Trubetskoi, Sergei

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TRUBETSKOI, SERGEI (18621905), scion of an old noble family in Russia, was professor of philosophy at the University of Moscow. Weeks before his death Sergei Nikolaevich Trubetskoi became the university's first elected rector. He was instrumental in popularizing philosophical idealism. His philosophical and religious convictions led him to take public stands on the major issues of the day, positions which brought him national prominence. At an audience with the tsar in June 1905 Prince Trubetskoi was the spokesman of the moderate liberals. A close confidant of Vladimir Solov'ev, Trubetskoi worked within the philosophical tradition of idealism that encompassed Plato, Kant, the Russian Slavophiles, especially Ivan Kireevskii, and the Western mystics, particularly Jakob Boehme. Trubetskoi's interest in the history of philosophy led him to the history of religion. He wrote an introduction to the Russian edition of Karl Barth's Religions of India and prepared a bibliography on the history of religion for the Russian edition of P. D. Chantepie de la Saussaye's Illustrated History of Religions.

Trubetskoi's work was based on philological as well as historical study and demonstrates an amalgamation of philosophical and religious concerns. He maintained that while no strictly philosophical system can solve all the problems raised by philosophy, Christianity does hold solutions to these problems. For Trubetskoi, sophia (wisdom) is an intermediary between the absolute and humanity. He argued that the Logos, which he traced not to the philosophy of the Greeks but to Jewish gnosticism, refers to the concrete person of Christ rather than to a rational concept that might be linked to sophia. He rejected the notion of God as the absolute actualizing itself in history since, in his view, the absolute, by its very nature, could not be in the process of becoming. Trubetskoi held that Christianity, with its absolute and autonomous system of morality, is the vehicle through which the potential for the kingdom of God can be realized.

The source of true knowledge, according to Trubetskoi, lay in reason, sensibility, innate ideas, mystical experience, and faith, all of which reflect what he refers to as the "concrete consciousness" of each individual. Knowledge is possible because the human being is conscious of an external reality and is also part of that reality. Consciousness is not solely the function of the individual but of the species collectively. Hence, Trubetskoi considered the consciousness of causality to be both innate and based upon external reality. In his statement, "Whenever I make any decision I hold within myself a conference about all with all," Trubetskoi encapsulated a theory he characterized as "metaphysical socialism."

Because human beings have the capacity to reason, Trubetskoi argued, it follows that humankind can rise above natural causes and act morally. Eventually, humanity or society can develop the capacity to become a real organism, an eternal person. Although Trubetskoi posited the collectivity of consciousness, he maintained that value lay with the individual, since it is the individual who can reason and know. He defended the immortality of the individual soul and the freedom of the individual from external constraints. His conscious attempts to popularize philosophy drew him into the public arena. The reactionary wing of the Russian Orthodox clergy, which resented lay interference and the intrusion of philosophy into religion, accused Trubetskoi of undermining religion, while in actuality he sought to make it meaningful to the educated.


Among Trubetskoi's major works are Metafizika v drevnei Gretsii (Metaphysics in Ancient Greece; 1890), Uchenie o logose v istorii (A Study of the Logos in History; 1900), "Psikhologicheskii determinizm i nravstvennaia svoboda" (Psychological Determinism and Moral Freedom; 1894), "Etika i dogmatika" (Ethics and Dogmatics; 1895), "Osnovaniia idealizma" (Foundations of Idealism; 1896), and "Vera v bezsmertie" (Belief in Immortality; 1902). The articles were published in Voprosy filosofii i psikhologii (Issues in Philosophy and Psychology), a journal Trubetskoi was instrumental in founding. His collected works are available as Sobranie sochinenii kn. Sergeia Nikolaevicha Trubetskogo, 6 vols. in 5, edited by L. M. Lopatin (Moscow, 19071912). For further discussion of Trubetskoi, see my book S. N. Trubetskoi: An Intellectual among the Intelligentsia in Pre-Revolutionary Russia, with an introduction by Georges Florovsky (Belmont, Mass., 1976).

Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak (1987)