The Horizons of the Organic Vision of the Universe and Humanity: Vladimir Solovyev

by Boris L. Gubman

Boris L. Gubman is Head of the Department of Theory and History of Culture of Tver State University, 170000, Russia, Tver, Zhelyabova 33. He is a member of the Russian Academy of Social Sciences and the author of five books, including The Meaning of History (Nauka, 1991). His Twentieth-Century Western Philosophy of Culture is now in print.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 211-214, Vol. 22, Number 4, Winter, 1993. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Dr. Gubman sees Process Theology as one answer to the urgent problems of our century, proposing a synthetic fusion of scientific, philosophical. and theological approaches to the universe considered as a developing totality.

The crisis of the classical philosophy of the New Age has generated strong criticism of its foundations and different, new tendencies and developments of Western thought. It culminated, on the one hand, in the total deconstruction of the traditional vision of the universe and humanity, and, on the other, in the attempts to build a new organic picture of the evolving cosmic whole, giving birth to humanity with its culture. Process theology was one answer to the urgent problems of our century, proposing a synthetic fusion of scientific, philosophical. and theological approaches to the universe considered as a developing totality. Russian religious thought of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was also very sensitive about the crisis of classical philosophy; quite strong in the criticism of its errors, but aspiring to work out its own organic vision of the world, it was not inclined to unite science with philosophy and theology. In any event, one could see some parallel moves, lines of arguments in both process thought and Russian religious philosophy that seem to be quite similar. In considering the legacy of Vladimir Solovyev, who was the father of the Russian religious-philosophical renaissance of the beginning of the twentieth century, one can discern important features of a philosophical theology that tries to see the cosmic whole according to the pattern of an evolutionary organic vision.

The European New Age philosophy according to Solovyev’s interpretation was based on abstract foundations that were inadequate for portraying the organic unity of being. "As abstract foundations I understand those particular ideas (specific aspects and elements of the idea of unity) that, being abstracted from the whole and considered in their uniqueness, are losing their true character and getting into contradictory relations and mutual struggle, are pushing the human world into the situation of mental discord, in which we are still remaining" (RON 586). Our capacities to use empirical data and to apply reason for the analysis of such data are important, but taken without a broader perspective to see the unity of existing things, they become merely abstract foundations. The sin of New Age classical philosophy was the divorce between sensible experience, activities of reason, and the highest aspirations of intellect that belong to a whole human personality. Both empiricism and rationalism were depriving humans of their right to see the universe in its totality. Solovyev’s idea was to restore the totalizing organic view of the universe, thus giving humans stable value standards and meaning in life. It was a reaction against the reality of the New Age culture, where the triumph of formal rationality generated a tragic split between spheres of Truth, Good, and Beauty.

Solovyev characterized the spiritual climate in Europe in the following way: "The only essential difference and inequality between people still existing in the West is the inequality of a rich man and a worker; the only grandeur, the supreme power, still having there the real force, is the grandeur and power of capital" (FNCZ 63). Russia is facing similar problems of spiritual order after it borrowed some of the social and cultural patterns of the Western world in the New Age period. Both Russia and the West, according to Solovyev, are in need of a new organic synthetic vision of the universe and humanity to overcome the crisis.

The basic category of Solovyev’s ontology is the bearer of existence -- what really is and precedes being as such. Starting from this point, he develops his organic ontological vision of the universe. "So. the absolute foundation that alone could make our knowledge true and that is proved as principle of our organic logic is defined first of all as what really is and is not being" (FNCZ 219). Every being, every particular thing, belongs to the totality of existence, according to Solovyev. This totality is absolutely unknown, but at the same time one can penetrate into it in any predicate, because speaking about different things, we are relating our images to the totality of existence. This all-embracing unity is present in any fragment of our knowledge. This totality is at once nothing and all things: all that is not equal to anything could be called nothing but it embraces particular things and for this reason it could be viewed as positive nothing, absolute reality. This absolute reality exists through self-denial therefore, it possesses love as the moving force of the universe: "So, when w say that the absolute foundation, according to its very definition, is the unity of itself and self-denial, we repeat, but in a more abstract form, the words of the great apostle: God is love" (FNCZ 234). Absolute unity and freedom from any form are two attributes of this divine reality.

Solovyev’s ontology has a certain axiological coloring, because it consider the totality of existence as having dimensions of Truth, Good, and Beauty. This absolute existence is demanded by our reason as a necessary prerequisite of any particular truth (FNCZ 231). Our will is longing for it as the absolute aim and Good, whereas our feelings are in need of it to find the end of the disharmony in the sensible world under the sign of eternal Beauty. Organic ontology and value theory complement each other.

The sphere of being, comprising the multiplicity of the particular, is at the pole which is opposite to the totality of existence. God, according to this organic theology, is absolutely free, but at the same time God is generating necessity that is prevailing in the order of the created universe. The potency of being in it richness is contained in prime matter. Anything pertaining to the realm of being is born out of the two possible sources -- absolute existence and prime matter. God is pouring her/his creative energy into matter, producing all degrees of the universe. Solovyev was under the spell of Plato, neoplatonic philosophy, the Christian platonism of St. Augustine, and German classical philosophy. This line of philosophy shaped his search for the vision of the cosmic whole as a developing organic totality.

