N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
THE METAPHYSICAL PROBLEM
(1928 – #329)
1. The problem of freedom can be approached from various angles and it is bound up with all the philosophical disciplines. 2 I am compelled to limit my theme to a consideration of fundamental aporia-difficulties, to which the positing of the problem of freedom leads. But first of all it is necessary to establish the relationship of my theme to the traditional-school question about freedom of will. When the question about the freedom of will is dealt with, primarily psychologically and ethically, then the question about freedom is not posited in all its depth and its very settings presuppose the decision, that freedom is a choosing of the will. The teachings about freedom of the will, theological and philosophical, were searchings in an utilitarian regard to the problem, and with a practical intent to demonstrate the moral responsibility and chastisement of man. The freedom of will was quite necessary for criminal law, just as it was necessary for the foundation of retribution beyond the grave. It is worthy of note, that extreme adherents of the freedom of will frequently have been enemies of the freedom of spirit, the freedom of conscience. Luther however based religious freedom upon a radical denial of freedom of will. The problem of freedom is of interest to me outside of these utilitarian vexations, — it is the problem of the freedom of spirit, as a principle, inherent in the primal-basis of being. We shall see, that it is impossible to derive freedom from being, or to base it upon being. And least of all will my theme be a psychological theme. The problem of freedom is impossible to be dealt with statically, — it can be dealt with only dynamically, investigating the various conditions and stages of freedom. Thus did Bl[essed] Augustine, who speaks about libertas minor and libertas major, and he teaches about the three conditions of Adam in regard to freedom — posse non peccare, non posse non peccare, and non posse peccare. From Bl. Augustine comes then the teaching about the freedom of man, which acknowledges for man a freedom for evil, but which denies for him a freedom for good. Freedom possesses its own inner dialectic, its own fate, which also mustneeds be explored.
Freedom is understood in two various meanings, both in everyday speech and philosophic cognition. In everyday speech this distinction is even more pronounced, than it is in philosophy. There are two freedoms. There is a first freedom, irrational, a freedom of choice of good and evil, freedom, as a path, freedom, which conquers and which they conquer not, a freedom, by which they accept the Truth and God, but it is not that, which they receive from the Truth and God. This also is a freedom, as indeterminism, as groundlessness. There is a second freedom, a rational freedom, a freedom in truth and good, a freedom as a goal and highest attainment, a freedom in God and received from God. When we say, that such and such a man has attained to freedom, since that in him the higher nature has conquered the lower nature, since that in him reason has won out over the passions, wherein the spiritual principle has subordinated the soul-emotive element to itself, then we are speaking about this second freedom. And it is about this second freedom that the words of the Gospel speak: “know ye the Truth and the Truth will set you free”. Freedom herein is given by the Truth, it is not the primordial freedom. This is not that freedom, through which man comes to the Truth. But when we say, that man freely has chosen for himself the path of life and freely goes along this path, we are speaking about the first freedom.
The Greeks did not know the first freedom, the freedom inherent in the primal-basis of the path of life, a freedom antecedent to reason and the cognition of truth, they knew only the second freedom, a rational freedom, a freedom, which grants the cognition of truth. And thus it is that Socrates understands freedom. The understanding of freedom, as indeterminism, was foreign to the Greek consciousness. The whole mind-set of the ancient Greeks drew them to the understanding of freedom, as reason, as a victory over chaos. The Dionysiac principle is not a principle of freedom. The Greeks feared infinitude, and in the freedom which is unfathomable, as an irrational and indeterminate principle, there is a terrifying infinitude, the possibility of the triumph of chaos. For the Greeks such a freedom was material, of matter. True freedom for them was a triumph of form. The Greek mind-set was static, it was an aesthetic contemplation of the world harmony. The Greeks did not know the dynamics, connected with freedom. This was a boundary-line of their consciousness. It is interesting, that only Epicurus acknowledged freedom, as an indeterminism, and he connected it with chance. Greek idealism was inpropitious to freedom. The Greek consciousness was struck by the dependence of man on God or the gods, and on fate, to which even the gods were subject. Only within the Christian epoch of world history was there authentically revealed also the first freedom, the irrational freedom, connected not with form, but with the primordial matter of life. And with this understanding of freedom is connected the idea of the Fall into sin. The acceptance of the idea of the Fall is an acceptance of that truth, that at the basis of the world process lies primal irrational freedom.
