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Nikolai Lossky


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Nikolai Onufriyevich Lossky (Russian: Никола́й Ону́фриевич Ло́сский) (December 6 [O.S. November 24] 1870 – January 24, 1965) was a Russian philosopher, representative of Russian idealism, intuitionism, personalism, libertarianism, ethics, Axiology (Value theory), and his philosophy he called intuitive-personalism. He was born in the village of Kreslavka, Daugavpils uyezd (region), Vitebsk gubernia (province) of Russian Empire (now Krāslava in Latvia) and died from natural causes at a nursing home near Paris. Lossky had a daughter who died as a child and three sons, the most famous of which was the Eastern Orthodox Theologian Vladimir Lossky.

Lossky's father, Onufry Losski was Orthodox Russian with Polish roots; his mother Adelajda Przylenicka was Polish Catholic. Lossky undertook post-graduate studies 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 teaching Eastern Orthodox theology at Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, a Russian Orthodox seminary in New York. In 1961, after the death of his famous Orthodox theologian son Vladimir Lossky, N. O. 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 is called Intuitivist-Personalism and 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 the Patristic Fathers. This along with Origen and the works of Russian mystics Kireevsky and Khomyakov and the later works of V. Solovyov among many others. Understanding and comprehension coming from addressing an object, as though part of the external world, something that joins the consciousness of the perceiving subject directly (noesis, insight), then becoming memory, intuitionism as the foundation of all noema or processes of consciousness. In that human consciousness comprehends the essence or noumena of an object and the object's external phenomenon which are then assembled into a complete organic whole called experience. Much of an object's defining and understanding in consciousness is not derived discursively but rather intuitively or instinctively as an object has no meaning outside of the whole of existence. Lossky summed up this concept in the term "all is imminent in all". As such much of reality as uncreated or uncaused is irrational, or random (see libertarianism below) and can not be validated rationally (i.e. freedom and love as energy are uncaused, uncreated). Therefore consciousness in its interaction with reality operates not strictly as rational (only partially) much of consciousness operates intuitively. This is intuitively done by the nous. The nous, consciousness or the focal point of the psyche as the "organic connection" to the object and therefore the material world as a whole. The psyche here is the sensory input from the physical body to the inner being, mind or consciousness. 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 essence or substance as their composition (supernatural in a Greek philosophy or Eastern Orthodox understanding of supernatural as uncreated or uncaused). Following Orthodox Christian substance theory (see Gregory Palamas) energy and potential do not have ontology without an sentient agent (i.e. idealism), Lossky coined the term "substative agent" to validate that matter as well as energy are uncreated in substance, essence. This validation as part of gnosiology or Christian mysticism (Orthodoxy) as opposed to the Russian Materialist and nihilist position that states that objects have no "thing in itself" or no essence, substance behind their phenomenon (as in Positivism). Lossky based his intuitivism on gnosiology in that he taught first principles as uncreated or uncaused. Lossky's Axiology was the teaching of first principles dialectically. Russian philosophy based on Soloviev is expressed metaphysically 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. This is the basis of V Soloviev's arguments against Positivism which are the corner stone of Russian philosophy contained in Soloviev's "Against the Positivists". The validation (immediate apprehension) of truth, value and existence all being intuitive as expressed by Aristotle's Noesis. Each event having value or existence because of substantive agents being engaged in the event, (via Neo-idealism) giving the event value and existence.

 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, insight (noesis in Greek) 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 expression of consciousness as without thought, raw and uninterpreted by the rational faculty in the mind. Thus the mind's dianoia (rational or logical faculty) in its deficiency, finiteness or inconclusiveness (due to logic's incompleteness) 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 rational processing of the rational faculty of the mind. It is outside of comprehension via the dianoia faculty of the mind, consciousness (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. The memory, knowledge derived from the rationalizing faculty of the mind is called epistemological knowledge. Intuitive knowledge or Gnosis (preprocessed knowledge or uninterpreted) then being made into history or memory. Rather than a rational determining factor it manifests as an integral 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. Lossky's work is also opposed to the pagan elements of the pagan philosophers that were an influence on his work. In that the logical faculty of the mind was only finite in a temporal sense and will eventually become infinite (by theosis), as such it seeks the infinite rather than opposes it. Lossky believed that philosophy would transcend its rational limits and manifest a mystical understanding of experience. This would include an understanding that encompasses the intuitive, irrational, philosophically (as done in stochastics) rather than the strictly pagan approach of a good deterministic force opposed to an irrational indeterminate force. This of course being the teaching of Christian faith as a philosophical principle (called free will) and intrinsic component to conscious existence, one that manifests sobornost in the transcending of the pagan dichotomy of reason versus superstition or determinism versus indeterminism.

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 energy (Aristotle) or potential (Plotinus). This being very much inline with the vitalism of his day. Though Lossky did not strictly adhere 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 (beings have energy) upon, from this potential. All power or potential comes from the individual. That spontaneous or organic reality structures or orders itself to reconcile opposing forces (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).

“ 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 act or energy derived from a Neoplatonic interpretation.

“ 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 ”

Theology and Neoplatonism
Much of the theology that Lossky covers (as his own) in the book History of Russian Philosophy is inline with the idealism of Origen. Lossky's idealism is based on Origen's. In that the relationship between the mystic, religious understanding of God and a philosophical one there have been various stages of development in the history of the Roman East. The nous as mind (rational and intuitive understanding) in Byzantine philosophy is given the central role of understanding only when it is placed or reconciled with the heart or soul of the person. Earlier versions of Christian and Greek philosophical syncretism are in modern times referred to as Neoplatonic. An example of this can be seen in the works of Origen and his teaching on the nous as to Origen, all souls pre-existed with their Creator in a perfect, spiritual (non-material) state as "nous," that these minds then fell away so to pursue an individual and independent existence apart from God. Because all beings were created with absolute freedom and free will, God, not being a tyrant, would not force his creations to return to Him. According to Origen, God's infinite love and respect for His creatures allowed for this. Instead, God created the material world, universe or cosmos. God then initiated the aeons or history. God did this for the purpose of, through love and compassion, guiding his creations back to contemplation of His infinite, limitless mind. This was according to Origen, the perfect state. 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 also was inline with the common distinctions of Eastern theology. Like the Essence-Energies distinction for example. Though Lossky did pursue a position of reconciliation based on mutual cooperation between East and West. Lossky taught this co-operation as organic and or spontaneous order, integrality, and unity called sobornost. Sobornost can also be translated to mean catholic.

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.



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