9 The Reality of the Moral Order

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015
Thomas Nemeth (ed.)Vladimir Solov’ëv’s Justification of the Moral Good10.1007/978-3-319-12775-0_10

[210]Chapter 9 The Reality of the Moral Order

Thomas Nemeth 

Old Bridge, New Jersey, USA



Thomas Nemeth

E] In the edition of the compiled book from 1897, this chapter appeared as part of Chap. 7. The first paragraph of Chap. 9, §I in the second edition appeared as Chap. 7, §XI, pp. 220–221. Chap. 9, §I of the second edition continued then as Chap. 7, §XIII in the first edition, and so on. Thus, in the second edition, Chap. 9, §§II–VII, pp. 190–209 correspond in the first edition to Chap. 7, §§XIV–XIX, pp. 231–249.


The unconditional moral principle, which is logically developed from religious experience, represents the full scope of the moral good (or the proper relation of everything to everything) as an idea or demand. However, this principle also reveals the real powers contained within it, powers which fulfill this demand and create the perfect moral order, or Kingdom of God , in which the unconditional significance of every creature is realized. Only by virtue of1 this highest principle can the moral good give us final and complete satisfaction or be2 for us the true good and a source of infinite bliss.

We experience the reality of God not as something indefinitely divine, δαιμονιον τι, but, in His own attributes, as totally perfect or absolute.3 We find our own soul in inner experience not only as something distinct from material facts, but as a positive4 force that struggles with material processes and surmounts them. The experience of physiological asceticism5 provides the bases not only for the truth that the soul is immortal (Kant went no further than this in his postulates), but also for hope6 in the resurrection of the body. For, as we already know from our own preliminary and rudimentary experiences, in the victory of the spirit over matter, the latter is not destroyed, but is perpetuated as a mode of spiritual quality and as an instrument of spiritual activity.7

As for matter in itself, we do not know from experience what it is. It is a subject for a metaphysical investigation. However, both [211]immediate, personal experience, as well as social, scientific and historical experience, indubitably shows us that despite the qualitative incommensurability of psychic and physical phenomena with respect to whether they can be known (because we know the first directly by means of the inner senses and the latter through the external senses), no gulf separates the real being of spiritual nature from that of material nature. Rather, the tightest connection and a constant interaction exists between them, by virtue of which the process of universal increasing perfection, of being divine-human beings, also necessarily makes us divine-material beings .

The principal concrete stages of this process, given in our experience, bear the traditional designation8kingdoms.” This is significant, because the designation actually suits only the final, highest stage, though this fact is not usually taken into account. Counting this final stage,9 there are five of them: the mineral kingdom (or, more generally, the inorganic), the vegetable kingdom, the animal kingdom, the human kingdom and the Kingdom of God. Arranged in an ascending order of universal increasing perfection, minerals, vegetables, animals, natural humanity and spiritual humanity are the typical forms of being. From various other points of view, the number of these forms and stages can be multiplied or, on the other hand, reduced to four, three or two. We can combine vegetables and animals to form one organic world. We can, then, combine the entire sphere of physical existence, both organic as well as inorganic, under one concept—that of nature, in this way leaving only a triple division into the Divine, the human and the natural kingdoms. Finally, we can stop with the simple opposition of the Kingdom of God to the kingdom of the world.

Without rejecting in the least these and all the other divisions, we should realize that measured in terms of the moral sense realized in the divine-material process the five kingdoms indicated represent a list of the most firmly established and characteristic gradations of being .

Stones and metals are distinguished from everything else by their extreme self-satisfaction and conservatism. If nature depended on them alone, it would never have woken from its deep sleep. On the other hand, however, without them the further growth of nature would not have had a firm basis and support. Plants, in stationary dreams, as it were, are involuntarily drawn to light, warmth and moisture. Animals, by means of sensations and [212]free movements, seek the full scope of sensory being: satiety, sexual satisfaction—and the joy of existence (their games and singing). In addition to all this, natural humanity rationally aspires to improve life by means of the sciences, the arts and social institutions and actually does improve it in various respects, finally rising to the idea of unconditional perfection. Spiritual humanity , or humanity born from God, not only understands this unconditional perfection with the mind but also accepts it in its heart and its deeds10 as the actual principle of what should be in everything and aspires to realize it to the end, i.e., to have it incarnate in the life of the whole world.

