Sergei Nikolaevich Trubetskoi

石原さとみ (Satomi Ishihara)
Sergei Nikolaevich Trubetskoi

Sergei Nikolaevich Trubetskoi was a Russian philosopher, socially conscious essayist, and man of public affairs. After graduating from the historico-philological department of Moscow University in 1885, he remained at the university.

In 1890 he defended his master’s dissertation, “Metafizika v Drevnei Gretsii” (Metaphysics in ancient Greece), and in 1900 he defended his doctoral dissertation, “Uchenie o Logose v ego istorii” (The doctrine of the logos in its history).

From 1900 to 1905 he served as one the editors of the journal Voprosy filosofii i psikhologii (Questions of philosophy and psychology). He actively participated in the Zemstvo movement, becoming one of its spiritual leaders. Starting in 1901, at the beginning of the student disturbances, he came out for the institution of university autonomy.

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Moskow University

After Moscow University was granted autonomy in 1905, he was chosen as its head. However, the wave of disturbances at that time had swamped the university, putting liberal defenders of academic freedoms in a difficult position and leading to Trubetskoi’s untimely death.

In his philosophical views Trubetskoi is close to Vladimir Sergeevich Solov’ëv. Like Solov’ëv, Trubetskoi experienced the influence of the Slavophiles,German idealism, and ancient Platonism, uniting Christianity and Platonism in his doctrine.

However, Trubetskoi did not share Solov’ëv’s mysticism: If for Solov’ëv the central theme was the doctrine of Sophia, Trubetskoi’s main work was devoted to the theme of the Logos. And it is not by chance that an early work of Trubetskoi’s that was devoted to sophiology remained unfinished; in his works this theme is represented by a theory of the world soul, where Platonism is united with a Kantian doctrine of a priori forms of sensation.

Trubetskoi’s Concrete Idealism

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Concrete Idealism

Trubetskoi’s conceptions received their most complete exposition in his works O prirode chelovecheskogo soznaniia (On the nature of human consciousness; 1889–1891) and Osnovaniia idealizma (The foundations of idealism; 1896). He called his doctrine concrete idealism, in contrast to the abstract idealism of classical German philosophy.

As his starting point, Trubetskoi takes not abstract concept (of the type of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s pure being) but concrete being, real entity as the subject of all definitions, which reveals thought in this subject. Being necessarily precedes thought; if the contrary is assumed, one arrives at panlogism, that is, at the production from abstract thought of all the abundance of its definitions.

According to Trubetskoi the eternal actual consciousness (God) precedes every finite (becoming) consciousness; he thus rejects the pantheistic doctrine of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, and Hegel concerning humanity as the “becoming God” and defends the positions of theism.

logical idea
logical idea

Attempting to prove that being cannot be reduced to a logical idea and that general concepts are only relations of thought to its object, Trubetskoi at the same time recognizes the spiritual nature of reality, the rational laws of the cosmic Logos according to which both natural life and human life are ordered.

In attempting to remain on the foundation of rationalism, the philosopher, however, does not consider reason to be the sole source of knowledge. Just as in man it is possible to identify three faculties—sense perception, thought, and will—so knowledge, too, is realized with the aid of experience, conditioned by the a priori laws of perception (universal sensationalism), with the aid of reason, which reveals the lawful connection of phenomena, the universal correlatedness of that which exists, and finally with the aid of faith, which establishes the reality of the entities one thinks and perceives.

The object of faith is an autonomous living power, defined as spirit; faith, according to Trubetskoi, is the recognition of “real entities or subjects independent of us”. With this, faith “convinces us of the reality of the external world, of the reality of objects of sense perception and reason”.

Orthodox tradition
Orthodox tradition

In contrast to Solov’ëv, Trubetskoi does not identify faith with intellectual intuition or with inspiration: True to Orthodox tradition, he is careful to separate faith from imagination and places the moral or ethical sphere above the aesthetic sphere. Both in God and in humans the foundation of the personality is will; and therefore being is revealed to faith as a faculty of will.