The difficulty for philosophic cognition, basing itself upon the categories of Greek thought, the difficulty to know this primal irrational freedom, this complete indeterminism, consists in this, that it is impossible to work out a rational concept concerning it. Every rational concept about freedom is a rationalisation of it, but in the rationalisation is its going-dead, as Bergson says truly. The primordial mystery of freedom is a boundary for rational cognition. But the setting of suchlike boundaries is not a forsaking of cognition, it is not an agnosticism, — it is an attaining to cognition. That what Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, one of the greatest thinkers of Europe, calls the docta ignorantia, the study of unknowing, is a conquest of cognition. There is possible a knowledge about the irrational, but knowledge about the irrational possesses a different structure from knowledge about the rational. This was something new that German philosophic thought introduced in contrast to Greek philosophic thought, and it was a positing of the problem of cognition of the irrational, as primordial being. This indeed was rooted in German mysticism, in which German philosophy had its conception. Freedom cannot be apperceived through the static concept. Freedom is dynamic and can only be apperceived dynamically. And we come nigh the mystery of freedom only by an investigation of the dynamics of freedom, its inner dialectic.
2. The dynamics of freedom leads to the tragedy of its self-destruction. The primal irrational freedom can beget evil from its loins. In it there are no sort of guarantees, that it will make good, that it will lead to God, that it will safeguard itself. The primal, the irrational freedom possesses a fatal trait of self-destruction, to pass over into its opposite, to beget necessity. When freedom enters upon the path of evil, it loses itself, it falls under the domination of the necessity created by it. Man is rendered into a slave of nature, a slave of the baser passions. The primal, the irrational freedom has hidden within it the possibility of anarchy both in the life of the individual soul and in the life of society. Formal freedom, purposeless, itself choosing nothing, indifferent to truth and good, leads to a falling-apart of man and the world, to a slavery to the elements and the passions. Natural necessity is already a secondary form, at the basis of which lies the primal freedom. Necessity is a child of freedom, but of a freedom falsely directed, in which the self-affirmation of parts of the world leads to their mutual enslavement. The primal freedom, in its own regard, is powerless to preserve and affirm freedom, it is always subject to the threat of destruction. This also led Bl. Augustine into a denial of it, and to its suppression by St. Thomas Aquinas, for whom freedom, not subordinated to truth nor determinate towards the good, is imperfect, defective. The second freedom, rational freedom, freedom in truth and good, leads to an identifying of freedom with truth and good, with reason, inclining thus towards a compulsory virtue, towards a determinism of the good and the begetting of a religious or social organisation, in which freedom is rendered a child of necessity. If the first freedom leads to anarchy, then the second freedom leads to a theocratic or communistic despotism. The second freedom becomes a freedom that is coercive, purposive, and subordinative to truth and good. But as regards itself, it denies freedom of choice, it denies freedom of conscience, and it leads to a compulsory organisation of life. And in such manner freedom becomes identified either with a Divine necessity (in theocracies) or with a social necessity (in Communism). If freedom in the first meaning bears within it the danger of the destruction of freedom by man himself, by his volition, then freedom in the second sense bears within it the danger of a denial altogether of the freedom of man. The second freedom in essence is the freedom of God, or of the world spirit, or of the world reason, the freedom of an organised society, but it is not the freedom of man. Truth (or whatever they esteem as truth) is what organises freedom, but it lacks freedom in acceptance of the Truth. The second freedom does not know that which Dostoevsky with genius expressed within the words of the Grand Inquisitor to Christ: “Thou didst desire the free love of man, that he freely follow after Thee, allured and captivated by Thee”. I can receive the higher, the ultimate freedom only from the Truth, but the Truth cannot be coercive and compulsory for me, — the acceptance of the Truth presupposes my freedom, my free movement towards it. Freedom is not only an end, but also a path. The German idealism of the beginning XIX Century (Fichte, Hegel), monistic as regards its type, was inspired by the pathos of freedom, but essentially it did not know the freedom of man, it knew only the freedom of the Divinity, of the world I, of the world Spirit. The first freedom of itself leads to the self-destruction of freedom. The second freedom however, as regards itself, is from the start a denial of the freedom of man. And in this is the tragedy of freedom, from which as it were is apparent no exit. Freedom is vanquished either by an anarchy of elements and passions, or by necessity, or by grace.
