Fëdorov, Nikolai Fëdorovich (1829–1903)

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Nikolai Fëdorovich Fëdorov was a Russian religious philosopher. From 1854 to 1868 he taught history and geography at district schools in Russia. From 1869 to 1872 he worked at the Chertkovskaia Library in Moscow, and from 1874 to 1898 he worked at the libraries of the Moscow Public and Rumiantsev Museums. For a quarter of a century he defined the spiritual atmosphere of this latter library, infusing it, in the words of his contemporaries, with the traditions of the "philosophical school." Many talented men of Russian science and culture used to gather in the catalogue room of the library where Fëdorov served to converse with the "Moscow Socrates." In the 1880s and 1890s Fëdorov met with Vladimir Sergeevich Solov'ëv, who called Fëdorov's teaching "the first progress the human spirit has made on the way of Christ." In that time period Fëdorov also carried on his religio-philosophical dialogue and debate with Lev (Leo) Nikolaevich Tolstoy.

Starting in 1851 Fëdorov expounded his ideas first orally, and then, starting in the second half of the 1870s, in large works and articles. After Fëdorov's death, his disciples V. A. Kozhevnikov and N. P. Peterson prepared for publication a three-volume collection of the philosopher's works under the title Filosoviia obshchego dela (The Philosophy of the common cause; the first two volumes were published in 1906 and 1913, respectively; the third volume remained unpublished).

In the evolutionary process Fëdorov discerned a tendency to the birth of consciousness and reason, which, beginning with man, were called to become the instruments, no longer of an unconscious, but of a conscious and morally and spiritually oriented perfecting of the world. "In us, nature begins not only to be conscious of itself but also to control itself." Man is both the crown of evolution and its agent; the labor of the cosmicization of being lies on his shoulders. In opposition to the existing parasitical and exploitative relation of man to the natural environment, which is leading civilization to the brink of catastrophe ("A civilization that exploits but does not restore can have no other result than its own end"), Fëdorov advanced the idea of the regulation of nature, which unfolds in a series of tasks. This series comprises the prevention of natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, droughts, etc.), the regulation of climate, the control of cosmic processes, labor directed at the conquest of death, andas the climax of this regulation of nature, the focus of all of its effortsthe return to a new transfigured life of all those who have departed into nonbeing, infinite creative work in a renewed Universe.

Fëdorov gave his teaching both a natural-scientific and a religious foundation. Basing his thought on the patristic tradition (St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa), he developed an actively Christian anthropology: God, in creating man in His image and likeness, acts in the world first and foremost through man, and through him He will realize the central ontological promises of the Christian faith, such as the raising of the dead, the transfiguration of their nature, and the entry into the immortal, creative eon of being, the Kingdom of Heaven. He propounded the idea of divine humanity, the collaboration of the divine and human energies in the work of salvation, and argued that the prophecies of the Revelation have only a conditional significance. Will the end of history be catastrophic, leading to the Last Judgment with the consequent division of humankind into a handful of the saved and a vast multitude of the eternally damned? Or will it be radiant, where all will be saved (the apocatastasis)? This depends on people themselves, on whether the world's movement will continue on its false, antidivine vector or whether it will redirect itself to the ways of God.

Fëdorov also gave the idea of the regulation of nature a religious interpretation. Based on the sense of the profound moral responsibility of man for the fate of the entire earth, of the entire cosmos, and of the entire creation, regulation represents the fulfillment of the biblical commandment that man be lord of the earth. "Restoration of the world to that splendid beauty of incorruption that it possessed before the Fall"that is how the philosopher of the universal task defines God's assignment to the "sons of men."

A successful outcome of history, which becomes a "work of salvation," presupposes, according to Fëdorov, the necessity of a new fundamental choice that is associated with the imperative of the evolutionary ascent of humanity. He exposes the defects of a one-sided technological development that improves machines and mechanisms but that leaves man's nature untouched and vulnerable, entirely at the mercy of the vagaries of the external environment. As an alternative, he advances the idea of organic progress that is oriented toward the transformation of the physical substance of conscious beings. As a result of this transformation, man himself, without the aid of technology, will be able to fly, to see far and deep, to build his tissues from elementary materials of the environment like plants under the effect of sunlight (here, Fëdorov anticipates what V. I. Vernadskii would later call autotrophism ), and to create necessary organs for himself or change his existing organs as a function of the medium of his habitation and action (the notion of "fullness of organs"). According to Fëdorov the body, the receptacle of the soul, must be made wholly subordinate to the consciousness; the body must be regulated and spiritualized. Spirit must achieve total power over matter, leading to a state where the forces of decay, corruption, and death are limited and finally expelled from being.

