by Dimitri Lisin

(c) 1995 by Dimitri Lisin (

					"Freedom contains the mystery
 					of the world. God wanted 
					freedom,and from this came the
 					tragedy of the world."
Nikolai Berdyaev.

Table of Contents

  1. Biography.
  2. Freedom.
  3. Creativity.
  4. Subjectivity and Objectification.
  5. Ethics.
  6. Religion.
  7. Russia.

I. Biography.

Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev was born on March 6, 1874 in Kiev1. By birth and upbringing he was an aristocrat. His father, Alexander Mikhailovich Berdyaev, came from a long line of nobility from Kiev and Kharkov. Almost all of his ancestors were high-ranking military officers, but he himself resigned from the army quite early and became active in the social life of Kiev aristocracy. Nikolai's mother, Alina Sergeevna Berdyaeva, was half French, also coming from top levels of French and Russian nobility. Berdyaev's father was an educated man, greatly influenced b y Voltaire. He considered himself a free thinker and was very skeptical toward religion. Nikolai's mother, orthodox by birth, was in her views on religion more catholic, than orthodox. This could be one of the reasons why Berdyaev, a very religious man and a religious philosopher, despised the official Orthodox Church.

He spent his childhood at home, without any friends his own age. From this early time on he always felt hostility and alienation toward the outside world, for which this solitude could be responsible, at least partly. This had a heavy influence on his philosophy, which is very subjective and very idealistic. He was constantly creating his own inner world to counterpose it to the material world outside, in which he saw so many injustices and imperfections .

His parents did not impose many restraints on him, and as a result, he could never accept any kind of authority. When later he went to a military school, this hatred of any suppression of personal freedom grew even stronger. Throughout all his life and in all aspects of it, Berdyaev disliked uniforms, ranks and formalism.

Berdyaev read a lot from a very early age, a habit which he kept till the day he died. His father's library provided him with the works of Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Kant, whom he read when he was only fourteen years old. However, the only area of traditional systematic learning that Berdyaev was good at were the languages. Like most of aristocrats at the time he was fluent in French and German, because he was exposed to them from the early childhood. A couple decades before his time French was the spoken language of Russian nobles, some of whom actually had trouble speaking Russian.

Berdyaev decided to devote his life to philosophy, and, breaking an old tradition of his family, left military school to apply to a university. In 1894 he passed the entrance examinations to th e University of Kiev, and started studying natural sciences. A year later he changed his area of study to jurisprudence.

The end of nineteenth century was the time of great revolutionary activity among the Russian intelligentsia, especially college students. Berdyaev, like many educated people of that period, became a Marxist and took part in the political processes. In 1898 Berdyaev was arrested in a student demonstration, and was expelled from the university. He was released with a warning, but later his involvement in illegal press was discovered and he was sentenced to tree years of exile in Vologda province in central Russia. Partly because of his family's influence these measures were moderate compared to those taken against professional revolutionaries, many of whom spent decades in prisons and exile, and extremely moderate compared to Stalin's prisons and labor camps. During the three years in Vologda Berdyaev experienced no physical and hardly any moral discomfort.

In 1904 Berdyaev was back in Kiev, where he met and married Lydia Trusheff, who was the daughter of a prominent attorney. He was deeply in love with Lydia, who shared all the difficulties of his life. This same year Berdyaev and his wife moved to St. Petersburg, the capital of the country. It was the center of intellectual, philosophical, literary, and revolutionary activity. Berdyaev became an important part of this rich and eventful life of the city. He also participated in many spiritual, religious, and mystical discussion of different sects and other groups.

During this period of his life Berdyaev completely moved away from the radical Marxists, who aimed towards an armed revolt against the regime. His attention focused on the metaphysical and spiritual development, rather than political struggle. It was during this time, when the Orthodox Church became an important part of his life. This turn toward the church is sometimes called conversion, but this term is not really appropriate in this case. Berdyaev had been an Orthodox Christian and sincerely believed in God all his life, but at this point religion and religious philosophy became a major part of his work.

In 1912 Berdyaev with his family traveled to Italy. In Florence, under the influence of the wonders of the Italian Renaissance, Berdyaev wrote one of his most important books, The Meaning of the Creative Act. Being in the country that practically gave birth to the human creativity, it would have been strange if he had not written this book. This book made its author widely known in philosophical circles.

Back in Russia Berdyaev continued to participate in the religious activities. He even dared to publish an article criticizing the Holy Synod of the Russian Church for ordering a group of monks to abandon their set of teachings that did not fit the official church doctrine. He was arrested on the charge of blasphemy, the punishment for which was a life-long exile to Siberia. The verdict was prevented from being carried out by the Revolution of 1917.

Although a revolutionary himself, Berdyaev could not accept the Bolshevik regime, because of its suppression of personal freedom, and its main principle of domination of the society over the individual. However, he was allowed to continue to lecture a n d write. It was the time of the Revolution and the Civil War, with its hardships that affected the entire country. Rationed food and unheated rooms endured by the residents of St. Petersburg were by far not the worst of them. Interestingly, when Berdyaev was ordered to do "community work", namely cleaning of the streets, which was a clear violation of his personal freedom, he did not perceive it as such. The most important for him was the fact that he could think freely, and continue his work.

