Kantian Journal

2018 Vol. 37. No. 3

Back to the list Download an article

Kantian Ethical Humanism in Late Imperial Russia



The cultural movement known as “humanism” has unfortunately not received a clear and careful definition. Historians and philosophers have lumped together their various understandings of outlooks that stress the value and importance of human life under the collective term “humanism.” This essay sets out to contrast, in particular, three types of humanism, all of which attracted attention at overlapping times in Imperial Russia and then the Soviet Union. The youngest of the three, Marxist humanism, stemmed from late Soviet-era philosophers, who advocated the idea that the human individual as such had a timeless intrinsic value. A second form of humanism, Christian humanism, emerged slowly in nineteenth-century Russia under the influence of Slavophilism. The Slavophiles with a deep sense of religiosity rooted in an understanding of the Church Fathers. They rejected the role of reason in evaluating moral choices, relying on faith to reveal objective moral laws and rules. Their form of Christian humanism lay in a commitment to justice and respect for all human beings. However, the arguably most historically significant Christian humanist in this era was Vladimir S. Solovyov, who went on to combine influ­ences from Slavophilism and the third type of humanism, Kantian humanism. This third type of humanism professedly relied on reason alone, not metaphysical foundations. Solovyov, however, ultimately grounded his moral doctrine in a highly metaphysical all-unity, which he saw as Reason — note the capital “R” — with human civilisation historically unfolding towards a Kingdom of God on Earth. There were other notable advocates of a Kantian humanism in Imperial Russia, but one that cannot be forgotten is Boris N. Chicherin, who combined Kantian moral­ity with a distinct favouring of Hegelianism. What emerges most strongly in the repeated attempts to construct a humanistic ethics in late Imperial Russia and into the Soviet period is that Kant’s powerful and pervasive philosophical presence could not be ignored.


