Pavel Florensky on space and time

Schole 9 (1):105-118 (2015)
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Abstract

An investigation of the views on space and time of the Russian polymath Pavel Florensky. After a brief account of his life, I study Florensky’s conception of time in The Meaning of Idealism, where he first confronts Einstein’s theory of special relativity, comparing it to Plato’s metaphor of the Cave and Goethe’s myth of the Mothers. Later, in his Analysis of spatiality and time, Florensky speaks of a person’s biography as a four-dimensional unity, in which the temporal coordinate is examined in sections. In On the Imaginaries in Geometry, Florensky argues that the speed of light is not, as in Relativity, an absolute speed limit in the universe. When bodies approach and then surpass the speed of light, they are transformed into unextended, eternal Platonic forms. Beyond this point, time runs in reverse, effects precede their causes, and efficient causality is transformed into final or teleological causality, a concept on which Florensky elaborates in his Iconostasis. Florensky thus transformed the findings of Einsteinian relativity in order to make room for Plato’s intelligible Ideas, the Aristotelian distinction between a changing realm of earth and the immutable realm of the heavens, and the notion of teleology or final causation. His notion that man can approximate God’s vision of past, present and future all at once, as if from above, is reminiscent of Boethius’ ideas.

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