This lasted for almost five years, until 1921. Berdyaev was arrested, and charged with treason. He was interrogated by Dzerzhinsky, the head of the CheKa, the secret police. After that he was released, and ordered to leave the city. In 1922 after being arrested one more time, he was ordered to leave the country, as an alternative for being shot.

The Soviet government arranged for Berdyaev and about seventy other emigres a passage to Berlin, where he stayed for about a year. There he organized the Religious-Philosophical Academy. In 1923 harsh economic and political conditions in Germany forced him to move to Paris. In Paris there was a large population of Russian emigres, mostly aristocrats, in which Berdyaev did not really fit in, because of his views.

He continued the activities of his Academy. He taught, lectured, and wrote books. His work was only partially interrupted by the Second World War and the occupation of France. During the quarter of a century that he spent in France, Berdyaev wrote fifteen books, his most important works. He died on March 23, 1948.

II. Freedom.

Freedom is the major theme of Berdyaev's philosophy. He has often been called the philosopher of freedom, and once, a s paradoxically as it may sound, even "the prisoner of freedom"2. Berdyaev never in his life experienced any kind of authority, not in his family, not in school, not even in religious life. He always fought for his independence, which to him meant independence of the spirit and thought. Berdyaev dedicated all his life to creating and perfecting the philosophy of freedom.

His fundamental idea is that freedom precedes existence, which puts the concept of freedom on the highest metaphysical level. Berdyaev's freedom is tied very closely with his religious beliefs. He states that God is present only in freedom and acts only through freedom. Berdyaev makes a clear distinction between his concept of freedom and the traditional philosophical and theological idea of free will. His freedom has a much more general meaning.

"Freedom is my independence and the defining of my self from the inside, and freedom is my creative force, not the choice between the good and evil that I am faced with, but my creation of good and evil. The situation of choice itself can cause the feeling of oppression, indecisiveness, or even the feeling of absence of freedom. The liberation comes, when the choice is made, and I move along my creative path."3
From this passage we see that Berdyaev talks about something greater than the freedom of choice. The fixed options to choose from, and the actual idea of being faced with a choice still imposes certain limitations on the individual, and, therefore, the free will is not the absolute freedom of Berdyaev's philosophy.

Also, in this quote freedom is related to creativity, another major concept in Berdyaev's world. Once again the idea of creativity has a much broader meaning for him. It is an attempt to reach something higher than our material everyday reality, to exceed the limitations that the material world imposes on us. Berdyaev's creativity means creating something completely new, something that has not existed before. It is a way to express the freedom, a way to make the material world more like the spiritual world within us. This concept requires special attention, and it will be discussed later, in further detail.

Because of this obsession with personal freedom Berdyaev was often called an individualist. He, on the other hand, called himself a personalist. "Freedom is not individualism. That is a superstition. Freedom is outside the idea of individualism. Freedom is not turning inward and isolation, freedom is turning outward and creativity, a way t o discover the universe inside oneself."4 Berdyaev did not say that a n individual was more important than the universe, but rather that an individual was the universe.

Very interesting is Berdyaev's view on Truth, in terms of freedom. He radically rejected the truth that is imposed on him as an object, or as "reality". He only accepted truth that is known through freedom. In this case he talks about two freedoms, the freedom through which the truth is known, and the freedom which is brought by the truth. Knowing the truth through freedom means that it is not accepted as something that exists separately from the mind, but rather freely absorbing it and making it a part of the mind. This absorbed truth, in turn, expands the horizons of the mind or, in other words, brings new freedom. In this notion Berdyaev fought against any kind of dogma or orthodoxy, whether political, or religious, or any other. He saw orthodoxy as an authority of an organized society over a free individual, over the free spirit of a person, something that he could never accept.

This idea of freedom was the reason for the fact that Berdyaev moved away from Marxism, and was opposed to communism. He understood that there were tendencies to reject freedom among the revolutionary intelligentsia. Berdyaev saw that socialism could develop into different forms. It could bring liberation, but it could also create a totalitarian society.

These tendencies were actually a logical development. Revolutionaries wanted to overthrow the existing regime, and take control of the country. This was impossible without an organization with strong leadership, every member of which would fight for the common goal. Complete freedom, advocated by Berdyaev, would definitely weaken such an organization.

In every period of his life Berdyaev felt the lack of freedom in society. He felt it in the aristocratic world of his youth, in the world of revolutionaries, in the world of the church, and in world of Russian emigres after the revolution. All those groups of people of which Berdyaev was a part at some point in time rejected individual freedom in the name of their beliefs. He generalized that by saying that "every society that had been organized in the past or is being organized now is hostile toward freedom and tends to reject human individuality. ... The democratic age is an age of the petty bourgeois, and it is not likely to produce strong individuals."5

III. Creativity.

As I have already mentioned, the second most important concept of Berdyaev's philosophy is Creativity. Just as Freedom, the first most important concept, creativity is rooted in Berdyaev's religious ideas. God created man in his own image, and God is a creator. Therefore man's purpose is to create. Berdyaev also finds references to creativity in the New Testament, such as the parable of the seed falling on good soil and producing fruits, and the parable of the talents that are used profitably.

