In Praise of Folly: On the Occasion of Nikolai Berdiaev's Book Sub specie aeternitatis

Russian Studies in Philosophy 39 (1):36-53 (2000)
I begin my eulogy to folly not in jest as did the illustrious Erasmus of Rotterdam in the old days, but in all sincerity and from all my heart. In this task Berdiaev's new book will be of great assistance to me. Had he wished to do so, he could have titled it, following his long-deceased colleague's example, In Praise of Folly, because its purpose is to challenge common sense. True, the book is a collection of articles written in the last six years, hence, properly speaking, it does not and cannot serve some one purpose. Six years is a long time: not only a writer like Berdiaev, but any writer will change to some extent during so long a period. The book opens with an article written long ago, "The Struggle for Idealism" [Bor'ba za idealizm], in which the author still maintains a strictly Kantian viewpoint that admits, as we know, common sense and all its accompanying virtues. Then the author gradually evolves and, by the end of the book, he openly declares war on common sense, but what he opposes to common sense is not Folly, as is usually done, but Great Reason. Of course, one can express oneself in this way, calling Folly Great Reason, and, if you like, this has a deep meaning or, more precisely, a deep sting, for what can be more insulting and humiliating to common sense than to confer the honorific title of Great Reason on Folly? Until now common sense has been accepted as the father and closest friend of all minds, great and small. Now, Berdiaev, scorning genealogy and historically shaped heraldry, elevates "opposition to common sense," that is, Folly to the order of Great Reason. No doubt, this is very audacious, but Berdiaev is a writer who above all is daring and, in my opinion, this is his greatest strength. I would say that his gift, his philosophical and literary talent, lies in his audacity. As soon as it abandons him, the source of his inspiration evaporates, he has nothing to say, and he ceases to be himself. But I have run too far ahead. Let us return to his evolution or, rather, to the evolution of his idea
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DOI 10.2753/RSP1061-1967390136
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