Philosophers ordinarily set at the centre of the problem of freedom the relationship between freedom and necessity, and this they see as the chief difficulty of the problem. But in actuality quite the greatest difficulty in the problem of freedom appears to be the relationship between freedom and grace, between the freedom of man and an almighty God, a free God. The history of the religious and theological thought of the West is filled with disputes, connected with the problem of the relationship between freedom and grace. The question often is presented thus: if God is, and if God is almighty and free, if the grace of God acts upon the world and man, then what place remains for human freedom? Man can still hide himself away from the necessity of nature, but whither can he hide himself away from the might of the Divinity, from the active energies of God upon mankind? This problem, tormenting Bl. Augustine, reaches its utmost acuteness in the treatise of Luther, “De servo arbitrio”, directed against Erasmus. Luther not only denies the freedom of man, but he also regards as impious the very thought about such a freedom. Does there exist a freedom of man, not only in the sense of freedom from the nature surrounding him and from his own particular nature, but also in the sense of freedom from God? If the first freedom is swallowed up by the unfettered elements and impassioned nature, then the second freedom is swallowed up by grace, by the might of the Divinity. There is not the freedom of man in the one instance, if it be dependent upon the almightiness of nature, nor in the other instance, if it be dependent upon the almighty Divinity. And we see, that there is no freedom of man even in this instance, if it depends upon man himself, upon his own unique nature, since the nature of man is part of the natural world. Human freedom is as it were crushed from above, from the middle and from below, by nature. Theologians say, that man is rendered free, that he discovers freedom by the action of grace. Only the human nature in grace can be called free. And in this instance the speaking is about the second understanding of freedom. This is freedom, which the Truth gives. The Truth is also an energy, acting upon man and liberating him. But is man free in relation to the Truth, in relation to grace, is the freedom anterior to the acting of grace, is it a freedom of accepting the Truth and grace? Is there a spiritual life, determining the fate of man, — with the interaction of freedom and grace? Christian theology in its predominant forms teaches about the influence of freedom and grace. But freedom is asserted here, in order to affix the responsibility of man and the meriting of man. Freedom does not appear here as a creative power, it is but in the reception of grace. If this problem be posited objectively and not from the side of man, then it is incomprehensible in what manner there can be justified the freedom of man. The freedom of man would have its well-spring in God and in resolution the problem would seem to go away. But if God Himself puts the freedom in man and man therein has to acknowledge the dependence of his freedom on God, then in essence it is only the freedom of God and not freedom of man. Likewise in the genuine sense of the word there is no freedom of man, if it be dependent upon social or natural mediaries, if it be imposed by orderings externally from the outside. And so we are faced with the question: is it possible to ground the freedom of man upon man himself, upon his human nature, upon an inward source, which remains human? If the depths of man recede into the Divinity and therein it be necessary to search for freedom, then this freedom would be Divine and not human. But is there some depth of the human nature, upon which there can be grounded the human, an uniquely human freedom?
