Journal Put’, sept. 1929, No. 18, p. 88-106.
AND THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
(L. Shestov. On the Scales of Job. A Peripateia of Souls.
From “Sovremenniya Zapiski”. Paris. 1929)
(1929 – #346)
“And said the Lord God: Behold,
Adam hath become as one of Us,
knowing good and evil, and how
might he not stretch forth his hand,
and take likewise of the tree of life,
and taste, and begin to live eternally”.
(Genesis 3: 22).
The brilliant book of L. Shestov contains an inaccurate sub-title, “A Peripateia of Souls”. L. Shestov is no psychologist and he has little interest in the diversity of individual souls. He — is a man caught up with a single idea, an one-track soul, and therefore he tends towards a twofold division of the world into his own and the foreign world, in which everything gets jumbled together into one. For him and intimate to him, beloved by him, are Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Luther, Pascal, Plotinos, all who perfectly resemble each the other and experience one and the selfsame tragedy. L. Shestov cries out against the “universal”, the “general”, yet all the time and everywhere he himself sees but the “universal”, the “general”, he fails to individualise, to note the manifold diversity. He is interested with only his own one theme, it even is impossible for him perchance to turn attention to other themes, to perspectives such as may be foreign to him. With this is connected the difficulty of philosophic dialogue with L. Shestov, but with this is connected likewise his most significant quality. L. Shestov has his own particular theme, to which all his life he remains faithful. He stands apart from all the currents and trends, he is completely outside the social and even anti-social as regards his thought. In everything, that L. Shestov writes, there is a great intensity and alacrity, a radicalism of thought, a seriousness and tormentive searching. One senses in him a religious nature. But his thought runs narrow and one-sided. He writes beautifully as to form, and he is endowed with an indisputable literary talent. But the literary gift of L. Shestov masks over and hides much, it hinders him from giving expression to all the contradictions and difficulties of his thought, it glosses things over and embeds it within “literature”. Better it were that he should write ponderously and less well. L. Shestov has not found adequate forms for the expressions of his thoughts, for conveying to us his themes. And indeed it is not easy to find such. It is very difficult to understand him, despite the clarity of language, and all too easy to interpret it in an opposite sense. His thought is comprehendible only from its negative side, and he readily strives to formulate against it. But from the positive side he neither desires nor is able clearly to express himself. The manner of his writing is semi-romantic. He abuses the device of romantic irony, which sometimes he muddles to the point of exhaustion. He is constantly resorting to romantic hyperbole, he loves to arouse the emotional conditions. A phrase from whatever the philosopher torn out of context he finds to have an immeasurable and worldwide significance, just as with an isolated experience of whatever the writer. L. Shestov in the manner of his writing manages in a strange way to combine the influences of both Nietzsche and L. Tolstoy. But the aphoristic style, after which he strives, appears nowise innate a form for him. It sometimes becomes irritating, when he as it were sets store by something, in order to say the contrary, and the reverse to that, as established in the traditional philosophic terminology. Shestov’s interpretation of thinkers of interest to him sometimes produces the impression of arbitrary caprice. His method has analogy with the Freudian method of searching out within the subconscious something other, than what is asserted in the consciousness. L. Shestov started out with Nietzsche and this left its indelible imprint upon his thinking. But he moves on to the Bible, and his latest book is filled with Biblical motifs. The jumbling together of Nietzschean and Biblical motifs also adds to the difficulty of understanding him. And it is proper to point out, that in speaking about the Bible, L. Shestov always has in view the Old Testament and does not speak about the Gospel. New Testament Gospel motifs he has not. He is prepared to acknowledge the Bible as revelation, but Christianity for him does not fall within this revelation. He almost ignores the existence of the believing Christian world. He is cognisant only of Catholic and Protestant theology. But he completely as it were does not know Orthodoxy, its uniqueness, its distinctness from Western Christianity. And indeed upon the soil of Orthodoxy the question about the relationship of reason and knowledge to revelation and faith is posited altogether differently, than it is upon the soil of Catholicism and Protestantism. Catholic theologians often accuse the Orthodox of a total alogicism, a complete lack of logic. Shestov’s impressions of Christianity are so Western, that he even quotes the Bible after the Latin manner, something rather out of place in a Russian book. The attitude of L. Shestov to Christianity tends to be under the influence of Luther, of whom he is fond and uniquely interprets, and other generally Protestant motifs. Right up to the present entirely like a Lutheran he is caught up in the struggle against “good deeds”. But he posits his theme about reason and faith, about the universally-binding and self-evident truths and revelation such, as would only the Bible and Greek philosophy posit it, as would Judaism and Hellenism, but not as would the Christian revelation, namely as a revealing, and not as an empirical fact of Christianity within history and not as theological teachings. Shestov’s theme and Shestov’s searchings — are religious, but he remains upon this shore, upon the shore of philosophy, and he does not pass over to the other shore, the shore of religious faith. The constant quotes from various philosophers prove exhausting and hinder seeing Shestov himself. L. Shestov has set himself an unresolvable task: he demands resolutions of a religious theme upon the territory of philosophic thought, he presents to philosophers pretensions, impossible to be bestown them. For this one mustneeds recourse to the prophets, to the apostles, to the saints, to mystics, to the religious life of mankind, rather than to Aristotle, to Spinoza, to Hegel. From whence occurs a whole series of misunderstandings. Plotinos passes over from the plane of philosophy onto the plane of mysticism. Upon the plane of the mystical, reason no longer still possesses that strength and power, which it has within philosophy, for then it is upon a trans-rational plane. A man, caught up into the mystical plane, into a mystic contemplation, then “becomes bereft of the reliance upon reason”, he surmounts reason. But this reliance upon reason returns, when the man drops back down into the plane of our natural world. Shestov however is inclined to investigate this phenomenon, common to Christian mysticism, as some sort of catastrophe upon the territory of philosophy, since he overstates the significance and potentialities of philosophy. Plotinos, just like all the mystics, within mysticism renounces reason, but not in philosophy. And the question devolves but upon this, does reason become altered or otherwise enlightened by revelation, in what has been received upon the mystical plane. St. Thomas Aquinas thinks, that the answer is no, that these planes appear as separate steps. I think, however, that the answer is yes, and that a religious philosophy is possible. L. Shestov simultaneously both terribly overstates the significance and ability of philosophy and at the same time he is terribly hostile against philosophy for precisely this, that it does not speak the language of the prophets and apostles, of the saints and the mystics. L. Shestov wants to remain a philosopher free from faith-confessions and thus is unable to find the means to express that, what is not received from a philosophical source. He is compelled to recourse to categories of thought, which he denies.