The nature of creativeness according to Berdyaev is nothing more than "the making of something new that had not existed before"6. It is creating something out of nothing, just as God created the world out of emptiness. This sounds paradoxical, since all the creative arts that we know always use something as a raw material to change and reshape it to create something new. Strictly speaking, creativity in the familiar, everyday sense, does not really involve making something new, but merely reshaping and rearranging existing things. Berdyaev, however, has a way to resolve this contradiction:

"The creative act of a man requires matter, it cannot be without the material reality, it does not occur in an emptiness, in a vacuum. But the creative act of a man cannot be completely determined by the material which is given by the world; in it there is newness that is not determined by the outside world. This is the element of freedom that comes into any real creative act. This is the mystery of creativity. In this sense, creativity is creation from nothing."7
Once again, Berdyaev gives the concept of creativity a meaning much deeper than the conventional definition. He separates it into two basic parts: the creative idea, or creative conception, and the material realization of the idea. It is hard to describe this notion any better than Berdyaev does himself: "Creativeness has two different aspects and we describe it differently according to whether we dwell upon one or the other. It has an inner and an outer aspect. There is the primary creative act in which man stands as it were face to face with God, and there is the secondary creative act in which he faces other men and the world."8

Berdyaev makes a clear distinction between these two aspects. An artistic conception is not the same as its realization. In fact it is the conception that perfectly, without any adjusting, fits Berdyaev's definition of creativity. It is a pure new idea, it comes from nowhere, and it does not need any "raw material". It is something that is, indeed, created out of nothing.

This, of course, goes back to the concept of freedom. Ideas have no restrictions. They come freely to one's mind. In a way, one can say that an idea is freedom. Therefore the conception is the element of freedom in creativity. The realization of a creative idea, on the other hand, brings it down to earth, imposes the limitations of the material world on it.

"There is always a tragic discrepancy between the burning heat of the creative fire in which the artistic image is conceived, and the cold of its formal realization. Every book, picture, statue, good work, social institution is an instance of this cooling down of the original flame.... This is the tragedy of human creativeness and its limitation. Its results are a terrible condemnation of it."9
The two aspects of creativity are very closely related to Berdyaev's notion of subjectivity and the process of objectification. The primary, inner part of creativeness is certainly very subjective. It is an idea that originates and exists in one's mind, an idea that cannot exist outside the mind, and which cannot be perceived or judged by anyone else.

Once the idea is realized, i. e. the statue is built or the book is written, it becomes objective. It is now a part of the material world, separated from the mind. It exists by itself. It is also less perfect than the idea that it originated from, just as a translation of a book into another language is always less perfect than the original. Something always gets lost.

Berdyaev does not seem to consider the idea that it might also be the case that something is gained in this process of objectification. For example the Russian translation of Shakespearean Julius Caesar, unlike the original, actually rhymes, which might be considered a n improvement. But apparently this argument would not convince Berdyaev. He simply cannot see how a free idea could be improved by being confined to the three dimensions of the material world. Besides, the point he makes, the distinction between creative conception and realization, would still be valid.

Sometimes the gap between the idea and its realization is so wide, that the creation actually has a life of its own, completely different from what the creator had intended. An interesting example of that is The Sea-Wolf, a novel by Jack London. He intended it to be an argument against individualism, but the critics and the public saw it as quite the opposite. He portrayed the individualistic character so well, that everybody thought it was an argument to support individualism. This example shows the tragic, and, at the same time, comic implication of the two phases of creativity .

This dual nature of creativity can also be related to Gregory Bateson's metaphor of map and territory. He stated that we could never get to the territory, that we could only perceive the representations of representations, and so on, but not the things themselves. By this metaphor, Berdyaev sees the creative conception as the territory and the creative product as the map, the representation. If Bateson's model is applied to creative imagination, rather than simple perception, the conclusion is reversed. From Berdyaev's creativity it follows that our ideas, the creative images in our minds, are not the representations of things, but rather the things themselves (at least those created by man) are representations of our ideas.

Berdyaev talks extensively about a creative act which is accompanied by creative ecstasy. This brings something new to his philosophy, namely emotion. This is a concept that puts his philosophy on a different plane from the one occupied by the classical systems of Descartes and Kant, who principally recognized the intellectual side of human perception, while practically dismissing the emotional side.

At the same time, despite the different approach, there is a direct link to those systems. In a dry, objective logic of Descartes, Berdyaev sees something very subjective and very human: "There can be no doubt that Descartes arrived at his cogito through an emotional experience, that he must have made his discovery in an ecstasy of an emotional kind. The fact that he exercised his intellect to achieve this result isnoevidence of its exclusive use; for, at that particular moment, his powers of reflection were colored with intense emotion.''10 In this case Descartes sees himself as a pure mind, a thinking machine, while Berdyaev perceives him as a person with feelings and emotions. Descartes considers emotions a n imperfection, while Berdyaev notes that a person is incomplete, and hence even more imperfect, without them.

