Nikolai Fedorov

Fedorov, Nikolai Fedorovich


Born 1828; died Dec. 15 (28), 1903, in Moscow. Russian thinker of the utopian school; a leading proponent of the Russian philosophical school known as cosmism.

The illegitimate son of Prince P. I. Gagarin and of a Circassian captive, Fedorov attended the Richelieu Lycée in Odessa. From 1854 to 1868 he worked as a district schoolteacher in various cities, and from 1874 to 1898 as librarian of the Rumiantsev Museum. Fedorov made a major contribution to the development of book science in Russia. He lived an ascetic life, regarding all ownership as a sin—including ownership of ideas and books—and therefore never publishing any of his works. Selected extracts and articles by Fedorov were published by his students under the title Philosophy of the Common Cause (vol. 1, Vernyi, 1906; vol. 2, Moscow, 1913).

Regarding man as a slave to the blind force of nature, and death as the greatest of human evils, Fedorov advanced the idea of gaining control over nature by means of science and technology. Such control, in his view, would have the higher purpose of resurrecting man’s ancestors—a goal to be attained through the mastery of nature and of the cosmos, the transformation of the human body, and the control of cosmic processes. Fedorov regarded resurrection and the attainment of immortality as humanity’s “common cause,” leading to universal brotherhood and kinship and the elimination of all forms of enmity—surmounting the gap that divides the thought from the deed, the learned from the ignorant, the wealthy from the poor, and the city from the village.

Breaking with traditional Christian belief, Fedorov maintained that ancestor worship lies at the foundation of true religion. He regarded the Christian idea of personal salvation as opposed to the cause of universal salvation, and therefore immoral. Fedorov’s social utopianism was conservative, resting on the idealization of patriarchal and kinship relations as opposed to the civilized condition, with its absence of kinship or brotherhood ties.

Among those who manifested a keen interest in Fedorov’s philosophy were F. M. Dostoevsky, L. N. Tolstoy, and V. S. Solov’ev. Also linked to Fedorov’s thinking are the scientific and philosophical ideas of K. E. Tsiolkovskii. In literature, Fedorov’s influence is reflected in the works of A. P. Platonov and N. A. Zabolotskii.


“‘Faust’ Gete i narodnaia legenda o Fauste.” In Kontekst, 1975. Moscow, 1977.


Kozhevnikov, V. A. N. F. Fedorov, part 1. Moscow, 1908.
Peterson, N. P. N. F. Fedorov i ego kniga “Filosofiia obshchego dela” v protivopolozhnost’ ucheniiu L. N. Tolstogo o “neprotivlenii” i drugim ideiam nashego vremeni. Vernyi, 1912.
Florovskii, G. Puti russkogo bogosloviia. Paris, 1937.
Gorky, A. M. “Eshche o mekhanicheskikh grazhdanakh.” Sobr. soch., vol. 24. Moscow, 1953.
Golovanov, L. V. “K voprosu ob ideinykh vliianiiakh na K. E. Tsiolkovskogo.” In Trudy 3-kh chtenii K. E. Tsiolkovskogo, issue 4. Moscow, 1969.
L’vov, V. Zagadochnyi starik. Leningrad, 1977.
Semenova, S. G. “N. F. Fedorov (zhizn’ i uchenie).” Prometei [miscellany], 1977, vol. 11.
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