The mortal enemy of L. Shestov — is the “monistic”, the “common”, generality, the very fact of existence common to all the world. There is no world in common, for each has his own particular world. The world in common for L. Shestov is reminiscent of the “das Man” of Heidigger. But philosophising and the art of writing presupposes a common ground, a basis of communication. The very word itself, without it would be impossible to transmit one’s thought to others and in any case impossible to write, already presupposes a common ground, a basis of communication. The word itself possesses a socio-ontological nature. When L. Shestov suggests to have me preview his book, he stretches over a bridge between his own world and my world, he establishes a common ground between us. But the basis of communication is impossible, if there is no sort of common ground, if there is no language in common. In this is the most immense difficulty of his task. It is indisputable, that each of us has his own particular world, but each of these worlds enters into a single world in common. Were this not so, it would then be needful to fall silent, and to cease expressing oneself for others. Denying reason, as the anti-God, L. Shestov constantly recourses to the reason in common and utilises its categories. There is in him even an indubitable element of rationalism. But he stubbornly does not want to admit, that the irrational is not without reason. Reason is endowed with the capacity for self-surmounting, — in this is the meaning of the docta ignorantina of Nicholas of Cusa. L. Shestov himself creates a “world in common” of his beloved heroes Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pascal, Luther, Plotinos et al., which he sets in opposition to the remaining world, likewise a world “in common”. But if however there is no world “in common”, then it is inconceivable, why he finds so much “in common” with his thinkers and writers set in opposition, why with Schelling it transpired likewise the same, as with Nietzsche, with Nietzsche likewise the same, as with Luther etc. L. Shestov wants to convey us into the world of his beloved heroes, to force it on us, to force on us “his own” truth and persuade us of this truth. It is quite mistaken to think, that the general, the basis of communication is established only through the concepts of reason. There are other paths of establishing the basis of communication. Concepts tend often however to be divisively partial. The cognition of God is impossible through the concept, it is possible only through the mythic. The one world in common altogether exists not because that it is subsumed under an eternal law of reason, governing the world, or that it is set up in accord with “Aristotle”, but because it is the creation of the one God. The basis of communication and the unity of all the world exists in accord with the Creator, in God. The “One”, which the seers seek after, is also God, — the Creator and Fashioner of the world. In the fated currents of the world there is an unity and basis of communication within the multiplicity, since that within it there is operative the Providence of God. This first of all is a Biblical teaching, and not a teaching of the Greek philosophers, it is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and not of the philosophers, it is the one God and Fashioner, holding in hand His world. The basis of communication, the unity of the world rests also within the hand of God, and not within abstract reason. And the basis of communication is first of all a common community in love, and not in concept, the basis of communication is in God, and not in reason. Thus teaches revelation. L. Shestov is contending still against the judging and the judgement. The judging, the evaluations are begotten of the Fall through sin. But he himself is compelled to judge. He is all the time judging, and he makes judgements upon reason, upon the good. He is compelled to regard himself as upright and it is about his righteousness that he informs us. And he contradicts himself in what he affirms of himself. The truth as it is reveled to him he is compelled to regard as bindingly true also for us. He struggles for this truth, he contends against sin, against evil, against Satan. It does not matter, that the truth is revealed to him “all of a sudden”, catastrophically, not through reason, — truth all the same has been revealed, this truth having been revealed is all the same for him a truth absolute, eternal, one, in common for all, for everyone who experiences a similar catastrophic experience, who becomes open to it. The “classic” argument against L. Shestov is no less true in that it is “classic”, since also the “classic” tends to become true.