However, Trubetskoi does not oppose faith and reason, revelation and speculation, but points to their unity, emphasizing that “the concept of the Logos is connected with Greek philosophy, in which it arose, and with Christian theology, in which it took firm root”.

In accordance with this conviction, Trubetskoi devotes his chief historico-philosophical work, Metaphysics in Ancient Greece (1890), to Greek philosophy, where the concept of the Logos was formed, and his chief historico-theological work, The Doctrine of the Logos in Its History, to the Christian understanding of the Logos, which was developed in the struggle with Judaism and Gnosticism.

Greek philosophy
Greek philosophy

Greek philosophy, according to Trubetskoi, is one of the spiritual sources of Christianity. It is not antagonistic to Christianity, not the cause of the distortion of the original Evangelical faith, as many Protestant theologians have asserted.

Nevertheless, Trubetskoi recognizes the achievements of Protestant scholarship, in particular that of the historical criticism of Adolf Harnack, to whose discoveries he attempts to give his own interpretation, on the basis of the Orthodox patristic tradition.

With his thoughts developing in the spirit of this tradition, Trubetskoi displays a critical attitude toward Solov’ëv’s theocratic utopia and toward his interpretation of the Bible through the prism of mystical symbolism and Catholic orthodoxy.

The Sobornost (Conciliar Nature) of Consciousness

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European philosophy

In analyzing the nature of human consciousness, Trubetskoi poses the complex philosophical question about the interrelation of the individual and the universal. According to Trubetskoi this question has not been resolved in European philosophy: Neither empiricism nor idealism have been able to explain the nature of consciousness, and therefore the nature of personality has not been understood.

The empiricists identified personality with individual internal states of consciousness, with a set of psychical associations (psychologism) that do not have objective logical significance. By contrast, German idealism dissolved personality in a universal principle, making it a disappearing “moment” in the development of the absolute spirit.

According to Trubetskoi the common root of modern European philosophy in its two variants is subjectivism, originating in Protestantism. Having shown that it is impossible to explain consciousness either as a property of the separate empirical individual or as a product of a universal generic principle, Trubetskoi, following the Slavophiles, arrives at the conclusion that the personal, finite consciousness can be understood only if one admits the sobornost (conciliar nature—from “church council”) of consciousness, the common or communal nature of the latter.

objectivity of knowledge

He considers that this is the only way one can explain man’s ability to gain universal and necessary knowledge of reality and to gain an understanding of other people and of the surrounding world. Sobornost as the essence of consciousness is conceived by Trubetskoi as guaranteeing the objectivity of knowledge.

For him, the premise of this objectivity and therefore of the possibility of communal consciousness (consciousness rooted in sobornost) is the existence of the eternally actual consciousness, that is, the consciousness of the divine person of the Creator.

Sobornost is a kind of perfect society or a “metaphysical socialism.” “Individualistic psychology and subjective idealism both lead to the rejection of the individual soul, but metaphysical socialism, the recognition of the sobornost of consciousness, grounds our faith in this soul.

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perfect society

If it is grounded abstractly, isolated individuality tends to become a zero, nothing; individuality is preserved and actualized only in society, and in fact only in the perfect society”. The perfect society is an ideal toward which humankind strives.

This society must be ruled by the law of love, and love is “the unity of all in one, the consciousness of all in oneself and of oneself in all”. But such love, according to Trubetskoi, is unrealizable in natural human union. It presupposes the divine-human union, or the Church.

Just as reason is a property of the universal subject, sense perception, too, according to Trubetskoi, should not be considered to belong only to the individual consciousness. There exists a certain universal sense perception whose bearer is the world soul as its subject, distinct from God. Trubetskoi conceives this bearer as a cosmic entity, or as the world in its psychical foundation, thanks to which the world appears as a living and animate organism.

loving principle
loving principle

Remaining an adherent of the Logos complemented by faith, Trubetskoi is convinced that at the foundation of the world there lies a rational and loving principle, and for this reason the world is essentially good. This is the source of Trubetskoi’s optimism, of his energy, and of his indefatigable academic and public activity.
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