Nikolai Berdyaev
1874 - 1948

Philosophy ... is the creative perception by the spirit
of the meaning of human existence.
-- Solitude and Society



Biographical Note
    by E. L. Allen
Brief Biography
    by Nino Langiulli

Berdyaev's Philosophy

Berdyaev Quotes
8th Day of Creation

Articles & Essays


Discussion List




Berdyaev's Philosophy

1. Freedom

Berdyaev's philosophy starts with freedom, which he maintains is the basis of all else. Freedom is the context of our existence which cannot be judged or determined by anything else, for otherwise it would not be freedom.

Freedom is the ultimate: it cannot be derived from anything: it cannot be made the equivalent of anything. Freedom is the baseless foundation of being: it is deeper than all being. (MCA,145)

In spite of this, freedom has still to be achieved.

It would be a mistake to think that the average man loves freedom. A still greater mistake would be to suppose that freedom is an easy thing. Freedom is a difficult thing. It is easier to remain in slavery. (SF, 247)

2. Objectivization

Freedom cannot be understood or tolerated by the objective mind, that part of us which tries to control reality for our comfort and security. The objective mind has split the world into subject and object, self and others, Spirit and nature, and so on. This activity, which Berdyaev called "objectivization" has both benefits and drawbacks.

Freedom is more primary than being: it cannot be determined by our being; it is bottomless, foundationless. In determination, in rationalization, that is to say in objectivization, freedom disappears. (TR, 56)

3. Truth

Our notion of truth is presently under the spell of objectivization. Only what can be objectively verified is considered to be true, genuine, and trustworthy. The rulership of objective thinking, which plays itself out as science and technology, alienates and suffocates both the life of the spirit and the individual.

Truth has two meanings: there is truth as knowledge of reality, and truth as reality itself. (BE, 48)

Where shall we seek criteria of truth? All too often men seek these criteria in what is lower than truth, in the objective world with its compulsions, seek criteria for spirit in the material world. And they fall into a vicious circle. Discursive truth can provide no criteria for final truth: it is only at the half-way mark, and knows neither the beginning nor the end. Every proof rests upon the unproven, the postulate, the created. There is risk, and no guarantee. The very search for guarantee is wrong and really means subjecting the higher to the lower. Freedom of the spirit knows no guarantees. The sole criterion of truth is truth itself, the light which streams out of it. (BE, 49)

Truth has nothing to do with the objective world, but rather is related to spirit. Truth is something present and immediate.

Truth is the awakening of spirit in man, his communion with spirit. (BE, 48)

Truth is not of the world, but of the spirit: it is known only in transcending the objective world. Truth is the end of this objective world, it demands our consent to this end. (BE, 72)

4. Spirit

Like truth, the spiritual dimension is not arrived at from the natural world. It exists in its own right and does not need to be proven or demonstrated. To seek to do so is to put the cart before the horse.

Spiritual experience is the supreme reality in man's life: in it the divine not proven, it is simply shown. (FS, I,36)

The reality of spirit is witnessed by the whole experience of mankind, by all its higher life. Denial of this reality is blindness and deafness to realities, the incapacity to distinguish qualities of being, or incapacity to describe that which is distinguished. Spirit is otherwise real than the world of natural things. This reality is not proven, but evidenced by those who are capable of distinguishing qualities. (SR, 31)

It is spirit that points to the overcoming of objectivism.

The struggle against the power of objectivization is ... a spiritual revolution.

5. Personality

While objectivization obliterates the person in the universal and the general, spirit re-establishes and affirms the value of the individual over against the static, lifeless, normal, determined, and objective.

Man's soul is more precious than all the kingdoms of the world: the fate of the person comes before everything else. (DR, 321)

To Berdyaev, personality is more than just our way of being in the world. It is the priceless, unrepeatable value of the person.

The secret of the existence of personality lies in its absolute irreplaceability, its happening but once, its uniqueness, its incomparableness. (SF, 23)

Personality is like nothing else in the world, there is nothing with which it can be compared, nothing which can be placed on a level with it. (SF, 21)

Although the personality appears to be inferior to society, the world and the universe, it in fact contains these and is of greater value than all of them.