If the problem, which torments L. Shestov, be expressed in the traditional philosophic language, then this first of all is the problem concerning universals, about the genus and the individual, about the general and the partial, which was posited by Greek philosophy and which stood at the centre of Medieval philosophy. In German idealism this problem was not posited thus, since it presupposes an objective gnosseological realism, which from the time of Kant began to disintegrate. L. Shestov himself considers this problem within the categories of ancient philosophy and in a very radical form he defends the individual and the partial against the genus and the general, he is close to the nominalism of Occam. Surely, L. Shestov would not consent to be stuck into any sort of category, he wants to be outside them. But he — is set within the constraints of thought and word, as are we all, subject to these categories. As I have already said, upon the territory of philosophic thinking, the task posited by L. Shestov, is unresolvable. Only within the Christian revelation is there a resolving of the question about the genus, the general and the individual, the partial, about the one and the many and it is altogether otherwise, than within philosophic realism and nominalism. The Christian revelation reveals for us life, and not a concept, being, and not an idea, and the light of revelation cannot be set merely within the refraction of the philosophy of Plato or Aristotle, nor of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas or Dun Scotus. Christ, in Whom transpired the unique, the singular and one-time revelation, paradoxically and antinomically is both genus and individual, both the one and the many, since within Him is all humankind, all the manifold of human persons. The “general”, as it is affirmed in the dispute of the realists and the nominalists, does not exist, there exists, certainly, only the individual, but an individualisation of various degrees and gradations. The “general” is a logical deformation and rationalisation at a certain degree within the hierarchy of individualities. For example, the cosmos, the world is not at all something general, but rather is an individuum, an unique existence, but at a different degree, than the human individuum. The single and individual being, the person is always a creative idea by God the Creator, conceived through the creative imagination of God and through the Wisdom of God. L. Shestov is hostile to ideas, which he imputes to the general, to the genus, but he himself has no central idea, which would afford him the right to judge reason and the good, to judge universally-binding truths. And he first of all does not want, that truth should be in-common and binding for all. He is against that which is necessary to all, beyond the inconsequential and insignificant. His chief enemy — is “to-allness”. “To-allness”, that which is necessary for “all”, universally-binding, is an effect begotten of the Fall through sin, it came about from what man plucked from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After this, the life of the world became subject to “reason” and to the “good”. L. Shestov herein has caught the sense of something very profound and true, he has touched upon the wellspring of all the evils and woes of our life. But he has gotten the problem all tangled and made difficult the understanding, of what he wants to say. The enemy for L. Shestov is not the sensory and material world, but namely rather the spiritual and ideational world. And amidst this, he conducts his judgement within the categories of ancient, non-Christian thought. The Christian thinking about man and the world is essentially personalistic and always paradoxical from the perspectives of Greek logic and every rational logic. Within the categories of Greek philosophy it is quite impossible to conceive of the person. The person in the sense of the Christian revelation is not known whether it be in Plato, or Aristotle, or Plotinos. And the Greek Patristics met with great difficulty, when it worked out the teaching concerning Hypostasis, concerning ousia, concerning the inter-relationships between “nature” and “person”. Only the Christian revelation paradoxically combines for thought the one and the many, allows for a perfect unity amidst preserved distinctions, the “undivided” remains “unconfused”. The Greek thinking about this was always inadequate to the Christian revelation concerning the person. Rational philosophic thought, non-enlightened by revelation, always inclines either towards monism or towards dualism, for which in the uniting there disappear the distinctions, within the one there disappears the multiplicity, or else the reverse. But L. Shestov remains under the grip of rational thinking, an effect inherited of sin, when he desires to be exclusively a philosopher of the singular, the individual, the unrepeatable and sees truth only in the accidental, in caprice, within variability. In doing so he comes to be at either of the extreme poles, created by Greek rational thought. He is compelled even to defend Protagoras. But the paradox in this consists also, in that the singularly-individual is this-only instance exists and can be stated as such, if it is one, universal (not precisely however “in-common”). The singular unrepeatable human visage exists in Christ, Who Himself is a singular unrepeatable visage yet amidst this includes within Him all the human genus. Distinctions, i.e. the shared admitting of personal visages is possible only against the backdrop of something that is one, is universal, in it and through it. The personal visages can only be seen in an one-only light. It is impossible to distinguish anything singular and individual, if it does not relate to some whole, some unity. There is nothing of a multiplicity, if there is nothing of an unity. The consequent and radical nominalism, to which L. Shestov tends, cannot be grounded upon anything individual, nor any sort of individuum, it has to go on endlessly and at depth with a nominalistic fragmenting and splintering down. There are no sort of grounds to allow for the existence of Nietzsche, Pascal, Dostoevsky, as real totalities. “Nietzsche” as such is already an “in-common”. What sort of manner is L. Shestov convinced of the existence of “Nietzsche” and what sort of grounds does he have to speak about such an altogetherness? “Nietzsche” would have to be broken down into endlessly brief partial moments, but it would be impossible also upon each of them to establish a ground. Nominalism always establishes itself arbitrarily upon a certain reality, which as such does not want to leave off. L. Shestov thinks, that “Luther” exists and that it is possible to speak about him, as a real totality, whereas “Protestantism” does not exist, but “Protestantism” is indeed likewise a certain historical individuum, and from another angle too “Luther” is a composite totality, which from a nominalistic point of view is subject to dividing into fragments.
