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




On Spirit

Man's highest consciousness of himself is not explicable by the world of nature and remains a mystery to that world. ... Man is not only of this world but of another world; not only of necessity, but of freedom; not only out of nature, but from God.... (MCA, 61)

Spirit is, as it were, the breath of God penetrating man's being and communicating a higher dignity, a higher quality of his existence, inner independence and unity.... (SR)(CE, 37)

The problems of life cannot be solved by the automatic application of universally-valid norms. We cannot say that under the same conditions one must act in one certain way, everywhere and always. This cannot be said, first of all, because conditions are never exactly the same. We might state the maxim conversely: man must act individually and solve the moral problems of life individually, must manifest his creativity in the moral acts of his life.... (DM, 152)

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 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)

Man's fate is a mystery, not to be unraveled within the small section of eternal life which we call man's earthly, empirical life. The destiny of every man is immersed in eternity, and in eternity the deciphering of its meaning is to be sought. Within the limits of our brief life, everything appears accidental, meaningless and unjust. But everything takes on meaning and finds justification in eternity. (PI, 42)

Man is a being who transcends himself, passes out beyond his own limits, a being with a tendency toward mystery and the infinite. But the experience of the transcendent, of transcending, is an inward, spiritual experience, and in this sense it may be called immanent. But here immanent does not mean than man remains within his own bounds, but rather that he passes out beyond them. The transcendent comes to man from within, from the depths. God is deeper within me than I, myself, as St. Augustine has said, I must transcend myself. The depths within a man may be closed off, and these depths demand a break-through, transcendence. Through this transcendence the secret in man is made manifest: this is revelation. (DH, 62)

It may be that transcendental consciousness has firm and immovable bases for knowledge, but transcendental consciousness is not man: man is fated to be psychological consciousness which is in the power of relativism. And there is no explanation of how transcendental consciousness takes possession of psychological consciousness, or how the latter can give rise to transcendental consciousness. It is of no help to me as a man, as a living, concrete subject, as one who has given himself the daring aim of knowing, that there is such a thing as transcendental consciousness, that in it is a priori, that in this ultra-human sphere scepticism and relativism have been conquered from the very beginning. For me it is important to conquer scepticism and relativism in the human sphere, in the man who knows.... I wish to know, myself, and not leave knowing to some ... world-reason: I want knowledge as a creative act of man. (DM, 13)

Man may know himself from above or from below, from his own light, from the divine element within him, and he may know himself from his darkness, from his elemental-subconscious, from the demonic element within himself. And he may do this because he is a dual and a contradictory being, a being polarized to the highest degree, god-like and beast-like, high and low, free and slave, capable of rising to the heights or of falling, capable of great love and sacrifice or of great cruelty and limitless egotism. (FS, I,19)

Once a man has recognized that he is a free and creative spirit, by this very fact he makes the solution of life's tragic conflicts dependent on his freedom and his creativity, and not on the abstract acceptance of a uniform universally-valid law. (DM, 167)

It is impossible to come to being, one can only proceed from it.

Last revised: February 22, 2008