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Semen L. Frank

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Semen L. Frank

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Semyon Lyudvigovich Frank (Russian: Семён Лю́двигович Франк; 1877 – 1950) was a Russian philosopher. Born into a Jewish family, he became a Christian in 1912.

Early life and studies

Semyo′n Lyu′dvigovich Frank was born in Russia in 1877, in Moscow, in a Jewish family. His father, a doctor, died when the boy was young, and he was brought up by his maternal grandfather, M. Rossiansky, an Orthodox Jew, who taught him Hebrew and took him to the synagogue. Through his stepfather, the populist V. I. Zaek, he was introduced to the works of Michaelovsky and other revolutionaries. At secondary school he became interested in Marxism. In 1894 he began to study law at Moscow University, but spent more time preaching socialism to the workers, but by 1896 he found Marxist economic theories unsatisfactory, though he remained a socialist. In 1899 he wrote a revolutionary pamphlet which got him expelled from Moscow; so he completed his studies of philosophy and political economy in Berlin. In 1900 he published in Russian a Critique of Marx's theory of value. In 1901 he returned to Russia and received his bachelor's degree at the University of Kazan. Thereafter philosophy became his main preoccupation.

Career as philosopher

In 1901 Peter Berngardovich Struve invited Frank to contribute to his collection, The Problem of Idealism (published 1902), which criticised materialism and positivism. He spent the next five years between Moscow and Germany, writing and translating philosophical works and assisting Struve. Between 1902 and 1905 he contributed to Struve's periodical, Osvobozhdenie (i.e. 'Liberation'), published in Stuttgart (1902-1904) and Paris (1904-1905). In 1906 he moved to St Petersburg and contributed philosophical essays to Struve's periodical, Russkaya Mysl. In 1908 he contributed to the influential symposium, Vekhi ('signposts').

In 1908 he married Tatyana Sergeevna Bartseva (1886-1984); with whom he would have four children - Alexei (1910-1969), Natalia (1912-1999), Vasiliy (1920-1996) and Victor.

In 1912 he converted to Orthodox Christianity, and began lecturing on philosophy at St Petersburg University. Later he wrote, I consider my Christianity as the completion of my Old Testament upbringing, as an organic evolution based on the religious foundations which I accepted in my childhood.[1]

Frank spent the year 1913-1914 in Germany, where he wrote, Der Gegenstand des Wissens ('The Object of Knowledge'), for which he received his Master's degree (1916). This was followed by his Dusha Cheloveka ('Man's Soul') (1917).

In summer 1917 Frank was appointed dean of the arts faculty of the new University of Saratov. In 1921 he returned to Moscow, where he was appointed to the chair of philosophy in Moscow University and joined the philosopher N. A. Berdyaev directing the Free Academy of Spiritual Culture.

But in June 1922 he and other intellectuals were expelled from the USSR on the so-called "philosophers' ship".

Frank spent the rest of life supported by the World Council of Churches and his friend, the Swiss psychologist and existentialist, Ludwig Binswanger. From 1922 to 1937 he was in Germany; but from 1933 because of his Jewish ancestry he was unable to be employed in Germany, as a result of Nazi persecution of Jews he moved in 1937 to Paris. During his exile he published several books and articles in Russian and articles in German, French and Dutch.

He and his wife survived World War II by hiding near Grenoble, while their four children escaped to Britain. In the early years of the war he wrote 'God With Us', the first of his works to be translated into English (published 1946). In 1945 at the end of World War II he and his wife moved to Britain.

Frank died of lung cancer on 12 December 1950 in London. He and his wife are buried in Hendon cemetery, London.

Metaphysical libertarianism

Semen Frank's philosophy was based on the ontological theory knowledge. This meaning that knowledge was intuitive in whole but also abstraction in logic. Logic being limited to only part of being.[2] Frank taught that existence was being but also becoming. As becoming, one has dynamic potential. Thus one's future is indeterminate since reality is both rational and irrational. As reality includes the unity of rationality and irrationality i.e. of necessity and freedom.[3] Frank's position being for the existence of free will.[4]


  • Vekhi [Landmarks] (1907)
  • Der Gegenstand des Wissens. Grundlagen und Grenzen der begrifflichen Erkenntnis [Knowledge. Principles and Limitations of Conceptual Perception] (1915) (French translation, 'La Connaissance et l'etre', 1937)
  • Dusha Cheloveka (1917) (English tr., 'Man's Soul', 1993)
  • The Methodology of the Social Sciences (1921) [in Russian]
  • Vvedenie v philosophiyu (i.e. 'Introduction to Philosophy') (1922)
  • Zhivoe znanie (1923)
  • Krushenie kumirov [i.e. 'The Downfall of idols'] (1924)
  • Religion and Science [in Russian] (1924)
  • Smysl zhizni (1926) (English tr., 'The Meaning of Life', 2010)
  • The Basis of Marxism [in Russian] (1926)
  • Die geistigen Grundlagen der Gesellschaft (1930) [also in Russian] (English tr., 'The Spiritual foundations of society', 1987)
  • Realität und Mensch [Reality and Mankind]
  • Nepostizimoe (i.e. 'The Unfathomable') (1939) (English tr., 'The unknowable: an ontological introduction to the philosophy of religion', 1983)
  • God With Us: Three Meditations ... Translated from the Russian by Natalie Duddington (1946)
  • Light and Darknes [in Russian] (1949) (English tr., 'Light shineth in darkness', 1989)
  • V. Solovyev: an anthology (1950)
  • Reality and man (1956)

Further reading

  • T. Obolevitch, 'Negative theology and science in the thought of Semyon Frank', in Studies in East European Thought; 62:1 (2020), p.93-99
  • Russian Religious Thought, ed. J. D. Kornblatt, R. F. Gustafson (1996. University of Wisconsin Press) ISBN 0-299-15134-4 and ISBN 978-0-299-15134-8
  • P. Boobbyer, S. L. Frank: the life and work of a Russian philosopher 1877-1950 (1995)
  • N. Zernov, The Russian Religious Renaissance of the Twentieth Century (1963), esp. p. 158-163
  • N. O. Lossky, 'S.L. Frank', in N. O. Lossky, History of Russian Philosophy (1952), p.266-292 ( «История российской Философии »(1951. Allen & Unwin, London ASIN: B000H45QTY International Universities Press Inc NY, NY ISBN 978-0-8236-8074-0 sponsored by Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary)

See also


External links

  • WorldCat catalog)

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