L. Shestov is hostile against the monistic “one”. Yet amidst this he is least of all hostile against God. But indeed God — is “one”. God reveals Himself, as one, as the one God in the Bible, unlike as in philosophy. “I am the Lord Thy God”. The universality and oneness of truth are effected from the oneness of God, and not from Aristotelian logic. The universally-binding aspect of truth for all the world and for all people is a reflection of monotheism, such as has surmounted national particularism, having become universal. The God of all peoples, the universal God is also the source of truth all in-common. And this truth all in-common least of all negates and annihilates the person, the individual, it is also the truth about the person. L. Shestov is always for revelation and against reason. But revelation is quite more universally-binding, than is the truth of reason. The truths of reason are relative and their proclaiming is tolerated. The truth of revelation however is absolute and its proclaiming is exclusive. They have never burned anyone at the stake in the name of reason and philosophy, but in the name of the Truth of revelation, alas, they have often made burnings at the stake. Spinoza, “having killed off God”, in the name of reason and nature, never would have burnt anyone, but he himself might readily have been burnt. People have but poorly comprehended, that revelation is oriented towards freedom and it forces no one. It might even be said, that L. Shestov ought to be all the more contentious against religion, than against philosophy. Religion is namely also a “for-allness”, it is social as regards its nature (this finds full expression in the history of religions), it is trans-national, oriented to all the world. Christ came for all, for all the world, He is the Saviour of the world. Philosophy however has always existed for the few, attainable only for the select, it is a matter individual. Liturgy, which stands at the centre of the religious life of peoples, is also a deed in-common. Religion always teaches the interaction of man with God, of man with his neighbour, it always organises the life in-common of people. The Church is interaction, community, in a certain sense “for-allness”. The whole sacramental side of religion, which little interests L. Shestov, possesses a social nature, it is an activity in-common within a strictly established rhythm. Against this it is possible to mutiny, but the actual fact is impossible to deny. Only the prophetic side of religion is bound up with solitary persons, having risen up against the religious collective. But even the prophet is social. The prophet — is a solitary, having made a break with the religious collective, they pelt him with stones, and yet also he is social, he is oriented towards the fate of the people, to the accomplishing of history. Suchlike were the Old Testament prophets, they were solitaries and yet social. The socialness, the in-commonness at depth, and in a metaphysical sense, is the deed of love. The unique truth, the unique light is revealed within the community of love, and not in logic. Logic leads forth to very divergent truths, something we see also in the clash of philosophical systems, in contradiction of each other. For L. Shestov the religious life, religious revelation is whatever the some sort of “being shaken up”, a catastrophic, momentary, illumining experience of separate and always remarkable — people of genius — Isaiah, the Ap. Paul, Pascal, Luther, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche. The life of peoples becomes excluded from revelation and doomed by “Aristotle”.
L. Shestov long since already has made known, how basic a thing it is, the opposition between tragedy and the everyday ordinary. He is all the time writing a philosophy of tragedy, he seeks out people, shaken by the tragic. For his philosophy of tragedy he concerns himself with those remarkable people, who have survived a shaking jolt, a particular sort of tragic experience, after which the solid ground has dissipated from beneathe their feet, and they come into doubt on the universally-binding truths, to doubt reason and the good. People caught up however in the everyday ordinary have a sense of firm ground under their feet and with assurance they believe in universally-binding truth, in reason and the good. The form of romantic irony, as adopted by L. Shestov, hinders him from simply and straight-out telling about those jolts, which the people of tragedy have experienced. But we can nonetheless express, in what this tremendous jolt consists. This — is fear and the proximity of death, a grievous illness, an unhappy love, wounds and hurts, inflicted upon man through selfishness, ressentiment, the impotence of whatever lofty ideas to comfort a man in the torments and sufferings of life, etc. It seems to me, that L. Shestov is incorrect in his basic opposition between tragedy and the everyday ordinary. tragedy — is something “ordinary”, everyday, of the common people. Everyday tragedy befalls and strikes in the life of the door-keeper of L. Shestov’s house no less, than in the life of Nietzsche, Luther, Pascal, although he be less endowed with a talent of genius to tell us about it. This door-keeper tragically thus may experience his own ressentiment in relation to the door-keeper of a neighbouring house, just as Schelling experienced it in regard to Hegel. It cannot be said, as L. Shestov tends to say, that “all people usually tend to sense themself well off”. But thus he thinks about people caught up in the everyday ordinary, i.e. concerning the majority of people. And this is the most unjust thing of all written by him. It is not necessary to read a tragedy of Aeschylos or Sophocles, of Shakespeare or Dostoevsky, in order to sense the profound tragic aspect of life. The fate of an enormous majority of people is unbearable tragic and tormentive. Every creature groans and wails and awaits deliverance, even the least little bug, and not only Pascal, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, who possessed scarce comfort in their creative genius. The majority of people live in fear and straddle the precipice. The firmness and steadiness of their philosophical, scientific, moral and social ideas remains at the sidelines and provides little help against the fear, the terror, the torments of life. Death, with which even for L. Shestov deepest of all is connected tragedy, belongs in-common to the world, to all, it is an “everyday matter”. In facing death every ordinary man becomes a tragic man. L. Shestov tends to exaggerate the originalness and exclusiveness of the “joltings”, by which he discovers his beloved people. Nietzsche experienced his jolting through an hopeless illness, something a great number of the most ordinary people tend to have experienced, and he differed from them only by his creative genius. But in one thing L. Shestov is entirely correct. No sort of the most exalted ideas can save man from the terrors and torments of life and death, and man tends to become shaken by this at certain moments of life. Ideas do not save, whether be it of Schiller, or of Hegel, or of Wagner, it is the Living God, the Saviour, Christ, Who saves. This truth, it may be, is striking and surprising for the philosophers, but it is quite elementary, simple, and totally widespread for all believing Christians. No authentic Christian ever had the thought come into his head, that he could be comforted and saved by an abstract idea of the good. Christianity is quite the opposite of Stoicism, though Stoicism also has had an influence upon Christian thinking. Christianity does not know the idea of an abstract good, it knows only vital existence. Man is higher than the Sabbath.