Berdyaev cannot accept the idea that knowledge can exist without emotions. Emotions are an integral part of human nature, and therefore not a single aspect of life can be without them. " Intuition is not only intellectual, but also emotional. The world is not a thought, as philosophers who dedicated their lives to thought think. The world is passion and passionate emotion. "11 Despite all the differences Berdyaev's ideas can in some sense be called a continuation of Kant's and Descartes'. A better way would be for us to say that Berdyaev sees things in a different light and adds a new dimension to them. Much like Einstein's relativity did not dismiss the classical mechanics, but rather broadened its scope to include phenomena that were not accounted for previously.

IV. Subjectivity and Objectification.

An important question that arises in almost any philosophical discussion is the problem of Subjectivity and Objectivity. Berdyaev's view on this question is very clear: "Can philosophy be anything but personal and subjective? ... Philosophy cannot help being personal even when it aspires to be objective. Every true philosophy bears the stamp of its author's personality.''12 This idea bears the mark of Berdyaev's anthropocentrism which is the basis of his views. He firmly believes that it is impossible to separate the person from his thoughts and knowledge, that they cannot exist by themselves.

With this approach he rejects Descartes' view of a pure idea, which is examined by itself, without taking into account the person who actually has this idea. He also opposes the notion of a pure subject, which is represented by Kant's transcendental consciousness and Hegel's universal spirit.13 The reason for this opposition is their lack of the human element. Berdyaev says that this approach depersonalizes philosophy, moves its focus away from man, as knowing subject, and makes knowledge a separate entity. On the other hand, he notes that even the philosophers who claim to be completely objective still have their personalities imprinted in their work. It is impossible for a human being to be absolutely free from all personal and emotional influences. A good example of that is Berdyaev's interpretation of Descartes' cogito, which was mentioned earlier.14

An argument against Berdyaev's anthropocentrism would be that it may lead to egotism, to confining one's thoughts to oneself, to self-imprisonment. Berdyaev, however, makes a distinction between egocentricity, which he calls "the Original Sin"15, and which usually leads precisely to that, and personality. It is personality that he considers to be the main subject of philosophical discussion. He defines personality as "the image of the living and integral man, who thinks in terms of personal and human philosophy. This man i s inseparable from the philosophy...''16 This is why Berdyaev calls himself a personalist, rather than an individualist, whose characteristic is egocentricity.

This distinction, however, is hard to grasp. Egocentricity and personality both have the person, the "integral man" in their focal points. In both cases the man cannot be isolated from hi s philosophy, from his thoughts. The difference is that the philosophy of an egocentric individualist is directed toward himself. The philosophy of a personalist, while having the person at its center, is turned toward the outside world. This world is perceived, by filtering it through the person's consciousness, and making it a part of his inner world, just as in order to completely understand a poem one should memorize it first.

In his investigation of subjectivity and objectivity, Berdyaev puts the main emphasis on the process of objectification. According to his philosophy all knowledge is subjective when it originates. It can be triggered or influenced by an external event or experience, but the knowledge itself comes from within. Before this event can be comprehended or known, the person has to make it a part of himself, his inner world.

Then objectification occurs. It is a process, in which a subject becomes an object. It seems logical to distinguish between three different kinds of objectification: rational, moral and aesthetic. Rational objectification takes place when a person acquires a sense of self, when he separates himself from the surrounding world. By this he also in some sense separates from himself, he now has the ability to look at himself from the outside, so to speak. He can judge his actions as if they were someone else's, and, therefore, treat himself as an object. In words of Berdyaev, "objectification is above all exteriorization, the alienation of spirit from itself"17 To summarize this concept we can say that rational objectification is the process in which a person sees himself as an object, rather than a knowing subject.

Moral objectification occurs when other people are treated a s objects. Even the words with which we refer to individuals or groups of people, such as "population", "labor force", "human resources", "average citizen", reduce them to mere objects that can be manipulated and dismissed, or thrown away, if not needed any longer.

Aesthetic objectification deals with creativity. The best illustration of it is the realization of a creative conception into a creative product, which has already been described in detail. Something that is subjective, that exists only in man's inner world, becomes a materialized object.

Interestingly, Berdyaev does not really make this distinction between the three kinds of objectification. It seems that he is most concerned with the moral aspect, which to him means, first of all, the suppression of personal freedom. "Whenever a human being is used as a means rather than as an end, objectification occurs.''18 This does not mean that he restricts his concept of objectification only to its moral part. On the contrary, he expands it to include the other two as well, but instead of distinguishing the tree aspects he emphasizes the links between them, the underlying unity of them.

To Berdyaev objectification is a process of dehumanization and depersonalization, which reduces man, the subject, to an object, a thing. It brings man from the world of freedom down to the world of necessity. "Objectification is a symbolical description of the fallen state of a world in which man finds himself subservient to necessity and disunion.19 To Berdyaev the spiritual world within us, the world of freedom, is much higher, much more perfect than the material world outside, the world in which we are bound by necessity. Objectification is the process that confines man to this imperfect, restrictive, "fallen" world.

