Nikolai Lossky

Nikolai Onufriyevich Lossky (Николай Онуфриевич Лосский) (December 6, 1870January 24, 1965) was a Russian philosopher, representative of Russian idealism, intuitionism, personalism, libertarianism, ethics, Axiology (Value theory), and his intuitivism. He was born in the village of Kreslavka, Dinaburg uyezd (region), Vitebsk gubernia (province) of Russian Empire and died from natural causes at a nursing home near Paris. Lossky had three sons and a daughter who died as a child, the most famous son being the Eastern Orthodox Theologian Vladimir Lossky.


Lossky undertook post-graduate study in Germany under Wilhelm Windelband, Wilhelm Wundt and G. E. Müller, receiving a Master's degree in 1903 and a Doctorate in 1907. Returning to Russia, he became Lecturer and subsequently Assistant Professor of philosophy at St Petersburg. Lossky called for a Russian religious and spiritual reawakening while pointing out post-revolution excesses. At the same time, Lossky survived an elevator accident that nearly killed him, which caused him to convert back to the Russian Orthodox Church under the direction of Father Pavel Florensky. These criticisms and conversion cost Lossky his professorship of philosophy and led to his exile abroad, on the famed Philosophers' ship (in 1922) from the Soviet Union as a counter-revolutionary.

Lossky was invited to Prague by Tomáš Masaryk and became Professor at the Russian University of Prague at Bratislava, in Czechoslovakia. Being part of a group of ex-Marxists, including Nikolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov, Gershenzon, Peter Berngardovich Struve, Semen L. Frank. Lossky, though a Fabian socialist, contributed to the group's symposium named Vekhi or Signposts. He also helped the Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin with his Social and Cultural Dynamics

In 1947 N.O. Lossky took a position at Piously-Vladimir spiritual academy or Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, a Russian Orthodox seminary, in New York. Teaching Eastern Orthodox theology. In 1961, after the death of his son Vladimir, Lossky went to France: the last four years of his life were spent in illness there.


Intuitivism and Slavophilism

Lossky was one of the preeminent Russian neo-idealists of his day. Lossky's Гносеология or gnosiology being called Intuitivist-Personalism had in part adapted the Hegelian dialectical approach of first addressing a problem in thought in terms of its expression as a duality or dichotomy. Once the problem is expressed as a dichotomy the two opposing ideas are fused in order to transcend the dichotomy. This transition is expressed in the concept of sobornost, integrality or mystical communal union. Lossky also followed and developed his ontological and gnosiological interpretation of objective reality from Christian neoplatonism based on Origen and the later works of V Soloviev. Understanding and comprehesion coming from addressing an object, as though part of the external world, something that joins the consciousness of the subject directly, intuitionism as the foundation of idealism. In that the essence or noumena of an object and the object's external phenomenon are assembled into a complete organic whole called experience. This is intuitively done by the nous or mind. The nous or eye of the soul as the "organic connection" to the object and therefore the material world. This interaction causing different levels of maturing consciousness over time (reinterpretation). As a dynamic retention experience constitutes the process of learning i.e. reflective differentiation.

Phenomenology and Axiology

Consequently the existence of objects can not be completely expressed with logic or words, nor validated with knowledge, due to objects having a supernatural (in a Greek philosophy or Eastern Orthodox understanding of supernatural) component to their make up. This being part of gnosiology. As is also expressed under metaphysics in that the essence of an object can be akin to Noumenon (opposed to its appearance or phenomenon), but it can have random characteristics to its being or essence, characteristically sumbebekos. The validation (immediate apprehension) of truth, value and existence all being intuitive. This is the basis of V Soloviev's arguments against Positivism which are the corner stone to Russian philosophy contained in his "Against the Positivists".

