Lev Shestov

Also found in: Wikipedia.

Shestov, Lev


(real name Lev Isaakovich Schwarzmann). Born Jan. 31 (Feb. 12), 1866, in Kiev; died Nov. 20, 1938, in Paris. Russian existential philosopher and literary figure.

Shestov graduated from the law school of the University of Kiev in 1889. Between 1895 and 1914 he lived primarily in Switzerland. He moved to Moscow in 1914, to Kiev in 1918, and to Paris in 1920.

Combining Nietzschean and Dostoevskian themes, to which he gave his own distinctive imprint, Shestov anticipated the fundamental ideas of later existentialism. At the turn of the century, as though sensing already the world catastrophes to come, Shestov spoke of the tragic absurdity of human existence and brought forth the image of the doomed “hero” who nevertheless lays claim to his sovereign rights and challenges the entire universe. Shestov undertook a revision of traditional philosophy, demanding that the point of view be shifted from the universe to the subject. He proclaimed the “philosophy of tragedy,” which he presented in polemical juxtaposition to the academic style of thinking—the “philosophy of the commonplace” (Dostoevsky and Nietzsche: The Philosophy of Tragedy, 1903).

Shestov rebelled against the rule of reason over life experience and against the suppression of the personal and unique by the impersonal and general. But his assertion of the individual’s independence from any form of determination, including generally recognized truths and generally mandatory moral norms, led Shestov to epistemological relativism and immoralism. Although his nonreligious “apotheosis of groundlessness” (1905) was replaced in the early 1910’s by an enthusiastic belief in the spirit of Luther’s “faith alone” (sola fide), Shestov’s world view lost neither its absurd element nor its arbitrary character.

Shestov’s faith is lacking in meaningful definitions; god, who is unconnected to the concept of the logos, appears as the ideal of omnipotent willfulness “beyond good and evil.” On the other hand, hopelessness is now replaced by faith in the divine source of life’s foundations in accordance with the spirit of the Old Testament; revelation is proposed by Shestov in contrast to philosophical speculation (Athens and Jerusalem, 1951; Speculation and Revelation, 1964). In his opposition to reason, Shestov turns to hyperbole when he identifies the cognitive drive with the fall of man—mankind having fallen under the power of “soulless and necessary truths.”

As an author, Shestov revealed a temperament that was bound to attract attention to his ideas; a master of philosophical paradox and aphorism, he gained renown in the West with his biting criticism of academic thinking. References to Shestov are found in works by G. Marcel, A. Camus, and D. H. Lawrence.


Sobr. soch., 2nd ed., vols. 1–6. St. Petersburg, 1911.
Sola fide. Paris, 1957. (Bibliography.)


Asmus, V. F. “Lev Shestov i K’erkegor.” Filosofskie nauki, 1972, no. 4.
Erofeev, V. “Ostaetsia odno: proizvol.” Voprosy literatury, 1975, no. 10.
Camus, A. Le Mythe de Sisyphe. Paris, 1970. Pages 41–42, 51–56.
Wernham, J. C. S. Two Russian Thinkers. Toronto, 1968. (Bibliography.)


Mentioned in ?
References in periodicals archive ?
The Kierkegaardian Lev Shestov is a more appropriate parallel to Heschel.
Tras despedirse de Lenin (a quien le dice adios con un extravagante elogio de El Estado y la Revolucion que juzga anarquizante) y de Trotski (muerto en contricion, nos dice, por haber destruido a los partidos revolucionarios no bolcheviques), Paz examina, en El ogro filantropico (1979), la tradicion cristiana eslava, antigua pero no primitiva como Rusia misma, de Lev Shestov y Vladimir Soloviev a Czeslaw Milosz y Joseph Brodsky, comparando la excentridad acritica de los mundos ruso e hispanoamericano, hermanos en la ausencia de la Ilustracion.
idols, devoid of ultimate meaning but terrible in their potentiality for destruction" (The Life and Thought of Lev Shestov 12).
But one chapter that is especially noteworthy is Groys' discussion of Lev Shestov, a Russian Jewish philosopher, theologian, and critic whose work was essential in the development of existentialism.
George Pattison contributes a pair of essays examining Kierkegaard's reception by two Russian philosophers: Lev Shestov and Nicholas Berdyaev.
In the following parts of the book, Rubin analyzes theologians such as Sergei Bulgakov and Pavel Florensky; philosophers such as Nicolai Berdyaev, Lev Shestov, or Semyon Frank; and many others.
Anton Chekhov through the eyes of Russian thinkers; Vasilii Rozanov, Dmitrii Merezhkovskii and Lev Shestov.
The central focus of the study falls on the work of Vladimir Solov'ev, Lev Shestov, Vasilii Rozanov, and Nikolai Berdiaev, with reflections on a prehistory in the works of Vissarion Belinskii and Nikolai Chernyshevskii and 'survival' in the works of Aleksei Losev, Andrei Platonov, and Boris Pasternak.
In John Bayley's The Uses of Division: Unity and Disharmony in Literature, there is a section on the thinking of Lev Shestov, a Russian philosopher and critic.
That is why, among all the figures of the twentieth century, my writers were Lev Shestov and Simone Weil.
A constant through these myriad activities was the deep influence of the philosopher Lev Shestov, a Russian-Jewish emigre who taught at the University of Paris.
Hippius; Vladimir Solovyov's promotion of a reunification of all Christian churches; Lev Shestov, one of the most active participants in the religious, historical, and philosophical movement of 1890-1910 - none of these is presented in the volume.