3. There have been attempts to ground the freedom of man upon the substantiality of the human soul. Thus, the human soul is a substance and freedom is that, what determines the substance from within, from a creative substantial power, and not from the outside. Such a kind of grounding of freedom is characteristic of spiritualism. And the most remarkable teaching about freedom, spiritually grounded upon the idea of substance, belongs to the Russian philosopher L. M. Lopatin, and it was developed by him in his 2 volume work, “The Positive Tasks of Philosophy”. To this type of philosophic resolution of the problem belongs also Maine de Biran. Such a sort of spiritualism defends the freedom of man, inferring it from the inner spiritual energy of human nature, and in this as it were it possesses the advantage over idealistic monism, which always affirms either the freedom of God or that of the world spirit, but not of man. When Hegel defines freedom in the words: “Freiheit ist bei sich selbst zu sein” [“Freedom is by it itself to be”], then essentially for him in such a condition (bei sich selbst zu sein) there can be found only the world spirit, but not man. For spiritualism of the Lopatin type, which is a pluralism, and not monism, freedom is a personally singular form of inward causality, a causation from a substantial power. Freedom however is ultimately determinism, but a determinism from within, from the substances themselves, and not from their correlation. But this pluralistic spiritualism likewise fails to resolve the problem of freedom, just like monistic idealism. The teaching about substances is altogether inpropitious for freedom. If freedom is to be determined by my nature, by my substance, then it is determined by this substantial nature. If I am to be defined by my nature, this then however is a like form of determinism, just as if I were to be defined by nature situated outside myself. To be the slave of one’s own nature is no wise greater a freedom, than to be the slave of some sort of foreign nature. Similarly within the substantial nature they situate a bottom point, a grounding of freedom, while at the same time they have it that freedom is unfathomable and groundless. Freedom, which does not possess a bottom point or grund, which is not rooted in anything, cannot then be rooted in substances, within the substantial nature of man. This teaching negates the irrational mystery of freedom. Freedom is not determined by nature, freedom itself determines nature. Substance is a naturalistic category, but it has been worked out not by the natural sciences, which have no need for substance, but rather by naturalistic metaphysics.
The teaching of Kant about a mentally-posited character, about freedom lying outside the world of appearances, contains within it this grain of truth, that freedom in it does not depend on any sort of nature. But this teaching suffers under a dualism, amidst which freedom is relegated to the thing-in-itself and does not have any sort of place in our world of appearances. Herein precisely is the basic opposition of the order of freedom and the order of nature. To freedom there is not applicable any sort of definition, relating to nature, to substances. Freedom cannot have any sort of roots within being. The freedom of man also cannot exclusively be defined by Divine grace. The freedom of man also cannot possess its well-spring within human nature, in the human substance, and even less so in the nature of the world. But then, is it possible for freedom to be conceived of in thought? The problem of freedom is rendered extraordinarily difficult, and the aporia-difficulties appear insurmountable. Reason faces the temptation to deny the freedom of man. And when it thinks about the freedom of God, it then is inclined to consider it identical with Divine necessity. In being there is as it were no place for freedom. And the most consequential of philosophic ontologies were systems of determinism. Monism is always deterministic and finds no place for freedom. The pathos of freedom presupposes a certain dualism, though not in any ontologic character of dualism. The pondering and grounding of freedom is possible only through a distinction between spirit and nature, through the setting of a different qualification of the spiritual world, differing from the qualification of the natural world. Traditional spiritualistic metaphysics cannot be regarded as a teaching about spirit, the spiritual world and spiritual life, it is a form of naturalism, the understanding of spirit as nature, as a substance. But spirit is not nature, it is not substance, it is not a reality in that sense, in which there is the reality of the natural world. The problem of freedom is a problem of spirit, and it is not resolvable in any naturalistic metaphysics of being.
