Abstract. This article presents the concept of the diversity of Russian philosophy. Philosophical diversity, the many faces of Russian thought in different epochs, calls for corresponding hermeneutic procedures to be understood holistically. This feature is a form of expressing the sovereignty of Russian thought because it is incompatible with authoritarian imposition of the sole Marxism-based explanatory model, which became entrenched during the Soviet period. This approach implies that the social mission of philosophy is understanding the spiritual foundations of society. Every philosophy has a social and national face, such that Russian philosophy is an expression of “the Russian worldview” (S. Frank). In the 21st century, denial of the national identity of philosophy looks like a justification of racism. At the same time, Russian philosophy, like any other national variety, seeks to solve universal problems of explaining human existence, society, and history. This constitutes “the eternal in Russian philosophy” (B. Vysheslavtsev). There is no special Russian philosophy that is incompatible with other national philosophical traditions. A different approach would be a justification of philosophical nationalism, whereas the founders of the main concepts of Russian philosophy have upheld philosophical universalism. Among them were V. Solovyov, S. Frank, B. Vysheslavtsev, S. Trubetskoy, N. Berdyaev, V. Zenkovsky, N. Lossky, G. Florovsky, G. Fedotov, S. Bulgakov, P. Struve, G. Shpet, A. Losev, to mention but some.

The Panel Discussion “How We Understand Russian Philosophy,” organized by Philosophy Journal, focuses on its modern interpretation (how do “we,” i.e., the bearers of the idea of Russian philosophy and not outside observers, understand it “today”?). Modernity here has its authentic meaning: Russian philosophy does not have any “top” or “final” historical limits, because it continues to exist today. Its interpretation is also part of Russian philosophy. It is appropriate to recall, in this context, the concept “we-philosophy,” used by Semyon Frank to reveal the fundamental property of philosophical knowledge. Philosophy exists not only for the purpose of subjective “technematic self-expression.” The latter assumes the existence of a special type of philosophy and philosophizing, one of three according to the typology proposed by Gennady Mayorov. He distinguished the interpretation of philosophy as “philo-sophia,” as an “episteme” and as a “techneme” (technique of thinking or mind play). Philosophy is more than the self-indulgent play of my mind (“to stir the brain,” to quote a character in a play by Aleksandr Ostrovsky). The existence of philosophy also presupposes “you” – together, this is “we,” since every philosophy is social and seeks to understand the spiritual foundations of society and the “moral force of the nation” that inspires it [6]. In other words, every philosophy has a national face; as for Russian philosophy as “the expression of the national spirit,” in this capacity, according to Frank, it is defined as “the Russian worldview.” He follows up with a clarification whereby the worldview should not be interpreted in the spirit of philosophical nationalism as “a national teaching or a national system” [2]. As for a concise definition of the national uniqueness of Russian philosophy, the formula of Boris Vysheslavtsev at the very beginning of his book The Eternal in Russian Philosophy can be considered the best available. Let me quote it in full:

The main problems of world philosophy are, of course, also the problems of Russian philosophy. There is no specifically Russian philosophy. But there exists the Russian approach to world philosophical problems, the Russian way of experiencing and discussing them. Different nations notice and value different thoughts and feelings in the wealth of content offered by every great philosopher. Thus there exists a Russian Plato, a Russian Descartes, a Russia Pascal, and of course a Russian Kant. Like in science, nationalism in philosophy is impossible; but there may be particular interest in certain world problems and certain intellectual traditions of different nations [11, p. 154].

However, if all Russian philosophy is open to world philosophy and all its main problems are also problems of world philosophy that, according to Vysheslavtsev, constitutes its “eternal” content, it cannot be explained exclusively by turning to the Russian ethno-cultural reality, because it has to be put in the broader all-European context. Russian philosophy, which has its roots in the Eastern Christian cultural and philosophical realm, goes back, like Western philosophy, to the ancient Logos, which prepared the ground for the Christian Logos. This was represented in the East and West in two variants of philosophy: philosophy as sophia (Plato) and philosophy as episteme (Aristotle). In his book The Teaching on Logos in Its History, which he defended as a doctoral dissertation, Sergey Trubetskoy presented a concrete historical-philosophical study of the link between the ancient philosophical tradition (and, more broadly, the cultural and spiritual tradition) and Christianity, describing the transformation of the ancient Logos into the Christian Logos (the theme was first introduced in Russian philosophy by Ivan Kireyevsky).

