Skip to main content

Shestov, Lev

SHESTOV, LEV

SHESTOV, LEV (pseud. of Lev Issakovich Schwarzmann ; 1866–1938), religious philosopher and man of letters, born in Kiev. His father was a wealthy textile manufacturer, and Shestov absorbed an interest in Yiddish and Hebrew literature. Much of his later work is at least congruent with his ḥasidic roots. He is known for his elegant and witty, aphoristic style, the range of his erudition and interests, and the trenchancy of his critique of rational speculation and systematic philosophy as modes of truth. His most outstanding gift as a writer was his ability to characterize thought and style by conveying a sense of the human experience that produced it, and he called his essays "pilgrimages through souls." Although he left no direct disciples, Albert Camus, Nicholas Berdayev, and D.H. Lawrence, among others, testified to his impact. He was close to, and appreciative of, even the philosophers whose efforts at system he set himself most strongly to oppose – Edmund Husserl and Karl Jaspers. His essays on Chekhov, Ibsen, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy are famous.

Like the Ḥasidim, Shestov cultivated a respect for mystery and paradox that survived the most intensive rationalist training. He cared too much for inwardness, for inner experience as an access to salvation, to rest within what was orthodox in Judaism. At the same time he was too dismayed with the Logos of the Fourth Gospel, too smitten with love for the Old Testament God, with all his arbitrary caprice, to have other than short shrift for conventional or churchly Christianity. Yet Shestov was both a Jew and a Christian; and for him the fundamental antinomies were not between the Old and New Testament, or even between religion and atheism, but rather, as the titles of his last two books clearly state, between, Speculation and Revelation, and Athens and Jerusalem (1938). Well trained in logic and philosophy, Shestov was against rational speculation only insofar as he felt it attempted to limit human possibilities. He was against what he felt was Husserl's project of turning philosophy into a science, and believed that philosophy should concern itself primarily with questions that could not be answered by reason, but only by the "cries of Job" – i.e., by direct human experience. He believed that rational speculation ("Athens") had infected religion as well as philosophy. Against Philo and St. Thomas, Shestov cited Tertullian, who believed it was absurd; Luther, who grasped that the essence of action and therefore of "good works" was limitation, hence mediocrity, and that salvation could come by faith alone; and those biblical heroes of faith, Abraham and Job.

Trained as a lawyer at Kiev University, Shestov never practiced. Although early committed to radical politics, he never entertained illusions about the Bolshevik Revolution, and emigrated shortly after it occurred. In 1922 he became professor of Russian philosophy at the University of Paris.

bibliography:

J. Suys, Leo Sjestow's protest tegen de rede (1931), incl. bibl.; B. Martin, in: ccary, 77 (1967), 3–27; V.V. Zenkovsky, A History of Russian Philosophy (1953), 780–91; Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 7 (1967), 432–3; F.L. Vieira de Almeida, La Tranchée de Chestov (1926); B. Fondane, in: Revue Philosophique, 126 (1938), 13–50; B. de Schloezer, in: Mercure de France, 159 (1922), 82–115.

[Sidney Monas]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Shestov, Lev." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shestov, Lev." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shestov-lev

"Shestov, Lev." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved September 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shestov-lev

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.