Philosophy of the heart

Philosophy of the heart

‘The philosophy of the heart’ is one of the main characteristic of Ukrainian thought. This philosophy stands for three distinct theses:


  1. that emotions have not only ethical and religious but also cognitive significance,

  2. that conscious experience arises from a deeper source, a mysterious ‘abyss’ (heart) and

  3. that man is a microcosm, which means that humankind is the representation in miniature of the universe.

Just as the ph`enomenon of the body has its ontological basis in the idea of body, so also the phenomenal psychic life of man must have its root in some deeper reality. This ultimate ontological principle of our thoughts Skovoroda calls the heart: ‘The true man is the heart in man. Deep is that heart and knowable only by God. It is the bottomless abyss of our thought; to say it simply, the soul, that is, the true being, the existing truth, the very essence (as they say) of our seed and power, of which our whole life consists and without which we are a dead shadow’.

Here in a capsule is Skovoroda’s whole doctrine of man’s heart. The heart, first, is not open to introspection, in the ordinary sense. It cannot be known as our psychic phenomena are known, by simple self-reflection. The heart can be known fully only by God. Man can have some insight into his heart, but only by faith, not introspection. Secondly, the heart embraces all reality, since its thoughts range freely through all reality, to all objects and are not prevented from penetrating to the most obscure secrets of reality. Thirdly, the heart is that principle which sustains the whole human composite in existence, the body as well as the psyche. This means that the heart contains as part of its structure the eternal idea of the body: ‘The heart is the root. In it lives your very leg and the external dust is its boot. Not only the leg but also the arms, eyes, ears and tongue and the whole circle of your dummy-like limbs is nothing else but the clothes. The true parts themselves are hidden in the heart’.

And just as it is the source of all being in man, the heart is also the source of all activities, activities of thought as well as bodily activities, since these are governed by thought. It not only determines the character of these activities, it is also the force and the power that makes all motion possible. ‘The flesh is nothing, the spirit is life-creating’. Since the heart is not only the source of the being of each man, but also the source of all manifestations be they actions, bodily characteristics, or thoughts, it is often called the ‘true’ or ‘exact’ man. ‘Everyone is that whose heart is in him’.

The heart for Skovoroda undoubtedly includes the faculties of reason and will. The heart as the source of thoughts and desires or volitions may be identified with reason and will respectively, but it is obviously much more than a faculty. It is the fundamental principle of being in man, that which accounts both for his true nature and his existence.

If the heart determines our thoughts and desires, then by analyzing these or more precisely their objects we may gain a general and vague notion of our heart. For Skovoroda the principle that like is known by like, ‘the head by the head and force is known by force’ plays an important role at this point. This principle enables him to deduce from the nature of the objects of our attention the nature of our heart. The objects we may love and desire or attend to are of two categories. They may be spiritual objects, the internal truth or God’s ideas in things or they may be material objects or the external appearances. The heart is divided in the same way as its objects, into the inner and the outer heart. Thus, we discover a new level of contraries, a deeper dualism of the very heart: ‘if there is a body above the body, then there is a head above the head and a new heart above the old heart’. This dualism is absent from sub-human creatures. Since these creatures cannot be aware of nor desire other than sensible objects, there can be no dichotomy in their heart or essence. Their heart is centered exclusively upon the needs and activities of the body, and therefore they lack choice, decision and freedom. They are like automata activated by the present program that God inserts into them as their essence. The distinction between man and animal will become clear only after we have discussed fully the nature of the outer and the inner hearts.

^ The outer heart’

The outer heart is the source of those thoughts, desires and acts that are directed at the goods of the outer body. These goods include not only gross bodily necessities such as food, clothing and shelter, but also aesthetic delights such as we find in music, perfumes, painting and ornaments. These goods are all shadows for they are ephemeral, and the heart that concerns itself them is similar to them: ‘You are only a shadow, emptiness and nothingness with a heart similar to your body. Nothingness is loved by nothingness’. We have seen that the body is necessary and therefore useful and good in some way. Now, since the outer heart provides for the body, attends to its welfare and thus supports its existence, the outer heart must also be good and useful. Like the body it may become a source of evil and perversion of man’s true nature if it usurps the place of the true heart and establishes its monopoly over all of man’s thoughts and desires. If kept in its place, as a subordinate principle, the outer heart is useful and helpful to man.