Each preceding kingdom obviously serves as the immediate material for the next. Plant life feeds on inorganic matter, animals exist at the expense of the vegetable kingdom, people live at the expense of animals, and the Kingdom of God is made up of people. If we examine any organism from the point of view of its material structure, we will find nothing in it except elements of inorganic matter. However, this matter ceases to be merely matter to the extent that it enters into the unique plan of organic life, which makes use of the chemical and physical properties of matter as well as its laws, though is irreducible to them. Similarly, human life, on its material side, consists of animal processes, but these processes do not in themselves have the same significance here that they do in the animal world. Instead, they serve as the means and the instruments for the new goals and tasks that follow from the new, higher plan of rational, i.e., human, life. The goal of the (typical) animal is satiety (gastric or sexual). However, a person who is satisfied in this way is correctly called “bestial,” not only in the sense of a swear word, but11 precisely in the sense of dropping to a lower level of being. Just as a living organism is composed of chemical substances that are more than just substances, so humanity consists of animals that are more than just animals. Similarly, the Kingdom of God consists of people who are more than just people. They are entering a new, higher plane of existence in which their purely human tasks become the means and instruments for another, final goal.


A stone exists; a plant exists and lives; an animal, additionally, is aware of its life in its factual states; a human being understands the meaning of life in terms of ideas; the sons of God actually realize this meaning or the perfect moral order in everything to the end.

That the stone exists is clear from the palpable effect that it exerts on us. Anyone who denies this truth can easily convince himself otherwise, as many have noted long ago, by knocking his head with a stone.12 , 13 A stone is the most typical incarnation of the category of being as such, and, unlike the Hegelian abstract concept of being, it shows no inclination to pass into its opposite.14 A stone is what it is and has always served as a symbol of inalterable being. It merely exists but does not live nor does it die. Its broken pieces are not qualitatively different from the whole.15 A plant not only exists; it also lives. This is clear already from the fact that it dies. Life does not presuppose death, but death obviously16 presupposes life. Between a leafy tree and firewood, between [214]a blooming flower and one that is withered, there is a definite and essential difference, to which there is nothing corresponding in the mineral kingdom.

Just as it is impossible to reject life in plants, so it is impossible to reject consciousness in animals except with the help of arbitrary and artificial terminology that is not required of anyone. According to the natural meaning of the word, consciousness in general17 is a definite and regular mental combination or interrelation of the inner psychic life of a given creature with its external environment. Such a correlation, undoubtedly, exists in animals. Just as the presence of life in the vegetable world is clearly proven by the difference between living and dead plants, so the presence of consciousness in animals (at least in the case of higher ones, which is typical of the entire kingdom) clearly is proven by the difference between a sleeping animal and one that is awake. For the distinction lies precisely in the fact that a wide-awake animal consciously participates in the life surrounding it, whereas the psychic world of the sleeping animal is severed from direct communication with that life.18 An animal not only has sensations and representations; it connects them by means of correct associations. And although impressions and interests of the present moment predominate in its life, it remembers its previous states and foresees future ones, without which the education or training of animals would be impossible. Nevertheless, such training is a fact. No one dares deny that a dog or a horse has a memory. Yet to remember or to be aware of it are one and the same thing, and the denial of consciousness [215]in animals is merely an aberration of the human consciousness in some philosophers.

Already one fact of comparative anatomy would be enough to remove this crude mistake. To deny the presence of consciousness in animals is to reduce their entire life to the blind suggestions of instinct. However, from this point of view how do we explain the gradual development of organs of conscious mental activity, of the brain, in higher animals? How could this organ appear and develop in animals if they have no corresponding functions? Surely, unconscious, instinctive life has no need of a brain, which is clear from the fact that in general such life not only appears before this organ, but also that it attains its highest development in brainless creatures. The superiority of social, hunting and constructive19 instincts in ants and bees is certainly connected not with the brain, which, strictly speaking, they do not have, but only with the abdominal nodes (the sympathetic nerve), which is actually strongly developed in them.

The human being is distinguished from animals owing not to the presence of consciousness, which they do have, but by the mastery of reason, that is, the faculty of general concepts and ideas. We find direct evidence for the conscious character of animals in their purposeful movements, their mimicry and their language, which consists of various sounds. The fundamental evidence for human rationality is language , which can express not only a given conscious state, but the general sense of everything. Ancient wisdom correctly defined the human being not as a conscious being—which to it is not enough—but as a linguistic or rational being.

The ability to grasp the all-one and all-uniting truth that is contained in the very nature of reason and of speech has acted in various ways in separate and different nations, gradually forming the human kingdom on the basis of animal life. The definitive essence of this human kingdom lies in the ideal demand for the perfect moral order, i.e., in the demand for the Kingdom of God . The human spirit has proceeded to the idea of the Kingdom of God and the ideal of the divine person along two paths: Jewish prophetic inspiration and Greek philosophical thought.20 [216]There arose21 parallel to this two-fold internal process, but naturally slower than it, an external process of cultural and political unification in the chief historical nations of the East and the West that was completed by the Roman Empire. In Greece and Rome (natural or pagan) humanity reached its limit, an affirmation of its unconditional divine significance: the beautiful, sensuous form and speculative idea of the Greeks and the practical reason, will or power of the Romans. There appeared the idea of the absolute person, or human god. However, this idea in its essence cannot remain abstract or purely speculative; it demands incarnation. Meanwhile, it is just as impossible for a person to make a god of himself as it is for an animal through its own efforts to attain human dignity, to become a rational creature capable of speech. Remaining at the same level of development, within the limits of the same kingdom, animal nature could reach only as high as the ape, but human nature can reach as high as the Roman caesar. Just as the ape can be seen as the precursor of humans, so the deified caesar is the precursor of the divine person.


