Gustav Shpet

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Shpet, Gustav Gustavovich


Born Mar. 26 (Apr. 7), 1879, in Kiev; died Mar. 23,1940, in Tomsk Oblast. Russian idealist philosopher. Follower of E. Husserl’s phenomenology.

Shpet graduated from the faculty of history and philology of the University of Kiev in 1905, and in 1907 he moved to Moscow. Beginning as a privatdocent at the University of Moscow in 1910, he was a professor there from 1918 to 1923. From 1923 to 1929 he was vice-president of the Russian Academy of Artistic Disciplines (later the State Academy of Artistic Disciplines).

Shpet conceived of a universal understanding (urazumenie), meaning the search for the “first causes” and “principles” of existence, which he called “meanings,” eide, or “ideas.” According to Shpet, reality is not simply “given” in experience but “guessed at,” and its meaning is disclosed by uncovering the intuitive acts of the human mind. Intuition is interpreted by Shpet in the spirit of the rationalism of R. Descartes, B. Spinoza, and G. von Leibniz: the intuitive “perception of essence” can be fully expressed and communicated by means of logical definitions based on analytical reasoning, even though the mind initially discerns essence, or “meaning,” just as directly as it perceives sense data. Mediation is that derivative aspect represented by description, proof, and interpretation. In The Internal Form of the Word (1927), Shpet discusses the philosophy of language as the foundation of the philosophy of culture, and he anticipates many of the ideas later developed in hermeneutics—the study of interpretation.

In the 1930’s Shpet translated and annotated various works of world literature, primarily by English writers such as Byron and Dickens. His translation of Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit was published in 1959.


Iavlenie i smysl. Moscow, 1914.
Filosofskoe nasledstvo P. D. Iurkevicha. Moscow, 1915.
Istoriia kakproblema logiki, part 1. Moscow, 1916.
Soznanie i ego sobstvennik. Moscow, 1916.
Filosofskoe mirovozzrenie Gertsena. Petrograd, 1921.
Ocherk razvitiia russkoi filosofii, part 1. Petrograd, 1922.
Antropologizm Lavrova v svete istorii filosofii. Petrograd, 1922.
Esteticheskie fragmenty, fascs. 1–3. Petrograd, 1922–23.
Vvedenie v etnicheskuiu psikhologiiu, fasc. 1. Moscow, 1927.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
"It is not just the fact of comprehension of speech," wrote Gustav Shpet, "but to a still greater extent the fact of comprehending within the bounds of the genus, right down to its most undefined forms, such as mechanical imitation, sympathy, empathy and so on, are only manifestations of this single entity, on which every kind of social life is conditional, of 'comprehension' as a function of reason." Similar ideas were expressed by Saint Augustine of Hippo, Alexei Ukhtomsky, Martin Heidegger, Vladimir Bibikhin and, of course, Mikhail Bakhtin.
The Dialectic of Artistic Form was Losev's intervention in the lively debates of the 1920s which, drawing on the new philology of European and Russian Formalism, spawned philosophical reflection within Soviet Russia (for example, Gustav Shpet's Inner Form of the Word [1927]) and in German philosophy (from Cassirer's Philosophy of Symbolic Forms [1923-1929] to Heidegger's Origin of the Work of Ait [1935-6]).
Denn [Maryse Dennes], Vladislav Aleksandrovich Lektorskii, Boris Isaevich Pruzhinin, and Tat'iana Gennad'evna Shchedrina, eds., Gustav Shpet i ego filosofskoe nasledie: U istokov semiotiki i strukturalizma (Gustav Shpet and His Philosophical Legacy: At the Sources of Semiotics and Structuralism).
Galin Tihanov, ed., Gustav Shpet's Contribution to Philosophy and Cultural Theory.
Khoruzhii (Horujy) writes in Gustav Shpet i ego filosofskoe nasledie, "The Shpet phenomenon is one of those great individual projects of the synthesis of human knowledge created in his time," an era that also produced (as Horujy notes) the comparable figure of Ernst Cassirer.
Shchedrina, one of the leading Russian Shpet scholars, opens Gustav Shpet i ego filosofskoe nasledie with an inviting chapter on "Shpet and Contemporary Problems of the Philosophy of the Human Sciences." (7) In it she draws on her prodigious archival research, which has fundamentally deepened our understanding of Shpet, to further elucidate his project of penetrating into the very ideal or "inner form" of rationality.
Kline's chapter (in the Tihanov volume), "Shpet as Translator of Hegel's Phanomenologie ales Geistes." (13) Tihanov's own chapter, "Gustav Shpet's Literary and Theater Affiliations," focuses on Shpet's increasingly difficult and insecure circumstances after the revolution.
On the basis of Shpet's references to Solov'ev, Trubetskoi, and Florenskii, Maryse Dennes speculates about "Vladimir Solov'ev and the Legacy of Russian Religious Thought in the Works of Gustav Shpet," her short chapter in the Tihanov volume ("works" being the two indicated in the paragraph above).
By way of contrast, Seifrid examines the thought of Gustav Shpet, who was heavily influenced by Husserl's phenomenology.
(19) But studies that have centered on Gustav Shpet and the circle around Mikhail Bakhtin and Lev Vygotskii have significantly complicated the picture.
(20) See, for example, Galin Tihanov, ed., Gustav Shpet's Contribution to Philosophy and Cultural Theory (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2009); and Craig Brandist, The Bakhtin Circle: Philosophy, Culture, and Politics (London: Pluto, 2002).
Gustav Shpet's attempts to popularize and develop phenomenology in Russia represent important strivings towards clarity and systematicity, although his work constantly fell victim to the combined effects of the German idealist penchant for abstraction and the tendency for mystical fuzziness among Russian 'philosophizers' that he tried, unsuccessfully, to overcome.