Sergey Trubetskoy, Vysheslavtsev, and Frank, being connoisseurs of Russian philosophical thought, consistently championed its universalism, meaning the engagement of philosophy with universal problems of being and cognition while stressing the nationally peculiar approach to their solution. The above position, expressed by Frank and Vysheslavtsev, was shared by Vladimir Solovyov, Nikolay Berdyaev, Vasily Zenkovsky, Nikolay Lossky, Georgy Florovsky, Georgy Fedotov, Sergey Bulgakov, Pyotr Struve, Gustav Shpet, and Aleksey Losev. All these thinkers were also universalists, but they formulated their philosophical interests in different ways and, accordingly, interpreted hermeneutic approaches to the distinctiveness of Russian philosophy in different ways. A different view of philosophy, which denies its engagement with key issues of social and national being and recognizes it only as the result of intellectual play of the pure cognizing subject, looked in the 19th century to be the product of the thought of “impostors without a philosophical passport” (V. Solovyov), and in the 21st century, it comes across as undisguised racism, which denies the diversity of national philosophical cultures.

The answer to the question “What constitutes the Russianness of Russian philosophy?” rules out the search for something “uniquely Russian,” something that is not to be found in the philosophies of other countries. On the contrary, the meaning of the Russian word mirovozzreniye coincides with the English “worldview” and the German Weltansсhauung, just as the English “being” is an exact equivalent of the Russian word bytiye. There are certain untranslatable words – for example, sobornost’ is simply a transliteration of the Russian word. To be sure, not all the definitions expressing the peculiarities of Russian philosophy can be translated without some loss of the flavor they have in the native language environment. For example, the common translation of Vasily Rozanov’s book Uyedinyonnoye as “Solitaria” fails to express the essence of his literary-philosophical masterpiece. It implies not simply loneliness (solitaria in Latin) but “what has been written in solitude.” For Rozanov, this also means something written “almost like a manuscript,” indicating the place, specific occupation, and even the mood of the author at the time of writing a particular statement. Examples of other translation difficulties abound.

We should be talking not about constructing, including through translation into foreign languages, of something “peculiarly Russian,” but about understanding “the characteristically Russian,” something rooted in the original cultural-civilizational path followed by Russian philosophical thought, confirmed by concrete sources. One characteristically Russian feature of Russian philosophy is its diversity (in terms of language, genre, style, concepts) determined by its being at various stages of development. An excellent example of such an approach is the long article “Russian Philosophy” by Professor Angela Dioletta Siclari of Parma University [8]. Another stalwart proponent of the concept of the diversity of Russian philosophy was Andrzej Walicki, a world-famous historian of Russian thought who saw it as a variegated and multicolored united “flow of ideas,” which included elements of varying duration and impact [12].

One is struck by the characteristically Russian huge historical gap between the inception of Russian philosophical (initially philosophical-theological) thought going back to the “Sermon on Law and Grace” written in the first half of the 11th century by the first Russian Metropolitan Hilarion and its first description in the book Russian Philosophy (1840) by the scholarly monk Archimandrite Gavriil (Vasily Voskresensky). This dramatic temporal distance bears out the popular notion that Russian philosophy, like Russian culture as a whole, consists in many ways of losses and the subsequent recovery of what has been lost. The aforementioned time gap prompted a plethora of quasi-scientific or pseudo-scientific opinions about the start of the development of Russian philosophy due to various motivations, i.e., methodological, ideological, value-related, etc. An authentic explanation of the cause of such a gap was offered only recently by intensive, including archive, research by Vasily Vanchugov [10].

