Solov'ëv (Solovyov), Vladimir Sergeevich (1853–1900)

views updated


Vladimir Sergeevich Solov'ëv was a Russian philosopher, poet, polemical essayist, and literary critic. His father, S. M. Solov'ëv, was an eminent historian and professor at Moscow University.

After graduating in 1873 from the historico-philological department of Moscow University, Solov'ëv studied for a year at the Moscow Theological Academy. In 1874 he defended his master's dissertation, Krizis zapadnoi filosofii. Protiv pozitivistov (The crisis of western philosophy: Against positivists) and was elected a docent of philosophy at Moscow University. During 18751876 he conducted research at the British Library, where he concentrated on mystical and Gnostic literature, including Jakob Boehme, Paracelsus, Emanuel Swedenborg, and the kabbalah.

Having a poetic and impressionable nature, Solov'ëv apparently possessed mediumistic gifts. Several times he had visions of Sophia, or the Eternal Feminine; he tells about one such vision, which he had in Egypt in 1875, in his poem "Three Meetings." After his return to Russia, he resumed lecturing at Moscow University; but in 1877, because of conflicts among the professors, he left the university and went to Petersburg to serve on the Scholarly Committee of the Ministry of National Education, meanwhile giving lectures at Petersburg University and at the Higher Courses for Women.

In 1877 he published the essay "Filosofskie nachala tsel'nlgo znaniia" (Philosophical principles of integral knowledge); during 18771880 he wrote the study Kritika otvlechennykh nachal (Critique of abstract principles); and in 1878 he began reading the cycle of Chteniia o bogochelovechestve (Lectures on godmanhood).

On March 28, 1881, after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, Solov'ëv, in a public lecture on the incompatibility of capital punishment with Christian morality, called on the new tsar to refrain from executing the assassins. His lecture provoked a fierce reaction; the relations between the philosopher and the authorities were ruined, and he left public and academic service, becoming a professional writer.

In the 1880s his attention was focused on sociopolitical and religious questions. His most important works of this period were Dukhovnye osnovy zhizni (Spiritual foundations of life; 18821884), Velikii spor i khristianskaia politika (The great dispute and Christian politics; 1883), Istoriia i budushchnost' teokratii (The history and the future of theocracy; Zagreb, 1886), Tri rechi v pamiat' Dostoevskogo (Three speeches in memory of Dostoevsky; 18811883), La Russie et l'Eglise Universelle (Paris, 1889; Russian translation, 1911), and the cycle of essays Natsional'nyi vopros v Rossii (The national question in Russia; 18831891).

In the 1890s Solov'ëv returned to philosophical: work proper. He wrote the essay "Smysl liubvi" (The meaning of love; 18921894) and the treatise on ethics Opravdanie dobra (The justification of the good; 18941895); he proposed a new interpretation of the theory of knowledge in essays unified under the title Pervoe nachalo teoreticheskoi filosofii (The first principle of theoretical philosophy; 18971899); and his last significant work, Tri razgovora (Three conversations; 18991900), was devoted to the problem of evil. Excessive work and unsettled life ruined Solov'ëv's health, which had always been poor. He died near Moscow as a guest on the estate of his friends, the Princes Trubetskoi.

In his spiritual development, Solov'ëv experienced many influences that determined the orientation and character of his thought. In early youth he assimilated socialist ideas: the quest for social truth and faith in progress, which were characteristic for Russian thought and in fact for the nineteenth century in general. From the Slavophiles Solov'ëv assimilated the idea of "integral knowledge," which offered an answer to the question of the meaning of human existence, as well as to that of the goal of the cosmic and historical process. According to Solov'ëv the subject of this process is humanity as a single organism, a concept borrowed from Auguste Comte. This approach is based on Solov'ëv's belief in the reality of the universal, a belief formed under the influence of Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza and of German idealism, especially Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

