In the right order of brush strokes: a sketch of a software philosophy retrospective
St. Petersburg State Polytechnical University, Institute of Computing and Control, Polytechnicheskaya ul., 21, 195021 St. Petersburg, Russia
Evgeny Pyshkin, Email: ur.utsbps.cci@nikhsyp.
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Received 2014 Mar 4; Accepted 2014 Apr 4.
Copyright © Pyshkin; licensee Springer. 2014
This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
This paper follows a discourse on software recognized as a product of art and human creativity progressing probably for as long as software exists. A retrospective view on computer science and software philosophy development is introduced. In so doing we discover parallels between software and various branches of human creative manifestations. Aesthetic properties and mutual dependency of the form and matter of art works are examined in their application to software programs. While exploring some philosophical and even artistic reflection on software we consider extended comprehension of technical sciences of programming and software engineering within the realm of liberal arts.
Keywords: Software philosophy, Art, Software aesthetics, Liberal arts, Computer science education
In about 60 years of its history software did a stressed way from an object of craft of professionals from highly selected club to the contemporary social scene. In recent years software manifested its pervasive nature considerably and became available to various groups of people.
More and more people become software writers, not only its users. To be an information-literate is one of the crucial demands for member of postindustrial society (Shapiro and Hughes 1996). In response, the nowadays software understanding leads us to the thesis that one of the most challenging aspects of current software development is its ability to transform and to change the world (DeMarco 2009). Attention to these aspects often overpasses pure engineering strategy to complete the project in time and within the resources limitations.
As noted in (Myers et al. 2011), “software we write today potentially touches millions of people, either enabling them to do their jobs effectively, or causing them untold frustration and costing them in the form of lost work or lost businesses”. Despite many formalized ways to represent data models, program structures, execution analysis and verification, and project organization were discovered, software engineering is still far from being an exact science. A psychologist Richie O’Bower noted that a programmer is rather not a mathematician but a philosopher and a linguist all in one: ability to program is not simply a kind of creative ability but the best one (O’Bower 1997). Sergei Arkhipenkov stated even more strongly: “software development is a kind of human activity which is mistakenly attributed to engineering” (Arkhipenkov 2012). But even if we accept this rather emotional idea, we still understand that it is impossible to say that writing software is either entirely art or entirely engineering. Truly, there is place for both components.
In software development there are disciplines where engineering prevails. It seems hard to provide good basis to estimate relative weights of art and engineering in software creation. In the latter days, in addition to traditional focus on problem solving, algorithms and data structures, hardware elements and architectures, design and development methodologies, new areas of computer science application are evolving. They include such areas as information retrieval, machine learning, social and ethical issues of the use of computers (and particularly in regards to software products).
Since computer science is connected with many interdisciplinary efforts, its specific boundaries become fuzzy (Walker and Kelemen 2009). Walker and Kelemen’s consideration goes even further when they concluded that computer science draws upon perspectives from many other disciplines. Hence, it has a symbiotic relationship with the liberal arts and therefore might be considered the ultimate of liberal arts disciplines. Interestingly, in medieval times the university curriculum differed remarkably from the today’s understanding of humanities: within the context of liberal arts students studied such disciplines as grammar, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, rhetoric, and astronomy. Knuth noted that grammar, logic, and arithmetic are important components of computer science (Knuth 1974). Advancing with the consideration of computer science and especially software science as art, shouldn’t we stop with only three titles?
Since the first decades after emerging of computers and software related disciplines, both computer and liberal arts researchers attempted to explore some philosophy and artistic reflections on software engineering (Knuth 1974; Eden 2007; Wing 2006; Bond 2005). Since the appearance of software engineering in about late 60s, there were attempts to apply philosophical concepts to this discipline in order to reflect on engineers’ activities, but these attempts were rather limited.
Software engineering hasn’t been appropriately analyzed with highlighting a philosophical discourse on computer science. In addition to classical Knuth’s research (Knuth 2001) we can cite recent works in (Gruner 2011) and (Northover et al. 2008). Our current paper is another contribution to this yet unsystematic collection. However we concede eventual criticism on a bitty structure of this essay and evident lack of rational arguments and estimations, most of them being of quite suggestive nature.
Good is beautiful, bad is ugly
The thesis about software aesthetic properties considered as products of programming creative nature, its complexity and its social significance isn’t novel. As far back as 1972 Andrey Ershov remarked: “in its creative nature programming goes a little further than most other professions, and comes to mathematics and writing” (Ershov 1972). In turn, Dijkstra remarked that it occurs that a computer program may fascinate us by its logical elegance, but appears often totally unfitted for the human perception (Dijkstra 1976). About a decade later Knuth mentioned that “computer programs are nice to write, and well-written computer programs are nice to read” (Knuth 1984). Knuth’s Literate Programming was then a novel transitional approach connecting (probably for the first time) a process of the source code creation with a process of the source code apprehension in terms of pleasantness that computer programs may effect. Later, the idea of writing programs as narratives found its reimplementation in other fields of software engineering, for example, in supporting acceptance test stories in behavior driven development.
However Arkhipenkov still complained in 2012: “I don’t need a language allowing writing good programs, I’m searching for a language making impossible to write bad programs.” Seems to be “crying out in the wilderness” (Matthew 3:1-3)? Indeed, if we only were blessed to have such a language in literature, we would read only outstanding novels.
It seems less realistic to wait for a software language guaranteeing good software: nothing changed over the years – excellent programs are written by excellent developers. Despite there is probably no reliable metric to measure how does the developers’ creativity affect their productivity and software product quality, there is intuitive expectation that it affects them strongly.
Here’s another example. Main points of the Zen of Python emphasize more surface impressions of software than its technical quality: beautiful is better than ugly not only in external appearance (Peters 2004). Wilson and Oram complain that university students are rarely taught how to see the software elegance, unlike to academic traditions in other creative fields like painting, plastic art or architecture (Oram and Wilson 2007). It is essential that architects study to know how to look at buildings, composers study to know how to learn from others’ music scores, but programmers mostly look at others’ works only to fix bugs. They don’t know how to see the code beauty. Unfortunately we often don’t have enough time for this.
Beautiful solutions aren’t obvious. Although a concept of (code) beauty are very subjective, there is a gut feeling: if a programmer is able to explain what makes the code beautiful, code beauty may be considered as one of properties allowing judging the software quality. The key question which is not answered here is what does beauty mean. This is a kind of term that we use without special definition. Here is another suggestive observation: often it is hard to find rationale for judging something beautiful or to convince that the code is beautiful. Unfortunately, it happens that people consider much easier to argue the inverse.
The manner and matter in software compositions
In this article we follow our previous work focused on problems of programming teaching (Pyshkin 2011). With help of the philosophical categories of form and matter applied to software considered as a product of human creative ability, we believe that the form doesn’t simply clothe the content of the work and separates it from the outside being, just like if it was the case of literature, visual arts and even the case of music. The form rather connects the creation to the external world: the manner and matter being interpenetrating and mutually dependent (McElroy 1888)
In contrast to MacLennan’s consideration (MacLennan 2006), where the matter of software engineering is considered to be the hardware and the form is the software itself which organizes resources provided by the hardware into a dynamic purposeful process, we apply both categories to software. Our analogy is also in accord with Gruner’s mention from (Gruner 2011): “Like a poem, software has thus also aesthetic qualities (which are often forgotten in the literature on software ontology), such as form (even beauty in its form), legibility, etc.”
Hence, producing readable software is one of the essential abilities of a software engineer who, similar to a painter or a musician, programs not only the computer but also the act of reproduction of developer’s creation in the beholder’s mind.
