upon this path has stood already the post-Kantian idealism, which broke with the pre-Kantian forms of objectified metaphysics and grounded its metaphysics upon the subject, not the object. Fichte began with this. But the great German idealists did not reach the point of existential philosophy. This is explicable first of all by the fact, that they failed to posit the problem of man. The subject, the "I" of German idealism was not man. When Fr[anz] Baader said, that to know truth means to become truth, he, certainly, in his own way expressed not an objectified, but rather an existential understanding of knowledge. I would formulate the point of view thus: philosophy is anthropocentric and cannot be otherwise, but man himself is not anthropocentric and therefore only in man and through man is known truth, and not disclosed merely human conditions. This is the reverse to German idealism, which denied the anthropocentricity of philosophy, whilst asserting the anthropocentricity of man. The surmounting of objectification, of objectivisation within cognitive knowledge does not signify a closed-in isolation within oneself, but signifies rather an emergence into communion with other people, with God and with God's world. And on the contrary, objectness and objectivisation of cognitive knowledge signify a closed-off isolation within oneself, the impossibility of an emergence towards others and the other, an alienation between the knower and the known. The struggle against the fallenness, which represents a closed-off state of isolation and alienation, is a struggle against objectification, against the exceptional force of an objectifying knowledge, such as is conducted in cognitive knowledge and in life, it is a struggle for communion. N. Alekseev is evidently close to that point of view, with which he philosophises and knows not the man, but rather as it were the Absolute within man and through man, whereby man however by suchlike a path is raised to a level of the all-general, the all-common, and passes over from the subjective to the objective. But this is an idealistic monism. Christian philosophy for me is not monistic, but rather Divine-human, i.e. it presupposes a dualistic moment, presupposes the activity and interaction of the two natures, and not one-only nature. An existential, an anthropological philosophy certainly, is not monistic, within it, it is thus man that knows, and not the Absolute, but he knows in communion and interaction with the Absolute, in a conjoining to Its inner life. Otherwise the very concept of the Absolute I do not consider as a Christian understanding of God. I already and a number of times have heard not only from Russians, both the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox, but also from foreigners, the Catholics and the Protestants, that in my anthropological philosophy there is a tendency towards man-godism and titanism, that for me the human spirit is an actus purus, at the same time as only God is actus purus. A judgement of such sort is evoked by basic a position for me through the idea about man, as a creator, capable of bringing about the new, the non-extant, enriching being, i.e. to create from out of uncreated freedom. And about this it is almost impossible to dispute, this is a question of primal a religious intuition, a question not only of faith, but also of great hope. For me this is entirely bound up with faith in God-manhood, it derives from Christology in regards to man. This was expressed by me in my book, "The Meaning of Creativity" [Engl. title: The Meaning of the Creative Act"]. On the surface plane of philosophic cognition there is first of all this problem concerning an uncreated freedom, without which is inexplicable either the origin of evil, or the possibility of creativity. I think, that Christianity denies the possibility for man as actus purus (this is an Aristotelian-Thomistic terminology, which I do not employ), i.e. the possibility of an emergence into the sphere of non-objectified an existence, insofar as Christianity is a social fact, i.e. itself belongs to objectified a world. But Christianity, belonging to existential a plane, primal and non-objectified, fully can and ought to acknowledge this in relation to man. Otherwise the image and likeness of God in man ultimately becomes obscured. Man ought to make creative acts and enter into a pure, non-objectified sphere of existence not only in his own name, not for self-apotheosis, but rather in the Name of God, answering to the call of God.
It seems to me a misunderstanding, when N. Alekseev says, that I deny the social mission of philosophy. This has occurred, because he devoted great attention to my initial ponderings over the tragedy of philosophy and has devoted very little attention to those places in my subsequent ponderings, in which I spoke about communion and about the connection of cognitive knowledge with communion. I talk in my book about the active task of cognition and in this regard I even express great sympathy for N. Fedorov. Philosophy ought to alter life, it cannot remain purely theoretical. But namely for this, that philosophy should realise an active social mission, philosophy ought not to be dependent upon the social medium, upon the socially ordinary, philosophic cognition ought not to be determined by social life, but rather to determine social life. This is completely analogous to what I have more than once asserted concerning Christianity. Christianity only then will be creative and transformative to have an influence upon social life and to realise social truth, when it ceases to be dependent upon the social medium and the social relations of people, when instead it would draw upon its own strength from the pure wellspring of revelation, rather than from murky a social wellspring, always distorting Christianity at the whim of the dominant classes. And because I posit cognitive knowledge in connection with the degrees of community of people and this even being my basic theme, then by this I assert, that both conscious awareness and knowledge presuppose something co-human. But the connection of cognitive knowledge with the co-human aspect, with human community and communion is, certainly, not an external definability by other people, but rather an inner qualification of cognition. Sobornost' also indeed mustneeds be understood as an inner qualification of spiritual life, and not as externally manifest collective, which would be objectification and which, certainly, exists in the church, as social an institution. The powerlessness of the philosopher nowise hinders me from acknowledging the tremendous role of philosophic ideas within history. At the close of his article N. Alekseev sympathetically alludes to Keyserling [Herman Alexander Graf, 1880-1946]. But his point of view, evidently, is very distinct from the point of view of Keyserling. Keyserling stands at an extreme dualistic point of view, contrasting earth and spirit. Politics for him is defined totally by the tellurgic. Spirit thus is powerless and impotent in the sphere of politics, and this signifies philosophy also. Keyserling is right in this, in what he says about the lowliness and vileness of all politics. I am even inclined to think, that those forms, in which philosophic ideas are appropriated in politics, are base and vile. Philosophy ought to teach us social activity and together with this a disdain for politics, which always was and is not a realisation of spirit, but rather a betrayal of spirit.
© 2009 by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1934 - 392 - en)
POZNANIE I OBSCHENIE. Otvet N. N. Alekseev. Journal Put', juil.-sept. 1934, no.44, p. 44-49.
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