Solov'ëv was also greatly influenced by thinkers who attributed a metaphysical significance to the concept of the will: Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, Eduard von Hartmann, and especially Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling. If Solov'ëv owes his dialectical method primarily to Hegel, his theology, metaphysics, and aesthetics bear the stamp of the influence of voluntaristic metaphysics. Solov'ëv converges with Schelling in his romantic aesthetic approach to problems of religion and in his erotic mysticism that culminates in the cult of the Eternal Feminine, the world soul. A significant role in the formation of Solov'ëv's views belonged to the Christian Platonism of P. D. Iurkevich, especially the latter's doctrine of the heart as the center of spiritual life. Solov'ëv creatively transformed these multifarious influences in his doctrine by developing a systematic philosophy, which, however, was not free of a number of difficulties and contradictions. In his works one finds a sober assessment and constructive critique of many philosophical conceptions that had previously contributed to forming his worldview.

Being and Existence

Solov'ëv constructs his philosophical system according to a schema of history as the development of the world spirit, that is, as a theo-cosmo-historical process. He rejects the secularism that permeates modern European philosophy and, following the early Slavophiles, seeks to attain integral knowledge that presupposes the unity of theory and practical activity. His goal is "to introduce the eternal content of Christianity into a new rational unconditional form proper to this content" (19081923, p. 2:89).

In other words, his goal is to justify this content by means of "theosophy," an investigation of the nature of God. Like the Slavophiles, Solov'ëv critiques abstract thought (particularly Hegel's idealism) from the vantage point of spiritualistic realism, which requires that thought, the thinking subject, and the thought content be separated into distinct elementselements that coincide for Hegel in the absolute idea. According to Solov'ëv, that which genuinely exists is not a concept or an empirical given but a real spiritual entity, the subject of will, existent (sushchee ). The bearers of power and volition, spirits and souls alone possess reality; following Kant and Schopenhauer, Solov'ëv considers the empirical world to be only a phenomenon and describes it as being, in contradistinction to existent. The first and supreme "existent," God, is defined by Solov'ëv in the spirit of neoplatonism and the kabbalah as a positive nothingness, which is the direct opposite of Hegel's negative nothingnesspure being obtained by abstraction from all positive definitions. Having defined existence as that which appears, and being as a phenomenon, Solov'ëv thus interprets the connection between God and the world as the connection between essence and phenomenon, establishing a relation of necessity between the transcendent foundation of the world and the world itself, which can be known by means of reasonwith the aid of so-called organic logic.

However, there is a certain contradiction between Solov'ëv's mystical realism and his rationalistic method: If that which is, is a transcendent spiritual entity, one can have knowledge of it only on the basis of revelation. It is inaccessible to rational knowledge. However, Solov'ëv is convinced that the rationally unfathomable existent can be an object of mystical contemplation, of intellectual intuition understood in a special manner and identified by Solov'ëv with the state of inspiration. Following Schelling and the Romantics, Solov'ëv takes intellectual intuition to be akin to the productive capacity of the imagination and, accordingly, he takes philosophy to be akin to artistic creation, interpreting here the creative act by analogy with the passively mediumistic trance state. Solov'ëv considers the ecstatic inspired state to be the origin of philosophical knowledge:

The action upon us of ideal entities, producing in us the intellectual or contemplative knowledge (and creation) of their ideal forms or ideas, is what is called inspiration. This action takes us out of our ordinary natural center and raises us to a higher sphere, thereby producing ecstasy. Thus the directly defining principle of true philosophical knowledge is inspiration. (19111914, p. 1:294)

By identifying the direct action of transcendent entities on people with the intellectual contemplation of ideas, Solov'ëv removes the boundary between rational thought and mystical vision; and the removal of the distinction between mystically interpreted intellectual intuition and the productive capacity of the imagination leads to the confusion of artistic imagination with religious revelation and to a magical and occultist interpretation of art, characteristic not only of Solov'ëv but also of the symbolists whom he influenced. It is precisely in this manner that Solov'ëv understands the synthesis of philosophy, religion, and art. According to Solov'ëv the divine "That Which Is" is revealed directly, with the aid of sensation or emotion; and therefore no proofs of the existence of God are required: His reality cannot be logically derived from pure reason but is given only by an act of faith. Nevertheless, the content of the divine "Existent" is revealed with the aid of reason.


