Skip to main content

The concept of universality in Oleg Drobnitskii’s moral philosophy


The article analyzes the concept of universality in Oleg Drobnitskii’s ethics. As opposed to most Soviet ethicists of the 1960s and early 1970s, Drobnitskii viewed this concept along the lines of the principle of universality presented in the moral theories of Immanuel Kant and Richard Hare. However, while they considered universality to be a feature of individual moral thinking in the forms of maxims, principles, and evaluations, Drobnitskii understood universality as the main feature of moral requirements and essentially external to the moral agent, representing to her social relations and the ‘general laws of history.’ It was conceptually significant in Drobnitskii’s approach to universality that he analyzed it within the context of a more general concept of morality—as a mode of normative regulation of behavior. In this capacity, universality was presented as a characteristic of general appeal, or the general way in which a moral requirement is binding. The principle of equality is a normative correlate of universality understood in this way. Universality also characterizes judgments, whose moral adequacy is verified through the procedure of universalization. Regarding universality, Drobnitskii discussed important questions of the individualization of the universal moral requirement in the form of the moral agent’s personal task and the universality of class moral views. He tried to explain these differing, and not always interconnected, aspects of universality by appealing to certain ‘general laws of history,’ and thus offered a historicist basis of morality. This article shows that, despite this unprecedented (for Soviet ethical literature) analysis of the issue of universality, Drobnitskii did not achieve a systematic conclusion in his conceptualization of universality. Nevertheless, he was able to offer a number of significant insights, with the potential to aid our further comprehension of the phenomenon of universality and how it ought to be understood.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Availability of data and material

Not applicable.

Code availability

Not applicable.


  1. In ethics, not only in ethics within Russian tradition, there is a peculiar discursive ethos, expressed in the fact that morality in the theorists’ reasoning appears as a certain “actor,” who in an incomprehensible way “addresses,” “appeals,” “regulates,” etc. Drobnitskii also spoke in these terms, which is also reflected in this presentation of his position. Even though Drobnitskii discussed the subject, or the creator of a moral requirement, in the “Concept of Morality” in greater detail. When discussing the subject of moral requirements, Drobnitskii proceeded from the Kantian view of morality, according to which the real moral subject is an individual. But for Drobnitskii, the decisive role in morality is played by society. Allowing for morality to be an “agent,” Drobnitskii does not explain how exactly the subjectivity of society manifests itself in the functioning of morality.

  2. Only the first part of this article published in two parts in Voprosy Filosofii [Problems of Philosophy] in 1972 was translated into English. The article was published in its entirety in a posthumous collection of works (Drobnitskii 1977: 39–70).

  3. Common recognition still does not mean common acceptance, which can be achieved by custom, more precisely by a community (collectively or through its individual members) through custom requirements.

  4. Here we are again confronted with Drobnitskii’s “agentic” image of morality, according to which morality appears as a kind of independent social “actor.” It is not morality that awakens a person's inner dignity, but the person herself, who has absorbed moral values, asserts her inner dignity in decisions and actions consistent with moral values, including those that signify her disagreement with her “oppressed position,” with other manifestations of her disregard by the authorities, community, the people around her, or those close to her.

  5. Hare deals with the problem of universalizability in all his subsequent books, which are not mentioned in this article because they were not yet among the books read by Drobnitskii.

  6. Drobnitskii states just the following: the moral judgment addressed to “all people and to each individual” possesses a “substantial criterion of its legitimacy” thanks to the fact of its common appeal itself, no matter how hypocritical the latter may be (Drobnitskii 2002a: 282).

  7. This type of historicism Karl Popper called “moral modernism,” or “moral futurism.” (Popper 1961: 54).

  8. However, it should be borne in mind that Drobnitskii speaks of humane relations between people, expressed, for example, in respect, goodwill, hospitality, etc., and the latter are various symbolic representations of humaneness, which ultimately constitute their proper moral meaning (Drobnitskii 2002a, p. 278).

  9. Such theoretical situation with the term “universality” (together with its connotations) is not exceptional for Drobnitskii. It is the same, for example, with Zygmunt Bauman, who associated universality in different places of his texts with common prevalence, common acceptance, generality, usually accepted politeness (including etiquette norms), and so forth (Bauman 1993: 38, 43, 53, 54fn.).


