Lev Shestov

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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.)


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31) John Middleton Murry, 'Introduction' to Leon Shestov, Tchekhov and Other Essays (Dublin: Maunsel and Sons, 1916), p.
Bulgakov was exonerated by a diocesan assembly in Paris in 1937, but the journal's theological center began to give way as the anthropocentric (Berdyaev), sophiocentric (Bulgakov), and theocentric (Lev Shestov, himself a Jew drawn to Kierkegaard) positions of key authors hardened, and the prevailing spirit was "the desire to crush an intellectual opponent" (465).
Frank and others, or not: for instance the fascinating existentialist Lev Shestov, who, unfortunately, has been largely forgotten).
The Russian Jewish thinker Lev Shestov (1937), in his celebrated work Athens and Jerusalem, lamented over the Western tendency to privilege Greco-Roman thought, writing that:
In his numerous prose writings, Milosz provides distinctive views on writers and ideas which bore a great influence on his own worldview, including such writers as Mickiewicz, Wat, Gombrowicz, Simone Weil, William Blake, and the Swedish mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg, as well as the Russians Fyodor Dostoevsky, Lev Shestov, and Nikolai Berdiaev.
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.
In Russia the books by Nikolai Berdyaev and Lev Shestov (Yevarouski 2004-2005) paved the way for existential perception of the world.
Martin B: Great 20th Century Jewish Philosophers: Shestov, Rosenzweig, Buber.
Andrzej Walicki, sharply distinguishing between the Russian and Soviet aspects of Soviet Russia, demonstrates Berlin's intellectual debt to Turgenev, Tolstoy, the Russian radical intelligentsia, and, less straightforwardly, Dostoevsky and Shestov.
Edward Wasiolek, Dostoevsky: The Major Fiction (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1964), 165, notes that, in addition to Lawrence, Leo Shestov and Vasily Razanov both contend that Dostoevsky stood secretly on the side of the Grand Inquisitor and concludes: "The revolt of so many distinguished readers against Dostoevsky's conscious intention is, whatever else, a testimony to the force and persuasiveness with which Dostoevsky was able to state the other case.