Solov'ëv describes the Absolute as the "eternal all-one" (19111914, p. 3:234), or as the "One and all." This means that all that which exists is contained in the Absolute: The all-unity is unity in multiplicity. According to Solov'ëv the one is independent of the all (the term absolute means "detached," "liberated"), and consequently it is defined negatively in relation to the other. But since it cannot have anything outside itself, it is defined positively in relation to the other. Thus, two poles or centers are eternally present in it: (1) independence of all forms, of all manifestation; and (2) the power that produces being, that is, the multiplicity of forms. The first pole is the One; the second is the potency of being, or the first matter, which, as in Boehme, is included in the Absolute as "its other," as the first substrate, or the "ground" of God.

Solov'ëv clarifies the concept of the first matter in terms of Schellingian-Schopenhaurean definitionsas power, attracting, striving, and originating in Boehme's doctrine of the "dark nature" in God, the doctrine of the unconscious depths of Divinity as the principle of evil. The inseparability of the two poles of That Which Exists signifies that the Absolute cannot appear except as actualized in matter, and matter cannot appear except as idea, as the actualized image of the One. In his Critique of Abstract Principles Solov'ëv describes the second pole of the all-unity, that is, the first matter (which is idea, or nature), as the becoming all-one, in contrast to the first pole, which is the existent all-one (19111914, p. 2:299). This means that the Absolute cannot exist except as actualized in its other. The pantheistic basis of this conception is obvious: This view of the relation between God and the world differs from the Christian idea of creation. The becoming all-one is the world soul, which, being the foundation of the entire cosmic process, only "in man first receives its proper inner activity, finds itself, is conscious of itself" (pp. 2:302303).


In his Lectures on Godmanhood Solov'ëv attempts to translate the self-sundering of the Absolute into the language of Christian theology, giving his own interpretation of the dogma of the Trinity. He distinguishes God as the absolute existent from His content (essence or idea), which appears in the person of the Son, or the Logos. The incarnation of this content is realized in the world soul, Sophia, the third person of the divine Trinitythe Holy Spirit. Distinguishing in God the active unity of the creative Word (Logos) and the actualized unity, His organic body, Solov'ëv views the latter as "the produced unity to which we have given the mystical name Sophia" (19111914, p. 3:111); it "is the principle of humanity, the ideal or normal man" (p. 3:111). Perfect humanity is not an empirical individual or man as a generic concept, but an eternal idea, a special kind of universal individuality, "the universal form of the union of material nature with Divinity God-man-hood and Divine matter" (19111914, p. 8:231). The empirical world, where people appear as individuals, is "the somber and excruciating dream of a separate egotistical existence" (19111914, p. 3:120), an illusory and inauthentic world.

For Solov'ëv, as well as for Schopenhauer, the cause of this world is "the sin of individuation," producing the external, material existence of separateness and enmity. But if individuality is the source of evil and suffering, then in no wise can it be immortal: Salvation lies in the liberation from individual existence, not in its eternal continuation. Solov'ëv's philosophy of the last period is impersonalistic; it is not by chance that, on this question, there arose a polemic between him and Lev Mikhailovich Lopatin, who was convinced of the substantiality of the human self and of the immortality of the individual soul.

Solov'ëv sees the source of world evil in the meonic foundation of the divine all-unity. The world soul, Sophia, falls away from God, seeking to ground herself outside of Him, and "falls out of the all-one center of Divine being into the multiple periphery of creation, losing her freedom and her power over this creation" (19111914, p. 3:131). Meanwhile, the Divine Universe falls apart into a multiplicity of separate elements. The central personage of the theocosmic processthe eternally feminine principle in God, the body of Christ, the ideal humanityacquires demonic characteristics. The image of the Eternal Feminine becomes dual. To eliminate this duality, Solov'ëv, in Russia and the Universal Church, introduces the distinction between Sophia on the one hand and the world soul on the other hand. The latter now appears as the antipode of Sophia, the Wisdom of God, who is a "radiant and heavenly entity." The essence of the cosmic process is the battle between the Divine Word and the infernal principle for power over the world soul, a battle that must end with the reunification of the fallen world soul with God and the restoration of the divine all-unity. The historical process leads with internal necessity to the triumph of good, to the victory of unity and love over disintegration and enmity. Solov'ëv's theodicy converges not only with Hegel's teleological determinism but also with the evolutionism of the natural sciences.