  • Adorno, T. (1970). Negative dialectics. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  • Apressyan, R. G. (2013). Genezis zolotogo pravila [The Golden Rule Genesis]. Voprosy Filosofii, 10, 39–49.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bauman, Z. (1993). Postmodern ethics. Oxford, UK; Cambridge, USA: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Drobnitskii, O. G. (1967). Nravstvennoe soznanie [Moral Consciousness]. In F. D. Konstantinov (Ed.) Filosofskaia entsiklopediia [Encyclopedia of Philosophy], vol. 4, (pp. 100–102). Moscow: Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia Publ.

  • Drobnitskii, O. G. (1970a). Discussions between Soviet and British philosophers on problems of ethics. Soviet Studies in Philosophy, 9(3), 237–246.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Drobnitskii, O. G. (1970b). A continuation of the discussions between Soviet and British philosophers on problems of ethics. Soviet Studies In Philosophy, 9(3), 247–258.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Drobnitskii, O. G. (1971). Soviet-British discussions on problems of ethics. Soviet Studies in Philosophy, 10(2), 187–194.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Drobnitskii, O. G. (1972). Moral consciousness and its structure. Soviet Studies in Philosophy, 11(3), 224–247.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Drobnitskii, O. G. (1977). Moral’noe Soznanie i Ego Struktura [Moral Consciousness and Its Structure]. In T. A. Kuzmina (Ed.), Problemy Nravstvennosti [Moral Problems] (pp. 39–70). Moscow: Nauka.

    Google Scholar 

  • Drobnitskii, O. G. (2002a). Poniatie morali: Istoriko-kriticheskii ocherk [The Concept of Morality: Historical-Critical Essay]. In O. G. Drobnitskii, Moral’naia filosofiia: Izbrannye Trudy [Moral Philosophy: Selected Works], ed. by R.G. Apressyan (pp. 11–344). Moscow: Gardariki.

  • Drobnitskii, O. G. (2002b). Ėticheskaia kontseptsiia Immanuila Kanta [Immanuel Kant’s Ethical Conception]. In O. G. Drobnitskii, Moral’naia filosofiia: Izbrannye Trudy [Moral Philosophy: Selected Works], ed. by R. G. Apressyan (pp. 429–478). Moscow: Gardariki.

  • Hare, R. M. (1963). Freedom and reason. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hare, R. M. (1972). Universalizability [1955]. In. R. M. Hare (Ed.), Essays on the moral concept (pp. 13–28). Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Hegel, G. W. F. (1991). The Encyclopaedia Logic. Part I of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences. A new transl. with Introduction and notes by T.F. Geraets, W.A. Suchting, H. S. Harris. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.

  • Kant, I. (2002). Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, ed. and transl. by A. Wood. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

  • Marx, K. (1985) Inaugural address of the Working Men’s International Association. In. K. Marx & F. Engels (Eds.), Collected works.. Vol. 20: 1864–1868 (pp. 5–13). London: Lawrence & Wishart.

  • Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1976). The German Ideology [I. Feuerbach]. In K. Marx & F. Engels (Eds.), Collected works. Vol. 5 (pp. 27–93). London: Lawrence & Wishart.

  • Paton, H. J. (1948). The categorical imperative: A study in Kant’s moral philosophy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Popper, K. R. (1961). The poverty of historicism. New York: Harper & Row.

    Google Scholar 

  • Programme of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Adopted by the 22nd Congress of the CPSU. (1961). Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.

  • Schtein, V. S. (1967). Problema prostyh norm nravstvennosti i spravedlivosti v marksistsko-leninskoj etike (The problem of simple norms of morality and justice in Marxist-Leninist ethics). In Aktual’nye problemy marksistsko-leninskoj etiki. (Topical problems in Marxist-Leninist ethics) (pp. 124–184). Tbilisi: Metsniereba Publ.

  • Wood, A. W. (1999). Kant’s ethical thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

Download references


This paper has been composed within the research project “The Phenomenon of Moral Universality,” supported by the Russian Science Foundation, Grant No. 18-18-00068.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



Not applicable.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ruben Apressyan.

Ethics declarations

Conflicts of interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Apressyan, R. The concept of universality in Oleg Drobnitskii’s moral philosophy. Stud East Eur Thought 73, 95–112 (2021).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: