Fedorov, Nikolai Fedorovich
Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov
(Also known as Nicholas Fyodorovich Fyodorov)
by Charles Tandy, Ph.D. <www.tandy.freehomepage.com>
1828(?) - 1903. Russian philosopher, teacher, and librarian; Christian founder of an immortalist (anti-death) philosophy for "the common task." Since the end of the Cold War, his thought has received renewed interest and advocacy in Russia and elsewhere. Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov (alternative romanized spellings are possible -- for example: Nicholas Fyodorovich Fyodorov) advocated the ethical priority of a research and development project he called "the common task," by which he meant the universal physical resurrection of the dead by means of advanced science and technology. Although he was highly praised by such people as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy (literature), Afanasi Fet (poetry), Vladimir Solovyov (philosophy), and Konstantin Tsiolkowsky (astronautics), he is virtually unknown to the western world. Bastard born of Prince P. I. Gagarin and a woman of non-nobility, Nikolai (with his mother and her other children) had to leave his father's home at age four, due to the prince's death. The family continued to be well-cared-for, however. In 1868 he began 25 years as a librarian with the Rumyantseu Museum; during this period, he was teacher-mentor of the young Konstantin Tsiolkowsky. After retiring, and until his death, he worked in the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His works, published posthumously, were available (in accordance with the Christian spirit of Fedorov's philosophy) only free of charge from the publisher, who renounced all rights.
Due to his Christian perspective, Fedorov found the widespread lack of love among people appalling. He divided these non-loving relations into two kinds. One is alienation among people: "non-kindred relations of people among themselves." The other is isolation of the living from the dead: "nature's non-kindred relation to men." "Man must not live for himself alone (egoism) nor only for others (altruism) but with all men and for all men." Fedorov is referring to all people of all time (past, present, future). He is speaking of a project to unite humankind, the colonization ("spiritualization") of the universe, the quest for the Kingdom of God, the creation of cosmos from chaos, the death of death, even resurrection of the dead. Fedorov believed, and passionately felt, that resignation in the face of death and separation of knowledge from action was false Christianity. He cautioned against being fooled into worshipping the blind forces of Satan. Rather, one should actively participate in changing what is into what ought to be.
The division between the learned and the unlearned was, in Fedorov's view, worse than the separation of the rich and the poor. The unlearned are more concerned with work than thought. The learned (philosophers and scientists) are less concerned with work than thought. The learned seem unaware that ideas "are not subjective, nor are they objective; they are projective." Philosophers and scientists, because they have separated ideas from moral action, are simply slaves to the imperfect present order. It is a root dogma of the learned that paradise is not possible. The unlearned should demand that the learned (because only they have the necessary knowledge) become a temporary task force for the Kingdom of God. The learned, however, will attempt to persuade us that problems like crop failures, disease, and death are not general questions but matters for a narrow discipline, questions for only a very small (or nonexistent) minority of the learned. Separation of the learned from the masses turns them into a seemingly permanent class, producing non-lovers of humankind. The "transformation of the blind course of nature into one that is rational ... is bound to appear to the learned as a disruption of order, although this order of theirs brings only disorder among men, striking them down with famine, plague, and death."
A citizen, a comrade, or a team-member can be replaced by another. However a person loved, one's kin, is irreplaceable. Moreover, memory of one's dead kin is not the same as the real person. Pride in one's forefathers is a vice, a form of egotism. On the other hand, love of one's forefathers means sadness in their death, requiring the literal raising of the dead. Politics must be replaced by physics. The politics of egoism and altruism must be replaced by Christianity which "knows only all men." Pride is a Tower of Babel that separates us from one another. Love is a "fusion as opposed to a confusion." For Fedorov, "complete and universal salvation" is preferable to "incomplete or non-universal salvation in which some men -- the sinners -- are condemned to eternal torments and others -- the righteous -- to an eternal contemplation of these torments." That is to say, Fedorov's bold science project, "the common task," is not the only possible route to salvation. "Salvation may also occur without the participation of men ... if they do not unite in the common task"; "if we do not unite to accomplish our salvation, if we do not accept the Gospel message," then a "purely transcendent resurrection will save only the elect; for the rest it will be an expression of God's wrath," "eternal punishment." "I believe this literally." "Christianity has not fully saved the world, because it has not been fully assimilated." Christianity "is not simply a doctrine of redemption, but the very task of redemption."