Philosophy of History

Solov'ëv's philosophy of history is an attempt to understand cosmic history as a series of free acts on the way to the restoration of the unity of God and humanity. At the first stage, that of natural revelation, humanity knows God as a natural entity: Such are the pagan beliefs of the ancient world and the materialistic doctrines of the modern period. At the second stage, God is revealed as the transcendent, extranatural principle; such are the Asian ascetic-pessimistic religions, especially Buddhism, which seek to overcome the active, personal principle. Finally, in the religion of the Old Testament, humanity received a positive revelation, whose full meaning was disclosed in Christianity. In Christ was manifested the synthesis of the religiously contemplative principle of Russia and the personal and human principle, which developed in the bosom of European culture.

However, the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches marked the epoch of a new disintegration, which now affected the Christian world because of the imperfection of "historical Christianity." Triumphant in Russia was the supraindividual divine principle that left no room for human freedom; whereas Europe was marked by excessive individualism and by freedom in its negative sense, which led to capitalism atheistic egotism. Russia had a messianic calling to unify the two separated sides and to realize the final act of the cosmic historical drama in which humanity will be reunited with God. In the 1880s Solov'ëv's philosophy of history takes the form of a utopian doctrine about a universal theocracy in which the secular power of the Russian tsar is joined with the spiritual power of the pope in Rome. The first step toward this theocracy was supposed to take place as the reunification of the Eastern and Western Churches.


Solov'ëv touched on the problems of ethics in many works, but he has one work that is specially devoted to moral philosophy: The Justification of the Good. In this work he critiques two extreme points of view: moral subjectivism, which asserts that only the person can be the bearer of good; and objectivism, which recognizes only social institutions as guarantors of moral conduct. According to Solov'ëv these two elements must complement each other. Here, he underscores the importance of the objective forms of moral life, taking as his point of departure the belief in the reality of the universal, that is, of Godmanhood as one organism. If in his early works Solov'ëv emphasized the dependence of ethics on religious metaphysics, he now insists on the autonomy of ethics, because as "in creating a moral philosophy, reason does nothing more than develop, on the basis of experience, the idea of the good that is originally inherent in it" (19111914, p. 7:29). Nevertheless, even if it is autonomous the philosophy of morality cannot be fully separated from metaphysics and religion, because only the doctrine of the cosmic divine-human process and of the final victory of the divine all-unity grounds moralitythe reality of superhuman good.

Solov'ëv gives a deep analysis of moral emotions: shame, pity, piety, or veneration. Man is ashamed of that which constitutes his lower nature; characteristic in this respect is sexual shame. Human experience pity, that is, they empathize with the suffering of all living beings; as the source of altruism, pity is the basis of social relationships. Shame represents individual chastity, whereas pity represents social chastity. Finally, the sense of piety, that is, veneration of the supreme principle, is the moral foundation of religion. Examining the problem of the relation between morality and law, Solov'ëv sees their distinction in the fact that, in contrast to legal obligations, moral ones are unlimited, as well as in the coercive character of juridical laws. Law is the lower bound or minimum of morality, which is realized by means of compulsion. However, contrary to the common opinion, there is no contradiction between moral and juridical laws.

Although Solov'ëv does not have a work specially devoted to aesthetics, the theme of beauty permeates all of his works. For Solov'ëv, philosophical intuition converges, in the spirit of romanticism, with artistic creativity; and he sees in the latter a kinship with mystical experience and considers art to be a real power, illuminating and regenerating the world (see 19111914, p. 3:189). The supreme goal of art is theurgy, that is, the transformation of everyday reality into ideal, transfigured corporeality. Solov'ëv's aesthetics is connected with his sophiology and with his doctrine of Eros, to which his treatise The Meaning of Love is devoted. His aesthetic ideas were also expressed in his essays in the field of literary criticism devoted to the poetry of Aleksandr Pushkin, Fedor Tiutchev, Mikhail Lermontov, and Afanasy Fet.

