Soloviev, Vladimir

views updated May 11 2018


SOLOVIEV, VLADIMIR (1853–1900), Russian philosopher.

Vladimir Soloviev was the son of the foremost historian of Russia, Sergei Soloviev (1820–1879), and a distant offspring of the Ukrainian philosopher Grigory Skovoroda (1722–1794). Raised in the intensive intellectual environment of his parents' Moscow salon, Soloviev began his studies in the natural sciences but shifted to history and philology. His first major work, his master's thesis titled The Crisis of Western Philosophy (1874), argued against the predominant trend of positivism—an item of faith for many of his fellow university students in the era of populism. Soloviev proposed that positivism, with its focus on phenomena, or external objects, had exhausted its potential, and suggested turning, instead, inward to "l'être en soi" (being-in-itself); he saw in Eduard von Hartmann's "philosophy of the unconscious" the first signs of the reassertion of metaphysics. His doctoral dissertation, A Critique of Abstract Principles (1880), continued this theme, arguing the inevitable interconnection of absolute and "abstract" (scientific or scholastic) principles; in ethics, epistemology, and aesthetics, Soloviev proposed "all-unity" as an ultimate goal, to be realized in practice as a "free theocracy."

Soloviev's thought is characterized by a merging of philosophy and religion. Soloviev had a brilliant grounding in Western, and particularly German, philosophy, and he considered the work of Immanuel Kant to be the single most important turning point in modern intellectual history. Beginning in 1878, a series of public lectures on the philosophy of religion posed the critical set of issues for his writings of the 1880s. The Lectures on Godmanhood (1881; more recently translated as Lectures on Divine Humanity) are among his most striking and original works. Soloviev advocated the Orthodox principle of the divinization of man as an antidote to society's having fallen away from higher principles—particularly following the French Revolution. It was also here that he introduced the notion of Sophia, the Divine Wisdom—"the idea that [God] had before him in his creativity, and which, consequently, He realizes" through the creation of the world. Religion was crucial to this phase of Soloviev's intellectual development, as he became increasingly engaged in problems of the church and ecumenism; he saw the Eastern (Orthodox) Church as endowed with a divinity that could usefully supplement the human focus of the Western church. La Russie et l'église universelle (1889, published in French in avoidance of the Russian censors; Russia and the Universal Church, 1948) openly advocated a union of Orthodox and Catholic churches under the pope's aegis. A later essay, Mohammed: His Life and Religious Teachings (1896), extended these ecumenical concerns beyond the Christian world.

In the 1890s Soloviev wrote perhaps his most fundamental work—a system of moral philosophy titled The Justification of the Good (1897). Conceived in the spirit of Kant's critiques, Justification boldly posed the question, "Does our life have any kind of purpose?" Soloviev perceived morality as dependent upon such factors as asceticism, shame, pity, and virtue; ultimately, a morally justifiable life could be defined through its constant association with, and aspiration to, a higher, absolute Good. Reversing the order of Kant's first and second critiques, Soloviev believed that theoretical philosophy must follow from practical, or moral, reason.

In addition to his philosophical oeuvre, Soloviev was also a poet and a publicist. His poems were often conceived in a humorous vein. One of the most wonderful, "Three Meetings" (1898), describes the philosopher's three encounters with Sophia, the Divine Wisdom. The final episode, which occurred during his travels in Egypt in 1876, finds Soloviev in the desert, being chased by angry Bedouins who mistook him, clad in top hat and coattails, for an evil spirit. The poem "Panmongolism" (1894) foretold a new invasion from the East, bringing destruction to Russia. Soloviev's most famous public speech was given on the occasion of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881: while condemning the conspirators, Soloviev at the same time argued against capital punishment, thus angering many conservatives.

Of his journalistic endeavors, several are worth particular attention. "Beauty in Nature" (1889) sought to emancipate aesthetics from biological necessity: natural beauty was anchored in ontology, and expressed an absolute and objective idea. "The Meaning of Love" (1892–1894), consisting of five essays, similarly polemicized with the then-fashionable biological determinism, proposing that sexual love, far from being nature's trick for the propagation of the species, was in fact the highest form of human affect: only through sexual love could an individual truly feel another person to be as worthy as him or herself. Soloviev proposed eventually extending the principle of love into the foundation for a universal harmony. In "The Enemy from the East," written on the occasion of the severe famine of 1891, Soloviev took an ecological line: erosion, deforestation, and the sands sweeping in from the eastern steppes were the "enemy" that Russia would have to face.

