NOTES ON BERDYAEV’S SPIRIT AND REALITY
D. R. Khashaba
In Let Us Philosophize, first published in 1998, I commented critically on a passage from Berdyaev’s “Dostoevsky”, quoted by Victor Gollancz in A Year of Grace. That was all I had read of Berdyaev until a few says ago when I downloaded excerpts from Spirit and Reality (tr. George Reavey). I have been reading these and was struck by the close correspondence between Berdyaev’s notion of ‘spirit’ and the special meaning of ‘reality’ I have been expounding in all my writings, most recently in Creative Eternity: A Metaphysical Myth (2016). I have been jotting down notes while reading. I give thesenotes below only slightly edited. (The page numbers cited are as given in the excerpts.)
Berdyaev writes: “In (Kant’s) philosophy are laid the foundations of the only true metaphysics: a dualism of the spheres of freedom and nature …” (p.8). This may be a fair representation of Kant’s position; but as I see it, Kant stopped at dualism because he had no true metaphysics. He opposed phenomena to the noumenon, and the only noumenon we have direct cognizance of is the human free will. But the phenomenal cannot be in itself and by itself. True metaphysics seeks the one Reality. The separation of the realms of freedom and nature is mere appearance: true metaphysics sees these as Spinoza’s natura naturans and natura naturata, or, in terms of my philosophy of Creative Eternity, as Creativity and transient creations.
Berdyaev rejects the monism of the German Idealists in favour of Kant’s dualism. Kantian dualism, Berdyaev says, “contains a greater element of eternal truth.” To my mind the ‘eternal truth’ Berdyaev finds in dualism is only its agreement with his monotheistic Christianity. He castigates the German Idealists’ monism as “a type of self-objectifying and self-hypostasizing thought” (p.8). I both agree and differ. The German Idealists were wrong in thinking their ‘self-hypostasizations’ are objective representations of the All. Had they confessed that they were only giving mythical expression to the reality they find within themselves they would have been blameless, for that is all metaphysics can do and is required to do.
I find in a paragraph of Berdyaev’s (on p.10) an amazing correspondence between his understanding of ‘spirit’ and what I have been trying to convey in my special usage of the term ‘reality’ (which I also name ‘creativity’ and ‘eternity’). Had I read this paragraph earlier I would have quoted it to clarify and support my usage and might have thought of adopting the term ‘spirit’ to replace the term ‘reality’ which has caused so much understanding of my position. I quote Berdyaev’s paragraph (somewhat abridged) followed by a short explanatory note:
“Spirit is neither an objective reality nor a rational category of being. Spirit has never existed, nor can it exist anywhere, in the form of a real object. The philosophy of spirit should not be a philosophy of being or an ontology, but a philosophy of existence. Spirit is not only a reality of a different kind … [part of the text here seems to be garbled] … but it is an altogether different reality. To make use of Kantian terminology … we may affirm that the reality of spirit is that of freedom rather than that of nature. Spirit is never an object, nor is spiritual reality an objective one.” (p.10)
Berdyaev’s use of the terms ‘reality’ and ‘existence’ is the exact opposite of mine, but this is only a difference of terminology (and I am not sure how much of this may be due to the English translation). When Berdyaev asserts that the philosophy of spirit “should not be a philosophy of being or an ontology” I tend to think that this follows from Berdyaev’s Christian theism which does not permit him to have a true ontology. But the statements “Spirit has never existed, nor can it exist anywhere” and “Spirit is never an object, nor is spiritual reality an objective one” could have been culled out of any of my books, from Let Us Philosophize (1998, 2008) through Quest of Reality (2013) to Creative Reality (2016), only replacing the word ‘spirit’ in Berdyaev’s text with ‘reality’ in mine. (See Part III of Creative Eternity especially chapters Omicron and Rho.)
Here again is something that matches what I have been saying in all my writings except for some difference in terminology: “Spiritual states do not correspond to anything, they simply are; they are the prime reality, they are more existential than anything reflected in the objective world.” (p.12) Except for this last phrase couched in Existentialist language, I have expressed the same thought time and again — most lately in a blog I posted on November 4, 2016 9”The Consciousness Puzzle”).
Of course the correspondence between Berdyaev’s philosophy and mine is not complete. It is his conception of ‘spirit’ that agrees completely with my conception of metaphysical reality. I do not want to go into the differences between the two positions.
Again when Berdyaev says that “freedom, meaning, creativity, integrity, love, value, an orientation towards the highest Divine world and union with it” are among the attributes of spirit (p.33) — if you were to put this statement before me and tell me you have taken it out of one of my books I would have no reason to doubt it.
There is much else that I could have quoted from other pages, but that would add nothing essential to the above quotations and remarks.
Berdyaev repeatedly speaks of the creativity or creativeness of spirit. I say that reality (mind) is creativity, sheer creativity. In my philosophy creativity is the ultimately real: this is what I name Creative Eternity. Ultimate Reality is not a substance, not mind as an entity, but pure intelligent creativity. I have said this repeatedly in these very words. It bears repetition because it challenges current modes of thought and language. Hence I was overjoyed when I found Berdyaev’s notion of spirit so closely corresponding to what I say of what is ultimately real.
Marginally: Berdyaev says: “The Christian revelation is unrecognizable in historical Christianity.” (p.58) Does this echo Kierkegaard?
Berdyaev’s Christian faith signifies that the surface correspondence between his statements and mine may hide fundamental differences.
I find particular significance in the statement “in mysticism God reveals Himself in man” (p.85) — ‘in man’ rather than ‘to man’. For the reality we commune with is within us, is our own inner reality. It is when we ourselves become fully real that we know Reality. Plato sums this up in that oracular passage in Republic 490a-b. A God outside us is a fiction, at best a myth acknowledged as a myth In saying this I know I am parting company with Berdyaev. It nay be that in the sentence I quoted he was indicating what he found wrong with mysticism.
It is in Chapter I that Berdyaev touches on the metaphysical problem of reality and it is on this chapter that I concentrate. The other chapters are rich in insight (and also full of problematic points) but fall outside the range of what I intended to address in this note. — Still I could not resist voicing some thoughts inspired by Berdyaev’s discussion of mysticism.
Mystics, embracing their traditional faith, relieve themselves of facing the metaphysical problem: they represent their profound experience of their inner reality in terms of the fictions of their faith. Poets and artists represent that experience in their poetic and artistic visions. Philosophers, enthralled by the metaphysical problem, represent their insight into reality in ontological notions and myths. Plato understood that best. The Form of the Good is the paragon of insightful metaphysical myth.
D. R. Khashaba
Cairo, November 6, 2016
Posted to http://khashaba.blogspot.com and https://philosophia937.wordpress.com
NOTES ON BERDYAEV’S SPIRIT AND REALITY