This process, moral objectification in particular, is so imbedded into our way of thinking, into our daily lives that often we are not even able to realize it. Objectification becomes a part of people's nature. They impose on themselves the limitations of the rules, standards, and customs, necessity, and convenience. Knowledge is also in many cases imposed on people instead of coming from within. They simply accept what they are given, without feeling i t thoroughly, without making it an integral part of themselves, a n d hence without fully comprehending it. This is an instance of people treating themselves as objects, and it is also an example of a link between moral and rational obj ectification .

It is very unusual for Berdyaev that he actually gives us a formal systematic analyses of the main characteristics of objectification:

1) The estrangement of the object from the subject.
2) The absorption of the unrepeatably individual and personal in what is common and impersonallyuniversal.
3) The rule of necessity, of determination fromwithout, the crushing of freedom and the concealment of it.
4) Adjustment to the grandiose mien of the world of history, to the average man, and the socialization of man and his opinions which destroys distinctive character.20

As an antidote to Objectification Berdyaev proposes "communion in sympathy and love, and the overcoming of strangement; personalism and the expression of the individual and personal character of each existence; a transition to the realm of freedom and determination from within, with victory over enslaving necessity; and the predominance of quality over quantity, of creativeness over adaptation."21

The only problem with this solution is that it requires a utopian society, a community of free thinkers. It is also not clear how it is possible to completely free man from necessity. It is even more difficult to free man from the slavery of desire for material wealth. We, after all, are still material three dimensional beings, with needs of shelter and nourishment, and a desire for a better life, which for most of us associates with material possessions. Although most people crave for freedom, it is rarely the pure spiritual freedom that Berdyaev writes about.

Berdyaev's idea is similar to the utopian communism. The difference is that the latter does not require such high degree of the personal freedom, and perhaps because of that was at least attempted to be practically implemented. There were, and still are, small groups of "the Old Believers", (Russian Orthodox Christians, who did not accept church reforms introduced by Peter the Great), and also some other religious sects, that formed small communities, usually in the remote parts of the country. They seemed to have at least some of the characteristics that, according to Berdyaev, could stop objectification, but unlike communism, their influence never spread over any region of a reasonable size, let alone the entire country .

A good way to summarize Berdyaev's idea of objectification, one of the key points of his philosophy, is to present a quote from Self-cognition, his philosophical autobiography. It clearly states his opinion on objectivity, subjectivity, and reality:

I do not believe in the stability and integrity of so called "objective" world, the world of nature and history. Objective reality does not exist, it is a mere illusion of mind; what exists is the objectification of reality, that is created by a certain direction of the spirit. Objectified world is not the genuine real world, it is only a state of the genuine real world, which can be changed. The object is a creation of the subject. Only the subject is existential, and only through subject the reality can be cognized.22

V. Ethics.

Just as most philosophers, Berdyaev attempted to create a system of ethical values. As one might expect by now, he gives the concept a meaning much deeper than conventional. "Ethics occupies a central place in philosophy because it is concerned with sin, with the origin of good and evil and with moral valuations. And since these problems have a universal significance, the sphere of ethics is wider than is generally supposed. It deals with meaning and value and its province is the world in which the distinction between good and evil is drawn, evaluations are made and meaning is sought."23

Although Berdyaev was greatly influenced by Kant, he disagreed with him on the question of the nature of ethics. He did not believe that ethical values could be a priori. "The basis of ethics is moral experience, which, indeed, is the basis of philosophy as a whole. A dialectic which does not rest upon any moral experience is simply an intellectual game."24

The central problem of ethics is that of good and evil. In his investigation of this aspect Berdyaev does not look for the origin of good or evil, but rather for the origin of this distinction itself. This approach is different from the one he took in discussing another pair of contradictory concepts, namely subjectivity and objectivity. There he clearly stated his belief in the superiority of one over the other. Here, on the other hand, instead of choosing one over the other he doubts the validity of the distinction itself and tries to go beyond it to free himself of its limitations.

Before he actually starts the investigation he asks a series of questions: "How does the distinction itself come about? How can the good be the criterion of it, when the good comes to be only after the distinction has been made?"25 As I mentioned, these questions indicate a strong doubt of the validity, of the fundamental nature of the distinction, and lead to a logical conclusion. "The highest value lies beyond good and evil."26 At this point Berdyaev notes the difficulty that he is faced with. When he says that what is beyond good and evil is "higher" than what is on this side, he makes another distinction that is essentially the same as that between good and evil. The only real difference is that terms "high" and "low" are used instead. This puts him right back to the starting point.

Berdyaev finds a way out of this dilemma by stating that "The world is not the ultimate reality but only a phase of it, a phase in which being is alienated from itself and everything is expressed by symbols."27 This idea goes back to objectification One way in which we objectify the world is by creating symbols. Berdyaev mentions the example of symbols "father", "son", and "birth" that are used to describe God in Christianity. These words are terms from the material world that cannot actually describe God, who is beyond our world, but we nevertheless use them, because there is nothing else at our disposal. This is a way to bring God down to earth, a way to comprehend him, at least to the extent that it is possible.