4. If freedom cannot be rooted in any sort of being, nor in any sort of nature, nor in any sort of substance, then there remains only one path for the affirmation of freedom — the acknowledgement, that the well-spring of freedom is the nothing, from out of which God created the world. Freedom is manifest prior to being and it determines for itself the path of being. It is of a different order, a different plane, than is the order, than is the plane of being. Freedom is altogether real not in any sense, in which the world is real. Freedom reveals itself only in the experience of the spiritual life, it does not at all reveal itself in the experience of the world. Freedom not only is not an external experience, but also it is not in soul-emotive experience, it is not in the experience of any sort of nature. The natural world is always determinate, and the soul-emotive natural world is also determinate. Only within the unique capacity of spiritual experience is discerned the mystery of freedom. The spiritual world, distinct qualitatively from the natural world, into which enter in also our bodies and our souls, is not at all a world of Kantian things-in-themselves. It would be altogether inaccurate to say, that the life of body and soul is appearance, whereas the life of spirit is the thing-in-itself. This is a fruitless dualism, which leads to a denial of the very possibility of spiritual experience, which also we see in Kant, and which does not permit of the possibility of spiritual experience. Amidst this, as freedom there is revealed within spiritual experience not only the second, the higher freedom in Truth, but also the first, the irrational and groundless freedom. Only spiritual experience reveals to us this, that it is manifest prior to the being of the natural world, it leads us into contact with the unfathomable and ungrounded, having its basis not in any sort of being, nor in us ourselves, nor in the world, nor in God. All the insurmountable aporia-difficulties of freedom are connected with the thinking, directed exclusively upon the natural world, the basic sign of which is manifest as determinism. But in the spiritual world there is not any sort of natural determinism. The spiritual world is not some highest degree of the natural world, it does not enter into the hierarchy of the natural world, it is a different qualitative condition, within which the natural world is interfused in all its degrees.
And herein within spiritual experience is discerned, that if freedom be rooted in something, then it is rooted in the nothing, manifest prior to all being, prior to the world-creation. This means also, that freedom is unfathomable and ungrounded. The unfathomableness and groundlessness recede away into nothingness. This is the Ungrund of J. Boehme. This signifies, that freedom is connected with potentiality, which is deeper than any formation and actualisation of being. The potentiality of the being of the world comes prior to the being of the world itself. According to the teaching of Christian theology, God created the world from out of nothing. This signifies also, that God created the world from out of freedom. They otherwise express this thus, that God created the world freely and free. This does not mean, that God created the world from out of matter, as the ancient Greeks thought, since nothing is not matter, but rather is freedom. And if instead freedom were rooted in being, then freedom would be only in God and from God, i.e. the freedom of man, the freedom of the creation would not have existed. But outside of God is the nothing, from which He creates the world, and in the nothing is the source. The free nothingness — is outside of God the Creator for kataphatic-positive theology, but it is inward of the unutterable Divinity for apophatic-negative theology. From this freedom the nothing issues forth consent to the very world-creation, it blossoms forth from the mysteried loins of potentiality. The first, the irrational freedom, is pure potentiality, lodged within the nothing. And we sense within ourselves this free nothingness. The second freedom however, freedom in the Truth and freedom received from the Truth, is different. The second, the higher freedom, is the transfiguration and enlightening of this dark freedom and this irrational nothing through God’s creative idea about man and about the cosmos, through the light of the Logos, through the acting of the grace of God. This transfiguration and enlightening obtains by the mutual interaction of God’s creative power and God’s grace and the primordial freedom itself, it is the result of the action of grace upon freedom within, without violence and coercion. The first freedom is a freedom of the potential, it is the possibility of opposition. The second freedom is a freedom of the actual, it is realisation of the Truth, the enlightening of the darkness. The second freedom does not exist without the first freedom. We have seen already, that the second freedom, as regards itself alone, results in tyranny and fails to surmount the tragedy of freedom. The higher freedom of man is not of the nature of man, is not of the substance of man, but is rather God’s idea about man, the image and likeness of God within man. 3 The person is not a natural individuality of man, but rather God’s idea. The realisation of God’s idea about man however presupposes the acting of freedom lodged within the nothingness. And only Christianity knows the mystery of the reconciling of the two freedoms and the surmounting of the tragedy of freedom. This is the acting of grace upon our freedom, its enlightening from within.