Many of the small number of philosophers familiar with Fedorov admit his originality, his independence, his human concern, perhaps even his logic -- up to a point. But at some point (there is disagreement as to where) these same philosophers state matter-of-factly that Fedorov has slipped into fantasy or magic. Too, Fedorov's thoughts have been variously described as bold, culminating, curious, easily-misunderstood, extreme, hazy, idealist, naive, of-value, scientifico-magical, special, unexpected, unique, and utopian. Perhaps all would agree, however, on his single-mindedness. Looked at positively, this is simply another term for purity-of-heart, a quality of saintliness. Fedorov perhaps anticipates Harvard philosophy professor John Rawls when he says: "By refusing to grant ourselves the right to set ourselves apart ... we are kept from setting any goal for ourselves that is not the common task of all." Rawls, like Fedorov, opposes both utilitarianism and intuitionism. And Rawls perhaps anticipates (after the fact) Fedorov's broader theory of love when he ends his 1971 book, A Theory of Justice, as follows: "Thus what we are doing is to combine into one conception the totality of conditions that we are ready upon due reflection to recognize as reasonable in our conduct with regard to one another. ... all persons ... even ... persons who are not contemporaries but who belong to many generations. Thus to see our place in society from the perspective of this position is ... to regard the human situation not only from all social but also from all temporal points of view. The perspective of eternity is not a perspective from a certain place beyond the world, nor the point of view of a transcendent being; rather it is a certain form of thought and feeling that rational persons can adopt within the world. ... Purity of heart, if one could attain it, would be to see clearly and to act with grace and self-command from this point of view."
For Further Reading
Berdyaev, N. A. "N. F. Fyodorov." The Russian Review 9 (1950). The information in this article is now dated. Fedorov's thought was not without influence on Berdyaev's existentialism.
Berdyaev, N. A. The Russian Idea. New York: Macmillan Co., 1948. Fedorov and other original Russian thinkers were yet very Russian in their thought.
Edie, J. M.; Scanlan, J. P.; Zeldin, M.; and Kline, G. L., eds. Russian Philosophy. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1965. This is a good place to begin if you want to read Fedorov directly (in English translation).
Lossky, N. O. History of Russian Philosophy. New York: International Universities Press, 1951. Federov is included in this history.
Lukashevich, S. N. F. Fedorov (1828-1903): A Study in Russian Eupsychian and Utopian Thought. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1977. The methodology used in this study may not insure full appreciation of Fedorov's thought, but it does demonstrate that his thought was indeed a detailed, coherent philosophy in which the various pieces fit together.
Rawls, J. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. A twentieth century classic in quasi-Kantian political philosophy.
Schmemann, A., ed. Ultimate Questions: An Anthology of Modern Russian Religious Thought. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965. Selections (translations) from Russian religious thinkers, including Fedorov, concerned with eschatology or other "ultimate" questions.
Young, G. M. Nikolai F. Fedorov: An Introduction. Belmont, Mass.: Nordland Publishing Co., 1979. Not only an excellent introduction, but a mine of references and information inviting further Fedorovian research. Much of Fedorov's written work has yet to be translated from Russian into English.
Zakydalsky, T. D. N. F. Fyodorov's Philosophy of Physical Resurrection. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI, 1976. A Ph.D. dissertation (Bryn Mawr) of 531 pages.
Zenkovsky, V. V. A History of Russian Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1953. Federov is included in this history.