Soloviev wrote in a largely alien environment: the last third of the nineteenth century was a time when cultural and intellectual life was mostly dominated by the radical intelligentsia. His work resonates particularly with that of his great contemporaries, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky; arguably, he presented in philosophical terms many of the ideas they expressed through literature. Soloviev's philosophy, poetry, and other writings became enormously influential for the writers and poets of Russia's Silver Age—the cultural explosion of the early twentieth century that formed a part of European modernism. Such writers and philosophers as Alexander Blok, Andrei Bely, and Sergei Bulgakov drew heavily on his ideas: for example, Soloviev's poem "Panmongolism" was a fundamental inspiration for Blok's "The Scythians" (1918). Soloviev concluded his life with the equally influential "Three Conversations on War, Progress, and the End of History," which was appended by a "Brief Tale of the Antichrist" (1899–1900). This apocalyptic work once again foretold the growing power of the East, while prophesying such developments as a "more or less democratic" United States of Europe in the twenty-first century. Soloviev died in 1900, from illness and general neglect of his physical well-being.

See alsoBely, Andrei; Blok, Alexander; History; Positivism.


Courten, Manon de. History, Sophia, and the Russian Nation: A Reassessment of Vladimir Soloviev's Views on History and His Social Commitment. Bern and New York, 2004.

Kornblatt, Judith Deutsch, and Richard F. Gustafson, eds. Russian Religious Thought. Madison, Wis., 1996.

Lopatin, L. M. "Filosofskoe mirovozzrenie V. S. Solovieva." In his Filosofskie kharakteristiki i rechi. Moscow, 1911. Reprint, Moscow, 1995.

Mochulsky, Konstantin. Vladimir Soloviev: Zhizn' i uchenie. 2nd ed. Paris, 1951.

Strémoukhoff, D. Vladimir Soloviev and His Messianic Work. Belmont, Mass., 1980. Translation of Soloviev et son oeuvre messianique (1935).

Trubetskoy, E. N. Mirosozertsanie V. S. Solovieva. 2 vols. Moscow, 1913.

Valliere, Paul. Modern Russian Theology: Bukharev, Soloviev, Bulgakov; Orthodox Theology in a New Key. Grand Rapids, Mich., 2000.

Catherine Evtuhov

Soloviev, Vladimir Sergeyevich

views updated May 14 2018


(18531900), philosopher, theologian, journalist, poet, literary critic.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Vladimir Soloviev sought to counter the secular trend in Russian thought by articulating a world view grounded in Christianity. As a young man, Soloviev seemed destined to become the foremost academic philosopher of the Slavophile school, and his early works, such as The Crisis of Western Philosophy: Against the Positivists (1874), reflected Slavophile themes, but in time he gravitated from Slavophilism to Westernism, much like his father, the renowned historian Sergei Mikhailovich Soloviev. When Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, Soloviev called upon the new tsar to set an example of Christian forgiveness by sparing the lives of the terrorists. The ensuing scandal led to his exile from Russia's government-controlled universities, a lifelong career as an independent writer, and eventually an association with the liberal journal Vestnik Evropy (European Messenger). Soloviev led an unconventional life as a kind of secular monk dedicated to intense intellectual work; the result was a remarkable output of philosophy, theology, poetry, literary criticism, and social commentary.

Soloviev's philosophical approach was a synthesis of Western philosophy (particularly German idealist thought) and the Orthodox faith in which he had been raised. His philosophical system emphasized the integration of science, philosophy, and religion. At the center of his philosophical outlook was the concept of the unity of allthe idea that the world was an Absolute in the process of becoming. On this basis, he developed a unique Christian metaphysics in his Lectures on God-Manhood (18771881). He argued that reality had been fractured by the Fall, and that history, the center of which was the Incarnation of Christ (the "Godman"), was a process leading to renewal of the unity of all. In this work, he also introduced the elusive concept of Sophia, which at various times he referred to as the "world soul," the ideal of a perfect humanity, and the "eternal feminine" principle in the Divine.

Soloviev's fascination with Sophia was reflected in personal mystical experience. His reputation as a mystic derived from his poetry, most famously the poem "Three Meetings," in which he described three encounters with Sophia, first as a young boy, then during his studies in the British Museum, and finally in the Egyptian desert.

Meanwhile Soloviev was developing a liberal theology similar to the Social Gospel movement in the West. He criticized conservative intellectuals for compromising the moral claims of the Gospels, and advocated unification of the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches. Soloviev's enthusiastic ecumenism provoked a nationalist backlash, which in turn led to his Christian critique of nationalism (The National Question in Russia, 2 vols., 1888, 1891). Soloviev went on to produce a wide-ranging ethical treatise, The Justification of the Good (1897), in which he provided an overall theory as well as practical discussion of such issues as nationalism, capitalism, and war. He also contributed to the development of a liberal philosophy of law in Russia.

In the year of his untimely death at age forty-seven, Soloviev published Three Conversations on War, Progress, and the End of History, a controversial work of fiction that questioned the efficacy of human action in an evil world. The work concluded with "The Short Tale of the Anti-Christ," a futuristic story about the end of the world. Some scholars argue that Soloviev here rejected his liberal theology, but others contend that the central meaning of the story is consistent with his earlier work, because a unified, truly ecumenical humanity triumphs.

