Taras Zakydalsky, The Theory of Man in the Philosophy of Skovoroda, 1965.


     It is amazing how widely opinions on the general character of Skovoroda's philosophy have diverged. He has been called an eclectic who collected a body of traditional doctrines without connecting them in a whole. At the other extreme, he has been called a rationalist who approaches Spinoza in the rigor of his logic and systematization. Opposed to these extremes and incorporating what is of value in both is the interpretation that sees Skovoroda as a mystic. This variety of interpretations in itself may be taken as evidence of Skovoroda's eclecticism, but I think it would be more accurate to assign it to inadequate scholarship. The two extreme interpretations were put forth when interest in Skovoroda was only beginning to stir. Previously, almost nothing had been done in the way of scholarly investigation of our philosopher's doctrines. At the time not even a complete edition of his works was available. His works were being collected and published then. The interpretation of Skovoroda as a mystic is the result of later study.

(1) Skovoroda as an Eclectic Thinker

     Skovoroda has been charged with being an eclectic in the worst sense of the term. His thought is seen as a collection of disparate, even contradictory, doctrines which he [10] simply throws together without any attempt to unify them, or at least to tone down their disagreements. He seems to have been unaware of its incoherence, or if he was aware, unconcerned about it. "In our opinion he was a complex, unorganized mind who hardly ever was aware of the constraints of a mercilessly systematic exposition."1 His philosophy is a concoction of monism and dualism, spiritualism and materialism, rationalism and prophetic mysticism. His monism satisfies his personal mystical vision. His dualism provides a basis for his ethics. The two are not reconciled and cannot be reconciled. "Therefore, to speak of a definite philosophical system in his thought is at once to set out on a false path of evaluating his teaching."2 It must be admitted that in Skovoroda one can find conflicting doctrines, all of which can be traced to some predecessor or other in Greek, Roman, or patristic philosophy. Furthermore, it is true that Skovoroda himself does not try to reconcile various statements of doctrine, nor does he attempt to systematize his doctrines into an orderly whole. But Kudrinski goes too far when he contends that these doctrines cannot be reconciled and unified, and that to attempt this would be to pervert Skovoroda's thought, that this would amount to imposing unity where there is no unity, or rather where the only detectable unity is extrinsic to the thought itself and lies in the fact that the thought belongs to one person.3 To accept this view is to deny that Skovoroda has a philosophy. It means that Skovoroda had no clear conception [11] of what he was writing. Such a view seems false to me. It is best refuted by showing the exact way in which all of Skovoroda's doctrines fit together. It will become apparent, I hope, that Skovoroda's philosophy has not only an organic unity, but that it is an original synthesis, although its particular doctrines are derived from various earlier sources. Skovoroda's philosophy "though not original in details, yet as a whole is an independent creative conception."4

(2) Skovoroda as a Rationalist

     At the other extreme from the interpretation of Skovoroda as an eclectic is an interpretation that imposes a certain preconceived pattern on Skovoroda's writings. To show that Skovoroda is a rationalist, the interpreter consciously selects certain doctrines as reflecting Skovoroda's "true" thought, and rejects those doctrines that do not fit his scheme as accidental and extrinsic to Skovoroda's thought. This type of interpretation should be seen as a reaction against the scanty scholarship on Skovoroda's philosophy before the 1890's, scholarship that was content to call Skovoroda a mystic and thus dismiss the task of finding any clarity and coherence in his writings.5 Efimenko sees in Skovoroda a Spinozistic "rationalist, a rationalist pur sang."6 Without being able to present any evidence that Skovoroda had actually read or studied Spinoza's philosophy, Efimenko found conclusive evidence for this thesis by comparing Skovoroda's doctrines with Spinoza's. For both [12] philosophers, she found, God is substantial being and the world is only appearance sustained by God's will and governed by his law. Both thinkers are pantheistic and monistic, and whatever element of dualism there is in them, is there only for the purposes of an ethics.7 Good is associated with God and evil is relegated to the world of contingent and temporal appearances. Man's purpose in life is to achieve union with God through knowledge. Religion and faith are mere superstition.8 The comparison between the two philosophers is very sketchy, and for this reason it appears more plausible than it actually is. But even as it stands, this comparison makes some glaring falsifications of Skovoroda's doctrines. To understand Skovoroda's dualism only as a prop for his ethics is a gross misrepresentation. Furthermore, to attribute to Skovoroda a rejection of religion is an inexcusable error if not an intentional falsification. It is precisely the religious inspiration and content of his philosophy, the central importance of the act of faith in it that this interpretation must ignore. To explain away all the elements in Skovoroda's philosophy that do not fit her scheme, Efimenko uses the device, so frequently employed by Soviet scholars, of seeing them as a concession to the times.