Let us introduce a glance to Russian humanities. As Russian theologian and mathematician Pavel Florensky considered, paintings become works of art not at the moment of their creation, but at the moment when they are recognized by a recipient. Otherwise they aren’t more understandable than a music score (being a sort of two-dimensional graphics) before it sounds by instrumental or intellectual implementation. Nevertheless, composers say that an experienced musician is able to judge the music work’s value simply by viewing the music score graphics’ beauty or, on the contrary, it’s ugliness (Florensky 1991): they may be experienced to execute (and therefore to reproduce) the work mentally. Furthermore, a composer writing a symphony normally works with a music score which is an abstract representation of composer’s intentions. The adequacy of such a representation strongly depends on the author’s ability to map the notation to the sound mentally (Edmonds 2007). Remember the example of Beethoven who lost hearing in his later years.
Thus, not only the concepts underlie software development approaches, but also a sense of aesthetics that fast every enthusiastic developer has: “a sense of what is pleasant to perform and what is unpleasant to endure, what is beautiful to behold and what is intolerably ugly” (Bond 2005). It advances the Knuth’s note about programs’ beauty introduced as elegant statements of program’s tasks and symphonic (sic!) composition of its parts (Knuth 2001).
Since a source code is a textual form of a programming code (therefore these two types of codes are often supposed to be synonyms), the primary difficulty of code understanding is its interpretation as a textual artifact (Berry 2011). To a great extend, understanding software code is based on capabilities to deal with languages. Even for visual arts it is often hard to explain what makes the creation product beautiful. Zeki supposed that it is caused by the fact that the human brain’s visual system is much more developed than its language centers, since it has had much more time to evolve (Zeki and Nash 1999).
Software art manifestations
As a matter of things, an idea to consider software as an art is quite recent, at least if we compare it to the genesis of software itself. But the question whether the criteria of other arts should be or may be applied to the domain of programming and software engineering, remains open.
We can recognize at least three types of software manifestations as an art. First, software as a media art, if the external appearance of software in form of interactive media is exploited at most. Second, “contestable”, or competitive art, if programmers compete in aesthetic appearance of programs written under some conditions that may be artificial. Contests of one-line programs could serve as a model. Third, and probably the most important for us, if we consider software internal implementation as an art, and discuss beauty attributes in the code itself.
Aesthetic satisfaction may come in different ways. Knuth mentioned that “pleasure is significantly enhanced when we accomplish something with limited tools” (Knuth 1974). I remember the epoch of so called programmable calculators with very restricted memory facilities. What a pleasure and proud it was, when I wrote a program solving a square equation and featuring to deal with complex roots. It had size of about 40 per cent less comparing to the “standard” solutions in published tutorials and used only high efficient stack memory (that could now be called as a processor cache) to manipulate with data instead of calculator registers which were accessible at much slower speed. It meant that I gained miraculously both execution time and memory space.
One more sample comes from an academic lab where I revised a student’s program dealing with constructing and processing triangles defined by the plain coordinates of its three angles. We converted the solution which primarily didn’t step over the bounds of six numeric values to a really nice construction defined in terms of geometry model presented in Figure 1 (do you still remember that geometry was one of the liberal arts in ancient universities?). Thus the solution has been shifted from the operational orientation to almost pure data model. The following fragment in Java provides some glimpse of that refactoring (see Listing 1):
Another sort of programming artistic manifestation is so called code poems. Inspired probably by the famous Perl poem by Hopkins (1995), the artist and engineer Ishac Bertran launched a project inviting people to write poetry in any programming language (Solon 2012). Indeed, many years ago, when I wrote a demo C functions to skip comments in style of ANSI C code, I felt vaguely that I wrote a sort of poem, in Bertran’s terms. Listing 2 represents one verse:
In contrast to the previous example dealing with “geometric types”, the above solution (for the process presented in Figure 2 as a state chart) is a kind of pure control structure (what makes it nice as I dare to say), the only data processing being the checking of the just scanned character.
Statechart for the closeComment() function.
So Knuth was right as he mentioned that even routine processes may sometimes be beautiful.