Another example of the diversity of Russian philosophy is the poly-ethnic background of Russian philosophers and multi-lingual character of Russian philosophical texts. They were written not only in Russian, but also in old Church-Slavonic (11th-17th centuries), Latin (17th-18th centuries), as well as French, English, and German (19th-20th centuries), and the Slavic languages. Besides, it has to be said that Russia has not only Russian philosophy, the word combinations russkaya filosofiya and rossiyskaya filosofiya (both translated as “Russian philosophy”) are not identical. The languages of the peoples of Russia – Tatar, Bashkir, Chechen, Yakut, Buryat, and others – have their own traditions of expressing national spiritual identities, both written and oral. Russian philosophy was formed both inside and outside Russia. Many Russian thinkers, due to various, mainly political, reasons, left Russia and wrote their works abroad. They include Aleksandr Herzen, Nikolay Ogaryov, Mikhail Bakunin, Pyotr Lavrov, Dmitry Merezhkovsky, Nikolay Berdyaev, Ivan Ilyin, Semyon Frank, Pitirim Sorokin, Sergey Bulgakov, Georgy Plekhanov, Vladimir Lenin, and others. The ideas of Russian philosophy were expressed by representatives of other peoples, which shared their historical destinies with Russia: Maximus the Greek, the Croat Juraj Križanić, the Ukrainians Grigory Skovoroda and Feofan Prokopovich, the Moldavian Antiochus Kantemir, and others. Some Russian-born thinkers became integrated into European philosophy and worked at “the crossroads between cultures” while not losing interest in Russian thought. They include such well-known names as Alexandre Koyré, Alexandre Kojève, and Isaiah Berlin [3].

A very objective and impartial view on the diversity of Russian philosophy was shared by Frederick Copleston, author of the world-famous series of works on world philosophy whose volume 10 is devoted to philosophy in Russia [1]. Each of the three figures mentioned in the subtitle of the book reflects different features of Russian thought: “moral idealism” (Herzen), focus on “the destiny of man” (Berdyaev), and “revolutionary activism” (Lenin). It is impossible to give a coherent and consistent description of Russian philosophy proceeding from Western standards, which examine the history of philosophy solely as a history of philosophical systems. In the case of Russia, one should “take a broad view” and “not worry much about distinctions between the history of philosophy, the history of ideas, the history of social theory and religious thought” [1, p. viii]. Russia, of course, had some purely academic philosophers – for example, Neo-Kantians, but Copleston believes that if one confines oneself to ideas of this type, the picture of the development of philosophy falls into a series of isolated essays that present an interest only to specialists.

To properly understand Russian philosophy, it is necessary to take into account every experience of its assessment, including negative ones. The attempt made in the Soviet times to work out a universal concept of Russian philosophy on the Marxist basis is today regarded as untenable. The word “untenable” does not of course refer to the act of institutionalization of philosophy as such. The formation in 1943 of the first chair of the history of Russian philosophy in the USSR and in the world as part of the philosophy department that had been restored at Moscow University two years earlier was, of course, extremely important.1 The creation of such a chair was an act of scientific patriotism, but not only that. Its creation coincided with a major historical date: On May 15, 1943, the Executive Committee of the Comintern adopted a decision to dissolve that organization. This marked an important change in the tactics of the communist movement, which above all had to do with the use of national cultural traditions in the struggle against fascism. Clearly, the establishment of the chair was prompted not so much by academic and educational considerations as by political and ideological considerations. It was a decision of the Communist Party, the AUCP(B).

Marxism, established as the sole and unchallenged model of interpreting Russian history, proved unfit for that purpose. For most of his philosophical life, Marx shared the traditional Russophobic views held by European intellectuals. To them, Russia was not a kind of country-civilization, a part of Europe, its Christian sister which had lived through the epoch of Renaissance together with Europe, but a semi-Asian society not fundamentally different from the eastern tyrannies such as China, Turkey, Persia, and India and incapable of social change. Until the early 1870s, Marx believed that Russia was doomed to stagnate because it was “different,” anti-revolutionary, and lagged behind advanced capitalist countries. Therefore, Marx the revolutionary and Russophobe had nothing but disdain for the Russian Empire. It was not until the publication of the first volume of Das Kapital in Russian translation (1872) that Marx discovered another Russia represented by revolutionaries and social thinkers; however, that discovery did not lead in any significant way to a perception of the diversity of Russian philosophy in the context of Russian culture.