Barsukov, N. P., 1895. Zhizn’ i trudy M. P. Pogodina [Life and Works of M. P. Pogodin], Volume 9. St. Petersburg: M. M. Stasiulevich. (In Russ.)
Belinsky, V. G., 1956. Letter to V. P. Botkin. In: Polnoe sobranie sochineniy [Complete Collected Works], Volume 12. Moscow: Izd. Akademii nauk SSSR, pp. 22-29. (In Russ.)
Belliustin, I. S., 1985. Description of the Clergy in Rural Russia. Translated by G. L. Freeze. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Berdiaev, N. A., 2003. The Ethical Problem in the Light of Philosophical Idealism. In: R. A. Poole, ed. 2003. Problems of Idealism. Translated by R. A. Poole. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 161-197.
Bulgakov, S. N., 1903. Ot marksizma k idealizmu [From Marxism to Idealism]. St. Petersburg: Tip. Tovarishchestva Obshchestvennaja Pol’za. (In Russ.)
Chicherin, B. N., 1880. Mistitsizm v nauke [Mysticism in Science]. Moscow: Martinov & Company. (In Russ.)
Chicherin, B. N., 1997. Philosophy of Law. In: Izbrannye trudy [Selected Works]. Edited by A. V. Poliakov. St. Petersburg: Izd. Sankt-Peterburgskogo universiteta, pp. 16-228. (In Russ.)
Chicherin, B. N., 1999. Nauka i religiya [Science and Religion]. Moscow: Respublika. (In Russ.)
Chistovich, I. A., 1857. Istoriya Sankt-Peterburgskoi Du­khovnoy Academii [History of St. Petersburg Theological Academy]. St. Petersburg: Typ. Iakova Treia. (In Russ.)
Drobnickii, O. G., 1974. Ponyatie morali: istoriko-kriticheskiy ocherk [The Concept of Morality: A Historico-Critical Sketch]. Moscow: Nauka. (In Russ.)
Ferretti, P., 1998. A Russian Advocate of Peace: Vasilii Malinovskii (1765—1814). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Fischer, A., 1835. On the Course of Education in Russia and the Role Philosophy Should Take in It. Zhurnal Ministerstva narodnogo prosveshcheniia [Journal of the Ministry of Public Education], 1, pp. 28-68. (In Russ.)
Frank, S. L., 1996. Dostoevsky and the Crisis of Humanism. In: A. A. Ermichev, ed. 1996. Russkoe Mirovozzrenie [The Russian Worldview]. St. Petersburg: Nauka, pp. 360-367. (In Russ.)
Hamburg, G. M., Poole, R. A., 2013. Introduction: The Humanist tradition in Russian Philosophy. In: G. M. Hamburg, R. A. Poole, ed. 2013. A History of Russian Philosophy 1830—1930. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-23.
Herzen, A. I., 1979. From the Other Shore & The Russian People and Socialism. Translated by M. Budberg. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kant, I., 1996a. Critique of Practical Reason. In: I. Kant, 1996. Practical Philosophy. Edited and translated by M. J. Gregor. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 139-271.
Kant, I., 1996b. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. In: I. Kant, 1996. Practical Philosophy. Edited and translated by M. J. Gregor. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 43-108.
Kant, I., 1997. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated and edited by P. Guyer and A. W. Wood. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kavelin, K. D., 1886. Zadachy etiki [The Tasks of Ethics]. St. Petersburg: M. M. Stasliulevich.
Khomyakov, A. S., 1965. On Recent Developments in Philosophy. In: J. M. Edie, ed. 1965. Russian Philosophy, Volume 1. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, pp. 220-269. (In Russ.)
Kireevsky, I. V., 1972. On the Necessity and Possibility of New Principles in Philosophy. In: P. K. Christoff, ed. 1972. An Introduction to Nineteenth-Century Russian Slavophilism, Volume 2: I. V. Kireevsky. Translated by P. K. Christoff. The Hague: Mouton, pp. 346-375.
Kristeller, P. O., 1961. Renaissance Thought: The Classic, Scholastic, and Humanist Strains. New York: Harper Torchbooks.
Kunitsyn, A. P., 1966. Pravo yestestvennoye [Natural Law]. In: I. Ia. Shchipanov, ed. 1966. Russkie Prosvetiteli ot Radishcheva do Decabristov [Russian Enlightenment from Radishchev to the Decembrists], Volume 2. Moscow: Mysl’, pp. 204-351. (In Russ.)
Marx, K., 1976. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1. Translated by B. Fowkes. London: Penguin Books.
Mezhuev, V. M., 1977. Kul’tura i istoriya [Culture and History]. Moscow: Politizdat. (In Russ.)
Nesmelov, V. I., 1971. Nauka o cheloveke: В 2 т. [Science of Man: in 2 volumes], Volume 1. Farnborough: Gregg. (In Russ.)
Novgorodtsev, P. I., 2003. Foreword to the Russian Edition. In: R. A. Poole, ed. 2003. Problems of Idealism. Translated by R. A. Poole. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 81-83.
Pico della Mirandola, G., 2012. Oration on the Dignity of Man: A New Translation and Commentary. Edited by F. Borghesi, M. Papio, and M. Riva. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Plekhanov, G. V., 1923. Nashi Raznoglasiya [Our Differ­ences]. In: Sochineniya [Works], Volume 2. Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe izd. (In Russ.)
Pustarnakov, V. F., 2000. Fichte’s Ideas in Non-academic Philosophy. In: V. F. Pustarnakov, ed. 2000. Filosofiya Fikhte v Rossii [Fichte’s Philosophy in Russia]. St. Petersburg: Izd. Russkogo Khristianskogo gumanitarnogo instituta, pp. 105-134. (In Russ.)
Schoeck, R. J., 1990. The Background of European Humanism. In: J. MacQueen, ed. 1990. Humanism in Renaissance Scotland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 1-9.
Shpet, G. G., 2006. Socialism or Humanism. Publicated by T. G. Shchedrina. Kosmopolis [Cosmopolis], 1, pp. 77—90. (In Russ.)
Solovyov, V. S., 1899. Opravdanie Dobra [Justification of the Moral Good]. St. Petersburg: M. M. Stasiulevich. (In Russ.)
Solovyov, V. S., 2001. Kritika otvlechennykh nachal [Critique of Abstract Principles]. In: Polnoe sobranie sochineniy i pisem: v 20 t.: Sochineniya v 15 t. [Complete Works and Letters in 20 Volumes. Works in 15 Volumes], Volume 3: 1877—1881. Edited by N. V. Kotrelev. Moscow: Nauka, pp. 8-360. (In Russ.)
Trubetskoy, S. N., 1994. Foundations of Idealism. In: Sochineniya [Works]. Edited by P. P. Gaidenko. Moscow: Mysl’, pp. 594—717. (In Russ.)
Vvedensky, A. I., 1924a. On the Types of Faith and Its Relation to Knowledge. In: A. I. Vvedensky, 1924. Filosofskie ocherki [Philosophical Essays]. Prague: Izd. Plamja, pp. 155-213. (In Russ.)
Vvedensky, A. I., 1924b. The Dispute over Free Will in the Judgement of Critical Philosophy. In: A. I. Vvedensky, 1924. Filosofskie ocherki [Philosophical Essays]. Prague: Izd. Plamja, pp. 75-117. (In Russ.)
Walicki, A., 2010. Russian Marxism. In: G. M. Hamburg, R. A. Poole, ed. 2010. A History of Russian Philosophy 1830—1930. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 305325.
Walsh, W. H., 1947. Reason and Experience. Oxford: Clarendon Press.