Another good example of such a routine process comes from the text processing domain. The task of parsing parenthesis-free expressions is one of traditional tasks used in the academic courses of programming. The problem of constructing an expression recursive parser is complex enough to explain elements of compiler theory, lexical and syntactic analysis, methods of parser construction, a concept of abstract syntax tree as well as the usage of polish notation to simplify expression calculation.
At the same time an expression recursive parser is manageable to meet academic requirements. One could say that arithmetic expression recursive production rules illustrate a kind of ideal software requirements since the target program structure strongly relies on it. Isn’t it beautiful if the programming language implementation follows the grammar rules almost directly? The hierarchy of function or class method calls (Listing 3 represents a fragment of a parser class definition) may be considered as text based visualization of the production rules shown in Figure 3.
Fragment of arithmetic expression grammar rules.
Despite a computer program is primarily aimed to get some practical results of its execution, the object of a program isn’t effectively a heartless automaton performing sets of instructions represented in special form. The program is oriented to a human reader’s attention: we attempt to explain, what we would like to get from a computer and in which way. It gives us a newer comprehension of the Dijkstra’s note about programs that get their sense only during execution (Dahl and Hoare 1972). So, we may paraphrase on the earlier note: experienced software composers are equally able to judge the code value (i.e. code quality) by viewing code graphics’ beauty or, on the contrary, its ugliness.
There are software practices (extreme programming, for example) where code inspection is one of the essential production stages. Static analysis and unit testing are also examples of code recognition and rediscovering in the course of its verification. This leads us to one more interpretation of a Kent Beck’s famous maxim, “Hold on there – I never said that test-first was a testing technique. In fact, if I remember correctly, I explicitly stated that it wasn’t” (Beck 2001).
It’s hard to model adequately the human creative ability, but it’s possible to model the creative process itself, so to be able to recognize and to judge the artifacts being products of this process whether they are music compositions, pieces of painting, literary efforts or, in a case we are interested here in at most, software projects. Considering software as art changes our understanding of software and shifts the focus of the art from the object orientation to a broader system orientation (Edmonds 2007).
To conclude these rather scattered notes I’d like to cite two statements coming from the domains of fine arts and literature. I slightly revised them to produce some counterpoint to main ideas of this essay. Paul Klee stated that an eye follows the ways that were already managed inside the worka. Let’s note that these ways should be paved carefully and in the right order, just like in the Japanese calligraphy: unless you write a kanji character in the right order of brush strokes, it would never look beautiful! b
a As quoted in George Perec’s La Vie, mode d’emploi (Perec 1978) (translated from French).
b Paraphrased from Alex Kerr’s Lost Japan (Kerr 1996).
The author declares that he has no competing interests.
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Fr. Pavel Florensky and Sergius Bulgakov (Mikhail Nesterov, 1917) Click to enlarge
Editor’s Note: This letter is a response to the essay by Peter J. (Giacomo) Sanfilippo published on Public Orthodoxy, May 2, 2017 where the teachings of Fr. Pavel Florensky are misrepresented and his character defamed. It caused consternation in Russia where the teachings and life of Fr. Florensky are well known.
The author of this letter is a leading authority on contemporary Russian philosophy and the holder of a prestigious position at an important academic institution in Russia, has previously taught at one of Russia’s finest seminaries, and is the author of numerous books on the topic he discusses below. The author has international standing as a scholar and asked AOI to maintain his anonymity because being drawn into public polemics jeopardizes his opportunities to speak in the West given the reflexive hostility the clarity of his language would generate. AOI granted the request since the reasoning in this letter is clear and unarguable.
The long quote from Archimandrite Andronik Trubachev, Florensky’s grandson and the foremost authority on Fr. Pavel’s life and work, is used with his permission. This letter, originally sent as part of a personal correspondence, is published here as a contribution not just to the “same sex marriage” issue, but also to set the record straight on the personal and academic integrity (sophrosyne) of one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century and one of the holiest martyrs of the Russian Orthodox Church, Fr. Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky.
