Losskii, Nikolai Onufrievich (1870–1965)

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Nikolai Losskii (Lossky), a Russian religious philosopher, was born in the province of Vitebsk in western Russia. He studied history, philology, and natural sciences at St. Petersburg University (18911898), as well as philosophy under the neo-Kantian Aleksandr Vvedenskii (18561925). Losskii continued his philosophical education in Germany (19011903) with Wilhelm Windelband, Wilhelm Wundt, and Georg Müller. He received his master's degree in 1903, and his doctorate in philosophy four years later. From 1900 Losskii taught at St. Petersburg University, where he was appointed to a chair of philosophy in 1916. In 1921 Losskii was dismissed from the university for his religious beliefs, and in 1922 he was exiled by the Soviet government from the homeland. From 1922 to 1945 he settled in Czechoslovakia, where he taught in universities in Prague, Brno, and Bratislava. From 1946 Losskii lived in the United States and taught at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York (19471950).

Losskii was a systematic philosopher and prolific writer whose works have been translated into many foreign languages. His writings cover most of the traditional philosophical disciplines, though he gave special emphasis to epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. His philosophy is variously labeled as intuitivism, hierarchical personalism, or ideal-realism, depending on what part of his comprehensive system the commentator focuses on. The central idea of Losskii's philosophy is, in his own words, the insight that "everything is immanent in everything" (Zenkovsky 1953, p. 668). In his religious views Losskii adhered to Christian doctrine, though some of his views, such as his teachings about reincarnation and creation, seem incompatible with the Orthodox tradition.

In his epistemology, Losskii rejected the possibility of transcendent knowledge and affirmed that in the process of cognition, subject and object must be connected. In acts of knowing, the object of knowledge is not a representation of an entity but the actual entity itself. The subject or self becomes cognizant of the world of nonself by a special act that Losskii called "epistemological coordination." Although the object of knowledge is part of the process of knowing, the content of knowledge contains more than its own object; rather, it is the result of the subject's efforts at comparing and distinguishing. Hence, the truth that one can achieve in the cognitive process is never complete, because the process of differentiating, however strong it may be, always leaves unexplored some part of reality.

In Losskii's theory of knowledge, named "intuitivism," intuition is not merely one aspect of cognition, but permeates all cognitive processes. Though all knowledge is intuitive by nature, knowledge can be differentiated by the type of intuition. Losskii distinguished three types of intuition: sensuous, intellectual, and mystical, corresponding respectively to the real, ideal, and metalogical levels of existence.

In his ontology, Losskii defended an "organic," or holistic, worldview. In his view, any object constitutes a system by virtue of a principle that lies beyond that system. As a systemic unity, the world requires a principle that stands beyond it and represents its foundation. This principle is called "the Absolute" in philosophy and "God" in religion. No positive definition grasps the Absolute as such, but philosophers can study its manifestations in the created world.

In the created realm, Losskii distinguished three levels of reality: the real, the abstract, and the concretely ideal, the last of which consists of living agents, whom he sometimes referred to as concrete ideal entities, substances, or, more precisely, substantival agents. As compared with the abstract ideal, which includes, for instance, abstract relations, ideal entities are active agents who independently determine their own manifestations in time. The human self is one such substantival agent. As an entity that transcends space and time, it is responsible for creating psychic processes in time and realizing material events in a spatiotemporal framework.

In Losskii's view, God's creation stops with substantival agents, who are free to choose their own evolution. The original sin of self-centeredness, symbolically described in the Biblical story of the fall of Adam and Eve, does not signify that humanity once attained perfection and then freely lost it. The life of the spirit has to result from efforts exercised by the creature itself; otherwise the creature's freedom is falsified. Those substantival agents who choose selfishness and prefer their own interests to God's will must continue their evolution on the lower levels of reality and are subjected to a long and difficult process of redemption.

