Semyon Frank

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Semyon Ludvigovich Frank
Семен Людвигович Франк.jpg
Semyon Ludvigovich Frank

January 28, 1877
DiedDecember 10, 1950(1950-12-10) (aged 73)
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionRussian philosophy
SchoolChristian mysticism, Christian philosophy

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[edit]

Semyon Lyudvigovich 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. Zak, he was introduced to the works of N. K. Mikhailovsky 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[edit]

Философия (по С. Л. Франку).png

In 1901 Peter Berngardovich Struve invited Frank to contribute to his collection, The Problem of Idealism (published in 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 ('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 1913-1914 in Germany, where he wrote Der Gegenstand des Wissens ('The Object of Knowledge') for which he received his master's degree (1916). It 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 was appointed to the chair of philosophy in Moscow University. There he joined the philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, who was directing the Free Academy of Spiritual Culture.

However, in June 1922, he and other intellectuals were expelled from the Soviet Union, 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, his Jewish ancestry rendered him unemployable in Germany. Fleeing the Nazi persecution of the Jews, he moved to Paris in 1937. 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; 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 in 1946). In 1945, he and his wife moved to Britain.

Frank died of lung cancer in London. He and his wife are buried in Hendon Cemetery in London.

Metaphysical libertarianism[edit]

Semyon 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 Darkness [in Russian] (1949) (English tr., 'Light shineth in darkness', 1989)
  • V. Solovyev: an anthology (1950)
  • Reality and man (1956)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ S.L. Frank A Miscellany (in Russian) (1954. Munich), p.3-4.
  2. ^ Abstract logical is only possible because of the intuition of this all-embracing unity. A logically determined object is an object subordinated to the laws of identity, contradiction and excluded mibble: it is A in contradistinction to all else, i.e. to non-A. Thus the determinateness of A is only thinkable as "forming part of a complex (A + nonA)." Such a correlation can have its ground only in a whole which transcends the determinitions A and non-A, and consequently is a metalogical unity (237), i.e. a unity not subject to the law of contradiction. It belongs to the realm of the "coincidence of opposites" (coincidentia oppositorum) or, rather, there are no oppsosites in it all, so that "the law of contradiction is not violated, but simply inapplicable to it". History of Russian Philosophy by NO Lossky pg 267
  3. ^ History of Russian Philosophy by NO Lossky pg 269
  4. ^ All that is new arises not out of a definite ground, which as determinists suppose, necessarily predetermines the future, not out of A, but out of A-X;i.e. out of the transfinite essence of reality in so far as it is partially determined by the presence of A.

Further reading[edit]

  • T. Obolevitch, 'Negative theology and science in the thought of Semyon Frank', in Studies in East European Thought; 62:1 (2010), 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)
  • В. Куприянов, "Трансформация философии длительности А. Бергсона в идеал-реализме С.Л. Франка" (The Transformation of Bergson’s Philosophy of Duration in S.L. Frank’s Ideal-Realism), in "History of Philosophy", Vol. 21. No 1 / 2016, pp. 128–135.

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