Trubetskoi, Evgenii Nikolaevich (1863–1920)

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A Russian philosopher, law specialist, religious and political figure, Evgenii Trubetskoi was a member of one of the oldest aristocratic families of Russia. He received an excellent education, graduating from the Department of Law of Moscow University (1885) and earning a master's degree in philosophy for his work on St. Augustine (1892) and a doctorate for his work on Pope Gregory VII (1897). He taught law and philosophy in Iaroslavl' (18861897), Kiev (18971905), and Moscow (19051917), where he was elected chair of philosophy after the sudden death of its former head, his brother Sergei Trubetskoi (18621905). Parallel to his teaching career, he was active in Russian cultural, academic, and political circles. Trubetskoi was one of founders of several philosophical associations (Psychological Society at Moscow University, Vladimir Solov'ev Religious-Philosophical Society, and others); he was a leading figure of the publishing house Put (The Way) and of the group of religious thinkers affiliated with it, who represented the so-called "neo-Slavophile" current in Russian culture. He was one of the founders and leaders of the Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) Party; he was editor in chief (19061910) of the liberal-conservative magazine Moskovsky Ezhenedel'nik (Moscow weekly); a member of the State Council in 19161917; and a participant in the Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in 19171918. After the Revolution of 1917 he adopted a sharply anti-Bolshevik stance and joined the White Army. Trubetskoi died in Novorossiysk at the Black Sea, where the defeated army was preparing to leave Russia.

Trubetskoi was a prolific author, whose writings embrace many fields: religion, philosophy, law, and politics. In the last years of his life he wrote valuable studies on Russian icon painting, as well as fairy tales and his memoirs. His main works, in which he presents an original philosophical system, are Mirosozertsanie V. S. Solov'eva (V. S. Solov'ëv's world view, 2 vols., Moscow, 1913), Metafizicheskie predposylki poznaniya (Metaphysical premises of knowledge, Moscow, 1917), and Smysl zhizni (The meaning of life, Moscow, 1918).

His system belongs to the school of Russian religious philosophy founded by Vladimir Solov'ëv and often referred to as "metaphysics of All-Unity." Trubetskoi's place in this school, which includes Pavel Florenskii, Sergei Bulgakov, Lev Karsavin, Nikolai Losskii, and other principal Russian religious thinkers of the twentieth century, is determined by a special attachment of his philosophy to the thought of the founder of the school (this attachment was enhanced by the fact that Trubetskoi and his brother Sergei were close personal friends of Solov'ëv). Other thinkers in the school are more independent of Solov'ëv, adopting from him just a few key ideas, such as "All-Unity," "Sophia the Wisdom of God," or "Godmanhood," and often criticizing him. In the case of Trubetskoi, however, the entire body of his philosophy emerges out of the critical analysis of Solov'ëv's metaphysics.

Trubetskoi defines the message of Solov'ëv's oeuvre as the teaching on "Godmanhood," and reviews all of this vast and heterogeneous work, selecting a certain core that conveys the message rightly and truly. (He leaves out of the core mainly what he calls Solov'ëv's "Utopias": ideas of theocracy, androgynous love, or the absolute nature of the Roman pope's authority). Then he sets the task of developing this core into a systematic philosophy, complementing it with new ideas and concepts. Due to such a method of "immanent critique," his study of Solov'ëv becomes the basis of his own philosophy.

As for new concepts introduced by Trubetskoi, the most important is "Absolute Consciousness," which is his version of Solov'ëv's All-Unity. Each thing or phenomenon is endowed, for Trubetskoi, with its "meaning" or "truth," conceived epistemologically, as a content of a certain consciousness or, in the tradition of Christian Platonism, as "God's idea" of the thing in question; Absolute Consciousness is defined as the set of all such truths. It is structured into the "exoteric" sphere (God's ideas pertaining to the things of the world) and "esoteric" sphere (God's ideas about Himself).