Fëdorov envisaged a radical change in philosophy. This change would consist in the rejection of abstract thought and passive contemplation, in a transition toward the definition of the values of the necessary order of things, toward the development of a plan for humanity's transformative activity. He proclaimed the inseparability of ontology and deontology ("truth is only the path to the good") and the necessity of a projective thought (the project connects the ideal and reality and seeks ways toward a practical realization of the supreme idea). He advanced the principle of the integrity and universality of knowledge ("all people must be knowers and all things must be an object of knowledge"), and he spoke of the transformation of gnoseology into gnoseo-urgy. He called his system supramoralism, establishing the foundations of a "mature," "filial" morality ("we are all brothers according to love for the fathers").

Here, he did not limit the laws of ethics to the sphere of human relationships, indicating the dependence of the moral principle in man and in society on the material and natural order of things. Unkindred and unbrotherly attitudes, he emphasized, are rooted in the depths of postlapsarian, mortal being, which is based on the law of the succession of generations, with mutual devouring, expulsion, and struggle. And therefore only one thing can guarantee the attainment of "universal kinship": the conquest of the forces of death in the external world (by means of natural-cosmic regulation) and in man himself (by means of psycho-physiological regulation). Convinced of the incompleteness of altruistic morality (where the self-sacrifice of some presupposes the eternal egotism of others), Fëdorov offers the formula, "[N]ot for oneself and not for others, but with all and for all." He resolved the antinomy of individualism and collectivism through the principle of sobornost (communalism or all-togetherness), affirming the latter as the foundation of the perfect social organization (society "according to the type of the Trinity").

Fëdorov also interpreted the meaning of culture in the light of the idea of immortality and the raising of the dead. He viewed culture as an attempt at an "imaginary raising from the dead," as an impulse to preserve the memory of that which had lived in the past. He put a high value on museums and libraries as centers of the universal human memory. He dreamed of a radical expansion of the activity of museums and libraries, of their transformation into centers of collection, investigation, education, and training, around which associations of scholars would be grouped, associations of "specialists in all domains of human knowledge." By becoming an instrument of the universal task, the museum, according to Fëdorov, was to animate knowledge with a heartfelt feeling of kinship, with a spirit of love for fathers and ancestors, thus serving the restoration of the brotherly connection of people.

Fëdorov's philosophy is at the origin of the Russian religio-philosophical renaissance and helps to define the fundamental themes of the latter. His philosophy is the source of the actively evolutionary noospheric thought of the twentieth century (N. A. Umov, V. I. Vernadskii, and A. L. Chizhevskii). Various talented representatives of Russian literature were influenced, at different times and to different degrees, by The Philosophy of the Common Task : Fëdor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, Valerii Briusov and Vladimir Maiakovskii, Nikolai Kliuev and Velimir Khlebnikov, Mikhail Prishvin and Maksim Gorky, Andrei Platonov and Boris Pasternak. Fëdorov's theurgic aesthetics (the transition from an "art of imitations" to the creative work of life to the liturgical synthesis of the arts) exerted an influence on the philosophical-aesthetic quests at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century (Solov'ëv, Belyi, Viacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov, V. Chekrygin, P. Filonov, and others).

See also Aesthetics, History of; Consciousness; Darwinism; Dostoevsky, Fyodor Mikhailovich; Gregory of Nyssa; Patristic Philosophy; Reason; Russian Philosophy; Solov'ëv (Solovyov), Vladimir Sergeevich; Tolstoy, Lev Nikolaevich.


works by fËdorov

Sochineniia (Works). Moscow, 1982.

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). Vols. 14. Moscow, 19951999.

What Was Man Created For? The Philosophy of the Common Task: Selected Works, edited by E. Kontaissoff and M. Minto. Lausanne, Switzerland: Henyglen/L'Age d'Homme, 1990.

works on fËdorov

Kozhevnikov, V. A. Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov. Part 1. Moscow, 1908.

Gorsky, A. K. Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov i sovremennost' (Nikolai Fëdorovich Fëdorov and the present time). Issues 14. Harbin, 19281933.

Hagemeister, Michael. Nikolaj Fedorov: Studien zu Leben, Werk, und Wirkung. Munich: Sagner, 1989.

Koehler, L. N. F. Fedorov: The Philosophy of Action. Pittsburgh, PA, 1979.

Lukashevich, Stephen. N. F. Fedorov (18281903): A Study in Russian Eupsychian and Utopian Thought. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1977.

Semenova, S. G. Filosof budushchego veka Nikolai Fedorov (Philosopher of the future age, Nikolai Fëdorov). Moscow, 2004.

Semenova, S. G. Nikolai Fedorov: Tvorchestvo zhizni (Nikolai Fëdorov: The creativity of life). Moscow, 1990.

Young, George M., Jr. Nikolai F. Fedorov: An Introduction. Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1979.

S. G. Semenova (2005)

Translated by Boris Jakim (2005)