Skovoroda undoubtedly had a clearly, purely and logically developed philosophical conception …, but he seems to have felt cold at those philosophical heights, in that absolute withdrawal from everything by which the surrounding world lived -- and perhaps because of this, he noticed the contradictions and defects of a construction that appeared so perfect. Whatever it was, he tried to tie his logical constriction in with the tradition in which he was educated … but to tie it with artfully woven and wholly external threads.9[13]
These external elements can be isolated and rejected while the "true system" intended by Skovoroda shines forth in all its logical splendor.

     This interpretation, it must be admitted, makes certain valuable contributions to an understanding of Skovoroda. The first, and most important one is the clear assertion that Skovoroda's philosophy possesses its own unity. Secondly, the rationalist interpretation draws our attention to Skovoroda's stress on knowledge and truth as the condition for happiness and right action. Though it misrepresents Skovoroda's concept of knowledge by comparing it to a Spinozistic one, it is helpful in underlining the element of objectivity in Skovoroda's conception.

     The one-sidedness of the rationalist interpretation is overcome by the next interpretation which recognizes that for Skovoroda the religious content of his thought was undoubtedly the basis for all of his positions in theoretical philosophy.10

(3) Skovoroda as a mystic

     The two best studies of Skovoroda's philosophy, by Ern and Chyzhevskyi, define Skovoroda as a mystic. The problem lies in explaining in what sense he is a mystic. Unfortun­ately, neither interpreter gives any clear-cut criteria that would specify the exact type of mysticism that Skovoroda exemplifies.

     There is a derogatory sense of the word "mysticism" [14] which is often used in reference to certain philosophies. In this sense mysticism is equivalent to obscurantism, and irrationalism. It is the very opposite of philosophy. Efimenko uses the tern in this sense when she objects to calling Skovoroda a mystic.11 It is also in this sense that Skovoroda is not a mystic to Bahalii: "The label of mystic … is far from defining Skovoroda; his mind did not grow wild and did not sink gradually into the bottomless pit of mysticism."12 Here, the mystic is essentially one who experiences certain abnormal psychic states that are unattainable by the ordinary person, and then utters an incomprehensible stream of words that is closer to nonsense than to philosophy.

     "Mysticism" sometimes refers to a certain character of philosophical thought, rather than the personal experiences of its author. The characteristic mark of this thought is the dualism of the apparent and the hidden reality. The visible world is only appearance, an unreal shadow hiding the substantial reality from which it derives its being. The realm of shadows is the realm of multiplicity and change. The realm of true reality is that of stability, eternity, and unity. Only the wise man by his special power of vision can penetrate to this deeper level of being which is hidden from the common man absorbed in the world of appearance.

     In the best traditions of mysticism these two aspects are unified. The mystic in the full sense of the term is not one who merely undergoes certain unusual experiences [15] which he describes as a union with God, but one who also formulates his vision in a philosophy, who attempts and succeeds to some extent in uttering the unutterable and thus in sharing his vision with others.13 The mystic's philosophy, though coherent and systematic, is not a purely speculative enterprise. It is the fruit of his lived experience in its totality, comprising both the ecstatic visions of his union with God and the ordinary everyday life he is forced to lead in the intervals between his visions. It is precisely the organic union of Skovoroda's thought with his personal experience that Ern and Chyzhevskyi wish to stress by calling Skovoroda a mystic:

Skovoroda was a fearless and original supporter of experimental metaphysics.… His whole life is a vast, deeply interesting metaphysical experiment and his philosophy is nothing but a logical record of this experiment.14
We must suppose that Skovoroda was inspired by reading mystical literature, but that he worked … his thoughts out independently, utilizing only materials in his memory, interpreting the Bible in the spirit of his thought and depending on his own spiritual experience.15
Since this interpretation of Skovoroda seems to me the most comprehensive and accurate, I shall consider it in somewhat greater detail.

