Berdyaev's Social Philosophy in the Light of His Concept of Freedom.
Nichols, Susan Radcliff
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Berdyaev lived his turbulent life intensely involved in his immediate political and intellectual environment. Many of his writings are "tracts for the times," addressed to the problems of this environment, often hastily written with great emotion. Even in the more systematic works such as The Destiny of Man, Slavery and Freedom, and The Beginning and the End, there is an element of urgency and directness often not present in philosophical writings. Berdyaev is a personalistic existentialist, and calls his philosophy subjective, spiritually based, concerned with freedom, dualistically pluralist, creatively dynamic and eschatological. It is not an objective, naturalistic, deterministic,monistic, statically ontological or evolutionary philosophy. As an existentialist, he distinguishes between factual scientific truths and Truth, the dynamic principle which is actual only as it is perceived by the creative subject. Though he is concerned that man seek and recognize "universal Truth," he interprets Truth as having significance only as it is known, i.e. "subjectively." "Knowing" for Berdyaev is not a mere reflection of given data; it depends on man's creative application of his faculties to each situation. Inasmuch as he has an "ontology," his philosophy is based on Freedom rather than on Being. As a personalist, he believes that man, the "meeting point of the natural and spiritual," is a primary reality and value. Created in the image of God, man participates in Freedom as does God. In his freedom, man is to create spiritual values and to make a creative response to God. Man best works in his freedom not as an isolated individual, but in sobornost (altogetherness) or community, i.e., in relationship to God or in fellowship with other men. Berdyaev's primary concern, social and philosophical, is freedom. Freedom for him is not the abstract freedom from all restraints, nor is it a mere psychological state; it is an attribute, goal, and responsibility of man as personality. Though he recognizes the existence and importance of freedom in the traditional senses of freedom given man by God and rational freedom within limits (e.g. as defined by Kant and Hagel), Berdyaev emphasizes freedom as uncreated, non-rational, prior to being, and containing all conceivable possibilities of both good and evil. In this concept he acknowledges his indebtedness to Boehme's concept of the Ungrund. Both God and man must contend with this uncreated freedom, working with it where they can, and accepting its limitations where they must. Berdyaev does not expound his social philosophy systematically, but references to it and elements of it permeate nearly all of his writings, inasmuch as they reflect his concerned response to his social and political surroundings. His social philosophy is derived from his existentialism, personalism, and creative ethics. He treats his ethical system largely in one book, The Destiny of Man. In this outline of his ethics, he goes beyond the ethics of law and ethics of redemption to the ethics of creativeness, in which freedom plays the primary part. He also sets his social philosophy in terms of his philosophy of history. History, which includes interaction of God, man, and fate, must culminate eschatologically in order to have meaning. Man, who lives in relationship to historical time, it also related to cosmic time in which natural cycles occur and existential time in which spiritual creativity takes place. It is as he lives in existential time, experiencing the "fullness of the moment," that man experience the eschatological. For Berdyaev, eschatology does not signify the "end of this age" and the transference of man into a "new heavenly age" in the traditional sense, nor will man be moved into the "new age" of an earthly Utopia realized by purely social means. Both of these concepts of "the age beyond time" Berdyaev finds to be traditionally "objectivized," "static," and "non-creative;" thus he rejects them in favor of a creatively realized "existential apocalypse." much of Berdyaev's writing on social philosophy consists of criticism of existing forms of social organization, particularly of communism, with which he had most direct experience. Measuring their theoretical and practical concern with man as a free, creative, and spiritual person, he notes the shortcomings of all forms of organicism and individualism, citing particularly their degree of failure to treat man as a person as they either bury him in the collective, isolate him from communion with others, or fail to consider him as more than a physical, economic or political being. He accepts certain elements of existing social theories, such as socialism's economic planning, aristocratism's allowance for the maximum development of the best, anarchism's lack of compulsion, and democracy's concern for all men. His own social philosophy, a type of organic pluralism, he calls "personalistic socialism." Though he considers many specific social issues such as the family in society, the organization of society, class and the classless society, the guild organization of society, culture and civilization, technization, economics, property ownership, the meaning of work, religion as a social force, love as a social force, nationalism and internationalism, war and pacifism, revolution, and capital punishment, he does not outline in detail a "positive program" of social organization. Rather than make a blueprint for a Utopia, Berdyaev recognizes that the nature of the true personalistic and existential community (which in itself allows maximum freedom and potential for personal development to its members) precludes its specific preconception. He does say, however, that man's basic physical needs are essential to life itself, and therefore to the realization of creativity and freedom; thus allowance must be made for the provision of these to all men. Having received bread, however, all men are to participate creatively and responsibly in freedom, brining it to bear on the world situation by which they should not be caught or overpowered. The primary goals of life are personal spiritual, and social life is merely to provide the atmosphere and possibility for their realization.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University