Vladimir Solovev

Solov’ev, Vladimir Sergeevich


Born Jan. 16 (28), 1853, in Moscow; died July 31 (Aug. 13), 1900, in the village of Uzkoe, now within the Moscow city limits. Russian religious philosopher, poet, publicist, and critic. Son of S. M. Solov’ev.

Solov’ev studied at the faculty of physics and mathematics at Moscow University and then at the university’s faculty of history and philology, graduating in 1873. In 1874, in St. Petersburg, he defended his master’s thesis, The Crisis of Western Philosophy: Against the Positivists, and in 1880, his doctoral dissertation, Critique of Abstract Principles. After the assassination of Alexander II by members of the People’s Will revolutionary organization, Solov’ev gave a lecture in March 1881 condemning the death penalty. As a consequence, he was compelled to abandon his work as a university lecturer.

In the 1880’s, Solov’ev wrote principally publicistic works advocating a union between the East and the West through a reunification of the churches, supporting freedom of conscience, and censuring national and religious oppression. In 1883 he became a contributor to the liberal journal Vestnik Evropy (Messenger of Europe). Solov’ev wrote philosophical and literary works in the 1890’s; he translated Plato and supervised the philosophy section of the Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary.

As a thinker and utopian philosopher, Solov’ev was at the meeting point of several intellectual trends. Having conceived his philosophical system as a justification of the “faith of the fathers” at a “new stage of rational consciousness,” he faced the insurmountable task of reconciling the scientific, positivist, and rationalist “spirit of the time” with religious traditions.

Solov’ev’s system, which rejected the materialism of the revolutionary democrats, was the most important attempt in the history of Russian idealism to unite in a “great synthesis” Christian Platonism, German classical idealism (mainly that of F. W. J. von Schelling), and scientific empiricism. However, his frequent revisions of this obviously contradictory metaphysical system indicate that in reality the system was for him merely a theoretical justification for his own moral quests and mythical and poetic vision. Solov’ev assumed that “the moral element . . . not only can but must be the basis of theoretical philosophy” (Sobr. soch., St. Petersburg, vol. 9, 1913, p. 97). He linked philosophical creativity with the positivist solution of the fundamental question of “whether there shall or shall not be truth on earth,” understanding truth as the realization of the Christian ideal. In Solov’ev’s view, socialist systems offered only relative social and historical truth.

In the late 1870’s and the 1880’s, a period of social stagnation and of attempts to find new ways of transforming Russia, Solov’ev adopted views close to liberal Narodnichestvo (Populism), opposing radical democratic trends as well as late Slavophile views and official conservatism. However, he juxtaposed moderate reformist views with two theories of his own. The first was a mystical and maximalist theory of a “theurgic making” that would save the material world from the destructive effects of time and space and would transform it into a “imperishable” cosmos of beauty. The second was a historical and philosophical theory of a Christian “godmanhood process” that would wholly save mankind (Lectures on Godmanhood, 1877–81).

Solov’ev’s later elaboration of social themes resulted in his concept of a theocratic utopia, whose political consequence, in Solov’ev’s view, was an alliance between the pope and the tsar as a legal guarantee of “godmanhood” (see, for example, The History and Future of Theocracy, 1887). The bankruptcy of this utopia is seen in Solov’ev’s philosophical confession The Drama of Plato’s Life (1898) and in Three Conservations (1900). Toward the end of his life, Solov’ev had frequent premonitions of catastrophe; he abandoned his earlier philosophical system in favor of a Christian eschatology.

Solov’ev’s treatment of the cosmic theme was unorthodox from the viewpoint of Christianity: he dealt with this theme on the basis of the Platonic myth about the erotic ascent. In the treatise The Meaning of Love (1892–94), he attempts to “complete Dioti-ma’s speech” in Plato’s Symposium, giving the speech the meaning that perfect sexual love can restore the integrity of man and the world and lead to immortality. Solov’ev’s pantheistic and evolutionist cosmology is consonant with N. F. Fedorov’s and K. E. Tsiolkovskii’s ideas of cosmic transformation.

There is a certain harmony between Solov’ev’s two basic themes—the cosmic and the social—in his metaphysics. This harmony is reflected in Solov’ev’s philosophical doctrine of “total-unity” and in his religious and poetic doctrine of Sophia, or wisdom. Following the early Slavophiles, Solov’ev attempted to revise Western philosophy, which, he held, was limited to abstract rationalism and negative metaphysics. He wanted to replace Western gnoseology with “integral knowledge”—an intuitive understanding of the world attained through images and symbols and based on the moral efforts of the individual. Solov’ev also sought to replace Western ontology with a “positive total-unity,” or a free association in an absolute of all animated elements of existence as a divine prototype and the sought-for state of the world. However, this total unity was not only an abstraction conceived by Solov’ev: it also appeared to him in a romantic personification as Sophia, the “eternal feminine.” The poet’s personal mystical love for her illuminated, as it were, his erotic utopia.

The poems of the Sophia cycle, devoted to Sophia, Solov’ev’s “eternal friend” and mystical beloved, are an intimate focal point in Solov’ev’s lyric poetry and later exercised a strong influence on the Russian symbolists. Solov’ev’s poetry, which continued the traditions of F. I. Tiutchev, A. A. Fet, and A. K. Tolstoy, has an intense mystical, philosophical, and confessional tone and contains elements of a new, symbolist imagery.

Solov’ev’s personal restlessness, impracticality in everyday affairs, and selflessness made the symbolist creative intelligentsia view him as a legendary hero and the embodiment of a transitional epoch (see A. A. Blok, “The Knight-Monk” and “Vladimir Solov’ev and Our Time,” Sobr. soch., vol. 5, 1962, pp. 446–54 and vol. 6, 1962, pp. 154–59; A. Belyi, Arabesques, Moscow, 1911, pp. 387–94).

Solov’ev was a forerunner of the “new religious consciousness’ of the early 20th century, represented by the bogoiskatel’stvo (god-seeking) religious and philosophical movement and by such religious philosophers as S. N. Bulgakov, S. N. Trubetskoi, E. N. Trubetskoi, and P. A. Florenskii.


Sobr. soch., 2nd ed., vols. 1–10. St. Petersburg, 1911–13.
Pis’ma, vols. 1–4. St. Petersburg, 1908–23.
Stikhotvoreniia i shutochnye p’esy. Introductory article by Z. G. Mints. Leningrad, 1974.


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Trubetskoi, E. Mirosozertsanie VI. S. Solov’eva, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1913.
Mochul’skii, K. V. V. S. Solov’ev. Paris, 1936.
Kogan, L. A. “V. S. Solov’ev.” In Istoriia filosofii v SSSR, vol. 3. Moscow, 1968. Chapter 10.
Spirov, V. V. “Filosofiia istorii VI. Solov’eva v ee razvitii i preemstvennosti.” In the collection Iz istorii russkoi filosofii XlX–nachala XX veka. Moscow, 1969.