A uniquely independent thinker during his life, Soloviev had great influence after his death. His theology inspired social activism among some Orthodox clergy, a trend cut short by the Bolshevik Revolution. His philosophy paved the way for Orthodox thinkers like Sergei Bulgakov and Pavel Florensky. His mystical poetry inspired symbolists like Alexander Blok and Andrei Bely. And after the Soviet Union came to an end, many Russians returned to Soloviev as a guidepost for creating a new Russian philosophy.

See also: bely, andrei; blok, alexander alexan drovich; bulgakov, sergei nikolayevich; orthodoxy; silver age


Copleston, Frederic C. (1986). Philosophy in Russia: From Herzen to Berdyaev. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press.

Gaut, Greg. (1998). "Can a Christian Be a Nationalist? Vladimir Soloviev's Critique of Nationalism." Slavic Review 57:7794.

Groberg, Kristi A. (1992). "The Feminine Occult Sophia in the Russian Religious Renaissance: A Bibliographic Essay." Canadian-American Slavic Studies. 26:197240.

Kline, George L. (1985). "Russian Religious Thought." In Nineteenth Century Religious Thought in the West. Vol. 2, ed. Ninian Smart. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Kornblatt, Judith, and Gustafson, Richard, eds. (1996). Russian Religious Thought. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

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

Walicki, Andrzej. (1987). Legal Philosophies of Russian Liberalism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Greg Gaut

Vladimir Sergeevich Soloviev

views updated Jun 08 2018

Vladimir Sergeevich Soloviev

The Russian philosopher and religious thinker Vladimir Sergeevich Soloviev (1853-1900) was an early exponent of the ecumenical movement. He was also a leader of the modern reaction against extreme rationalism.

Vladimir Soloviev was born on Jan. 28, 1853, the second son of a distinguished historian. He graduated from Moscow Gymnasium No. 1 in 1869 and entered the science faculty at Moscow University. Three years later he transferred to the philosophy faculty, graduating in 1873, and then attended classes in the seminary of the St. Sergius Monastery. He also studied European philosophy in preparation for his master of arts thesis, an attack on materialism which was accepted in 1874 (The Crisis of Western Philosophy). He lectured for a year at Moscow University and then took a leave in England. In the British Museum he had a vision of a beautiful woman whom he identified as Sophia, or the Divine Wisdom (he had first seen her when he was only 9 years old). This time she told him to go to Egypt, where in November 1875 she appeared to him in the desert.

This desert vision changed Soloviev's life. He became increasingly interested in religion. In 1877 he took a post in the Education Ministry in St. Petersburg, where he was close to Slavophile circles. In 1878 he completed his Treatise on God-Manhood. Two years later his doctoral dissertation (Critique of Abstract Principles) was accepted. His public lecturing was suppressed after April 1881 because of his appeal to spare the lives of those who had assassinated Alexander II, an appeal which incensed the authorities.

The decade from 1881 to 1890 was the fullest in Soloviev's life, a period of intense work for the reconciliation of the churches. He worked closely with J. G. Strossmayer, Archbishop of Djakovo (in what is now Yugoslavia), who wished to unite the Slavs with the West under the Pope. In 1888 Soloviev traveled to Paris with his latest book (written in French), Russia and the Universal Church, but had little success with French Catholics.

The last decade of Soloviev's life was one of frustration and growing darkness. He continued to write profusely, notably, Three Meetings (1897) and The Justification of the Good (1898). His 1898 trip to Egypt greatly depressed him. In the last year of his life he published Three Conversations, which he considered his most important book, even though it repudiated much of his earlier work. He died at Uzkoe, the estate of the Trubetskoys, on Aug. 13, 1900.

Further Reading

S.L. Frank, ed., A Solovyev Anthology (1950), is poorly translated but remains much better than any of the books in English about Soloviev. Probably the best concise treatment of Soloviev's life and ideas is the chapter on him in Nicolas Zernov, Three Russian Prophets (1944). Written from the Roman Catholic point of view, Maurice d'Herbigny, Soloviev: A Russian Newman (trans. 1918), is rather turgid and one-sided; the chapter on Soloviev in Karl Pfleger, Wrestlers with Christ (trans. 1936), is cursory; and Egbert Munzer, Solovyev: Prophet of Russian Western Unity (1956), is intellectually shoddy.

Additional Sources

Stremooukhoff, D., Vladimir Soloviev and his messianic work, Belmont, Mass.: Nordland Pub. Co., 1980, 1979.

Sutton, Jonathan, The religious philosophy of Vladimir Solovyov: towards a reassessment, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988. □

Soloviev, Vladimir

views updated May 23 2018

Soloviev, Vladimir (1853–1900). Russian poet and philosopher. From 1873 he was a friend of Dostoevsky. As a poet, he was a leader of the Symbolists; as a philosopher, he was influenced by German idealism and gnostic occultism; as a theologian, he was a proponent of visible unity with Rome, after initial sympathy with the Slavophils. Underlying all was a vision of Sophia (Wisdom), the creative and redemptive feminine principle, providing a fragile coherence increasingly threatened by apocalyptic disaster.