5. With freedom, as potentiality, prior to all being, as that which is lodged within the abyss of the nothing, is connected the possibility of the new in the world, the possibility of creativity. The possibility of change and developement in the world arises from freedom. Only on the surface, on the flat plane of the natural world, do we see the developement. But evolutionary theory is completely ineffectual to conceive of the sources of developement in the world. The understanding of this is possible only by a passing over from an horizontal movement to a vertical movement. In the measure of depth, along the vertical is where occurs the creativity from out of freedom, from the unfathomable potentiality, and thereupon it is projected upon the surface, as developement. Beyond every developement in the world there are concealed creative acts, yet the creative acts presuppose freedom, and freedom however presupposes unfathomable potentiality set upon the nothing. Without the potentiality, without the nothing in the world there would be no change, there would be no developement, there would not be creativity. The teaching of Aristotle about potentiality and act includes within it a great truth, but it is readily distorted and narrowly interpreted. The Greeks feared infinity (apeiron) and often therefore inaccurately interpreted the significance of potentiality, which then passed on to the Scholastics. In potentiality there is more, than there is in act, in potentiality there is infinitude, whereas in act there is always limitedness. The infinitude of potentiality is the well-spring of freedom and of creative change, of that which is new in the world. The actualised being of the world is a final and limited sphere in comparison with the unlimitedness and unfathomableness of potentiality, of the abyss, lying beneathe being, and deeper than it. Evolution within the world presents itself to us as a determinate and delimited interplay of worldly forces and their re-distribution. But creativity is not determinate, creativity in a certain sense always is a creativity from out of nothing, i.e. from out of freedom. Free creativity is also a non-determined freedom, cutting its way through to the worldly forces and altering them, and not being determined by them. Therein only is it possible to say, that in the life of man and in the life of the world there is the great possibility, the possibility of new life and a new world. Deterministic evolutionism is a conservative world-view. Darwinism is conservative, Marxism is conservative, though they also present revolutionary teachings, toppling the traditional religious world-view. Only the possibility of creative freedom probes a breach into the closed-in conservative system of the world, in which is possible only the re-distribution of matter and energy. Naturalism also affirms suchlike a conservatively closed-in system of the world and this naturalism sometimes assumes the form of a theological naturalism. For the world not to present such a closed-in conservative system, there mustneeds be an unfathomable well-spring, an infinite potentiality, i.e. the free nothing, as prior to being and determining being.
In the beginning was the Word, the Logos. This is an eternal truth in regard to all positive being. The world cannot have been created, it cannot have had a beginning without the Logos. But in the beginning there was likewise the nothing, potentiality, there was freedom and this freedom, this nothing, lay outside of being and therefore herein was no contradiction to that, in the beginning was the Logos. The Logos descended into the nothing and from this created the world, the sun rose over the abyss, which is deeper than being. The Divine Logos interacts with freedom. Here then is why the problem of freedom is not a psychological or moral problem of the freedom of the will, but rather a metaphysical problem about the beginning of things. There occurred the encounter of two infinitudes — the infinitude of the potential, the infinitude of the nothing, and the infinitude of the actual, the infinitude of God. And hence also there are two freedoms — the freedom which is from the infinitude of potentiality, and the freedom which is from the infinitude of the grace of God, from the light of God.