Not long before his death, Solov'ëv became disenchanted with theocratic utopia and, in general, with the idea of progress. In his final work, Three Conversations, the central plane is occupied by the eschatological theme: The coming of the Kingdom of God is now conceived as the end of history. Solov'ëv had a powerful influence on philosophical thought in Russia. The religious philosophy of the end of the nineteenth century and of the beginning of the twentieth century developed under his influence; this is true, in particular, of Sergei Trubetskoi and Evgenii Trubetskoi, Nikolai Losskii, S. L. Frank, Sergei Bulgakov, Pavel Florenskii, Nikolai Berdiaev, and so on. Just as significant was Solov'ëv's influence on Russian literature, especially on the symbolists Aleksandr Blok, Andrei Belyi, Viacheslav Ivanov, and so on. It is precisely from Solov'ëv that the Russian silver age got its mystical and Gnostic tendency, which was characteristic for the atmosphere of the spiritual life of the pre-Revolutionary period in Russia.

See also Absolute, The; Berdyaev, Nikolai Aleksandrovich; Boehme, Jakob; Bulgakov, Sergei Nikolaevich; Comte, Auguste; Florenskii, Pavel Aleksandrovich; Frank, Semën Liudvigovich; Gnosticism; Hartmann, Eduard von; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Kabbalah; Kant, Immanuel; Losskii, Nikolai Onufrievich; Mysticism, Nature and Assessment of; Paracelsus; Russian Philosophy; Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von; Schopenhauer, Arthur; Spinoza, Benedict (Baruch) de; Swedenborg, Emanuel; Trubetskoi, Evgenii Nikolaevich; Trubetskoi, Sergei Nikolaevich.


works by solov'ëv

Pis'ma (Letters). Vols. 14. St. Petersburg: 19081923.

Sobranie sochinenii (Collected works). Vols. 110. St. Petersburg: 19111914.

Stikhotvoreniia i shutochnye piesy (Poems and comic plays). Leningrad: 1974.

Sochineniia (Works), 2 vols. Moscow: 1988.

Literaturnaia kritika (Literary criticism). Moscow: 1990.

works by solov'ëv in english translation

The Justification of the Good: An Essay in Moral Philosophy. Translated by Natalie A. Duddington. London: Constable, 1918. This was originally published under the title Opravdanie dobra: Nravstvennaya filosofiia in 1897.

God, Man, and the Church: The Spiritual Foundations of Life. Translated by Donald Attwater. Milwaukee, WI: Bruce Publishing, 1938; London: James Clarke, 1938, 1973. This was originally published in French under the title Dukhovnye osnovy zhizni in 1884.

Russia and the Universal Church. Translated by Herbert Rees. London: G. Bles, 1948. This was originally published in French under the title La Russie et l'Eglise universelle in 1888.

A Solovyov Anthology. Compiled by S. L. Frank. Translated by Natalie Duddington. London: SCM Press, 1950.

"Foundations of Theoretical Philosophy," Part 1. In Russian Philosophy, 3 vols. Translated by Vlada Tolley and James P. Scanlan; edited by James M. Edie, James P. Scanlan, and Mary-Barbara Zeldin, with the collaboration of George L. Kline, 99134. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1965. This was originally published under the title "Osnovy teoreticheskoi filosofii" in 18971899.

The Meaning of Love. Translated by Thomas R. Beyer Jr. West Stockbridge, MA: Lindisfarne Press, 1985. This was originally published under the title Smysl liubvi in 18921894.

Three Conversations concerning War, Progress, and the End of History, Including a Short Story of the Antichrist. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press, 1990. This was originally published under the title Tri razgovora o voine, progresse, i kontse istorii, i kratkaia povest' ob Antikhriste in 1900.