The ultra-rationalism and atheism of Soviet Marxism, coupled with the Marxist-Leninist “party spirit,” dramatically narrowed the perception of the diversity of Russian philosophy. Among the casualties were even such “socially close” trends as narodnichestvo (populism). For a long time, the study of narodnichestvo, which had a rich tradition before the October 1917 Revolution and in the early Soviet years, was practically banned and unfortunately never recovered from the losses it had sustained. Russian religious philosophy was totally excluded from the scholarly and public domain. Its ideas began to “revive” in 1982 at the tail end of the Soviet era, after Svetlana Semyonova published the works of Nikolay Fyodorov under the umbrella title “The Philosophy of the Common Cause.” The publication elicited a “commissioned” and incompetent article in the journal Voprosy filosofii by Semyon Mikulinsky, Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences [7].

However, the most egregious distortion of the image of Russian philosophy in Soviet times was the creation of a false concept of a “solid materialist tradition” in Russia. It all started with the publication of a “normative” article about Mikhailo Lomonosov [4] by Academician Bonifaty Kedrov, a party member since the age of 15, the son of Mikhail Kedrov, one of the founders of VChK (or AREOC).2 According to B. Kedrov, “advanced natural science” could not have anything in common with religion, so he created a myth about Lomonosov’s materialism and atheism. Meanwhile, Vladimir Vernadsky and Sergey Vavilov found in Lomonosov’s works unmistakable signs of the recognition of “cognitive content” in religion. This did not in any way contradict the fact that Lomonosov in his works vehemently promoted rationalism, which was so characteristic of the Modern worldview, the new European science, and philosophy. Lomonosov, like Leibniz and Descartes, was interested in the “philosophical” and not “theological” God, and this, not the “atheism” invented by Kedrov, did indeed resonate with the “advanced natural science” of his time.

Unfortunately, today the worldview content of the work of outstanding natural scientists is often outside the purview of historians of Russian thought, a fact that significantly detracts from the diversity of Russian philosophy. Underestimation of the philosophical heritage of Russian scientists, which constitutes a large chunk of Russian thought, is in contrast with the increased attention to the works of religious philosophers. The inevitable shift of priorities toward idealism was foreseen by Vasily Zenkovsky, who believed that the more abrupt the break with the past the more powerful would be the backlash to restore what had been lost. To some extent, the underestimation is the result of the fact that the heritage of Russian scientists is, “by inertia,” perceived in the negative light in the context of the dogmatized Leninist claim that Russia had a “solid materialist tradition” or as a belated reaction to Soviet philosophy’s attacks on genetics and cybernetics. Incidentally, Lenin’s work On the Significance of Militant Materialism does not say anything about Lomonosov belonging to this tradition. Lenin mentions only two Russian materialists, Georgy Plekhanov and Nikolay Chernyshevsky. Nevertheless, materialism was later “imputed” to Lomonosov, and this was repeated many times to become a norm of the Soviet history of philosophy. The technique of lumping all Russian scientists together as materialists was an ideologically correct ritual for Soviet philosophy, a ritual Leningrad authors Anatoly Galaktionov and Pyotr Nikandrov described as the “questionnaire-and-quotation method.”

While the diversity of Russian philosophy cannot be proved on the basis of limited empirical evidence, equally it cannot be proved by deduction of categories or methods of a single philosophical system, because philosophical diversity calls for diverse hermeneutic procedures if it is to be grasped. An adequate understanding of the diversity calls for a broad worldview, the skill sets of linguists; students of religion, the Middle Ages, and Byzantium; as well as historians and literary scholars. Sergey Trubetskoy, the classic of Russian philosophical history, opposed the monopoly of any single philosophical system in interpreting philosophical ideas. Above all, he objected to Hegel’s concept of the history of philosophy, which was on the rise in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Philosophy should be understood “in conjunction with general culture” – in other words, the historian of philosophy deals not only with abstract categories, but also with the concrete being of historical knowledge in the context and fabric of spiritual culture. Furthermore, the history of philosophy should be “living” – i.e., it should be a history of the concrete quest for truth, with due account of the individual features of philosophical teachings that bear the imprint of the personalities of their authors [9]. Trubetskoy’s position explains why the body of Russian philosophy should include not only philosophical systems created by specialized professional philosophy at universities and religious academies, but also the works of Russian sages and pundits, freelance philosophers, men-of-letters, and social commentators.