     The first thing to note is how Skovoroda's life conforms to the pattern of the mystic's life. The mystic begins his adventure with God because of an overpowering sense of alienation and despair, a feeling of separation from all reality. He judges himself responsible for this separation, [16] and therefore feels guilty.16 This feeling is matched with a passionate desire to overcome it, to win God's approval, to reach an absolute certainty of his own position in reality. The road to God is an arduous one. The mystic must win control over his thoughts, passions, and appetites in order to subordinate himself completely to the single desire for God.17 By his efforts he produces in himself only the conditions for receiving God's revelation, which is always a free gift from God. In his mystical experience the mystic grasps reality by direct intuition, not by concepts and reasoning as the philosopher does. In this way he pierces the illusion of individual existence and separation from God. It is this experience that defines the mystic. But this experience is momentary and the mystic must return to the everyday world common to all men. He returns strengthened by his vision, to act and participate fully in this world. Thus, mystical experience leads to moral action just as moral action prepares men for mystical experience.18

     If we examine Ern's book on Skovoroda, we find that these are precisely the points that Ern stresses in Skovoroda's life. He tries to show at length on the basis of biographical data and Skovoroda's poetry that Skovoroda was a deeply disturbed young man. In his restless travels a certain aimlessness and impulsiveness is evident.19 In his abandonment of his studies at the Kiev Academy and then in his probable breach of contract with General Vishnevsky whom he was to serve as a chapel singer, there is irresponsibility.20 [17] From his poems a deep pessimism, a despair at the chaos and evil in him and in the world, a boredom with life emerge clearly.21 The first step to overcoming this desperate condition, according to Kovalinskii, was taken during Skovoroda's second stay at Tamara's residence as tutor, around 1759, Skovoroda underwent a religious crisis, which resulted in a consecration of his life to God.22 After long years of virtuous living, strict self-discipline and dedicated work as teacher and writer, Skovoroda seems to have experienced a mystical vision in 1770.23 From Kovalinskii's description of this event it is evident that it was a mystical experience of some sort. The effect of this experience was to strengthen Skovoroda's resolve to serve God. To the end of his life, he practiced strict self-discipline, wrote his philosophical dialogues, and traveled widely, teaching men to live happily and in harmony with God. Since most of his dialogues were written after 1770, this experience could have had an important influence on his thought. It is evident that the general pattern of the mystic's life is readily applicable to Skovoroda.

     According to the definition of mysticism that I have adopted, the mystic is not defined by his experience alone. Having grasped the truth, the mystic must articulate it, communicate it and by this effort assert that his experience is not to be dismissed as merely subjective and emotional. His revelation is not merely private. His original intuition spreads itself out into a whole philosophical system, [18] a system that is an entity in itself, coherent and intelligible in its own terms. Philosophy is understood as an unending effort to interpret the vision in concepts, which together form an autonomous system. This system can be treated without reference to the author's personal experience. It can be evaluated just as any other philosophy can be evaluated on the basis of the problems raised and the adequacy and consistency of the answers. The same is true of Skovoroda's philosophy. Though it grew out of his personal experience, it has a universal significance. "Skovoroda's metaphysical positions are not at all membra disjecta without inner relation to one another, forming a certain external unity only in virtue of being expressed by a single person."24

     If we are to deal with the nature or Skovoroda's philosophical system, it will be useful to place him in a certain tradition of philosophy. The mystic, like any other thinker, is dependent upon tradition and the state of knowledge at his time. However personal his vision may be, he must embody it in concepts and doctrines, which are not strictly his own creations, but the common deposit of the cultural tradition in which, he lives. He must appropriate the current concepts of his day, though he may change and modify them somewhat in order to express the truth as he sees it. His doctrines also are not formulated in a vacuum, but with the help of a philosophical tradition that offers him at least suggestions, if not ready-made doctrines that [19] need only to be shaped and synthesized. In a word, the mystic, like any other thinker, must be related in one way or another to a philosophical tradition.

     Skovoroda's philosophy owns a great debt to ancient Greek philosophers and to the Fathers of the Eastern Church. His system as a whole is related most closely to the patristic tradition, which synthesizes classical, especially Platonic thought with doctrines of the Christian faith. Although this tradition was eclipsed later in the West by the medieval synthesis of Aristotle and Christianity, Skovoroda seems to have been affected much more by Platonic than by Aristotelian conceptions.