After reading the article (Conjugal Friendship) of a former priest who fell into a deadly sin and who tries not only to justify this sin, but also to corrupt those who do not know church doctrine, I doubted whether it was even worth responding to something so vapid.1 What conclusions can be arrived at given this article’s lack of evidence and argument? Indeed, instead of arguments, we get only sly insinuations. It is aimed at gullible people who know nothing of church doctrine, the history of art, or the history of the Russian philosophy and who are likewise completely unfamiliar with the biography of Fr. Pavel Florensky.
To distract the attention of readers, the author has added two images, the first an illustration of two holy martyrs (St Theodore “the General” and St Theodore “the Recruit”) stylistically depicted holding hands and the second a photograph of the young Fr. Pavel Florensky with his seminary companion Sergei Troitsky. These two images, then, are the only form of “evidence” brought to bear in Sanfilippo’s article. But far from having been a “couple,” as the author’s prurient conjecture insinuates, the two saints may not have even met, and some believe that rather than there being two saints at all, there are rather two sets of narratives about a single saint, probably “conjoined” because two pilgrimage sites are relatively close to one another.
Or we may consider the contemporary photograph. Troitsky was the son of Archpriest Simeon Troitsky, Rector of the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in the village of Toptygino, located near Kostroma. On holiday the two friends went to the village to help Fr. Simeon with the restoration of the church, held lectures on religious topics, opened a library in the church for the local peasants. They collected local folklore, recording songs and old tales. Florensky himself often expressed his great appreciation for the ambience of piety and holiness in the Troitsky housefold. Hardly, as Sanfilippo asks us to believe, a homosexual fling that was somehow clandestinely pursued under the roof of Sergei’s priestly family home.
In 1909 Troitsky married Fr. Pavel Florensky’s sister, Olga, before being tragically stabbed to death the following year by a deranged student. If he, in particular, is memorialized in Florensky’s book, it is largely to honor this pure soul following his untimely death. No further conclusions can be drawn from this photograph except in the form of wishful fantasy. One might as well conclude that, for example, that the photo depicts suicide bombers bidding farewell to life, or is an image of characters in a play, or close relatives or a hostage-taking. In a word, any fantasy that does not in any way correspond to reality may be elicited by the undisciplined imagination.
In order to intelligently interpret facts, any approach must be based on historical criticism, knowledge of the sources and the laws of reason. If these three conditions are ignored, we cannot but present ourselves as malicious observers intent on manipulating reality for some unknown purpose. In the case of Sanfilippo, his article deals with nothing more than such malicious speculation and attempts at distorting reality to his own purpose. It doesn’t take much to expose his whimsical distortion of the images—we need only look to three sources of correct inferences. Again, these are:
- Historical criticism. This is a basic academic research method that assumes that a person takes into account the historical context of a particular era, the canons and customs accepted in society and the social ethics of one or another group under study. It may be that, for example, what in the past was considered to be a sign of extreme disrespect, in our modern world would be regarded as a sign of praise or vice versa. If we do not take into account the historical context of an image, then the value of our judgments and conclusions for this are nil.
Without such respect for historical context, modern scientists could, for example, develop absurd conclusions in an attempt to prove the existence of democracy consisting of two opposing parties in ancient Egypt from the uncontextualized evidence of associated figures to the left and to the right of an enthroned Pharaoh. Should such ‘researchers’ then call the Pharaoh a president, and on this basis go on to argue that he is re-elected every four years, for example, they laughably expose their ignorance of the entire context of ancient Egyptian culture, known written sources and evidence of other civilizations. Given our awareness of ancient Egypt, no sane person can conclude such absurdities merely from superficial circumstantial evidence. Historical criticism is inseparable from historical context. In the given case, far more is known about the life and times of Fr. Paul Florensky than of ancient Egypt, and Sanfilippo exposes his ignorance of historical context and his contempt for it in his attempt to draw bizarre conclusions from a bare image.