L. Shestov ascribes an immense and central significance to the hero of the “Notes from the Underground”. And through him, through his words he wants to relate to us certain precious aspects of his thought. In my book about Dostoevsky I myself ascribe enormous significance to the “Notes from the Underground”, and within this I see the beginning point of the whole creative path of Dostoevsky. Yet it seems to me, however, that L. Shestov here has overstressed and inaccurately interpreted much. For him the hero of the “Notes from the Underground” becomes transformed almost into a saint, through him resounds a voice from the higher world “beyond good and evil”. Particularly inaccurate it seems to me is Shestov’s explanation of the expression of the underground man, “whether it be for the world going to smithereens or for me not to drink tea”. To Shestov this seems extraordinarily bold and cut off from the everyday world. In actuality, there is nothing more ordinary, than this expression. An enormous majority of people prefer, irregardless of the world going to smithereens, but that for them they should “drink tea”. An enormous majority of people are nowise guided by any sort of the ideas and ideals, which so distress L. Shestov, and their life is exclusively oriented egocentrically. Each regards himself as the navel of the universe, he relates everything to himself and sits in the dark pit of his egocentric isolation, from whence is unseen the light Divine. L. Shestov as it were idealises the condition of outrage, envy, naked selfishness, ressentiment. He mistakenly thinks, that the experiencing of these conditions provides a “jolt”, after which God reveals Himself beyond reason and the good. In actuality these conditions also appear directly begotten of original sin, they tend then also to shut out God for people. Modern psychopathology has revealed a frightening substrate within the subconsciousness of man, it has shown, that all people are impaired. To behold God, God, and not reason and the good, is possible only after an inward turnabout, a turning away from the egocentric orientation of life towards rather a theocentric orientation. L. Shestov at times tends to express himself such, that one gets the impression, that for him a sickly self-love, i.e. a very ordinary, very commonly widespread and very impaired condition, is also something liberating, leading out from the realm of the ordinary. Self-love also reflects a for-allness, it has distorted and adapted to itself even the truth of revelation. There transpires herein I think a sort of misunderstanding. L. Shestov simply does not find the appropriate words. When he wants to find positive words for the characteristics of the chasm beyond the limits subject to law, the everyday world, he recourses to such words as: caprice, chaos, self-affirmation, variability, “sudden”. The solely successful word here appears to be “sudden”, which points to abruptness and catastrophism and the resistance to the introduction of revelation and the action of grace within the determined evolutionary process of the world. Revelation and the acting of grace is indisputably “sudden”, a breaking asunder from its world. All the remaining words are inadequate. The law also is created by the selfish and egocentric man, it is created by him and created for him. People of the law-bound and everyday world do not at all so love ideas, reason, the good, the eternal truths, as it seems to L. Shestov. The enormous majority of people are incapable of seeing anything “in-common”. They are capable of living merely “in-particular”. L. Shestov exaggerates immeasurably the significance and power of “philosophy” within the life of people. In actuality, philosophy always has existed for quite small a number of people, it is something aristocratic. It is customs and traditions, often irrational, and not reason and logic that guides the life of people. A majority of people understand freedom namely as self-will, arbitrariness, caprice, “what my foot wants”. All the tyrannies of the world are based upon caprice and self-will, and they have distorted even the understanding of God. In our world likewise reign unrest, turbulence and variability, and the aspect of law has always been but the reverse side to the human passions. People are compelled not by the norms of reason, but rather by the sociological norms. In L. Shestov himself I do not see any love for caprice, the arbitrary, self-assertion, variability. All his life he has been faithful to his singular truth. And he, most likely, does prefer his nemesis “reason” and “the good” over that self-affirmation of man, which begets lust, avarice, malice, the vengeful passion. L. Shestov very much in essence loves “the good” and contends against “evil”. The “good” such as is hateful to him is “the evil”. The problem however is in this, that the “underground” words, by which L. Shestov attempts to characterise the higher world, lying “beyond good and evil”, are characteristic of the world “on this side”, the world of evil. This occurred already in Nietzsche. In his “Beyond Good and Evil” there was depth and significance, but it dissipated, when “on this side” he proposed imitating Cesare Borgia. Cesare Borgia is situated entirely “on this side”, in evil. “Beyond good and evil” cannot be “evil”. For the characteristics of life “beyond good and evil” what is needful are the words of the Gospel, and not the words of “Notes from the Underground”. L. Shestov began with a struggle against positivism. He is correct in his denunciations against positivism. correct, when he denounces it also in positive religions. But he still thus has not found adequate language for the expression of his theme, he has not found the words for expressing himself on the positive side. And he will always remain misunderstood. And moreover he does not want that they should understand him. In this he remains a man of the end-XIX and early-XX Centuries, a man of the era of individualism.