     We know that during Skovoroda's studies at the Kiev Academy philosophical and theological questions occupied the center of attention. This was a time when new materials of ancient philosophy and literature uncovered during the Renaissance period were receiving much study and were giving rise to a new neo-scholastic philosophy. This philosophy was not a mere repetition of the medieval synthesis of Greek philosophy with Christian faith, but a new product, a new synthesis that took into account both medieval philosophy and the ancient documents uncovered during the Renais­sance. This work was further stimulated in the Ukraine by the religious controversy between the defenders of Orthodoxy and the defenders of the Union with Rome. The Protestant and Catholic theology of contemporary Western Europe also received much attention. Chyzhevskyi thinks that Skovoroda's [20] debt to tradition can be fully explicated only by a thorough study of the works of two professors of the Academy who were the leading protagonists in the orthodox-unionist controversy -- T. Prokopovych and H. Konysky.25 Furthermore, from Kovalinskii's account of Skovoroda's life we know that his favorite authors were Plutarch, Philo Judaeus, Cicero, Horace, Lucian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Nilus of Sora, Dionysius the Areopagite, Maxim the Confessor, but his greatest love was the Bible.26 The sources of Skovoroda's philosophical concepts and doctrines are to be sought in these works.

     If we glance at Skovoroda' s doctrinal debt to his Christian and pagan predecessors, classifying his philosophical system with those of the Fathers of the Church becomes fully justified. To begin with his debt to classical philosophy, there is no doubt that the greatest influence on Skovoroda is Plato. The Platonic dualism of appearance and reality is basic to Skovoroda's metaphysics. Skovoroda's emphasis on knowledge as man's highest activity and as the essential condition for a happy life is Platonic. The erotic aspect of knowing can also be traced to Plato. The concept of evil is Plato's. From Socrates, through Plato, comes also the doctrine of self-knowledge as the key to all knowledge and to happiness. Aristotle left his mark on Skovoroda in the doctrine of the eternity of the world. From the Stoics Skovoroda inherited a monistic tendency, and the concept of happiness as accessible to all men. Epicurus,  [21] whom Skovoroda valued greatly in spite of his unpopularity among Christians, taught Skovoroda that sweetness, pleasure in the sense of joy is the end of life and is accessible to all, and that what is difficult is unnecessary and what is necessary is not difficult. These Greek philosophies were also the most important influence on the Fathers of the Church.  In a characteristically patristic way Skovoroda recognized that faith and reason are not incompatible. Unlike Tertullian, who rejected pagan philosophy, Skovoroda felt that wisdom was granted to the pagan thinkers by God whom they sought and that their wisdom could and should be incorporated into a Christian philosophy, a higher and fuller form of wisdom. As Kovalinskii states:

Skovoroda maintained that in all these thinkers [Marcus Aurelius, Titus, Socrates, Plato] the higher spirit acted and therefore they do not deserve condemnation, but on the contrary they deserve respect and imitation of their love for truth. And if God is truth then they were his faithful servants.27
Skovoroda's attitude to the Bible was also essentially patristic. He held that the Bible should not be interpreted literally, but allegorically: "I recognize and confess in it a spiritual reason, I perceive the divinely written law and the real meaning behind the literal one."28 Literal interpretations are nonsensical and lead only to unchristianlike intolerance and superstition. In metaphysics the influence or the Christian faith, especially of Biblical teachings, is marked most strongly in Skovoroda's monism. Just as in Philo Judaeus and the Fathers of the Church, God is the Supreme Being who creates and sustains all other beings. [22] Plato's ideas are internalized in God. They become his thoughts, his Logos, which mediates between God and things. Then also the identification of ideal man, who is an idea in each man, with Christ, a member of the triune God, is a Christian modification of Platonism. Skovoroda diverged from the Fathers of the Church in several ways, however. His rejection of the reality of miracles, the absence of any hint about original sin, and the Aristotelian doctrine of the timelessness of the world are very unpatristic. The various influences on Skovoroda by his predecessors may be traced in finer detail, yet they cannot be taken as a full account of his philosophy because this is an original creation. For almost every doctrine in his philosophy a similar doctrine can be found in Greek or Patristic philosophy, and yet all of his doctrines taken together form an organic system, which has no precedent and must be studied on its own terms. Bahalii summarizes this fact clearly and forcefully:
He was one of those naturally gifted persons with whom the genius of our nation endows us from time to time, a sensitive deep thinker who erected an unusually strict logical system, free from all contradictions.… His primary spiritual relations … are not mystics nor free masons, but the Fathers and teachers of the Church and Philo Judaeus.29