6. We have seen, that the second freedom can be falsely understood and that then it degenerates into violence and coercion. But in its true understanding, not negating the first freedom but rather inevitably presupposing it, the second freedom is the higher, the ultimate freedom, the authentic liberation of man and the world. Genuine liberation is given by cognition and realisation of the Truth, which includes within itself freedom. The attainment of the higher freedom, as a goal of life, is the attainment of authentic spirituality. Spirit is freedom and in spirituality, in the spiritual life, there is no determination from without, there is no compulsion, there is no situatedness on the outside. Externality of position with coercion of one part over another is characteristic of the natural world. Spiritual life is free life, in this is its constitutive sign. In the attainment of spirituality there is overcome the tragedy of freedom, its contradictions are undone, which seemed insurmountable. Authentic spirituality is the enlightening of the irrational, of the as yet dark freedom, without its annihilation, without having force over it. The problem of freedom is irresolvable within the bounds of rational philosophy. The dialectic does not find its completion, the aporia-difficulties remain. But philosophic cognition can approach its limits and emerge beyond its limits, rendering ultimate resolution of still another area. I am further inclined to think, that in this is the task of philosophy in all the areas of cognition. The philosophic uncovering of the dialectics of freedom leads us to Christianity, as a positive resolution of the tragedy of freedom, the tragedy of freedom and necessity. The problem of the freedom of man, so difficult for philosophic thought, is resolvable only in the idea of God-manhood and Divine-humanity, which passes already beyond the bounds of pure philosophy. Only in the God-Man is revealed an egress beyond the bounds of the evil of freedom and the good of necessity, of freedom begetting evil and necessity compelling to goodness, and there is attained the enlightening and transfiguration of freedom, a freedom filled with love, not the freedom of the first Adam, still esteeming the freedom of evil, but rather the freedom of the second Adam, already by free love having conquered the dark principles in freedom. This certainly does not mean, that in Christian philosophy and in Christian theology, just as in Christian practice, that the problem of freedom has been accurately posed and accurately resolved. On the contrary, herein there have become quite great rifts. Freedom and grace often are set into opposition, and grace is understood as a force over freedom. But the Christian in its ideal purity includes within itself the resolution of the problem of freedom. Outside of Christianity, determinism is essentially inevitable. Every naturalistic philosophy is deterministic. And if spiritualistic philosophy attempts to ground a basis for freedom, then it does so weakly and with contradiction, in identifying freedom with substance, i.e. with a naturalistic category. A most difficult question in Christian metaphysics is that about the reconciling of the freedom of man with God’s almightiness, with God’s all-knowingness. Upon this ground was begotten the teaching about predestination, reaching its extreme expression in Calvin. Even Bl. Augustine encountered here an insurmountable difficulty. A more credible path of thought here is that in which there would be acknowledgement, that freedom is a boundary-line to God’s fore-knowledge, God’s praescientia, that God Himself puts a limit to His prescience, since He desires freedom and sees in freedom the meaning of creativity. Towards this view inclines Secretan in his work, “La Philosophie de la Liberte”, one of the finest philosophical investigations on freedom.
7. Freedom lies at the basis of God’s design concerning the world and man. Freedom begets evil, but without freedom there is also no good. Compulsory goodness would not be good. In this is the fundamental contradiction on freedom. The freedom for evil is, evidently, a condition for the freedom for good. Forcefully abolish evil without a trace and there remains nothing of a freedom for good. Here is why God tolerates the existence of evil. Freedom begets the tragedy of life and the suffering of life. Therefore freedom is something difficult and harsh. Freedom is least of all an easy thing and a life in freedom is least of all an easy life. It is easier to live within necessity. Dostoevsky, who had very profound thoughts about freedom, suggested, that it is a most difficult thing for man to bear up under the freedom of spirit, the freedom of choice. Man readily abdicates freedom in the name of mitigating the suffering of life through a compulsory organising of the good (as in compulsory theocracies and the Communist system). It would be a mistake to think, that man especially values freedom. On the contrary, he ever and again regards the gift of freedom as something fatal and no wise