The ontological status of the outer heart must be distinguished from that of the ideal body. The divine idea of body in man is the source and ontological foundation of the outer body. This idea belongs to a more fundamental level of the heart than the outer heart. The outer heart must not be taken as an ontological principle, but rather as a faculty of the heart, a faculty of thought and volition occupied with the good of the temporal body. The outer heart itself is not self-sustaining, but is founded on a deeper principle – the inner heart. Being directed at the outer body, this heart is temporal. Unlike the ideal body, this outer heart is born and dies with the outer body. As long as the body exists, however, this heart cannot be eliminated, and it remains throughout life a threat to the higher principle in man. It must be constantly reminded of its subordinate position, otherwise it will eclipse the inner heart. Thoughts and concern over the body will displace all thoughts about man’s true nature and the eternal truth. Thus, throughout life ‘these two hearts in each man are eternally at war’. We now turn to the inner heart, а whose rightful place in our attention is threatened by the outer heart.

^ The inner heart’

The inner heart, which is also called the true man in man, Christ in man or God in man, is the basic ontological principle in man, the principle that sustains and defines the whole structure of man and all his actions. The outer body and the outer heart are its shadows. Clearly, the inner heart is the eternal divine idea of man in man. Like any other creature man receives his being from God and is therefore totally dependent upon him: ‘You are the shadow of your true man. You are the chasuble, he is the body. You are the appearance and he is the truth in you. You are nothing and he is the being in you. You are mud and he is your beauty, image and plan, but not your image and not your beauty since he is not your doing, but is in you and sustains you, oh, dust and nothingness!’

The divine idea of man in each man is not only his better half, his true and immortal self. It is not only the divine element in him, for this is true of all creatures. All creatures are sustained by the divine idea in them. The divine idol in man, besides having its source in God, is divine in a second sense. It is the image of God himself or rather of God’s Son, the second person of the Trinity. This is the most adequate and fullest manifestation of God in any creature. The power of thought and the freedom of self-determination make man the creature closest to God, the most adequate manifestation of God. ‘He gave us his very highest Wisdom which is his natural portrait and stamp’. For this season, Skovoroda often speaks or the inner man as the one Christ in all of us.

^ Theory of the ‘three worlds’ and ‘double nature’

Skovoroda’s theory of ‘the three worlds’ in his tract ‘The Serpent’s Flood’ speaks about the principal, space world – the Universe, macrocosm – and two subworlds: one of them is the human world, microcosm, the other is ‘symbolical’, that is the biblical world. Every one of the three worlds has a double ‘nature’: visible and invisible, for the biblical world the two natures are correlated as ‘sign and symbol’. All three worlds are made of evil and good, the biblical world is a kind of link between the visible and the invisible natures of microcosm and macrocosm. A person has two bodies and two hearts: corruptible and eternal, worldly and spiritual. The theory of double nature of man speaks about ‘true’ people as people whose ‘inner’ nature reigns over their ‘outer’ nature. A persons happiness is not in riches, not luxury, and not even in health, but in the soul’s harmony. ‘Where have you seen, or read, or heard about the happy person whose treasure was not inside him? It is impossible to find it outside of oneself. The true happiness is inside of us’. A human being can only reach harmony, if he or she does what accords with his or her natural inclinations, in ‘one’s own trade’. And if a person tries to acquire more than he or she actually needs, according to Skovoroda it only brings disaster. All creatures are distinct but inseparable from God. They are visible manifestations or symbols of God. Each thing is a composite of matter and divine idea; and while its appearing is temporal, its true being in God’s mind is eternal.

^ Epistemological dualism

Skovoroda ‘s epistemological doctrine based on two ways of knowing, on the distinction of sensory knowledge, which attains only the surfaces of things and is temporally prior, from spiritual knowledge, which pierces through the surfaces and sees everything in its ultimate reality. Skovoroda discusses these two ways of knowing at great length. The act of faith has a central importance in his philosophy, because it is both the act of perceiving the real nature of things and also the starting point of his ethics.

Skovoroda gave consideration to self-cognition. It has much to do with his metaphysics and theory of ‘the three worlds’: ‘All three worlds have a parallel structure, a dualism of appearance and reality, outer surface and inner core, inessential and essential, Thus, by studying one of the worlds, we at same time gain insight into the other worlds. Here, by studying the macrocosm I hope to learn something of the microcosm – man’. Also Skovoroda speaks of union with God as a discovery of one’s true self, as a form of self-knowledge.

Skovoroda’s aphorisms:


  • The best of mistakes is that one which had been made during the studies.

  • The human rest is the human death.

  • The time is being used correctly by somebody who recognized what is worth to seek and what is necessary to avoid.

  • Our kingdom is within us and to know God, you must know yourself.

  • People should know God like yourself enough to see him in the world.

  • Belief in God does not mean – belief in his existence – and therefore to give in to him and live according to His law.

Sanctity of life lies in doing good to people.

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