The position of L. Shestov would have played out clearly, if he were to have acknowledged, that his chief enemy is not philosophy, not Aristotle and Husserl, the significance of which, sad to say, he very much exaggerates, it is not reason and the good, but rather law, laws logical and laws ethical, the laws of nature and laws social, all which are uncreated by philosophers. I am prepared in much here to be in sympathy with L. Shestov.1 The world has need of law and forms and strengthens it in response to its sin, but it also groans beneathe its death-bearing and crippled life under the grip of law. The grip of law tyrannises both the world and man. It has distorted the verymost Christian revelation, and adapted it to the conditions of our world. The mystery itself of the Fall through sin has been interpreted legalistically. The law condemns sin, but it also is begotten of sin. Life under the law is posited in contrast to paradaisical life. We all live imprisoned, fettered by law. The Kingdom of God has come to be regarded legalistically, with the transferring over upon it of our legalistic categories. Law is the norm of the social life of our sinful world. L. Shestov fails to see the consequences of the anti-social and the outside the social in his thought process, that the force of universally-binding law is comprised of a social nature, that it is a force of society and the society is not paradaisical, but sinful rather.2 Legalistic norms, be they of logic, ethics, law, church canons, possess a social nature and have to be considered sociologically. The logically and most universally-binding possesses a social nature and is bound up with degrees of the community aspect. The logical, the scientific or juridical universally-binding is bound up with the lower degrees of the community aspect. However, for the higher degrees of the community aspect there exists intuition. The grip of law is a compulsory community of an inner world in ruin, situated upon the lower degrees of the in-common. The Church however in its profound sense is a graced and free community, presupposing an higher degree of the in-commonness of love. But externally it has been distorted by the lower degrees of community, by the compulsory grip of law. L. Shestov too lightly brushes aside the problems of community, of society, he fails to see it in its ontological depth. For him everything social relates to the lower everydayness, to the for-allness. Social norms are created for kitchen chefs, he seems to think. This is a deep-rooted error of his. Life in paradise was a social life, the Kingdom of God will be a social life. On the other hand too “Aristotle”, “Husserl”, “Logic” ought to be considered socially. The universally-binding aspect of truth is the expression of a social community, — either a community upon the basis of compulsory law or a community upon the basis of free love. And yet the most compelling things universally-binding appear to us as truths, having arisen upon very low degrees of in-commonness. Law lowers the qualitative aspect of everything, it vulgarises, it pulls downwards, witnesses to sinful discord. L. Shestov does not want to admit the constraints of reality, borne of sin. All this, while the question about the Fall through sin all more and more stands at the centre of the consciousness of L. Shestov. He recourses to sources in the Bible, to the book of Genesis. His interpretation of the Biblical account about the Fall through sin, which is an object of faith of all the Christian world, is sharp and unique, but inaccurate or accurate only partially. Here we approach what is central in L. Shestov. His interpretation of the Fall through sin produces an impression suchlike, as though for him the Fall through sin was something that occurred in cognition, and not in being, in the gnosseological sphere, and not the ontological. Here is how L. Shestov understands it. God created the world, in which everything was “exceedingly good”, and everything was wonderful. He created paradise for man, blessed and gifted him with it. God permitted man to eat of all the fruits from the Tree of Life. And this was authentically genuine life. Man however fell away from life, he tasted from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he opposed God with his reason and his good, which had arisen from discernment through the fruits of the forbidden tree, he created therein a world of law, a world of universally-binding truth, of universally-binding good. Therefore reason and the good with their universally-binding truths are anti-God. The fine and wonderful life, blessed and gifted by God, became distorted and in tatters. L. Shestov desires the free paradaisical life. He wants, that man should cease to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and begin, just as in paradise, to eat from the Tree of Life. It is difficult not to sympathise with his desire. But how to attain the paradaisical life, how to break away from the sinful world, subject to law? Shestov understands Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil” as a paradaisical life, as the cessation of eating from the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”. And I tend to think, that Nietzsche desired a free paradaisical godly life, he wanted a breaking-through “to the other side”. But the tragedy is in this, that he remained entirely “on this side” and indeed the characteristics of life “on the other side” were compelled to assume images and terms, taken from the this-side sinful life. Nietzsche suggested that we learn of life, the will to power of the this-side evil, which he himself neither wanted nor loved. The will to power, to might, proved too much with him to be in the semblance of the sinful and evil will of our this-side world. The tragedy of Nietzsche consisted also in this, that he was never able to break through “to the other side”. And with him there was an extraordinarily intense, passionate will to transcendence, a love for the heights. Many a motif of Nietzsche has carried over into L. Shestov, but he in turn wants to combine them with Biblical motifs. The struggle over the affair of Socrates bonded Nietzsche to L. Shestov. But L. Shestov as it were fails to notice, that the struggle of Nietzsche against Socrates was transformed into a struggle against Christianity. Nietzsche did not actually know Christianity and did not understand it. He was surrounded by a Christianity both merely external and degenerate, and in which there no longer remained an heroic spirit. And Nietzsche conceived of himself as a mortal enemy of Christianity, though he, I am convinced, served in the matter of Christian renewal. He did not commit that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. God loves suchlike God-strugglers and Christ-strugglers. L. Shestov tends to express it, as though it were philosophy that taught humility and renunciation (in consequence of Nietzsche he employs these words in a disdainful sense).But in actuality humility and renunciation are taught by Christianity, it is revelation that does the teaching, and not philosophy, not reason. Reason never once would be desirous of humility and renunciation, it is proud by its nature. Nietzsche regarded Christianity as an enemy of life, as something decadent. Even more radically struggling against Christianity, as being an enemy to life, was V. V. Rozanov. The theme of L. Shestov has much in common with the theme of Nietzsche and Rozanov. But he himself is not caught up in a struggle against Christianity, he struggles against philosophy, philosophy for him is the enemy to life, i.e. the philosophising reason, manifest by sins. There results a great lack of clarity.