     To emphasize Skovoroda's originality Chyzhevskyi adopted a different approach in his study of Skovoroda. Since the tracing of influences gives very little insight into the true value of Skovoroda's system, Chyzhevskyi seeks a tradition of philosophy in which philosophy would be a product and expression of the author's personal experience, in the [23] same way that Skovoroda's system emerged from the "depths of his own spirit."30 He finds Skovoroda's "spiritual brethren who are related to him not by accidental parallelisms in ideas, but by an integral understanding of the world and of life"31 in the German mystics such as Boehm, Weigel, Silesius, and Tauler. To prove his thesis Chyzhevskyi compiles an impressive catalogue of parallel thoughts, doctrines, and symbols. He also does not omit parallels with Plato, Plotinus, and various Fathers of the Church. The evidence shows conclusively that, although Skovoroda may not have been influenced by any one mystic in the formulation of his thought, he certainly is a mystic in the same tradition as the German mystics.

     It is indubitable that whatever the influences of the Platonic-Christian tradition on Skovoroda were, he was an original philosopher. The best way to classify him is to consider him as a mystic, for two reasons. First, because his philosophy is the fruit of his mystical experience, and secondly because his philosophy in itself displays those features which are common to mystical philosophies. These features may be summarized as follows: a sharp dualism of the real and apparent modified by a monistic tendency that places the source and foundation of all reality in God. Good is identified with God, evil with the realm of appearances. Man finds himself between the two worlds and is free to choose between them. Though faith and obedience to God's will he achieves union with God, his salvation and [23] happiness. By placing his faith in appearances and surrendering to his desires, he comes to perdition and misery. Ethics is a doctrine of salvation, as well as of temporal happiness.

     Skovoroda's ethics departs in one way from the ethics of most mystics in the tradition of the mysticism I have defined. Although the structure of his system and its relation to his personal experience are mystical, his ethics is not a road to mystical experience. In fact, mystical experience is not mentioned in his philosophy. The act of faith is the focal point of man's union with God, and also the starting point of the truly ethical life. The ethical life is in a sense a progressive achievement of closer union with God through perfecting one's obedience to his will, but the end of ethics is not mystical experience. It is happy temporal existence and "peace of soul."32 Though he mentions personal immortality and believes in it, he has very little to say about the after-life.

     Bahalii, an excellent Skovoroda scholar, thinks the most accurate description of Skovoroda is that of a Christian philosopher because "religion was for him philosophy and philosophy religion."33 This is true, and I have shown that Skovoroda fits into the patristic tradition of Christian philosophy very well. But this definition fails to stress the organic connection of Skovoroda's philosophy with his lived experience, and this connection is of great importance because it gives a practical tone to his philosophy and [25] a strong emphasis on the ethical life. The notion of mystic as I have defined it includes both the religious orientation of his philosophical system and also its intimate relation to the philosopher's personal life. For this reason it is the most accurate designation for Skovoroda.

(4) Doctrinal Emphases

     Skovoroda's philosophy has been interpreted in three different ways, with the primary emphasis being placed on his ethics, or his epistemology, or his doctrine of man. Each of these viewpoints of his system has certain merits and highlights important parts of the system. The fact that it had been arranged in three different ways indicates that Skovoroda himself did not explicitly systematize and connect the various parts of his philosophy. The fact that his system can be effectively and fully explicated by beginning from three different viewpoints shows that all his doctrines do fall into a closely interwoven pattern, in which every part is internally related to every other part.

(a) The Ethical Emphasis

     The ethical interpretation values Skovoroda' s system primarily for its practical teachings and sees the speculative parts -- the metaphysical, anthropological and epistemological doctrines -- merely as the framework and prop for the ethics. This view is expressed well by Kotovych:

