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Berdiaev, Nikolai Aleksandrovich (1874–1948)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-E004-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Nikolai Berdiaev, Russian religious idealist, was one of many non-Marxist thinkers expelled from Russia by communist authorities in 1922. Although attracted to Marxism in his youth, even then he tempered it with a Neo-Kantian ethical theory. Well before the Bolshevik Revolution, he became seriously disenchanted with Marxist philosophy (though not with the idea of socialism) and embarked on the career of elaborating a personalistic Christian philosophy that occupied him for the rest of his life.

Dubbed ‘the philosopher of freedom’, Berdiaev wrote prolifically on that subject and on related topics in metaphysics, philosophy of history, ethics, social philosophy and other fields (but not epistemology, which he rejected as a fruitless exercise in scepticism). Because his approach to philosophy was admittedly anthropocentric and subjective, he accepted the label ‘existentialist’ and acknowledged his kinship with Dostoevskii, Nietzsche and (to a lesser degree) Jaspers. Like them, he constructed no philosophical system, though he did expound views that were coherently interrelated in the main, if impressionistically and sometimes obscurely expressed. Among his more prominent ideas were his conception of freedom (for which he was indebted to the mystical philosophy of Jakob Boehme), his distinction between spirit and nature, his theory of ‘objectification’, his doctrine of creativity and his conception of time.

The most frequently translated of twentieth-century Russian thinkers, Berdiaev has been widely studied in the West since the 1930s, particularly in schools of religion and theology and by philosophers in the existentialist and personalist traditions. Although many Western readers considered him the voice of Russian Orthodox Christianity, his independent views drew fire from some Orthodox philosophers and theologians and also from strongly anti-Soviet Russian émigrés. His writings in emigration were eagerly embraced in his homeland once they could be published there, beginning in the late 1980s.

Citing this article:
Scanlan, James P.. Berdiaev, Nikolai Aleksandrovich (1874–1948), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E004-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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