Similarly, we use "good" and "evil" or "high" and "low" to try to describe the ultimate reality that is beyond this distinction. "That which in reality is not separate assumes in our fallen world the form of division. In reality there is neither "high" nor "low", but the symbol of "height" does give us some insight into the nature of reality."28 This is similar to the view of modern physics on the nature of light. Sometimes it behaves like a particle, sometimes it behaves like a wave. The most commonly accepted explanation of this phenomenon is that in reality light is neither a particle nor a wave. It is just the way we mentally perceive it, the analogies we make, that let us talk about its particle-like or wave-like characteristics. "That which in reality is not separate assumes in our fallen world the form of division."

Ethics for Berdyaev is inseparable from freedom. "The very existence of moral life with its distinctions and valuations presupposes freedom. Hence ethics is a philosophy of freedom."29 At the same time he criticizes the idea of the "free will", which has always been a popular subject of philosophical, ethical, and theological discussions. According to Berdyaev, free will can actually be a source of enslavement, because it forces man to choose between good and evil. The point that freedom of choice, or, more exactly, the choice itself, may suppress one's freedom has been discussed in detail earlier.

One of the aspects of ethics which Berdyaev emphasizes is the ethics of the law, of which the free will is an integral par. His opinion on the question of free will reflects his view on ethics of the law in general. To Berdyaev law is, first of all, a way in which society controls an individual. According to him, the freedom of choice that the law gives is outweighed by the restrictions it imposes.

Berdyaev also notes that "morality in our world implies the dualism of good and evil".30 In other words this means that morality, the ethics of the law, stays symbolic, unable to brake away from the limitations of the dualism, unable to reach Berdyaev's ultimate reality that lies beyond good and evil. He also points out that the law, whose purpose is to eliminate sin, does not accomplish its task. "Law denounces sin, limits it, but cannot conquer it."31 As an alternative to the law Berdyaev, a deeply religious man, proposes the divine grace. "St. Paul lays particular stress on deliverance from the power of the law. 'Ye are not under the law, but under grace.' ... 'Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.'"32 However, these ideas of St. Paul were not fully realized in Christianity. Official Church definitely bears the sign of formalism, legalism, and even rationalism. As Berdyaev says: "Even grace received a legalistic interpretation."

The reason for this tendency, that, according to Berdyaev, corrupts Christianity is hidden in the foundation of the human society. Law is the backbone of the society, and it is imbedded in every aspect of social life, including the Church. This dominance over the individual is certainly unacceptable for Berdyaev.

The ethics of law can never be personal and individual, it never penetrates into the intimate depths of personal moral life, experience and struggle... The ethics of law is both very human and well adapted to human needs and standards, and extremely inhuman and pitiless towards the human personality, its individual destiny and intimate life.33 This leads to another kind of ethics discussed by Berdyaev, the ethics of redemption. Redemption is a concept which is more emotional than intellectual, and so is Berdyaev's discussion of it. Even the necessity of redemption is explained from an emotional point of view: "The thirst for redemption is the longing to be reconciled to God, and it is the only way to conquer atheism inspired by the presence of pain and evil in the world. Redemption is the meeting with the suffering and sacrificial God..."34 The reason for this emotional tone of the discussion is the fact that redemption is free from the limitations of the law. In some ways it even defies logic, which sometimes causes Berdyaev's discourse to loose its coherence. He tends to repeat and restate his ideas, apparently trying to put them in a more logical and orderly fashion .

This absence of limitations is the key point for Berdyaev. It is what puts the ethics of redemption above the ethics of law, because it means freedom. "Redemption means, first and foremost, liberation. The Redeemer is the Liberator. The law does not free from slavery. Redemption means a revolutionary change in moral valuations, a revaluation of all values."35

The third type of ethics that Berdyaev discusses is the ethics of creativity. From his point of view it is in conflict with the ethics of the law but it complements the ethics of redemption. Law is first and foremost a set of rules, and rules simply do not apply t o creativity. On the contrary, creativity defies rules and standards. Usually the most remarkable artistic creations and scientific discoveries go beyond the accepted systems of rules. "The ethics of creativeness differs from the ethics of law first of all because every moral task is for it absolutely individual and creative."36 Creativity emphasizes individuality and personality, while law suppresses them with conformity and formalism. The values of the law are static, they are designed to last a long period of time unchanged. Creativity, on the other hand, is a process of creating values. These values are dynamic, they are constantly being created by individuals . The ethics of creativity provides the unrestricted freedom which is absent in the ethics of the law.

Freedom is creative energy, the possibility of building up new realities. The ethics of law knows nothing of that freedom. It does not know that good is being created, that in every individual and unrepeatable moral act new good that had never existed before is brought into being by the moral agent whose invention it is... Man is not a passive executor of the laws... Man is a creator and an inventor.37
The main similarity between the ethics of creativity and that of redemption is the idea of man being in the center. The difference is that it is concerned with values rather than with salvation. Instead of engaging in the struggle between good and evil the objective of creativity is to create values, or, in a way, to create good.