Skovoroda's teachings have a purely practical significance.… In dealing with the question of first principle in things, Skovoroda does not dwell on it exclusively. He uses it only as a support for his laws of [26] morality. He has need of it only to the extent to which it helps him to solve the practical question of action.34
This view calls attention to some real aspects of Skovoroda's philosophy. First, his metaphysics, anthropology and epistemology do not receive as much attention as his ethics. They are merely sketched in and leave many problems not only unanswered, but even unconsidered. He is not interested in purely speculative and theoretical problems. What he does discuss is always closely connected with his ethics, and seems to be discussed only for that purpose. His ethics is the most extensively and fully developed part of his system. The clarity, the systematic consistency and the originality of its principles is unrivaled by any other part. We have Kovalinskii's declaration of Skovoroda's main interest and preoccupation in philosophy:
Philosophy, or love of wisdom directs all its efforts to the end of giving life to our spirit, nobility to our heart, light to our thoughts, which are the head of everything. When the spirit in man is gay, the thoughts quiet, the heart peaceful, then everything is bright, happy, and blessed. This is philosophy.35
His whole life was devoted to learning how to live well and to teaching this art to others. He often ridicules the intellectuals who are so dedicated to their sciences that they forget that these are merely tools for happy living and not ends in themselves:
Mathematics, medicine, physics, mechanics, music with their ungovernable sisters; the more we taste of their richness, the more does our heart burn with hunger and thirst, while our dull dumbness does not even suspect that they are all handmaids serving a mistress and the tail in relation to the head without which the whole body is ineffective.36 [27]

     To make Skovoroda's ethics the focal point of his system, however, is to disregard the fact that the wisdom to which he refers as the "mistress" and the "head" is much more than simply the rules of good living and the theory of happiness. By wisdom he means also insight into true reality beyond mere appearance, into the nature of the universe as well as the nature of man. In fact the teaching that true knowledge must precede good living is central to Skovoroda's philosophy. Metaphysics and the theory of man are essential to his ethics not only as the ultimate grounds on which the ethics is based, but also in another way. His ethics itself emphasizes its subordination to insight into reality. It declares itself to be only a consequence of the individual's insight into his own nature and the structure of reality. An ethics, which does not begin with metaphysical commitments, is self-frustrating for it cannot fulfil its function, i.e., lead to a happy life. Skovoroda's ethics is not formalistic: he does not believe that the observance of certain laws is sufficient for happiness. On the contrary, he emphasizes the necessity of insight into the reasons behind these laws. It is these ultimate reasons that give meaning to moral laws, to action and to life itself. Without them his notion of happiness and his whole theory of ethics would be misinterpreted.

(b) The Epistemological Emphasis

     Another interpretation of Skovoroda 's philosophy gives precedence to his epistemological doctrine of the two ways of [28] knowing. It rightly emphasizes the epistemological dualism in Skovoroda based on the distinction of sensory knowledge, which attains only the surfaces of things and is temporally prior, from spiritual knowledge, which pierces through the surfaces and sees everything in its ultimate reality. Skovoroda discusses these two ways of knowing at great length. The act of faith has a central importance in his philosophy, because it is both the act of perceiving the real nature of things and also the starting point of his ethics. But why give priority to epistemology? Zenkovsky explains this step by claiming that the doctrine of the two ways of knowing leads to the doctrine of the duality of being. "Epistemology becomes a doctrine of the duality of being itself."37 But if this is true, then the reverse is certainly true also. "The reality of being was different on the surface and in the depths; and this led Skovoroda to the epistemological dualism which became central to his philosophy."38 As in all systems of philosophy, epistemology and metaphysics circularly support each other. Epistemology shows how reality is perceived to be what metaphysics holds it to be, and metaphysics explains how knowing is possible. Epistemology justifies metaphysics, and metaphysics justifies epistemology. To give precedence to epistemology is to associate philosophy with a Kantian critique. In the case of Skovoroda any such association would be completely false.

(c) The Anthropological Emphasis

     The third view which takes Skovoroda's anthropology or [29] doctrine of man as the focal point of his system, is in my opinion correct. If I deal with this position at greater length and in fuller retail than with its rivals, it is not simply because I happen to approve of it, nor only because it gives a key to the organization of this paper, but mainly because it provides the best insight into the tightly knit unity of Skovoroda's system. Skovoroda has a well developed doctrine of the metaphysical structure of man which is based on more general metaphysical principles and which provides the immediate foundation for his ethics But his doctrine of man is not simply a department of the system as a whole. It is much more than one part among others, for it is a fundamental aspect of his metaphysics and his epistemology. In a word, his metaphysics and his epistemology are "humanized." Neither reality nor knowledge can be treated in abstraction from his theory of man's ontological structure. Ern expresses this fact thus:

