Vladimir Soloviev

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= also spelled as Solovyov


1. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

"Solovyov was born in Moscow in 1853. His father, Sergej Mikhailovich, a professor at Moscow University, is universally recognized as one of Russia’s greatest historians. After attending secondary school in Moscow, Vladimir enrolled at the university and began his studies there in the natural sciences in 1869, his particular interest at this time being biology. Already at the age of 13 he had renounced his Orthodox faith to his friends, accepting the banner of materialism perhaps best illustrated by the fictional character of Bazarov in Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons and the actual historical figure of Pisarev. During the first two or three years of study at the university Solovyov grew disenchanted with his ardent positivism and did poorly in his examinations. An excellent student prior to this time, there is no reason for us to doubt his intellectual gifts. Nevertheless, although he himself as well as his interpreters have attributed his poor performance to growing disinterest in his course of study, this reasoning may sound to us at least somewhat disingenuous. In any case, Solovyov subsequently enrolled as an auditor in the Historical-Philosophical Faculty, then passing the examination for a degree in June 1873.

At some point during 1872 Solovyov reconverted, so to speak, to Orthodoxy. During the academic year 1873-74 he attended lectures at the Moscow Ecclesiastic Academy–an unusual step for a lay person. At this time Solovyov also began the writing of his magister’s dissertation, several chapters of which were published in a Russian theological journal in advance of’ his formal defense of it in early December 1874.

The death of his Moscow University philosophy teacher Pamfil Jurkevich created a vacancy that Solovyov surely harbored hopes of eventually filling. Nevertheless, despite being passed over, owing, at least in part, to his young age and lack of credentials, he was named a docent (lecturer) in philosophy. In spite of taking up his teaching duties with enthusiasm, within a few months Solovyov applied for a scholarship to do research abroad, primarily in London’s British Museum.

His stay in the English capital was met with mixed emotions, but it could not have been entirely unpleasant, for in mid-September 1875 he was still informing his mother of plans to return to Russia only the following summer. For whatever reason, though, Solovyov abruptly changed his mind, writing again to his mother a mere month later that his work required him to go to Egypt via Italy and Greece. Some have attributed his change of plans to a mystical experience while sitting in the reading room of the Museum!

Upon his return to Russia the following year, Solovyov taught philosophy at Moscow University. He began work on a text that we know as the Philosophical Principles of Integral Knowledge, but which he never finished. In early 1877 Solovyov relinquished his university position due to his aversion towards academic politics, took up residence in St. Petersburg and accepted employment in the Ministry of Public Education. While preparing his doctoral dissertation, Solovyov gave a series of highly successful popular lectures at St. Petersburg University that was later published as Lectures on Divine Humanity, and in 1880 he defended a doctoral dissertation at St. Petersburg University. Any lingering hope Solovyov may have entertained of obtaining a professorship in Russia were dashed when in early 1881 during a public lecture he appealed to the Tsar to pardon the regicides of the latter’s father Alexander II.

For the remainder of the 1880s, despite his prolificacy, Solovyov concerned himself with themes of little interest to contemporary Western philosophy. He returned, however, to traditional philosophical issues in the 1890s, working in particular on ethics and epistemology. His studies on the latter, however, were left quite incomplete owing to his premature death in 1900 at the age of 47. At the end Solovyov, together with his younger brother, was also preparing a new Russian translation of Plato’s works."


2. Stephen Talbott:

"On January 26, 1878, two days before his twenty-fifth birthday, Vladimir Solovyov stood up before an audience of intellectuals and officials in St. Petersburg to begin the first of his twelve Lectures on Divine Humanity. The lectures aimed at concretely demonstrating the reality of the evolution of human consciousness and religion. Among the attendees was Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who, although much older than Solovyov, was already a close friend. Also attending was Leo Tolstoy, with whom Solovyov would carry on a much more “antagonistic” relationship2.

The precocious Solovyov became widely known through these early lectures and his even earlier publications. During his teenage years, he had been “possessed by a passionate and violent atheism” (Jakim 1995). Having entered Moscow University at age sixteen under the sway of positivism and utilitarianism, he pursued three years of study in physics and mathematics before switching to the Faculty of History and Philology. “As a mark of both his talent and his audacity, he received his degree in June of 1873 without completing any classes as an official student of that faculty”. A year and a half later he defended his master’s thesis. Thereafter he took up theological studies, and then he would return to the Faculty of History and Philology for his doctorate.

The impressive body of work Solovyov completed during his twenties included these major publications: The Crisis of Western Philosophy: Against Positivism (parts of which were published before submission as his master’s thesis); The Philosophical Principles of Integral Knowledge, concerned with the nature of organic rather than abstractly logical knowledge; A Critique of Abstract Principles (doctoral thesis); and Lectures on Divine Humanity. He was, during that third decade of his life, already considered an important figure on the Russian intellectual scene, and he would eventually be regarded by many as the most significant and influential Russian philosopher of the nineteenth century.

Solovyov, however, could not remain comfortable living the life of an academic, and in fact spent much of his life as a wanderer of sorts. He died “surrounded by friends but with neither a family nor a home of his own”. Yet despite what almost appeared to be vagrancy at times, his academic credentials remained secure throughout his life. During his last decade “he was asked to be the philosophy editor of the important multivolume Encyclopaedic Dictionary … [he] wrote dozens of articles for the encyclopedia on ancient and modern philosophers and on such philosophical topics as beauty, reason, nature, mysticism, and evil”.

But there were other sides of his life, which I can scarcely attempt to capture. He claimed to have had three visitations from, or visions of — a figure he identified as “Sophia”, or “Divine Wisdom”, and he spent a lifetime trying to come to terms with these experiences. This led him into what are usually referred to as “mystical” pursuits. Yet his drive to hold the different aspects of his life together — he also achieved considerable work as a poet, literary critic, political commentator, and theologian — was always solidly grounded. He had little tolerance for detachment from the material world, whether in the form of abstract religiosity and mysticism, or abstract science. In all matters he sought an understanding that could lead to transformation and elevation of the world, not an escape from it.

It is also noteworthy that he often ridiculed himself, whether in verse or otherwise. “Some of his poetry makes fun of his own most precious beliefs”, and his self-mockery extended even to, or especially to, his bumbling search for the truth of Sophia. “Solovyov seems to have wanted his audience to laugh at his quest for Divine Wisdom”.

More generally, he was known for his irreverent epigrams, pranks, and sometimes crude jokes, showing a “willingness to mix earthly humor and divine love, as well as laughter and metaphysics”. Embracing opposites in the hope of raising them to a higher unity, he was “a vegetarian in a land of meat-filled pastries and cutlets, a Slavophile who rejected Russian nationalism, and a scholar willing to give up a stable university career to speak out against the tsar”."



Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

"In his first major work, The Crisis of Western Philosophy (written when he was twenty-one), he argues against positivism and for moving away from a dichotomy of “speculative” (rationalist) and “empirical” knowledge in favour of a post-philosophical enquiry that would reconcile all notions of thought in a new transcendental whole.

He carried on his attempted synthesis of rationalism, empiricism and mysticism in Philosophical Principles of Integral Knowledge, and he turned to a study of ethics leading to a solidifying of his epistemology in Critique of Abstract Principles.

In the later period of his life, he recast his ethics in The Justification of the Good and his epistemology in Theoretical Philosophy."


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