gallery of russian thinkers...

selected by Dmitry Olshansky

'Name, number, and myth — these are the elements of our life.'

Alexey Losev 1990

Alexey Losev
Alexey Losev

Alexey Feodorovich LOSEV (10.09.1893, Novocherkassk — 24.05. 1988, Moscow) was born on the Don in the city of Novocherkassk in the family of a teacher at a gymnasium. In 1911, he finished the classical gymnasium with a gold medal. In 1915 he graduated from Moscow University in two of the sections: philosophy and classical philology. He also received professional musical education and studied mathematics. He was invited to stay in the university to prepare for his future status of Professor (1915–1919). He was a member of the religious-philosophical society dedicated to the memory of Vladimir Solovyov, Free Academy of Spiritual Culture, founded by N.A. Berdyaev. He had personal relations and collaborated with S.N. Bulgakov, I.A. Ilin, S.L. Frank, Father Pavel Florensky (Father Pavel married Losev with V.M. Sokolova in 1922). Losev was elected Professor at the University of Nizhniy Novgorod (1919), and confirmed his status in Moscow (1923).

In the twenties he was a professor of the Moscow Conservatory, full member of State Academy of Artistic Sciences, and Professor of the State Institute of Musical Science. He was first published in 1916. From 1927 to 1930, he published some of his works in the eight-volume edition: The Ancient Cosmos and Modern Science, The Philosophy of Name, The Dialectics of the Artistic Forms, The Dialectics of Number in Plotinus, Criticism of Platonism by Aristotle, Music as a Subject of Logic, Essays on Classical Symbolism and Mythology, The Dialectics of Myth.

The Russian emigration perceived the publication of Losev's books as a testimony of great spiritual life, which had managed to stay alive during the period of the Soviet Russia. In the Soviet Union, after the publication of The Dialectics of Myth, Losev was persecuted and condemned during the XVI Congress of the Communist Party as a class enemy. He was arrested on April 18, 1930 and condemned to 10 years in the camps. His wife was arrested June 5 1930 and condemned to 5 years in the camps. As a prisoner he served his sentence in Svir and in the construction of the canal of Belomorsk. In the British Journal of Philosophical Studies, in the overview dedicated to Russian Philosophy, N. Duddington informed readers of the 'bad news' about the one real philosopher Losev, 'that Soviet can boast': because of his books, 'profound metaphysical treatises', declared as counterrevolutionary, 'he has been exiled to northern Siberia' (1931. Vol 6. 226).

In 1933, after the end of the construction of the canal, Losev was released following his invalidity (he became nearly blind). He was rehabilitated in his civil rights, and his guilt removed. However, the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party forbade his lessons of philosophy and only allowed ancient aesthetics and mythology. Nevertheless, he was not published. Losev translated Plato, Plotinus, Sextus Empiricus, Proclus, Nicolaus Cusanus, taught ancient literature, used to go the provinces to participate in examinations and returned then to Moscow. In 1941, he suffered a new catastrophe — the destruction of the house where he lived in the 13 Vozdvizhenka Street as the result of a bomb explosion.

In 1942 he was appointed a professor of the Philosophical Faculty of the Moscow State University, but was expelled following his denunciation as an idealist. In 1943, he was entitled the status of Doctor of Philological Sciences Honoris Causa. He was transferred to the Moscow State Pedagogical Institute, where he taught at the Department of Philology until the end of his life.

Losev had the opportunity to publish again after Stalin's death. The list of his works includes more than 800 titles, out of which more than forty are monographs. His archive, from which new works are being published, has been partly saved. Because of Losev's life activity, eight new volumes appeared in the ten books on History of Ancient Aesthetics (1963–1994), out of which volumes I–VI received the State Prize of the Russian Federation in 1986. It is necessary to also consider The aesthetics of Renaissance (1978, 1982, 1998) and Hellenistic-Roman Aesthetics I–II A.D. (1979, 2002), which enlarges the huge number of Losev's works related to aesthetics.

