Kireevskii, Ivan Vasil'evich (1806–1856)

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Ivan Vasil'evich Kireevskii, Russian literary critic and religious philosopher, was born in Moscow in a family of the old nobility related to the important poet Vasilii Zhukovskii (17831852). Kireevskii's father died in 1812 after contracting typhus in a hospital he founded for wounded soldiers. After his father's death, the young boy's education was largely guided by Zhukovskii, who did much for the development of Kireevskii's literary talent. Zhukovskii repeatedly affirmed, with total sincerity, that his young relative could become a fine writer. In 1823 Kireevskii became a member of the Obshchestvo liubomudrov (Society of the lovers of wisdom), organized by Dmitrii Venevitinov and Prince Vladimir Odoevskii for the study of German philosophy, especially Schelling. To complete his education, Kireevskii went abroad in 1830. In Germany he attended the lectures of Hegel, Schelling, and Schleiermacher. When he returned to Russia, he began to publish the journal Evropeets (The European, 1832), which was soon prohibited by the government. The orientation of the journal was somewhat "pro-Western": Kireevskii had set himself the task of synthesizing Western-European and Russian thought.

Kireevskii's further evolution was closely connected with Slavophilism. In 1845, for a period of time he was the editor of the Slavophile journal Moskovitianin (The Muscovite); and later he expounded his religio-philosophical ideas in the collection of articles Moskovsii Sbornik (Moscow collection, 1852), published by the Slavophile circle. In the final years of his life, Kireevskii was working on a course of philosophy in which his intent was to clearly display the distinguishing characteristics of the Russian philosophical tradition. The course was not completed. Kireevskii's collected works were first published in 1861, in two volumes.

The central idea of Kireevskii's philosophy was the integrity of the spirit: A human being can remain a person as long as he preserves in himself the unity of his "mind and heart," the "integrity" of his consciousness, of his "inner organization." Meanwhile, Kireevskii's epistemological theories were closely connected with his sociohistorical views. Only by attaining a harmonious "integral thinking" can the person and society avoid the two extremes: the ignorance that separates a nation from the "living communion of minds" and "abstract logical thinking" (rationalism) that fragments the integrity of the spirit into its separate elements (Kireevskii 1984, pp. 221222).

Kireevskii tended to associate what he perceived as the limitations of Western society primarily with the one-sidedness of rationalism. He viewed Hegel as the final and supreme peak of Western rationalistic thought, continuing the tradition of Aristotle. In assessing various attempts to overcome rationalism in Europe (Schelling), Kireevskii considered that their failure was predetermined: Philosophy depends on the "character of the dominant faith," but in the Catholic-Protestant West the two dominant Christian faiths are, according to the Slavophile assessment, profoundly rationalistic. Kireevskii's own allegiance was to Orthodox theism, and he viewed the future "new" philosophy as a harmony of reason and Orthodox faith based on feeling.

Kireevskii thought that Western culture had already passed the highest point of its development and exhausted its potential. In his article "On the Nature of European Culture and on its Relationship to Russian Culture," Kireevskii writes that contemporary Western man "fragments his life into separate strivings or tendencies"; in "one corner of his heart there lives the religious sense; in another corner, separately, there live the powers of the intelligence and exertions related to everyday occupations; in a third corner there lives the desire for sensuous pleasures; in a fourth there lives moral feeling related to family life; and in a fifth there lives the desire for personal gain" (Kireevskii 1984, pp. 203, 229). That is, the souls of contemporary Westerners is mosaiclike, fragmented.

According to Kireevskii, such a transformation of human consciousness into a "calculating machine" will lead, in the final analysis, to the triumph of the lower desires, the instincts, where people will shut themselves up in their physical persons and desire only material comfort. It is precisely for this reason that Kireevskii began to seek the sources of a "new" and "young" philosophy, which was destined to supplant rationalism, overcome the fragmentedness of man's being, and lead to the "integral spirit." Kireevskii turned his glance toward the Russo-Slavic culture, in which, in his opinion, Orthodoxy was the principle that unified all spheres of life, combining spirit, reason, conscience, will, and feeling into a "thinking that believes." This thesis of Kireevskii's was, not without justification, called "epistemological utopianism" by Vasilii Zenkovsky, the well-known historian of Russian philosophy.

Kireevskii attempted to answer the question of why the European and Russian cultures were separated as it were by an invisible wall. In doing so, he defined the sources of the European culture of his day. He identified three such principles or "elements": (1) the influence of the Christian religion; (2) the spirit of the barbarian nations that destroyed the Roman Empire; and (3) the remnants of the ancient world, of classical scholarship. Kireevskii analyzed these principles of Western civilization and arrived at the conclusion that the development of Russia lacked the classical heritage of the ancient world.