Looking at the hierarchy of the universe, one could find three spheres: 1. freely existing totality or the positive power of being; 2. prime matter as necessity or the immediate force of being; 3. being or reality as the result of their cooperation. The second sphere may be called "essence." "Since essence defined by existence, it is its idea; since being is defined by existence, it is its nature" (FNCZ 201). As a result of the dialectical relation of God with the cosmic whole, Solovyev thinks it possible to give the following scheme: existence, essence, being; power, necessity, reality; God, idea, nature. Through this dialectical motion, God is expressed in something other than the divine self defined through the phenomena that are different from the divine self.

The Christian dogma of the Trinity has, according to Solovyev, considerable philosophical value. The Father symbolizes pure existence as such and in itself. The Son must be comprehended as divine Logos, permitting the existence of multiplicity in the realm of being. The Holy Spirit is the symbol of the return of God to the divine self after the divine journey through nature and history. Materia prima in this system of organic logic is defined through the absolute Logos and is named "idea." Idea is the expression of this absolute existence. "As the expression of the will of the bearer of existence the idea is God, as the content of His image it is Truth, as the content of His feelings it is Beauty" (FNCZ 248).

The system of organic logic differentiates between the concrete aspects of revelation of the divine Logos. Solovyev distinguishes the inner Logos that is dividing the totality of existence from the revealed Logos. Christ himself appears as the third Logos. The third Logos is linked with the concrete Sofia, unifying pure ideas and pure matter.

A.Losev rightly claims that Solovyev’s ontological doctrine can be easily attacked from the standpoint of the orthodox Christian interpretation of these problems. God as the bearer of existence is evidently higher than the Logos. The relations of different aspects of the Logos, as well as his/her ties with the concrete Sofia, are not very clear. His views of the Holy Spirit are also lacking precision (S 66). Nevertheless, one could agree with Losev, who claims that Solovyev’s organic logic is quite original. The Russian thinker wanted to develop an organic worldview as a kind of answer to the urgent problems of his time and to obtain logical foundations for his views. His line of argument is evidently influenced by German Classical philosophy, in spite of the fact that he wants to be in opposition to it. The lessons of transcendental philosophy were not in vain: his logical ability is brilliant, although one could blame Solovyev for a certain inconsistency, inner contradictions in his system. The ontology proposed within the framework of this organic logic sounds quite existential and close to the mainstream of twentieth century religious thought. Solovyev is trying not only to see the universe as the developing organic whole, but also to find a new axiological dimension, which is obviously very important for humanity. In a sense, one could consider his axiological organic ontology as a necessary prerequisite for his anthropology.

Solovyev believed "that man is the highest revelation of the true bearer of existence, that all the roots of his own being are in the transcendental sphere and that because of this fact he is not bound with the chains, which school philosophy wants to put on him" (FNCZ 225). Trying to explain the origin of human freedom, the Russian philosopher says that humans resemble God with respect to the autonomy of their actions; they are free as parts of the unlimited universal unity. Speaking about human freedom, he is trying to cope with the Kantian dilemma of freedom and necessity within the framework of the categories of his organic logic. Humanity is a part of what exists eternally, and in this respect, necessity appears to be only one of the possible states of human beings: therefore, humans are able to rise above the circumstances of their lives as free persons. At the same time, a human being is a bearer of a certain individuality, of original thought, is permitting her/him to be different from all other creatures. Being free persons, humans are able to remodel the material, natural part of their very selves. Consequently matter is subjected to spirit in the universe of humanity, obeying the free choices of humans. Accentuating the spiritual part of human life, the activity of is the soul, Solovyev is evidently following St. Augustine and his anthropological doctrine. The aim and meaning of human life, according to the Russian philosopher, consists in the contemplation of God.

In his anthropology, Solovyev is trying to show that humanity is always able to transcend the limits of the human situation, creating a multiplicity of cultural forms. This theme of the cultural creativity of humanity has not been traditional for Christian thought; the opposition between nature and culture appeared as the focus of philosophical attention only in the New Age period. Solovyev was one of the first Christian thinkers to introduce it. He developed his views on humanity’s cultural creativity in the debate with Friedrich Nietzsche, who believed in the coming era of the superman. The German philosopher glorified the process of human self-transcendence. Solovyev is criticizing his doctrine, but he is totally opposed to those who reject its significance. The Nietzschean idea of human self-transcendence is reinterpreted within the context of Solovyev’s thought as the constant desire of the human person to develop all forms of his or her life. The various forms of the cultural activity of humans are directed toward "the form of the perfect unity or God" (IS 615). In this effort to bring eternal values into the context of culture, humanity becomes unified, serving the cause of self-perfection on the way to God.

Solovyev was the father of the Russian religious renaissance of the beginning of the twentieth century with its interest in the problems of culture. His ideas are quite close to Western Christian thought in our century. Looking at the universe as a dynamic developing totality, Solovyev wanted to find in it the value dimension that is so important for personal life. He claimed that the solution of cultural problems and contradictions, the necessity of obtaining the organic unity of humanity’s world, urgently demanded the restoration of the lost harmony between the highest values of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. His ontology and anthropology are closely linked together and open the horizon of his cultural ideal of the revival of the role of religion in the Post-Renaissance world.



FNCZ -- Solovyev V. Filosofskie nachala celnogo znanya. Sochinenya, v 2 t. M.: Mysl, 1988. T.2.

IS -- Solovyev V. Idea sverkh cheloveka. Sochinenya, v 2 t. M.: Pravda, 1989. T.2.

KON -- Solovyev V. Kritika otvlechennykh nachal. Sochinenya, v 2 t. M.: Mysl, 1988. T.1.

S -- Losev A.V.S.