Lectures on Divine Humanity. Translated by Peter Zouboff; edited by Boris Jakim. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press, 1995. This was originally published under the title Chteniia o Bogochelovechestve in 18771881.

The Crisis of Western Philosophy: Against the Positivists. Translated by Boris Jakim. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press, 1996a. This was originally published under the title Krizis zapadnoi filosofii: Protiv pozitivistov in 1874.

Poems of Sophia. Translated by Boris Jakim and Laury Magnus. New Haven, CT: Variable Press, 1996b. Includes "Three Meetings."

works on solov'ëv

Asmus, V. F. "V. S. Solov'ev: Opyt filosofskoi biografii" (V. S. Solov'ëv: An attempt at a philosophical biography). Voprosy filosofii 6 (1988).

Balthasar, Hans Urs von. Studies in Theological Lay Styles, Vol. 3: The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics. Translated by Andrew Louth et al.; edited by John Riches, 279352. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1986. This essay was originally published in German under the title Herrlichkeit: Eine theologische Aesthetik in 1962.

Gaidenko, P. P. "Chelovek i chelovechestvo v uchenii V.S. Solov'eva" (Man and humanity in Solov'ëv's doctrine). Voprosy filosofii 6 (1994).

Gaidenko, P. P. Vladimir Solov'ev i filosofiia Serebrianogo veka (Vladimir Solovyov and the philosophy of the silver age). Moscow: 2001.

George, M. Mystische und religiöse Erfahrung im Denken Vladimir Solov'evs. Göttingen: 1988.

Losev, A. F. Vladimir Solov'ev. Moscow: 1983.

Losey, A. F. Vladimir Solov'ev i ego vremia (Vladimir Solov'ëv and his time). Moscow: 1990.

Lossky, N. O. History of Russian Philosophy. New York: International Universities Press, 1951.

Madey, J. W. S. Solowjew und seine Lehre von der Weltseele. Düsseldorf, Germany: 1961.

Mochul'sky, K. V. Vladimir Solov'ev. Zhizn' i uchenie (Vladimir Solov'ëv: Life and teaching). 2nd ed. Paris: YMCA Press, 1951.

Radlov, E. L. Vl. Solovyov. Zhizn' i uchenie (Vl. Solov'ëv: Life and teaching). St. Petersburg: 1913.

Solov'ev, S. M. Vladimir Solovyov. Zhizn' i tvorvcheskaia evoliustii (Vladimir Solov'ëv: Life and creative evolution). Moscow: Respublika, 1997.

Strémooukhoff, D. Vladimir Soloviev and His Messianic Work. Translated by Elizabeth Meyendorff; edited by Phillip Guilbeau and Heather Elise MacGregor. Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1980. This was originally published in French under the title Vladimir Soloviev et son oeuvre messianique in 1935 and 1975.

Sutton, Jonathan. The Religious Philosophy of Vladimir Solovyov: Towards a Reassessment. New York: St. Martin's, 1988.

Trubetskoi, E. N. Mirosozertsanie Vl. S. Solovyova (The world view of V. S. Solov'ëv). 2 vols. Moscow: 1913.

Utkina, N. F. "Tema vseedinstva v filosofii Vl. Solovyova" (The theme of all-unity in Solov'ëv's philosophy). Voprosy filosofii 6 (1989).

Velichko, V. L. Vladimir Solovyov. Zhizn' i tvoreniia (Vladimir Solov'ëv: Life and works). St. Petersburg: 1903.

Wenzler, L. Die Freiheit und das Böse nach Vl. Solov'ev. Freiburg-Munich: 1978.

Zen'kovskii, V. V. A History of Russian Philosophy. 2 vols. Translated by George L. Kline. New York: Columbia University Press, 1953. This was originally published under the title Istoriia russkoi filosofii in 19481950.

Piama Gaidenko (2005)

Translated by Boris Jakim

About this article

Solov'ëv (Solovyov), Vladimir Sergeevich (1853–1900)

Updated About content Print Article