Sobornost and the World as an Organic Whole

One of the main points of Lossky's онтология or ontology is, the world is an organic whole as understood by human consciousness. Intuition is the direct contemplation of objects, and furthermore the assembling of the entire set of cognition from sensory perception into a complete and undivided organic whole i.e. experience. This being consciousness without thought, raw and uninterpreted by the mind. Thus the mind's dianoia (rational or logical faculty) in it's deficiency, finiteness or inconclusiveness causes the perceived conflict between the objectivism (materialism, external world) and idealism (spiritual, inner experience) forms of philosophy. Where intuitive or instinctual re-action is without processing or is outside of comprehension via the dianoia component of the mind (Nous). Intuition being analogous with instinctual consciousness. Intuition functions without rational or logical thought. Rational or logical thought via the dianoia component of the nous, which then works in reflection as hindsight to organize experience into a comprehensible order i.e. ontology. Intuitive knowledge or Gnosis (pre-processed knowledge or uninterpreted) then being history or memory rather than a determining factor of or during an actual conscious experience. Lossky's ontology being consistent with Leibniz's optimism expressed as the Best of all possible worlds in contrast to the pessimism and nihilism of more Pro-Western Russian philosophers.

Knowledge and Memory

Once knowledge is abstracted from conscious experience it becomes epistemological knowledge and is then stored in an ontological format in the mind (the format itself a priori). The manipulation of memory and or reapplication of memory as knowledge as post-processed knowledge i.e. Epistemology. Lossky's Ontology as an agent's Сущность (the "essence") expressed as being and or becoming is possible as both the person transcends time and space while being closely connected with the whole world, while in this world. Much of Lossky's working out of an ontological theory of knowledge was done in collaboration with his close friend Semen L. Frank.

Metaphysical libertarianism

Lossky as a metaphysical libertarian taught that all people have uncreated potential as energy (Aristotle) or force (Plotinus). This being very much inline with the vitalism of his day. Though Lossky did not strictly adher to vitalism but rather to its predecessor Monadology and its living forces (dynamis) theory. This is to contrast Leibniz's theory of Monadology against Cartesian mind-body dualism. This as a rejection of vitalism in its dualism of mind and body being of different substances. For Lossky's Substantive Agents have potential (dynamis) and they can act upon this potential (beings have energy). Substantive Agents in being, have energy, this energy is uncreated and as uncreated and or uncaused this under minds the concept of determinism.
That spontaneous or organic reality structures or orders itself to reconcile opposing ideologies (sobornost). Doing so while maintaining order and freewill. Each pole of existence (the created and uncreated of gnosiology) or opposing ideologies, reaching compromise through value and existence and manifesting in a complete organic whole (sobornost) akin to the Plato's metaxy, the ground of being as the in between two poles of existence.
Second Section: That selection is the agent's free act. Consequently, the temporal order of events is not uniform even in the inorganic nature. It is quite possible that although some two electrons have millions of time repulsed each other, they will not do so the next time. But functional connections between ideal forms conditioning the existence of the world as a system-e.g. mathematical principles and the laws of the hierarchy of values and their significance for conduct conditioning the presence of meaning in the world-are independent of the agents' will. Violation of these laws is unthinkable, but they do not destroy the agent's freedom: they merely create the possibility of activity as such and of its value. Those laws condition the cosmic structure within the frame work of which there is freedom for an infinite variety of activities. The system of spatiotemporal and numerical forms provides room for activities that are opposed to one another in direction, value, and significance for the world. The absence of rigidly uniform connection between events does not make science impossible. It is sufficient for science that there should be more or less regular connection between events in time. The lower the agent's stage of development, the more uniform are their manifestations. In those cases there may be statistical laws. Many misunderstandings of the doctrine of free will are disposed of by distinguishing between formal and material freedom. Formal freedom means that in each given case an agent may refrain from some particular manifestation and replace it by another. That freedom is absolute and cannot be lost under any circumstance. Material freedom means the degree of creative power possessed by an agent, and finds expression in what he is capable of creating. It is unlimited in the Kingdom of God, the members of which unanimously combine their forces for communal creativeness and even derive help from God's omnipotence. But agents outside the Kingdom of God are in a state of spiritual deterioration and have very little material freedom, though their formal freedom is unimpaired. Life outside the Kingdom of God is the result of the wrong use of free will.|||From History of Russian Philosophy section on "N O Lossky the Intuitivists" pg 260
Lossky's argument that determinism can not account for the cause of energy in the Universe. Energy being a substance that can not be created or destroyed (see the law of conservation of energy). Each agent accounting for their existence as their own dynamistic manifestation. Dynamistic manifestation as being that of energy.
First section: Determinists deny freedom of the will on the ground that every event has a cause. They mean by causality the order of temporal sequence of one event after other events and the uniformity of that sequence. Causation, generation, creation and all other dynamic aspects of causality are ruled out. Lossky proves that the will is free, taking as his starting point the law of causality but defending a dynamistic interpretation of it. Every event arises not out of itself, but is created by someone: it cannot be created by other events: having a temporal form events fall away every instant into the realm of the past and have no creative power to generate the future. Only supertemporal substantival agents-i.e., actual and potential personalities- are bearers of creative power: they create events as their own vital manifestations. According to the dynamistic interpretation of causality it is necessary to distinguish among the conditions under which an event takes place the cause from the occasion of its happening. The cause is always the substantival agent himself as the bearer of creative power, and the other circumstances are merely occasions for its manifestations, which are neither forced nor predetermined by them. The agents' creative power is superqualitative and does not therefore predetermine which particular values an agent will select as his final end.From History of Russian Philosophy section on "N O Lossky the Intuitivists" pg 260


