Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hryhorii Skovorda

Upon hearing of Skovoroda in class, I became intrigued. A few idiosyncratic images come to mind. First the romantic traveling artist--such as Lesya Ukrainka or others. Yet also present is more of an Eastern "holy man" image, such as a wandering Buddhist Monk in India. These are obviously stereotypes. Another stereotype is that concerning philosophers, as atheistic, humanistic critics accepting neither faith or science. Obviously Skovoroda is no stereotype. So what and who is he?

He was born to a Cossack family (1722), although whether rich or poor is not clear. For example, links [1] and [2] below have contradictory information on this point. As mentioned in class, he attended the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, although he never completed a full program. He also left the Academy on two occasions for travels and other things. In 1769, he abandoned formal teaching and began wandering the country side.

An interesting note, he refused to let his philosophical writings be published, calling them his children. He'd often give his writings to friends as gifts, instructing them to take care of them and keep them in their house. See more about this at link [2]. In a culture clamoring to fit into the Russian aristocracy seek worldly honor and riches (the Cossack Hetmanite being slowly dismantled during his lifetime), Skovoroda refused to be a worldly-type philosopher. More on this in link [2], with interesting stories concerning Cathrine the Great and a General Shcherbinin.

In his writings, he is critical of the Church, but deeply religious. Soviet realism made him into a pantheist, believing God is nature, but this biased by Soviet objectives. For instance, the following quote from link [3]:

"To Skovoroda, God reveals Himself to men in three ways: the material world into which we are born; Man himself, or the microcosm which reflects the macrocosm; and the symbolic world of the Bible, which gives us the possibility to understand the eternal God. The material world is meaningless without one's intimate connection with the divine. Man has to use his cognitive powers to understand the macrocosm and its Creator."

This is comparable with a 1965 U.S. thesis by Taras Zakydalsky at Bryn Mawr Collage (link [4]), particularly note the first paragraphs of the Metaphysics chapter. Here is a direct quote from Skovoroda on these three aspects, calling them three worlds.

In all, I find Skovoroda a refreshing individual: a man who had both deep faith in God, and yet was willing to address philosophical issues; a seeker of truth not limited to usual physical experience. He was critical of the church(es) he was familiar with, as they did not seem to fit his ideas of truth, yet not abandoning God because of these church(es).

Personally, am a scientist and also very religious. I believe both these aspects of my life involve seeking and learning truth. I am encouraged to see another truth seeker with both aspects. Was he successful? That remains for each individual to decide.



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