restricted access A History of Russian Philosophy, 1830–1930: Faith, Reason, and the Defense of Human Dignity (review)
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Reviewed by
G. M. Hamburg and Randall A. Poole, editors. A History of Russian Philosophy, 1830–1930: Faith, Reason, and the Defense of Human Dignity. Cambridge-New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. xv + 423. Cloth, $120.00.

Despite its relatively brief historical span, Russian philosophical thought displays a rich variety of ideas, trends, approaches, and schools. Yet there is no consensus on where it starts, what constitutes its essential traits, and which works it encompasses. Thus this new volume is very timely, as it offers a novel interpretation of the development of philosophical thought in Russia between 1830 and 1930, “Russian philosophy’s long nineteenth century” (1), which began with the dispute between Slavophiles and Westernizers, persisted through the “Silver Age” of Russian culture, and drew to a close with the emergence of a Russian philosophical emigration in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Recognizing the richness of the subject and the impossibility of grasping it by using any of the traditional, “reductive” interpretations of the history of Russian philosophy, the book employs a fresh, unifying approach to its subject in the context of Russia’s changing historical landscape, taking into account the deep connections of Russian philosophy with literature, politics, and intellectual life.

This collection of eighteen essays is not just another survey of Russian philosophical thought, but an attempt to comprehend the development of a distinctive Russian tradition of philosophical humanism: the passionate social and moral commitment of Russian thinkers to such ideals as liberty, human emancipation, self-determination, and human dignity. The volume is split into five parts that discuss major stages of Russian philosophical humanism and how its ideas were articulated in debates between central philosophical thinkers, literary critics, writers, broad intellectual movements, and schools. Part 1 examines the emergence of Russian humanism from the 1830s to the 1860s and sets the stage for the remainder of the book. Moving away from the traditional treatment of nineteenth-century Russian philosophy, which analyzes it mainly in relation to modern Western philosophy and conceives it as a unique reception of German romanticism and idealism, the first essay uses Russia’s spiritual and cultural tradition to trace its origins back to the “theocentric personological paradigm” of Eastern Orthodox thinking (29). This and subsequent essays show that problems of personhood and questions of human nature and dignity guided all philosophical discussions of that time, including the seminal debate between Slavophiles and Westernizers, the defense of a materialistic worldview by Russian radicals, and the search for new ethical values by Russian populists, Marxists, and neoidealists.

Part 2 examines the development of Russian philosophical humanism in the metaphysical idealism of B. Chicherin and V. Solov’ev, as well as in Russian panpsychism. These thinkers took different approaches to defending and justifying humanism: Chicherin and Solov’ev placed it “on the Kantian foundations of moral autonomy and self-determination” (16), whereas panpsychists insisted on returning to pre-Kantian (mostly Leibnizian) metaphysics, which subscribed to the psychic or “spiritual” character of all reality. Denying that religion or empirical science could provide a solution to the problem of free will, L. Lopatin “argued that the ‘spiritualist’ worldview is the only ray of hope for twentieth-century humanity” (161).

The strong tradition of Russian religious philosophy is at the heart of parts 3–4. Part 3 examines the humanistic ideas of S. Bulgakov, P. Florenskii, and S. Frank. Scholars will appreciate the compelling interpretation of Frank’s philosophy as an “expressivist humanism” that affirms “the infinite value of each human person as a potential vehicle for the manifestation of a unique spiritual content” (222). Part 4 offers a rich survey of the Russian Silver Age, focusing on liberal and radical religious humanists, and reflecting upon the [End Page 620] complex legacy and influence of V. Solov’ev. Although different in their assessments of the value of law for guaranteeing personal autonomy and human rights, religious humanists responded to Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, drawing upon Solov’ev and further advancing his optimistic humanism and the tradition of integration, in which they saw the potential for a renewed wholeness of humanity and a true personhood. Part 5 begins with the insightful discussion of...