His studies on name (see The Philosophy of the Name, Thing and Name, The Quintessence of Thing) are based on the formulation of Saint Gregory Palamas's doctrine of energitismus — the power of energy (perception of God's essence through its energy), as well as on the Russian religious-philosophical movement of the beginnings of the XX century, the glorification of name or Onomatodoxia. He lectured on themes related to the worship of God's name, from both historical and philosophical-analytical planes ('The Person and the Absolute').

Losev is a creator of the philosophy of myth, understood as substantial reality and space. Myth is an energetic self-assertion of the individual, image of the personality, the representation of the personality, through the history of such personality, characteristic to any epoch and not just ancient.

His encyclopedic characteristic is not the result of formal erudition or the mechanical juncture of different sciences. His philosophy is rooted in the understanding of unity, put forward by Vladimir Solovyov. Still a young man, Losev wrote his work Supreme synthesis as happiness and knowledge (published in 2005), in which he underlined the principles of unity among science, philosophy, religion, art and morals. The perception of the world as a whole stayed with him all through his life. His main thought concerned the union between idea and matter, spirit and matter, existence and consciousness. The idea spiritualizes matter; matter creates the nature of the idea, in other words, it materializes the spirit. This means, 'not only existence defines consciousness, but consciousness defines existence as well' (Form, Style, expression. 1995. p. 341).

Losev became very well known as an author of philosophical prose, which he began to write while still in the camps. It is quite possible to carry out many analytical comparisons between his books from the 1920s and his prose. We can very clearly appreciate that his prose is much more expressive, politically acute and poisonous. If it had been accidentally found, its author would have definitely been sent to the camps again (see the full collection of his prose, youth diaries, letters, and poems in his two-volume edition: A.F. Losev Exiled to the XX century Moscow, 2002). The very well known American researcher of Losev's prose Professor Edith Clowes (University of Kansas) underlines the tragic aspect of Losev's heroes, reflected in the destruction of the culture of the country where they opposed stronger and more powerful forces than those of their own philosophy. 'Philosophy as a public discourse would die in Stalinist Russia.'

He was interested in the nature of the mathematical and linguistic symbols. He insisted on the study of the semantic and the structural sense of the language, he criticized non-semantic structuralism, discussed the problem of the possibility of a rigid axiomatic in linguistics. Based on his philosophical theory of language Losev looked at the transition of name and word in the process of life and social existence, transferring the communication and interpretation acts to the first plane. The eminent linguist and logician Sebastian Shaumian (Yale University) considers that 'Losev's law of polysemy is the most important finding beginning from the 1930s, when the basic understandings and principles of the classical semiotical paradigms were formulated'. 'After all, our conscience does not accept reality per se, but through the prism of communicative and factual interpretations being the constituents of a dialectical unity which otherwise could coincide and contradict each other'.

The symbol, according to Losev, came to be the sense and abstraction of the thing. In addition, in this communion endless symbolism is present. The symbol of a thing is reflected in its structure, energized by infinite appearances individual manifestations of the structure. The symbol of a thing qua sign, having nothing to do with the content of singleness, which is considered here. In the end, the symbol, occupied its own lawful place among other literature and art principles and categories in Losev's books. There was a huge appendix of bibliography in different languages included in the book, ordered in a special way, explained and rubricated, which consisted of a full separated volume. This very interesting work has not been published yet. Only a minimal part of it was published in 1976.

The house where he lived during the last fifty years of his ninety-five years life is a monument of the history of our culture and has a memorial plaque 'House of A.F. Losev'. From 2004, it has also housed the State Library of the History of Russian Philosophy and Culture.


Losev's books in English:

Losev A. The Dialectics of Myth, 2003

Losev A. Aristotle (Man Through the Ages), 2000

on Losev:

Clowes. A.W. Fiction's overcoat. Russian Literary Culture and the question of Philosophy, 2004.

Gurko H. Divine Onomatology: Naming God in Imyaslavie, Symbolism, and Deconstruction (Sergey Bulgakov, Alexi Losev, Pavel Florensky, Vyacheslav Ivanov), 2006


Aza A. Takho-Godi, Ph.D., Prof. (Moscow)



International Society for Philosophers