While the pagan world at one time contemplated its spiritual breakdown in the person of a pseudo human-god caesar, who impotently played the role of a deity, individual philosophical minds and trusting souls awaited the incarnation of the divine Word, i.e., the appearance of the Messiah, of the Son of God and the King of Truth. A human god, even though in the form of a universal sovereign, is merely an empty illusion, whereas the divine human being can reveal his reality in the form of a wandering rabbi.

The historical existence of Christ, as well as His real character preserved in the Gospels, cannot seriously be doubted. It would be impossible to invent him, and indeed there is no one to do it. This perfectly historical figure is the figure of a perfect man, but of a man who does not say: “I became god,” but of one who says: “I was born and sent from God, and I was one with God before the creation of the world.” Reason forces us to believe this testimony, because the historical appearance of Christ, as a divine person, is indissolubly connected with the entire world-process, and if this appearance is rejected the universe loses its meaning and purpose.

[217]When the first vegetable forms appeared in the inorganic world and then developed into the sumptuous kingdom of trees and flowers, it would have been quite absurd to claim that these forms appeared by themselves from nothing. And it would be just as absurd—though a disguised absurdity—to suppose that they arose from contingent combinations of inorganic substances. Life is a certain new positive content, something comparatively more than lifeless matter, and to derive this more from something less would mean to claim that something in reality arose from nothing. That is, such a claim would be plainly absurd. Even if the manifestations of vegetable life continually accompany the manifestations of the inorganic world, what is manifested in both kingdoms is essentially different, and this heterogeneity is revealed all the more clearly and sharply as the new kingdom develops further. In exactly the same way, the world of plants and the world of animals arise, as it were, from a single root. Indeed, the elementary forms of both creatures are so similar that biology recognizes an entire division of plant-like animals (zoophytes). However, under this seeming (i.e., apparent or phenomenal) homogeneity there undoubtedly hide fundamentally and essentially different types. This difference is later manifested in two divergent directions or planes of being—the vegetable and the animal. Here again as compared with the vegetable what is new and greater in the animal type cannot be reduced without obvious absurdity to the lesser, i.e., to their common properties, because that would mean identifying a + b with a, i.e., recognizing something as equal to nothing. In exactly the same way, despite the proximity and close material connection (in terms of appearance) between the human and the animal worlds, there is an essential feature of the former—which is certainly manifested more in Plato and Goethe than in a Papuan or an Eskimo—that as a new and positive content, a certain22 plus of being, cannot be deduced from the old, animal type. An individual cannibal by himself is only a little above the ape. However, the whole point is that he does not represent the ultimate example of humanity and23 that continuous series of ever improving generations lead from this cannibal to Plato and Goethe, whereas an ape, so long as it is an ape, essentially24 never improves. We are connected with our half-savage ancestors by a historical memory, or by a single collective consciousness, which animals do not have: The only memory they have is of their individual consciousness. [218]On the other hand, the ancestral connection25 expressed physiologically through heredity does not, however, enter into their consciousness. Therefore, although there is an increasing perfection in the animal forms (in accordance with the theory of evolution) it takes place with a certain degree of participation on the part of the animals themselves. In terms of its results and goals, such improvement remains for them an external and alien fact. Humanity’s increasing perfection is conditioned by our faculties of reason and our will, both of which exist even in savages, albeit only in a rudimentary state. However, these higher faculties cannot be deduced from animal nature, and this is why they form a separate human kingdom. In exactly the same way, the attributes of the spiritual person—a person who is not merely improving but is perfect, i.e., the divine person—cannot be deduced from natural human attributes and states. Consequently, the Kingdom of God cannot be understood as the result of the continuous development of the purely human world. A divine person cannot be understood to be the same as a human god, even though in natural humanity there may exist and may have existed precursors of the coming higher life. However, just as the sea lily at first sight appears to be a water plant, whereas it is undoubtedly an animal, so the rudimentary bearers of the Kingdom of God apparently have not differed and do not differ in any way from the people of this world, although they have within themselves the active principle of a new form of being.26

Only gold members can continue reading. Log In or Register to continue