- Source study is a key discipline of any historical or philosophical endeavor. Without this there is neither science nor culture. If someone does not know the sources or doesn’t bother to read the available literature and research of those who went before, then he cannot make any claim to a scientific approach or academic credibility, to say nothing of claiming to be a literate individual.
- The laws of reason. While the rules of logic are well known, it is clear that nowadays they are often ignored, replaced with non-rational assumptions, errors in critical thinking, manipulation of facts, and replacing facts with interpretations. Sanfilippo’s article abounds with logical fallacies, including several modes of equivocation, i.e. using a term one sense and then surreptitiously “reframing” it into a totally different signification.
Considering these three pillars of literate thinking, we must assume that Sanfilippo has only a child’s grasp of the basic principles of scholarship employed towards the end of justifying sin and his own fall. Or perhaps he has been corrupted by certain postmodern epistemologies, such as “deconstruction,” in which nothing more than fantasy and free association form the foundation of his conclusions. The fact is that believing people of previous eras, unlike modern Christian converts, have based their thinking on the Gospel, the canons of the Church and the decrees of the Apostolic Councils.
These sources are unambiguous in condemning the sin of sodomy, the ecclesiastical language for same-sex relationships, as a mortal sin. It entails a death of the soul that renders individuals incapable of either communication with God or the reception of grace. According to St. Paul, a person who adheres to drunkenness, sodomy, and bestiality will not inherit the Heavenly Kingdom (1 Cor 6: 9-10). There are many well known, articulate and severe statutes of the Ecumenical and Local Church Councils on this subject.
The manifestation of sinful behavior is not a justification of is existence. We cannot, for example, convince ourselves and others that the sin of murder is a normal behavior inherent in human nature. “After all,” we may say, “there are moments when a person wants to literally kill others. Why should we judge a person so harshly for murder? Anger and irritation — these are manifestations of human nature. We need to feel sorry for the poor thing, to allow him to kill, and perhaps even to give the murderer the right to affirm this moral standard for the suffering he has endured.” If someone should to argue this way, he will rightly be ostracized and publicly censured.
For Christians of all ages, except in our own age of apostasy, the error of this manner of thinking was clear as day: the sin of sodomy is a glaring example of the fall of man. Christian consciousness has always been protected by certain ecclesiastical boundaries, always enabling a distinction between good and evil. This higher awareness is why holy icons can depict the kiss of friendship between the Apostles Peter and Paul, which symbolizes the call of communication in love.
The main indicator of love, of course, is sacrifice and rejection of self-love and the passions. In iconography, although extremely rare, there are examples of martyrs holding hands. In the same way, because consciousness was informed by Canons, people had no fear of false, fleshly interpretations — such an interpretation would have never even occurred to them! In the same way, sexually-charged interpretations of photographs of individuals holding hands or embracing each other in a friendly manner cannot have any ecclesiastical, cultural or historical legitimacy. If we look at any family album, we will invariably find men or women, relatives, friends and acquaintances posing in photos in an embrace. Only a perverted and sick mind can see in these friendly gestures something more.
I brought Sanfilippo’s defamatory article to the attention of Archimandrite Andronik Trubachev, the grandson of Fr. Pavel Florensky, the most renowned Russian expert on his personal biography and body of academic work. He has published many books and articles on Fr. Pavel Florensky, most recently an authoritative multi-volume monograph.2 Fr. Andronik told me:
Only a sick mind can take as self-evident such ideas from the works of Fr. Pavel Florensky. However, this is not surprising in itself — the whole world now moves in this direction, in the direction of sin. Man’s nature is fallen and there are, as a result, various distortions in it. The Church does not deny that among the various passions a person has such a propensity for debauchery. By no means does this recognition mean that it’s good. We are aware of sources that clearly indicate the attitude of Fr. Pavel himself to this sin, namely in the published correspondence of V.V. Rozanov and Fr. Pavel Florensky3 in which certain letters reflect on this sin. In the correspondence. Fr. Pavel writes that the sin of homosexuality leads to a final falling away from God.