The first property that basically characterizes all the thought of Skovoroda is a deep and fearless anthropologism. For Skovoroda the key to all riddles of life, cosmic as well as divine, is man because all questions and all secrets for him are concentrated in man.39

     It is difficult to explain with precision the way in which Skovoroda's metaphysics is "humanized" because he has left only a few short statements on this topic. To begin with, we find a doctrine of metaphysical parallelism between man and reality such that the dichotomy of God and the world in the macrocosm is reflected on a smaller scale in man. Skovoroda often speaks of the one Christ who is one is all [30] men and wholly in each man, and the body or man is an obvious counterpart of the world. Thus, the whole of reality is contained in miniature form in man. But it is not this parallelism that defines Skovoroda's "humanization of metaphysics."  Were this the meaning of "humanization," it might have been said with equal validity that Skovoroda rather than "humanizing" the universe, "universalizes" man. To explain how reality is permeated with the presence of man, I shall deal separately with the world and with God.

     The world is "humanized" not only because it is contained in man, but because it derives its meaning and finds its fulfilment in man. Unfortunately, Skovoroda does not go beyond a few statements on this topic:

But all this variously disguised flesh, all this measureless multitude and appearance is devoured and assimilated into man just as the largest tree turned to rot and decay and nothingness is safely hidden in its seed as in the smallest point, with all its branches, leaves, and  fruit.40
Clearly, one purpose of the world's existence is to give sustenance to man's body and to enable him to lead a temporal life. The world becomes an extension of man's body, a substance that perpetually is being transformed into human substance. Thus, one side of the parallelism between man and the great world is established. But just as man's temporal existence is aimed at a higher end so also the first function of the world as the sustenance of human life is subordinated to a higher function. Man's purpose in life is to discover God, to live according to his will, and thus become freely like God. The world participates in this process also. The [31] world is a sign of God, his visible manifestation which should lead man's thoughts beyond itself to God. All externality, all appearances are aimed at man, and are to lead him to God:
[O]f all ceremonies in whatever lands and times, of all knots, of all secret images in seals and signs, man is the center or end. Here everything ends.… Whatever it may be: a deed, action or word -- everything is an empty nothingness if it has not become an event in man himself.41
The world, like a ceremony or a sign, exists not for itself but to signify, to point out something else to man. Thus, the world is connected with man in two ways and shares in his destiny:
Everything that is designated there in the world must by necessity come to fulfillment in man himself.… This is why Paul, mentioning the sun, moon and stars ties all of them to the resurrection, that is, to man.42

     If man achieves harmony with God and a new level of "divinized" life, then the world has fulfilled its end and is raised to a higher existence also. Without man the existence of the world would be pointless.

     Not only the world but also God is "humanized" in Skovoroda. God is a trinity and one of the persons of the trinity is Christ, the God-man. Also Christ is the ideal man who lives in each particular empirical man and sustains him as the center of his being. Thus, God is inextricably involved in the life of every individual whether the individual realizes this or not. I shall deal with the Christ-­man relationship in detail later. The point I wish to make is that God bears a human face in the person of Christi who is [32] the ideal man, the end of man and the metaphysical foundation of man's existence.

     Skovoroda's epistemology is "humanized" because he sees knowledge, especially ultimate knowledge as the activity of the whole man, not of reason alone. True knowledge must not only satisfy the demands of reason for intelligibility, it must also satisfy the yearning of the heart for the highest good, eternal happiness. Knowledge involves both reason and will, and true knowledge is faith rather than speculative theory. As faith, it has a profound influence on man's existence and actions.

     Skovoroda's epistemology is "humanized" in another way also because its basic principle is that all knowledge begins in self-knowledge. Since man is the microcosm that reflects all the structures of the macrocosm both God and the world can be known, or rather can only be known, through self-­knowledge. "He who is blind at home is blind also on visits."43 We cannot know the ultimate nature of the material world without first discovering the nature of our body. Without recognizing our body's relation to God, we cannot perceive the true relation of the universe to God; that is, we cannot know the ultimate nature of the universe.