To Berdyaev the ethics of creativity is even higher than the ethics of redemption. It does not have the fear of punishment by eternal suffering or the hope of salvation, which can be considered the limiting factors in the Christian ethics of redemption. Creativity "opens a way to a pure disinterested morality, since every kind of fear distorts moral experience and activity. ... nothing which is done out of fear, whether it be of temporal or of eternal torments, has any moral value."38

The ethics of creativity seems to be the closest system to Berdyaev's goal, escaping the bounds of the distinction between good ad evil. Creative conception is a purely spiritual event, which lies beyond all material limitations. Creative ethics does not require t h e concepts of punishment and reward, which are born out of material world, and which are the basis of the ethics of law, and even the ethics of redemption. Creative process is a reward in itself, because man has an inherent desire to create, because it gives a meaning to life. The absence of creativity, on the other hand, is the worst punishment, because it makes life empty and worthless.

VI. Religion.

All his life Berdyaev was a deeply religious man. He was never satisfied with sinful and unstable material world. He was looking for something better, something eternal. Religion provided this eternal and perfect world, the world of God. As I mentioned many times earlier, Berdyaev's views on philosophy and life in general can be traced back to his religious beliefs. His idea of freedom comes from the belief in God, who created the world out of freedom, and who gave freedom to humans. His idea of creativity comes from the idea of God, the creator. His idea of objectification is based on the idea of the ultimate unobjectified spiritual reality, which is the world of God.

Berdyaev was an Orthodox Christian, even though he felt a great antipathy toward the official Church. Orthodox Christianity is a major part of Russian culture, and despite the fact that Berdyaev was skeptical toward traditions, which he saw as a suppression of his freedom, he could not escape its influence. This religion also corresponds to the inner nature of Berdyaev: it puts a great emphasis on man, it provides a high degree of freedom, and it is more mystical, more spiritual, than many other versions of Christianity.

Berdyaev chooses Christianity because of its idea of Jesus, the man-God. One of the major points in Berdyaev's philosophy is that in order to know something, a person must make it a part of himself. The idea of God being a man serves this purpose. God is brought down to earth, he becomes understandable. Man can now understand the feelings of God, because they are similar to his own, and they can be made a part of him.

This, however, creates a problem that is avoided by Berdyaev. If God is brought down to earth, than he becomes a part of the material world. The process of objectification, which Berdyaev despises, takes place. The difference between God, the spirit, and man-God is the same as between a creative conception and a creative product. Something has to be lost when God becomes a part of sinful and fallen material world. Berdyaev, however, does not even address this problem.

The question that is discussed by Berdyaev is the problem of evil in the world. For centuries theologians attempted to justify the existence of evil in the world ruled by just, omniscient, and omnipotent God. Berdyaev does not try to do this. Instead he rebels against this entire approach. "We must completely abandon the rationalistic idea that God is the king of the world, that He rules the world of nature, the world of phenomena... God rules in the kingdom of freedom, not in the kingdom of necessity, in spirit, not in the deterministic nature."39

His idea is once again that the world that we live in is merely a phase of the ultimate spiritual reality, the "kingdom of freedom". According to Berdyaev, evil and suffering exist in this objectified world because it is not ruled by God. The way to overcome the evil is through redemption and creativity which is a pathway to the "kingdom of freedom". Although Berdyaev does not state it, this idea may provide a solution to the problem of man-God being the objectified "version" of God. Since God does not rule the material world, he had to come there in the form of Jesus, he had to become a part of it to save man from sin and evil.

The point in Christianity that is contradictory to Berdyaev's philosophy is the idea of the eternal torments in hell. It also contradicts one of the major ideas of Christianity itself, that states that Jesus came to save and not to judge. Christian love, which to Berdyaev is identical to freedom, becomes limited by the fear of punishment. He explains this contradiction by saying that the concept of fear was necessary at the early stages of Christianity, because people were not mentally and psychologically ready to accept the idea of unconditional love. Later, however, the concept of punishment corrupted the church, made it a social institution rather than a spiritual one. The ethics of redemption, originally preached by Christianity, was replaced with the ethics of law. This created formalism, legalization, and rationalization of the official Church, which is the main reason for Berdyaev's opposition to it.

VII. Russia.

One of the most interesting aspects of Berdyaev is his view on Russia. Despite the fact that he lived in Paris for twenty five years, and died without ever returning to his homeland, Berdyaev is inseparable from Russia. It is very likely that only Russia could have produced such a man. It is a land of contrasts and contradictions. Its culture is unique, uniting East and West. The country has been, and still is, backward in some respects, and at the same time very advanced in others. It is a country famous for its fear and respect of authority, brilliantly described by Chekhov and Gogol, and a country famous for its peasant revolts and world-shaking revolutions. It is a country which produced great free thinkers such as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Hertsen, and Berdyaev, and whose people have always been under an oppressive totalitarian rule.

In his discussion of Russia, its history and its future, Berdyaev makes an interesting, even astonishing analogy. He says that the Russians are similar to the Jews in the messianic nature of their thinking. I call this statement astonishing because Russian Jews have always been and still are perceived as outsiders by the Russians. Jews have always been an oppressed minority, restricted in many ways, which nevertheless made great contributions to the development of Russian culture. When aristocracy and a very significant part of Russian intelligentsia were destroyed by the revolution, the Jews were probably the most educated and cultured group of people in the country.

