Constantin Constantinus Creativity Metaphysics Nikolai Berdyaev Repetition Søren Kierkegaard

Berdyaev on Creative Dogmatism

In Repetition, Constantinus suggests that repetition is the “condition sine qua non for every issue of dogmatics” (324). That got me thinking, of course. Dogmatics is a dirty word in philosophy these days, and the reputation is not unwarranted. But perhaps this is a mistake. This called my attention to Berdyaev’s commitment to dogmatics–I think this is precisely what Constantinus is on to:

The dogmatic philosophy of the future is a philosophy which dares to make a choice, to fix the consciousness upon that which has been chosen. Dogmatic philosophy is a philosophy which dares, which creates. He who creates is always dogmatic: he always dares to make a choice and then asserts it. Dogmatic philosophy is free philosophy; in it is completed the creative act of spiritual forc.e Critical philosophy is dependent: in it the spirit is incapable of accomplishing the creative act; it is characterized by a reflective, divided condition of the spirit. Dogmatism is integrity of the spirit, its creative confidence in its own power. Criticism is a divided state of spirit, lack of confidence in its own power, which paralyses creativity. Creative knowledge, like every creative act, is the self-revelation of a power which cuts and chooses and casts away. Reflection, divided opinion and doubt are a palsied adaptation to the evil multiplicity of the world of necessity. A condition of doubt is an un-free condition, a state of dependence and oppression. He who doubts is incapable of choosing among the bad infinity, the evil multiplicity, of truths thrust upon him by the given world of necessity.

–Nicolas Berdyaev, The Meaning of the Creative Act. 45.

7 replies on “Berdyaev on Creative Dogmatism”

Perhaps that would rescue the word form its unfortunate poisoning. Do you posit the alternate phrase for that reason, or is there something more precise in “conviction” that you wish to affirm?

I just want to rescue the thought from, as you put it, “unfortunate poisoning.” A ‘mere critic’ is emptied of all conviction but the conviction that others can be defeated. Berdyaev seems to hold out for a creative thought that begins in the conviction that one has something of one’s own to say — and says it as best he or she can — giving flesh to the conviction rather than wondering and worrying digressively about the basis for saying, always looking for what is beneath the flesh. Living thought begins with the flesh of thought, not with obsessive delays while one wonders if the flesh-to-be is really alive and well or worth speaking.

“A ‘mere critic’ is emptied of all conviction but the conviction that others can be defeated.” Great line, among all the rest. I also love the distinction between living thought and the flesh of thought. Have you written on this elsewhere?

Perhaps conviction is superior to dogmatics, especially because conviction seems to connote a kind of forward-moving, something more existential. Dogmatics appears to be too theoretical still, while conviction requires an act.

Dogmatics just sounds like a big book of dogma — not a call to live a better life, or to shape one’s life creatively, or anything related to my singularity. “Creative dogma” sounds oxymoronic. On the other hand, I think Berdyaev is on to something with ‘dogmatics’ — we might hope to live by convictions that are solid and not to be revised after every discussion or philosophical convention (the opposite of pragmatics, or beliefs flowering after an evening’s easy discussion, perhaps).
Actually ‘the flesh of thought’ just arrived as I was typing this morning. We talk of getting to ‘the bare bones ‘ of an argument, but it occurred to me that I want to end up with thought’s living flesh (not dry dessicated bones). Living thought seeks other living thought, I guess, and often we know a thought is alive because it has the feel of living flesh, not of dry bones or of abstract QEDs.

I can’t agree more. The only remaining curiosity for me is whether or not dogma is a poisoned word or an intentional choice. Of course, it’s a translated word in English, so with regard to Berdyaev it could very well mean something different in the original. The same could probably be said for Kierkegaard. I just read The Concept of Anxiety today–“In actuality, the whole interest of subjectivity steps forth, and now metaphysics runs aground. If repetition is not posited, ethics becomes a binding power…If repetition is not posited, dogmatics cannot exist at all, for repetition begins in faith, and faith is the organ for issues of dogma” (18). That faith is the organ for issues of dogma is an intriguing way to phrase the issue. I don’t know Danish, so I suppose I’ll have to track it down somehow if only satisfy my exegetical curiosity.

Regardless, I do think the way you articulate it as a forward-driving conviction is preferable these days to dogma, which seems too fixed and stable. Of course, paradoxically, it is precisely the fixed nature of conviction that makes it so useful. I suppose nuanced differences are important, nonetheless.

The distinction you make regarding living thought and the bare bones of an argument is brilliant. That idea has some legs to be sure. It may first read like an easy dichotomy, but I think it has profound implications just in the language itself–it gets at something simultaneously imaginative and realistic.

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