     Just as the world can be known only through self-knowledge, so too God can be known only by discovering Him within ourselves. Thus, all ultimate knowledge, all wisdom which has as its object the nature of God and the world can be attained only by first discovering the full nature of man [33] in ourselves. This epistemological position does not imply idealism or relativism of knowledge. Given the parallelism of ontological structure in the microcosm and the macrocosm, it is apparent why the one can be known through the other. Knowledge of the microcosm takes precedence because the microcosm is closer to us (it is us) than the macrocosm. This makes it easier to discover the truth about the former than the latter. A more detailed explanation of Skovoroda's reasons for adopting this position must be left for later. If Skovoroda's belief in the revelation of the world through the scrutiny of one's body sounds childishly unscientific, it must: be borne in mind that he is not speaking of scientific knowledge of the world, but of ultimate metaphysical knowledge which knows the world truly when it perceives its relation to God. This type of knowledge can be discovered by examining the relation of our body to God. It should be clear by now that Skovoroda's doctrine of man and his destiny has a marked influence both on his metaphysics and his epistemology which are the two fundamental parts of any philosophical system. For this reason, it must be treated as the focal doctrine of his philosophy. [34]



1. F. Kudrinski, "Filosof bez sistemy" (Philosopher without a System), Kievskaia starina, 60 (Kiev, 1898), p. 265. 

2. Ibid., p. 266. 

3. Ibid., p. 269.

4. D. Chyzhevskyi, Istoriya ukrainskoi literatury (A History of Ukrainian Literature) (New York: Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Science in U.S. Inc., 1956), p. 316.

5. A. Ya. Efimenko, "Filosof iz naroda" (A Philosopher of the People), Knizhki nedeli, I (St. Petersburg, 1894), p. 19. 

6. Ibid., p. 21. 

7. Ibid., p. 23. 

8. Ibid., p. 24.

9. Ibid., pp. 19–20.

10. D. Chyzhevskyi, Filosofiya H. S. Skovorody (The Philosophy of G. S. Skovoroda) (Warsaw: Shevchenko Scientific Society Inc., 1934), p. 60. 

11. See p. 11 above.

12. "Vvedenie" (Introduction), Sochineniya Grigoriya Savvicha Skovorody (The Works of Gregory Savych Skovoroda), ed. D. I. Bagalei, Kharkovskoe istoriko-filologicheskoe obshchestvo, VII (Kharkov, 1894), p. xii.

13. C. A. Bennett, A Philosophical Study of Mysticism (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1923), p. 19.

14. V. F. Ern, Grigorii Savvich Skovoroda: zhizn i ucheniye (Gregory Savych Skovoroda: His Life and Teaching) (Moscow: Put, 1912), p. 213. [35]

15. Chyzhevskyi, Filosofiya, p. 60.

16. Bennet, op. cit., p. 7.

17. Ibid., p. 25.

18. Ibid., p. 139.

19. Ern, op. cit., p. 75.

20. Ibid., p. 59.

21. Ibid., p. 81.

22. M. I. Kovalinskii, "Zhizn Grigoriya Skovorody" (The Life of Gregory Skovoroda), Tvory, II, p. 496.

23. Ibid., p. 518.

24. Chyzhevskyi, Filosofiya, p. 60.

25. D. Chyzhevskyi, Filosofiya na Ukraini (Philosophy in the Ukraine), 2d ed. (Prague: Ukrainian Pedagogical Institute, 1928), p. 100.

26. Kovalinskii, op. cit., p. 502.

27. Ibid., p. 501.

28. Ibid., p. 525. 

29. "Vvedeniye," Sochineniya, ed. Bagalei, p. lxvi.

30. Chyzhevskyi, Filosofiya, p. 7.

31. Loc. cit.

32. I, 238.

33. "Vvedeniye," Sochineniya, ed. Bagalei, p. liii.

34. A, Kotovych, Hryhorii Savych Skovoroda: Ukrainskyi filosof XVIII stolittya (Gregory Savych Skovoroda: A Ukrainian Philosopher of the 18th Century) (New York: Ukrainian Orthodox Church, U.S.A., Scientific-Theological Institute, 1955), p. 35. Zelenogorskii and Pelekh support this view also.

35. Kovalinskii, op. cit., p. 521. 

36. I, 222–3.

37. V. V. Zenkovsky, A History of Russian Philosophy, trans. G. L. Kline (New York: Columbia Univ. Press; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1953), I, p, 60. 

38. Loc. cit.

39. Ern, op. cit, 214. Chyzhevskyi agrees in Filosofiya, p. 104.

40. I, 115.

41. I, 115.

42. I, 115.

43. I, 364.  [37]