The law, distinguishing good and evil, is a product of sin and an exposure of sin, witnessing to it. The sinless paradaisical life does not know law. And how must one say it: the law is from sin, or sin is from the law? L. Shestov thinks, that sin derives from the law, from reason and the good. The knowledge of good and evil is the arising of the distinction between these, it is a betrayal and falling away from paradaisical life, as fashioned by God, in blessing and gift. But our thinking about these things is always on the edge, always antinomic and paradoxical. And prior to the knowledge of good and evil, on the other side beyond good and evil, there was not our good, nor our evil. About this there can only be apophatic thinking, kataphatic thinking is impossible, since it always borrows material from our sinful this-side life, subject under the law. No sort of words of ours can in a positive sense characterise the Kingdom of God and paradise, and the words to which L. Shestov recourses here are likewise altogether unsuitable. One mustneeds resort to revelation, to the Gospel. When we attempt to characterise God, as caprice and the arbitrary, as it please L. Shestov to do, then clearly herein we are borrowing material from the characteristics of the autocratic monarchies and despotisms of our earthly life. And hence there occur concepts about the arbitrarily merciless and vengeful judgements of God. The monarchical concepts concerning God possess sociological an origin. But God and the Kingdom of God are as little subject to law, as also to caprice and the arbitrary. God is not good and is not subordinate to the good, but God also is not evil, God is beyond and higher than all goodness, He is transcendent beyond goodness, He is beyond both good and evil in the sense of apophatic theology. The Kingdom of God is beyond our good and evil. This is something every Christian ought to acknowledge. The legalistic understanding of the Kingdom of God is a verymost great distortion of the Christian revelation. But to us has been given the revelation, that the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom based on love, yet this love is not a legalistic good, it is transcendent beyond the good. L. Shestov, in following upon Nietzsche, unintentionally introduces an element of our evil into the characteristics of the Kingdom of God and paradise — self-asserting selfishness, i.e. egocentrism, caprice, the arbitrary, i.e. all the conditions very much this-sided and earthly. The account of the Biblical revelation concerning the Fall through sin and the origin of evil comprises a paradox, insuperable within the categories of reason. But L. Shestov also namely undermines this sense of the paradox, with himself not taking notice. He is zealous for paradaisical life, as are many upon the earth. But he as it were thinks, that it is possible to break through to paradise, to conquer the source of evil, having renounced reason and the good. In actuality, when sinful man attempts to get beyond good and evil, to renounce reason and the good, he does not at all fall back into paradise, he remains “on this side”, he remains within evil and suffers being smitten by the law. Wherefore Christ also said, that He was come not to destroy, but to fulfill the law. It is not some empty gesture, presupposing to get beyond good and evil, but a real and ontological victory over sin which liberates from the grip of the law, from the grip of the legalistic good and leads forth into a world set beyond good and evil. The real victory over sin presupposes however both Redemption and a Redeemer. L. Shestov has never deigned to reveal to us the totally concrete, the real, the practical, the what for him serves a life beyond good and evil, beyond reason, what sort of path he has. Only by virtue of this total lack of discourse and abstraction is he able to maintain his position. Christianity reveals however, that beyond the legalistic good and evil there lies a kingdom of love. Love in Christ is not a law, love is a graced power. And only by virtue of love can life get beyond and outside the law, “beyond the this-side” aspect. This is not something taught by Greek philosophy, but by revelation. But even the law in the profound religious sense of this word originated not from Aristotle, to an immeasurably greater degree it originated from Moses, i.e. it has a Biblical origin. For L. Shestov the Bible as it were consists in the account of the book of Genesis concerning the Fall through sin, and moreover certain of the Psalms, revelations from the Prophets and the book of Job. But the content of the Bible is immeasurably more complex and far richer. In the Bible is the teaching about the Wisdom of God, about Sophia. God by His Wisdom created everything and therefore everything only can have been exceedingly good, all wonderful. Is it that L. Shestov would identify the Biblical Wisdom or the Sophia of J. Boehme with reason as it is in the Greek philosophers? Wisdom, Sophia, is something searched for by the greatest philosophers, since by their very name they are termed philo-sophists, lovers of wisdom, but by the powers of reason they were never able to discern, that which was given but in revelation. The mind too is something created by God.
L. Shestov is first of all contending against the grip of law over the world, against the legalistic mindset of religion itself. In this I am fully in accord with him. He is right in his rising up against the subordinating of the individual and particular to the general and monistic (his revolt against the Algemeinheit of Hegel is so to speak very reminiscent of Belinsky’s revolt in the name of the living person, when he “made a bow to the philosophic nightcap of Egor Fedorovich” and anticipated much in the thoughts of Dostoevsky). But he gets us all tangled up and muddled, when he subjoins to this the character of a struggle against knowledge, against philosophy, against all reason and all the good. In truth moreover there is not a legalistic knowing, nor a legalistic reason nor a legalistic good. Knowledge possesses both a liberating and creative significance. L. Shestov however does not want to make any distinctions, does not want to reckon with various meanings of the word reason. And therefore completely unclear and incomprehensible remains his attitude towards knowledge, towards science, towards philosophy. There remains the impression, that for L. Shestov knowledge is always sin and evil, always from the serpent, a view that surprisingly conjoins him with some very obscurantist currents within Christianity. But if man were only to eat of the fruits from the Tree of Life and not tasted from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then he all the same would have attained to consciousness. Knowledge too is of life, and the Tree of Life would also give us knowledge. Life, bereft of knowledge, would be a terribly impoverished life. The sin itself is not in the knowledge of good and evil, but in the experience of evil, i.e. a life external to God and against God (this mustneeds be understood not legalistically, in the sense of disobedience to the will of God, but ontologically rather), which