Since the universe is an integral holistic system, an organism, all substantival agents are interconnected with each other. Their consubstantiality is crowned with and headed by the cosmic substance, which Losskii, following the Solov'evian tradition, called "Sophia." Though not identified with the Absolute, this supreme substance, like all other creatures belonging to the created realm, is perfect and unites the multiplicity of creation into one cosmic whole. The kingdom of God, led by Sophia, represents the ontological basis of absolute values and the ultimate goal for every substantival agent. The existence of the spiritual kingdom makes it possible for fallen beings to restore their original divine identities and to partake of the heavenly life. In the kingdom of God, everyone is in harmony with all, and everyone is all. In the life of the kingdom of God, headed by Sophia, every member experiences constant growth in all possible dimensions that ideally complement and enrich one another.

Though Losskii wrote comparatively little on political philosophy, in his few articles on the subject he consistently stood for democratic values. According to him, in the course of an increasingly complex social life, the state is unified more securely by the dispersion of power and by constitutional limits on the absolute power of the monarch. The ultimate choice between monarchy and republic depends on which can best balance the united will of the nation with the rights and development of its members.

See also Intuition; Personalism; Russian Philosophy; Solov'ëv (Solovyov), Vladimir Sergeevich; Sophia; Windelband, Wilhelm; Wundt, Wilhelm.


works by losskii

Mir kak osushchestvlenie krasoty: Osnovy estetiki (The world as the manifestation of beauty: principles of aesthetics). Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1996.

Chuvstvennaia, intellektual'naia i misticheskaia intuitsiia (Sensory, intellectual, and mystical intuition). Moscow: Respublika, 1995. Includes the following works: Tipy mirovozzrenii: Vvedenie v metafiziku (Types of worldviews: an introduction to metaphysics; 1931); Chuvstvennaia, intellektual'naia i misticheskaia intuitsiia (Sensory, intellectual, and mystical intuition; 1938); Obshchedostupnoe vvedenie v filosofiiu (A general introduction to philosophy; 1956), pt. 1 and pt. 3, chap. 21.

Bog i mirovoe zloi (God and worldly evil). Moscow: Respublika, 1994. Includes the following works: Dostoyevski i ego khristianskoe miroponimanie (Dostoyevsky and his Christian worldview; 1953); Tsennost' i bytie: Bog i Tsarstvo Bozhie kak osnova tsennostei (Value and existence: God and the kingdom of God as the basis of values; 1931); translated by S. Vinokooroff as pt. 1 of Value and Existence, by N. O. Lossky and J. S. Marshall (London: Allen and Unwin, 1935); Bog i mirovoe zlo: Osnovy teoditsei (God and worldly evil: principles of theodicy; 1941).

Istoriia russkoi filosofii. Moscow: Progress, 1994. Translated as History of Russian Philosophy (New York: International Universities Press, 1951). Includes Losskii's summary of his own philosophy.

Usloviia absoliutnogo dobra (Conditions of the absolute good). Moscow: Politicheskaia literatura, 1991. Includes the following works: Usloviia absoliutnogo dobra: Osnovy etiki (Conditions of the absolute good: principles of ethics; 1949); Kharakter russkogo naroda (The character of the Russian people; 1957).

Izbrannoe (Selected works). Moscow: Pravda, 1991. Includes the following works: Obosnovania intuitivisma (1906), translated by N. Duddington as The Intuitive Basis of Knowledge: An Epistemological Inquiry (London: Macmillan, 1919); Mir kak organicheskoe tseloe (1917), translated by N. Duddington as The World as an Organic Whole (London: Oxford, 1928); Svoboda voli (1927), translated by N. Duddington as Freedom of Will (London: Williams and Norgate, 1932).

works on losskii

Lossky, Boris, and Nadejda Lossky. Bibliographie des œuvres de Nicolas Lossky. Paris: Institut d'études slaves, 1978. A complete bibliography of works by Losskii and translations of his works. Includes a detailed chronology of his life.

Zenkovsky, V. V. A History of Russian Philosophy. Vol. 2, 630676. Translated by George L. Kline. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1953.

Mikhail Sergeev (2005)