Semyon Efimovich Desnitsky (Russian: Семён Ефимович Десницкий; c. 1740, Nizhyn – June 26, 1789, Moscow) was a disciple of Adam Smith who introduced his ideas to the Russian public. He was also the first academic to deliver his lectures in Russian language rather than in Latin.
Of Ukrainian extraction, he was born in Nizhyn and, after a brief spell in the Trinity Lavra seminary, attended the Moscow University, starting in 1759. He went to continue his education at the University of Glasgow, in which he studied with Adam Smith. Having been made doctor of laws, he returned to read lectures at the Moscow University.
Desnitsky was the first Russian professor to question the authority of Samuel von Pufendorf on legal matters and the first to introduce the doctrines of Adam Smith and David Hume to Russian students. He also translated the works of Sir William Blackstone (Commentaries of the laws of England) and advocated equality of the sexes in family law.
Desnitsky pioneered the comparative approach to the study of law and regarded property as a cornerstone of every legal system. There was a great outcry over his rejection of Latin as the sole language of instruction; but Catherine II of Russia personally settled the issue in his favour.
- A.H. Brown, The FAther of Russian Jurisprudence: The Legal Thought of S.E. Desnitskii", in William E. Butler, Russian Law: Historical and Political Perspectives (1977), pp. 117–41.
- Butler, William E. (2009). Russia and the Law of Nations in Historical Perspectives: Collected Essays. London: Wildy, Simmonds. p. 130. ISBN 1-884445-42-X.