defends freedom. I am not at all speaking here about freedom in the political sense, but exclusively about freedom in the metaphysical sense. But metaphysical freedom has its own living and practical consequences, it possesses its own social projection. There does not exist any sort of adequate expression of metaphysical freedom in social life. Here the correlations are very complex and tangled. Freedom in the political projection usually is understood, as the rights of man, as the pretensions of man. But if freedom be taken in its metaphysical depths, then it mustneeds be acknowledged, that freedom is altogether not the matter of the rights and the pretensions of man, but is rather his obligation. Man ought to be free in spirit, he ought to bear the burden of freedom to the end, since in freedom is included God’s idea about him, his God-likeness. God demands, that man be free, He expects of man the act of freedom. God has need of the freedom of man moreso, than does man himself. Man readily renounces freedom in the name of the easing of life, but God does not renounce the freedom of man, since with this is bound up His design for the world-creation. The teaching about the freedom of the will, traditionally defended by Christian theology, is a vulgarisation of the problem of freedom and the adaptation of it for utilitarian ends. The teaching about freedom ought to be connected with the teaching about spirit, to which I have had possibility only to lead up to. 4
The problem of freedom is a central philosophic problem. In it there dovetail not only all the philosophic disciplines (metaphysics, the theory of cognition, ethics, the philosophy of history), but philosophy also becomes contiguous with theology. The history of the teaching about freedom is to a remarkable degree the history of religious and theological teachings about freedom. Bl. Augustine and Luther have greater a significance for the problematics of freedom, than do the academic philosophers. And I make use not only of philosophy, but also of theology, since otherwise it is impossible to consider this problem in all its depth. The problem of freedom is the central and ultimate metaphysical problem and upon it can be oriented all the basic philosophic trends. There is possible a classification of the types of philosophic world-concept in accord with this or that approach to the problem of freedom. For the problem of freedom the most vivid difference is between the philosophy of antiquity, of the Greeks, in contrast to the philosophy of the Christian period in the history of human self-consciousness. Here the problem of freedom becomes involved with the problem of the finite and the infinite. The Greeks considered perfection to be finite. The finite is deterministic. The infinite was for them imperfect and it was not deterministic. Perfection was a positing of limits, of definition, i.e. determined. A similar understanding passed over to the medieval Scholastics, when Aristotle became prescribed, i.e. chiefly with the system of St. Thomas Aquinas. But in the Christian world, within the essence of Christianity there was disclosed infinitude, not only in the negative, but also in its positive significance. And with infinitude there was disclosed freedom, as indeterminism. With Origen we find one of the first teachings about freedom. German philosophy moreover is distinct from the ancient and the medieval, in that it views irrationality to be at the basis of being and by this furthers the investigation of the problem of freedom. But German idealism tends towards idealist monism, in which the problem of freedom again fades out and the freedom of man vanishes. Rather moreso remarkable remains Schelling’s “Philosophische Untersuchungen ?ber das Wesen der menschlichen Freicheit”.5 Authentic Christian philosophy is a philosophy of freedom and an authentic resolution of the problem of freedom is possible to construct, only by proceeding from the idea of God-manhood. And Russian religious philosophy best of all understands this problem of freedom, as indeterminism and as infinitude.
© 2000 by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1928 – 329 – en)
METAPHIZICHESKAYA PROBLEMA CVOBODY. Journal Put’, Jan. 1928, No. 9, p. 41-53.
1 Report, presented in French at the Philosophic Congress in Varshava-Warsaw, in September 1927.
2 I have dealt with the problem of freedom in various of my books: “The Philosophy of Freedom”, “The Meaning of Creativity”, “The World-View of Dostoevsky”, “The Meaning of History”, and the recently released book, “The Philosophy of the Free Spirit” [published in English under title “Freedom and the Spirit”].
3 About this, N. Lossky speaks quite well in his book, “The Freedom of the Will”
4 The teaching about spirit is developed in my newest book, “Philosophy of the Free Spirit” [published in English under title, “Freedom and the Spirit”].
5 During the XIX Century much also was done for the investigation of the problem of freedom by French Philosophy — Maine de Biran, Renouvier, Boutroux, Fonsegrive, Fouill?e, Bergson et al.