Knowledge of the cultural context that engendered philosophical teachings is crucial for the “living history of philosophy.” With regard to Russian philosophy, it means that it is historical-philosophical “Russia study,” a way of perceiving Russia. It is a derivative of the historical cultural context because it articulates cultural-historical reality, makes it speak, and brings it to life, for reality is “silent,” it cannot speak. Thus, Russian philosophy is conditioned by reality, being linked to it by numerous threads.

As one becomes more and more aware of the inherent originality of Russian philosophy, one increasingly realizes that it is, as Sergey Bulgakov said, “a really existing spiritual organism.” As a historical reality, this organism is a combination of different philosophical epochs, which is always something larger than our notion of this spiritual organism. This shows that the diversity of Russian philosophy is its intrinsic feature, for not a single period in its history and not a single thinker can claim to fully represent all Russian philosophical thought – be it the Age of Enlightenment, which Russia first experienced simultaneously with Europe, or the “philosophical awakening” of the first half of the 19th century or even the epoch of religious-philosophical renaissance in the early 20th century. Belonging to this spiritual organism, according to Bulgakov, “does not depend on our consciousness; it exists before it, apart from it, and even in spite of it.” This diverse body of ideas will always be larger than our ideas about it, such that our task is to “approximate” it (“approximate” and not catalog all its details).


1. Copleston F. C. Philosophy in Russia. From Herzen to Lenin and Berdyaev. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame, 1986.

2. Frank S. L. Spiritual Foundations of Society. Introduction to Social Philosophy. Moscow: Respublika, 1992. (In Russian.)

3. Granovskaya O. L. et al. (eds.) Crossroads of Cultures: Alexandre Koyré, Alexandre Kojève, Isaiah Berlin. Moscow: Rosspen, 2021. (In Russian.)

4. Kedrov B. M. M. V. Lomonosov – the Founder of Materialist Philosophy and Progressive Natural Sciences in Russia. Essays on the History of Philosophical and Social-Political Thought of the USSR Peoples. Ed. by G. Vasetsky et al. Moscow: USSR Academy of Sciences, 1955. Vol. 1, pp. 119-171. (In Russian.)

5. Kuvakin V. A., Maslin M. A. (Eds.) Russian Philosophical Thought: In Rus’, Russia and Abroad. Moscow: Moscow State Univ., 2013. (In Russian.)

6. Mayorov G. G. Philosophy as the Search for the Absolute: Theoretical and Historical Essays. Moscow: URSS, 2004. (In Russian.)

7. Mikulinsky S. R. Would It Be the Right Attitude to the Heritage? (Regarding the release of the book: N. F. Fedorov. Works. Moscow, 1982). Voprosy filosofii. 1982. No. 12, pp. 151-157. (In Russian.)

8. Siclari A. D. La Filosofia Russa. Noctua. La tradizione filosofica dallantico al moderno. 2020. No. 7 (2), pp. 336-408.

9. Trubetskoy S. N. Handbook on the History of Ancient Philosophy. Moscow: Vlados, 1997. (In Russian.)

10. Vanchugov V. V. The First Historian of Russian Philosophy: Archimandrite Gavriil and His Epoch. Moscow: World of Philosophy, 2015. (In Russian.)

11. Vysheslavtsev B. P. Eternal in Russian Philosophy. Id. Ethics of Transformed Eros. Moscow: Respublika, 1994, pp. 153-324. (In Russian.)

12. Walicki A. The Flow of Ideas. Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to the Religious-Philosophical Renaissance. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2015.


1 The main lines of the chair’s research, the history of its foundation, studies of the legacy of individual Russian philosophers and trends, foreign contacts, etc. are presented in the collective monograph [5].

2 The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage under the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR.

Translated by Yevgeny Filippov