immanently subordinates life to the law, rationalising and moralising life. But if the distinction between good and evil has arisen and sin be censured by the law, then the very knowing of good and evil can be a felicitous thing. L. Shestov himself only but acts, as though he knows what is good and evil, just as it was with Nietzsche. He is completely correct, when he fights for the independence of philosophy from science, when he asserts that in philosophy there are other paths of knowledge. All the authentic philosophers stand together with him on this. And Husserl’s denial of philosophy, as being wisdom, and with the demand that it become a strict science, is itself a decadent philosophy, a quenching of the philosophic spirit. The philosophy of the great German idealists was, certainly, wisdom, and not science. The struggle of L. Shestov against science and philosophy in the name of the Bible and revelation, as sources of the Truth, is to a remarkable degree based upon a misunderstanding. The higher cannot be dependent upon the lower, philosophy as wisdom cannot be dependent upon science, religious revelation cannot be dependent upon philosophy. But in its own sphere, upon its own plane, science remains in force and deserves respect. “Twice two is four” — is a very respectable arithmetical truth, which L. Shestov cannot deny, but that does not mean that it carries over into theology. We know, that for the Christian teaching about the Trinity altogether inapplicable are the truths of arithmetic. L. Shestov is often smashing through an open door. The misunderstanding issues forth from this, that L. Shestov jumbles together science and ethics, he ethicises the problem of knowledge and in essence he is interested exclusively with ethical questions. L. Shestov himself however, when the talk gets around to what he is calling the everyday ordinary, about life whether social or historical, always he tends to take a stand beyond healthy common sense and science. This is evident in his ponderings about the fate of Russia. He renders himself a moralist, a rationalist, and does not see the metaphysical depth within historical life. He comes out with a dualistic system, a double book-keeping as it were. The one is for the realm of tragedy, the other for the realm of the everyday ordinary. About the realm of the everyday ordinary he renders judgements no less positivist and rational, than P. N. Miliukov. And therefore he is lacking in a path to the transfiguration of life, the path to paradise. Everything remains set within the intimate catastrophic experiences of isolated remarkable people and in the literature, expressing these experiences. He does not believe in supernatural miracles, i.e. miracles, transcending the natural, he believes only in psychological miracles.
The searchings of L. Shestov are begotten of an epoch of non-belief. And he is powerless to sunder the degrees of the law, the spell of reason and the good. He does not at all desire the incarnation of his “mindlessness”, his “beyond good and evil”, he is afraid of this and warns against this. L. Shestov is not a Biblical man, he is a man of the end-XIX Century and beginning-XX Century, of the era of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, and not of Isaiah and the Ap. Paul, nor even of Pascal and Luther. He smashes against a door, already opened by Christianity, but cannot get through it. The assertion of L. Shestov is astonishing, that no one can dispute it, wherein that misery, sickness, banishment and death are matters which no one can do anything about. Christianity disputes it, and it bases itself completely upon the matters of misery, sickness, banishment and death. I understand much in L. Shestov, with much I am in agreement, but I do not understand his intonation and not infrequently I get all worked up over it. Everything, that L. Shestov ascribes to Pascal, as extraordinary and of value in him, is in general proper also to the Christian revelation and the believing Christian world. There is nothing exclusively original in this, that Christ will be in agony til the end of the world and that there is need to be vigilant, that there is a need of s’abetir, that knowledge, reason, the good ought to be surmounted, as also all other self-evident truths. Pascal expressed this acutely with genius, but this is part of the common heritage of Christianity. Just as it is the common heritage of mystics, in what L. Shestov says about the surmounting of reason with Plotinos. L. Shestov speaks like a man, living in a world of positivists. And this determines his tone. Foreign to him remains the Christian revelation concerning the God-Man and God-manhood. And all the time it remains unclear, whether L. Shestov is defending man or whether he is in revolt against man, as the school of K. Barth is in revolt, and with whom he has points in common. L. Shestov is in revolt against the philosophy of Spinoza, for whom the human tear does not exist, nor human woes and joys. But does his particular God know sorrow over the needs of people? The God of the Bible indeed knows sorrow. But the God of L. Shestov is capricious, some He chooses for salvation, others He consigns to perdition, just as with Calvin. God does not know the human sense of justice and right, He remains “beyond on the other side”. But then it transpires likewise, that with Spinoza, there is no sort of affinity between God and man, no truth in common. God remains completely transcendent. But the essence of Christianity consists in this, that the transcendent is become immanent, that there is a commensurability between God and man, there is a likeness and kinship, that the Divine truth is rendered human, whilst also non-human. The theme, which all his life torments L. Shestov, finds its resolution only in Christianity. Over and beyond an immanent god, of abstract Reason and the Good, the God of the philosophers, and a God absolutely transcendent, a God capricious, unjust, merciless and cruel, there is a third, the Christian aspect of God — God as Love, God as Sacrifice, the God emptying Himself and issuing forth blood, God, having become Man. And it is only this aspect of God that can be acceptable. Theodicy is not at all a justification of God in the face of human judgement, theodicy is a defending of God against a false human understanding of God, against the slanders, leveled against God. The sole possible theodicy is Golgotha, the redemptive sacrifice of God, reconciling God and man. Here is why between our sinful, legalistic, this-side life and the life beyond, of paradise, the Kingdom of God, there lies sacrifice, effort, humility, — the path, along which God Himself went, the son of God, Who humbled Himself and took on the form of a lowly servant. This also is the sole resolution of the theme of L. Shestov. The merit however of L. Shestov is in this, that he defends the individual human soul, which from all sides suffers violence and torment.
© 2005 by translator Fr. S. Janos
(1929 – 346 – en)
DREVO ZHIZNI I DREVO POZNANIYA. (L. Shestov. “Na vesakh Ioba. Stranstvovanie po dusham”. Iz-vo “Sovremennyia Zapiski”. Parizh. 1929). Journal Put’, sept. 1929, no. 18, p. 88-106.