Much of the theology that Lossky covers (as his own) in the book History of Russian is inline with Origen. Though the specifics of this are not necessarily what Lossky taught in his theology courses, since dogma in a general sense, is what is taught as theology. N.O. Lossky was inline with the common distinction of Eastern theology being the understanding of the Greek concept of Energy. Though Lossky did pursue a position of reconciliation based on mutual cooperation. Lossky taught this cooperation as organic and or spontaneous order, intregality, and unity called sobornost.


In biographical reminiscences recorded by Barbara Branden in the early 1960s, Ayn Rand named Lossky as her primary philosophy teacher at the University of Petrograd or University of St. Petersburg until he was removed from his teaching post by the Soviet regime. However, some of Rand's statements have been called into question.


From the introduction of Value and Existence:

Due to the tradition of the Church, Russia had an implicit philosophy, a philosophy that was born of the Neoplatonism of the Church Fathers. This implicit Neo-platonism is the true heritage of Russian thinking.

Selected bibliography

  • The Fundamental Doctrines of Psychology from the Point of View of Voluntarism «Фундаментальные Доктрины Психологии с Точки зрения Волюнтаризма»(1903)
  • The Intuitive Basis of Knowledge «Обоснование интуитивизма»(1906)
  • The World as an Organic Whole «Мир как органическое целое» (1917)
  • The Fundamental Problems of Epistemology «Основные вопросы гносеологии» (1919)
  • Freedom of Will «Свобода воли»(1927)
  • Value and Existence on the subject of Axiology «Ценность и существование»(1931) by Lossky N. O. and John S. Marshall published by George Allen & Unwin LTD, 1935
  • Dialectical Materialism in the U.S.S.R. «Диалектический Материализм в СССР» (1934)
  • Sensuous, Intellectual and Mystical Intuition «Чувственная, интеллектуальная и мистическая интуиция» (1938)
  • Intellectual intuition, ideal existence and creative activity «Интеллектуальная интуиция и идеальное бытие, творческая активность» (1941)
  • Mystical Intuition «Мистическая интуиция» (1941)
  • Evolution and ideal life «Эволюция и идеальное бытие» (1941)
  • God and suffering «Бог и всемирное зло» (1941)
  • Absolute Good «Условия абсолютного добра»(1944)
  • History of Russian Philosophy «История российской Философии »(1951)
  • The world as the realization of beauty «Мир как осуществление красоты»(1945)
  • Dostoevsky and his Christian Understanding of the World «Достоевский и его христианское мировоззрение»(1953)

See also

Further reading


External links

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