This "lack of the classical world" (Kireevskii 1984, p. 72) was, in his opinion, the reason why the influence of the Orthodox Church on Russia was not as strong as the influence of the Roman Catholic Church on the Western European countries, the Roman Church having experienced the enormous influence of the Roman government and Roman law on its organization. As a result, the Christian church in Russia could not become a force that would unite spiritually and politically fragmented Russia, which because of this fragmentation fell subject to the Tatar Yoke for several centuries. On the one hand, without a spiritual center (the kind of center that the Vatican was for fragmented Europe), Russia could be unified not spiritually but only materially (in other words, not in a spiritual but in a material sobornost ), and this material unification took many centuries. On the other hand, the peculiar character of the development of Russia led to a situation where the Russo-Slavic world found itself separated and protected from Europe's deadening rationalism, the external and formal character of Europe's juridical law (inherited from Rome), and the coercive character of European governmental power, which was formed as a result of military conquests; moreover, in these circumstances, the Church in Russia had preserved its "purity," remaining independent of the governmental authority and secular goals.

Eastern Christianity, leading (as Kireevskii believed) from discursive rationalistic thinking to a free moral intuitive understanding, was assimilated by Russia in a form undistorted by the classical heritage. According to Kireevskii, the purity and undistorted character of its Christian principles are what give Russian culture a right to claim that it has a special role to play in the history of humankind. The "seed" (which is how he figuratively referred to the religious idea) has fallen onto a special "soil"the Slavic national soul, which is characterized "both by dignity and by humility, attesting to equilibrium of spirit" (Kireevskii 1984, p. 224). But the main thing is that the Slavic "soil" is characterized by an original native principle of the organization of social lifethe obshchina (or Russian commune). Not the personal right to property (as in the West) but the communal ownership of land is the foundation of the "relations of social life" in Russian society, for which individualism is a foreign principle. This is precisely why Kireevskii believed that the "new" philosophy and culture, so indispensable for humankind, could arise in his country. He associated the birth of this new thinking not with the construction of systems but with a radical transformation of the social consciousness, with the "education of society" as a result of common efforts rooted in sobornost. In this way, society will experience the infusion of a new philosophy that will overcome rationalism. This new philosophy will reorient humankind's spiritual life and produce in both society and in the individual an inner integrity of consciousness, a harmony of the social life.

By no means did this opposition between the Western fragmentedness and individualism and the Russian integrity and sobornost lead Kireevskii to reject the Western tradition. He dreamt of "integrity"; and here his ideal was the synthesis of what he considered the best features of the spiritual life of the West and of the East in such a manner that the "Russian principles," without nullifying European culture, would bestow upon the latter "higher meaning and definitive development" (Kireevskii 1984, p. 238). In the light of this, for Kireevskii the task of an original Russian philosophy would be the reworking of contemporary Western philosophy in the spirit of the teachings of Eastern patristics.

Kireevskii's views influenced a number of twentieth-century Russian philosophers, including Nikolai Berdiaev, Sergei Bulgakov, and Dmitrii Merezhkovskii. Kireevskii's central ideasfor example, about Orthodoxy as the foundation of Russian culture; the "conciliar" (soborny ) nature of knowledge; and the fundamental difference between the European and Russian cultural traditionshave had a great impact and become the subject of close study by philosophers both in Russia and in Europe and North America.

See also Aristotle; Berdyaev, Nikolai Aleksandrovich; Bulgakov, Sergei Nikolaevich; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Rationalism; Russian Philosophy; Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von; Schleiermacher, Friedrich Daniel Ernst; Zen'kovskii, Vasilii Vasil'evich.


works by kireevskii

Izbrannye stat'i [Selected articles], edited by V. Kotelnikov, Moscow: Sovremennik, 1984.

On Spiritual Unity: A Slavophile Reader. Translated and edited by Boris Jakim and Robert Bird. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne, 1998.

"On the Nature of European Culture and Its Relation to the Culture of Russia." In Russian Intellectual History: An Anthology, edited by Marc Raeff. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1978.

Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenii [Complete works]. Edited by Mikhail Gershenzon. 2 vols. Moscow, 1911.

works about kireevskii

Christoff, P. K. An Introduction to Nineteenth-Century Russian Slavophilism: A Study in Ideas. Vol. 2, I. V. Kireevskij. The Hague: Mouton, 1972.

Gleason, Abbott. European and Muscovite: Ivan Kireevsky and the Origin of Slavophilism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972.

Zenkovsky, V. V. Istoriia russkoi filosofii. 2 vols. Paris, 19481950. Translated by George L. Kline as A History of Russian Philosophy. 2 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1953). See volume 1, 207227.

Olga Volkogonova (2005)

Translated by Boris Jakim