The idea of the Russians and the Jews being similar would be considered absurd by the majorities from both sides at the present time, as well as at the time of Berdyaev. He, however, notes that both nations have a strong sense of purpose, of destiny. Both nations believe that they carry a God's message for the rest of the humanity. It is not a coincidence that Russians often called their country "The Third Rome" . They see themselves as the successors of the Byzantine Empire, which was in turn a successor of the Roman Empire. In both cases this idea of a great destiny of a nation is very spiritual, almost mystical.

Berdyaev also shares this view. Although he never returned from exile, and he was not recognized by the official Soviet philosophy, he always felt the spiritual bond with his homeland. Despite being a man of western education, heavily influenced b y great western philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche, Berdyaev still remained Russian, and continued to investigate Russia's past and worry about its future.

He summarized his views in a book entitled The Russian Idea, which is a study of the history of Russian thought and its implications. It would be a very exciting and challenging task t o discuss Russian history and Berdyaev's interpretation of it in detail, but unfortunately it is beyond the scope of this paper. "The Russian Idea" is a rather vague term that Berdyaev does not clearly define. In summary, it is the idea that Russia is a unique country that is destined to play a crucial role in the history of humanity.

The nature of this crucial role according to Berdyaev is mainly related to religion and spirituality. Interestingly, noting the diverse and contradictory nature of Russian thought he puts the main emphasis on the mystical part of it, leaving out the scientific and rational component. Based on that, he considers communism a system completely alien to the Russian people because of its materialism. He calls the Revolution a divine punishment for the sins of the nation. In doing so he ignores the rational side of the mentality of the Russians, who often make good businessmen, and he also ignores the spiritual side of the original utopian communism that, as I mentioned earlier is similar to Berdyaev's own view of a perfect society. The book creates a feeling that in defining the Russian national character as spiritual and messianic, B erdyaev oversimplifies it, giving it many traits of his own character.

Despite this oversimplification, Berdyaev was able to predict the major course of events in the modern Russian history. The lack of freedom in the ideology of Russian communists lead to a ruthless dictatorship, just as he thought it would. Berdyaev noted the catastrophic nature of the development of Russia. Its history can be separated into several descrete periods: Kievan Rus, Russia under Mongol rule, Russia of Moscow, Russia of Peter the Great, and Soviet Russia. Each of these stages of development usually ended with a disaster. Each time the country went through a period of chaos, often accompanied by violence, before entering a new era. Berdyaev believed that the Soviet period may be followed by "yet another new Russia"40. This prediction seems to be coming true. As we all know, a period of chaos has already started.


1 Biographical information has been taken from Self-cognition by Nicholai Berdyaev and Rebelliolis Prophet, by Donald A. Lowrie.
2 Berdayev, Self-cognition, p. 56.
3 Ibid., p. 61.
4 Ibid., p. 63.
5 Ibid., p. 61.
6 Nucho, Berdyaev's Philosophy, p. 99.
7 Berdayev, Self-cognition, p. 213.
8 Berdayev, The Destiny of Man, p. 128.
9 Ibid., p. 129.
10 Berdyaev, Solitude and Society, p. 20.
11 Berdyaev, Self-conginition, p. 93.
12 Berdyaev, Solitude and Society, p. 19.
13 Ibid., p. 27.
14 See above
15 Berdyaev, Solitude and Society, p. 21.
16 Ibid.
17 Berdyaev, The Beginning and the End, p. 63. 18 Nucho, Berdyaev 's Philosophy , p. 78.
19 Berdyaev, Dream and Reality, p. 288.
20 Berdyaev, The Biginning and the End, p. 62.
21 Ibid.
22 Berdyaev, Self-cognition, p. 295.
23 Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man, p. 15.
24 Ibid.
25 Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man, p. 17.
26 Ibid.
27 Ibid., p 18.
28 Ibid.
29 Ibid.
30 Ibid., p. 84.
31 Ibid., p. 85.
32 Ibid.
33 Ibid., p. 86.
34 Ibid., p. 103.
35 Ibid., p. 104.
36 Ibid., p 132.
37 Ibid., p. 133.
38 Ibid.
39 Berdyaev, Self-cognition, p. 311.
40 Berdyaev, The Russian Idea, p. 3.


Berdyaev, Nikolai. Self-cognition. Moscow: "Kniga", 1991.

Berdyaev, Nikolai. The Destiny of Man. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1960.

Berdyaev, Nikolai. The Russian Idea. Boston: Beacon Press, 1962.

Berdyaev, Nikolai. Solitude and Socitey. London: G. Bles: The Centenary Press, 1947

Berdyaev, Nikolai. The Beginning and the End. New York: Harper, 1957.

Berdyaev, Nikolai. Dream and Reality. New York: Macmillan, 1950.

Lowrie, Donald A. Rebellious Prophet. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, Publishers, 1960.

Nucho, Fuad. Berdyaev's Philosophy. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1967.