To this can only be added that, unfortunately, little is known about Fr. Pavel Florensky in the West beyond the translation of his work “The Pillar and Ground of the Truth.”4 His other works, his correspondence, as well as the biographical works of Fr. Andronik Trubachev and other Russian researchers and academics are apparently unknown. Manipulators take advantage of this ignorance for their own purposes, which is very sad and even surprising, since such intentional perversion of well-established facts does no credit to scholarship or to popular understanding.
Textual analysis affirms the obvious: Fr. Pavel wrote that the sin of homosexuality is a perversion of nature, fully in accord with the strict confessors to whom he was obedient, such as Bishop Antonii, who had no tolerance for homosexual relations. And much of this early work, just cited, is in fact taken up with discussions of chastity, his translation of the Greek sophrosyne, the virtue of having a well-ordered soul. Florensky, a family man blessed with a marriage that many saw as a model of marital harmony, praises friendship because he was blessed with many deep and meaningful friendships in his life. Along with many in his intellectual milieu, he was highly appreciative of the work of Plato, for whom friendship and eros (which is diametrically opposed to porne or lust) was seen as essential to the life of the spirit.
Moreover, it is important to take into account the historical context. Russian philosophy of the early 20th century was built on the basis of several important ideas, among which was the idea of unitotality, all-encompassing, general consciousness or conciliarity. Only in conciliarity does man know God, inasmuch as outside community (sobornost) man cannot receive any knowledge and would not even possess the language necessary to express thoughts. Through this universal, ultimately ecclesial consciousness, multitudes are united in a single impulse to truth, good and beauty to comprehend God.
Early on in Fr. Paul’s thought this idea took the form of turning to God through the Other inasmuch as only in another person does a man comprehend himself. Not only have Russian thinkers written about similar matters, but also Western philosophers, for example, English Philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s Two Concepts of Liberty. No one in their right mind would conflate Berlin’s analysis of the types of moral freedom to make him out as a promoter of homosexuality. And far from propounding any notion of “conjugal friendship,” Florensky’s early work, in each of its four occurrences, uses the word “conjugal” in (often explicit) contradistinction to friendship.
Sanfilippo wrenches Fr. Pavel’s letter “Friendship” away from its philosophical and religious context — even going so far as to make lewd remarks about the innocent, playful cherubim on the engraving beneath the chapter title — so that that unsophisticated readers are not exposed to the Russian religious and philosophical tradition where white becomes black and facts are conflated into a contrived interpretation. His judgments are based on a false mythology imported into the text, corresponding neither to the truth about Florensky’s life and thought, the teachings of the Church or the writings of the Holy Fathers.
Sanfilippo and others like him are dangerous precisely because they subvert such concepts as pure friendship, devotion, and nobility of purpose through which mutual aspirations, joint labor, interwoven preaching, service to others, sympathy for one another and other wonderful feelings and situations that people can experience.
These selfish interpolators want to steal friendship and purity from us. It is necessary to stop them with common sense, sound scholarship and prayer for their understanding.
1 Giacomo Sanfilippo, “Conjugal Friendship,” “Public Orthodoxy,” May 2, 2017, https://publicorthodoxy.org/2017/05/02/conjugal-friendship/
2 Archimandrite Andronik Trubachev is the author of a six-volume study on the life and works of Fr. Pavel Florensky: The Way to God: The Person, Life and Work of Priest Pavel Florensky. (in Russian) 6 Vol. Moscow, 2012-2017.
3 Rozanov, V.V. Collected Works: Literary Exiles. Volume II, Moscow, Respublika Publishers. St Petersburg, Rostock Publishers, 2010.
4 Ed.: The author may be unaware of the new translation in 2014 by Boris Jakim of Flornsky’s important 1921 lecture course, titled in English “At the Crossroads of Science and Mysticism,” as well as Jakim’s forthcoming translation of a number of key essays by Florensky. An earlier translation of Florensky’s major work “Iconastasis” was completed by the late Thomas Sheehan, and several essays on art were published as “Beyond Vision.”