Russian philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-E042-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved December 05, 2022, from

Article Summary

Russian thought is best approached without fixed preconceptions about the nature and proper boundaries of philosophy. Conditions of extreme political oppression and economic backwardness are not conducive to the flowering of philosophy as a purely theoretical discipline; academic philosophy was hence a latecomer on the Russian scene, and those (such as the Neo-Kantians of the end of the nineteenth century: see Neo-Kantianism, Russian) who devoted themselves to questions of ontology and epistemology were widely condemned for their failure to address the country’s pressing social problems. Since Peter the Great’s project of Westernization, Russian philosophy has been primarily the creation of writers and critics who derived their ideals and values from European sources and focused on ethics, social theory and the philosophy of history, in the belief that (as Marx put it in his ‘Theses on Feuerbach’) philosophers had hitherto merely interpreted the world: the task was now to change it. This passionate social commitment generated much doctrinaire fanaticism, but it also inspired the iconoclastic tendency made philosophically respectable by Nietzsche: the revaluation of values from an ironic outsider’s perspective. The principal contribution of Russian thinkers to world culture has so far consisted not in systems, but in experiments in the theory and practice of human emancipation. Some of these led to the Russian Revolution, while others furnished remarkably accurate predictions of the nature of utopia in power. Like Dostoevskii’s character Shigalëv who, starting from the ideal of absolute freedom, arrived by a strict logical progression at the necessity of absolute despotism, Russian philosophers have specialized in thinking through (and sometimes acting out) the practical implications of the most seductive visions of liberty that Europe has produced over the last 200 hundred years.

Citing this article:
Kelly, Aileen. Russian philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E042-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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