But personality is not part of the universe, the universe is a part of personality, it is its quality. Such is the paradox of personalism. (SF, 22)

Personality contains the universe within it, but this inclusion of the universe takes place not in the sphere of the object world but in the sphere of the subject world, that is to say of existentiality. (SF, 135)

Personality as an existential centre, presupposes capacity to feel suffering and joy. Nothing in the object world, nation or state or society, or social institution, or church, possesses this capacity. (SF, 27)

The value of the person over the collective does not imply individualism or oppose community.

The affirmation of the supreme value of personality is not at all concern for personal salvation, but rather the expression of the person's supreme creative calling in the life of the world. (DM, 314)

Personality is communal; it presupposes communion with others, and community with others. The profound contradiction and difficulty of human life is due to this communality. (SF, 46)

6. Creativity

The end of objectivization will mean the recognition of creativity as each person's highest purpose and fulfilment, for "only he who is free, creates."

Creativity is something which proceeds from within, out of immeasurable and inexplicable depths, not from without, not from the world's necessity. The very desire to make the creative act understandable, to find a basis for it, is failure to comprehend it. To comprehend the creative act means to recognize that it is inexplicable and without foundation. (MCA, 145)

Creativity means a participation in the mystery of existence. It lives in the abyss of freedom.

Creativity is the supreme mystery of life, the mystery of the appearance of something new, hitherto unknown, derived from nothing, proceeding from nothing, born of nothing other.... (DM, 135)

Creativity is our ultimate destination - not evolution which is governed by necessity and determinism, nor the current fashion of self-development.

True life is creativity, not development: it is the freedom for creative acts, for creative fire, rather than necessity and the heaviness of congealing self-perfection. (DM, 140)

Creativity does not just mean producing a work of art. Rather it is the transformation of self and the world.

In every artistic activity a new world is created, the cosmos, a world enlightened and free. (MCA, 225)

The essential in artistic creativity is victory over the burden of necessity. In art, man lives outside himself, outside his burdens, the burdens of life. Every creative artistic act is a partial transfiguration of life. In the artistic concept man breaks out through the heaviness of the world. In the creative-artistic attitude towards this world we catch a glimpse of another world. (MCA, 225)

7. The Third Epoch or "Eighth Day of Creation"

Berdyaev could see the coming of a time when our creative potential will be more developed. We will then be in a position to collaborate with God to re-create the world.

In the religion of the Spirit, the religion of freedom, everything ... will be founded, not upon judgment and recompense, but on creative development and transfiguration, on likeness to God. (DH, 222)
We are standing on the threshold of a world-epoch of religious creativeness, on a cosmic divide. (MCA, 103)

This will reverse the effects of the "fall of man" and bring in a new era, the "Third Epoch", and a religion of the Spirit.

The world has not yet seen a religious epoch of creativeness. The world knows only the religious epochs of the Old Testament law and New Testament redemption. (MCA, 101)

The three epochs of divine revelation in the world are the three epochs of the revelation about man. In the first epoch man's sin is brought to light and a natural divine force is revealed; in the second epoch man is made a son of God and redemption from sin appears; in the third epoch the divinity of man's creative nature is finally revealed and divine power becomes human power. (MCA, 320)

Berdyaev's vision is of humanity overcoming the gap that separates us from God through the creative act, and in the process becoming divinized.

The third creative revelation in the Spirit will have no holy scripture; it will be no voice from on high; it will be accomplished in man and in humanity - it is an anthropological revelation, an unveiling of the Christology of man. (MCA, 107)

The dawn of the creative religious epoch also means a most profound crisis in man's creativity. The creative act will create new being rather than values of differentiated culture; in the creative act life will not be quenched. Creativity will continue creation; it will reveal the resemblance of human nature to the Creator. In creativity the way will be found for subject to pass into object, the identity of subject with object will be restored. All the great creators have foreseen this turning-point. Today, in the depths of culture itself and in all its separate spheres, this crisis of creativity is ripening. (MCA, 120)


Copyright © 1998, Dirk H. Kelder
Last revised: February 22, 2008