Taking this concept as his point of departure, Trubetskoi develops, first of all, a detailed theory of cognition. In putting the emphasis on cognition, he was influenced by the Western philosophy of his time, dominated as it was by Neo-Kantianism; but at the same time, following the traditional line of Solov'ëv and much of Russian thought in general, he adopts a critical attitude toward both Kant and Neo-Kantianism. Thus the main part of his theory of cognition takes the form of a critical analysis of Kantian epistemology, aiming to disclose implicit "metaphysical (i.e., ontological) premises" in the latter, and to subordinate epistemology to ontology. Attempts of this kind, often described as "the overcoming of Kant," were typical of Russian philosophy of that period and were dubbed "ontological epistemology" by Nikolai Berdiaev. Trubetskoi's theory of cognition is not the most successful of such attempts, since his treatment of such basic concepts as truth and consciousness is clearly in the Kantian line, and his critical attitude is in fact rather superficial.

A devoted Orthodox Christian of traditionalist views, Trubetskoi believed that in trying to describe the inner dynamics of the Absolute, philosophy risks falling into "Gnosticism" and "Schellingianism." Thus his ontology, presented chiefly in his last work Smysl zhizni (The meaning of life), is a traditional Christian philosophy of God and world, or theodicy, developed with the aid of Solov'ëvian concepts of Godmanhood and Sophia (the latter is identified by Trubetskoi with the exoteric sphere of Absolute Consciousness). The final goal of the course of the world is the "conversion of everything human and, even more, everything terrestrial, into Godmanhood" (Smysl zhizni, p. 225). The attainment of this goal is not, however, guaranteed; Trubetskoi resorts to his sophiology to describe the path toward it, which he calls the "process of Godmanhood."

Because of the existence of evil and the freedom of the will, each creature may or may not approach its ideal image in Sophia; in Trubetskoi's terms, it possesses both "sophianic and antisophianic potentials." Thus he considers various spheres of reality, presenting a detailed classification of sophianic and antisophianic elements in each sphere: For example, light is regarded as sophianic and darkness as antisophianic. While it may be questionable as an ontology, this approach becomes fruitful when applied to phenomena of Russian art and culture; in particular, it serves as the underpinnings for Trubetskoi's interpretation of the Russian icon as "contemplation in colors," which won wide recognition.

While hardly the best-known or most profound example of Russian thought, Trubetskoi's philosophy nonetheless demonstrates typical features of the Russian religious-philosophical renaissance: its origins in Solov'ëv's thought; its leanings toward religious and mystical experience, resulting in a mixture of theological and philosophical discourse; and its striving to combine this discourse with the "last word" in Western philosophy.

See also Berdyaev, Nikolai Aleksandrovich; Bulgakov, Sergei Nikolaevich; Florenskii, Pavel Aleksandrovich; Kant, Immanuel; Karsavin, Lev Platonovich; Losskii, Nikolai Onufrievich; Neo-Kantianism; Russian Philosophy; Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von; Solov'ëv (Solovyov), Vladimir Sergeevich; Trubetskoi, Sergei Nikolaevich.


works by trubetskoi

Entsiklopediia prava (The encyclopedia of law). St. Petersburg: LAN, 1999.

Icons: Theology in Color. Translated by Gertrude Vakar. New York: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1971.

Iz proshlogo: vospominaniia; iz putevykh zametok bezhentsa (From the past: Memoirs; Travel notes of a refugee). Tomsk: Vodolei, 2000.

Mirosozertsanie V. S. Solov'eva (V. S. Solov'ëv's world view). Moscow: Medium, 1995.

Smysl zhizni (The meaning of life). Moscow: Respublika, 1994.

Voina i mirovaia zadacha Rossii (War and Russia's global task). Moscow: I. D. Sytin, 1915.

works about trubetskoi

Zenkovsky, V. V. A History of Russian Philosophy. Translated by George L. Kline. London: Routledge, 2003.

Segey Horujy (2005)