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Nikolay Lossky

Nikolay Lossky

Russian philosopher
Nikolay Lossky
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Russian philosopher
A.K.A. Nikolay Onufriyevich Lossky
Was Philosopher Educator
From United Kingdom Russia
Type Academia Philosophy
Gender male
Birth 24 November 1870, Krāslava, Krāslava municipality, Latvia
Death 24 January 1965, Paris, Île-de-France, France (aged 94 years)
Children: Vladimir Lossky
The details


Nikolay Onufriyevich Lossky (; 6 December [O.S. 24 November] 1870 – 24 January 1965), also known as N. O. Lossky, was a Russian philosopher, representative of Russian idealism, intuitionist epistemology, personalism, libertarianism, ethics and axiology (value theory). He gave his philosophical system the name intuitive-personalism. Born in Latvia, he spent his working life in St. Petersburg, New York, and Paris. He was the father of the influential Christian theologian Vladimir Lossky.


Lossky was born in Krāslava, Latvia (then in the Russian Empire). His father, Onufry Lossky, had Belarusian roots (his grandfather was a Greek-Catholic Uniate priest) and was an Orthodox Christian; his mother Adelajda Przylenicka was Polish and Roman Catholic. He was expelled from school for propagating atheism.

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 a lecturer and subsequently Assistant Professor of philosophy in 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 turn back to the Russian Orthodox Church under the direction of Fr. 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, Semyon 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 theology at Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, an Orthodox Christian seminary in Crestwood, New York.

In 1961, after the death of his famous son, theologian 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 an ancient Greek philosophy or Orthodox Christian understanding of supernatural as uncreated or uncaused). Following an 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 "substantive 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 cornerstone 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 in its absorption of experience (called contemplation). Rational or logical thought via the dianoia of the nous, 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 by the logical facility in the mind into history or memory. Intuition rather than a rationalization (also see Henri Bergson whom influenced Lossky) 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 evil 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 in-determinism.

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).

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.

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 Greek Christian 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 Orthodox Christian 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 in the early 1960s, philosophical novelist and Objectivism founder Ayn Rand recalled only Lossky among her teachers at the University of Petrograd or University of St. Petersburg, reporting that she studied classical philosophy with him prior to his removal from his teaching post by the Soviet regime.


From the introduction of Value and Existence:

Selected bibliography

  • The Fundamental Doctrines of Psychology from the Point of View of Voluntarism «Фундаментальные Доктрины Психологии с Точки зрения Волюнтаризма»(1903)
  • The Intuitive Basis of Knowledge «Обоснование интуитивизма»(1906)[1]
  • "Недостатки гносеологiи Бергсона и влiянiе ихъ на его метафизику" (1913) (English translation by Frederic Tremblay, "The Defects of Bergson's Epistemology and Their Consequences on His Metaphysics", 2017)
  • "Мир как органическое целое" (1917) (English translation by Natalie Duddington, The World as an Organic Whole, 1928)
  • The Fundamental Problems of Epistemology «Основные вопросы гносеологии» (1919)
  • Logics (1923) (German translation 1927)
  • The Foundation of Intuition (1923)
  • Свобода воли (1927) (English translation by Natalie Duddington, Freedom of Will, 1932)
  • L'Intuition, la Matiere et la Vie (1928)
  • "Ценность и существование" (1931) (on Axiology) by N. O. Lossky N. O. and J. S. Marshall (English translation, Value and Existence, 1935)
  • Dialectical Materialism in the U.S.S.R. «Диалектический Материализм в СССР» (1934)
  • "Tpaнcцeндeнтaльнo-фeнoмeнoлoгичecкiй идeaлизмъ Гyccepля" (1939) (English translation by Frederic Tremblay & Maria Cherba, "Husserl's Transcendental-Phenomenological Idealism", 2016 )
  • "Чувственная, интеллектуальная и мистическая интуиция" (1938) (English translation, Sensuous, intellectual and mystical intuition, 1941)
  • Intellectual Intuition, Ideal Existence and Creative Activity «Интеллектуальная интуиция и идеальное бытие, творческая активность» (1941)
  • Mystical Intuition «Мистическая интуиция» (1941)
  • Evolution and Ideal Life «Эволюция и идеальное бытие» (1941)
  • God and Suffering «Бог и всемирное зло» (1941)
  • Absolute Good «Условия абсолютного добра»(1944)
  • Les Conditions de la Morale Absolue (1949)
  • History of Russian Philosophy «История российской Философии»(1951)
  • The World as the Realization of Beauty «Мир как осуществление красоты»(1945)
  • History of Russian Philosophy (1952)
  • Dostoevsky and his Christian Understanding of the World «Достоевский и его христианское мировоззрение»(1953)
  • Popular introduction to philosophy [in Russian] (1957)
  • The Character of the Russian people [in Russian] (1957)
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