gallery of russian thinkers...

selected by Dmitry Olshansky

'We can learn the World as a word, because all relations and forms are structures like a language — Interpretation of the World is a translation to the language of the Other or to any abstract, artificial language of poetry.'

Gustav Schpet 1916

Gustav Schpet
Yury Lotman
Gustav Gustavovich SCHPET (26. 03. 1879, Kiev — 16. 11. 1937, Tomsk) — Russian philosopher, phenomenologist and interpreter.

In 1898 Schpet entered the Department of Physics and Mathematics at the University of Saint Vladimir (Kiev), but he then moved to the Department of the History and Philology. Schpet took part in revolutionary events and therefore he prepared for his final exams in prison. In 1907 he moved to Moscow, where he lectured at Moscow University. His first book, Problems of Causality Considered by Hume and Kant (1907), won the University's gold medal. Eventually Moscow University invited Schpet to take up an associate professorship. He continued his studies at the Sorbonne (Paris), Edinburgh University (1910), and Goettingen (1911–1912), where he met Husserl and (among with Heidegger) became his favorite student and disciple. Husserl's phenomenology made a deep and indelible impression on Schpet; Husserl's Logical Studies (1900) and Ideas of Pure Phenomenology (1913) defined the direction of Schpet's research.

Schpet shares Husserl's main intention to transform philosophy into a certain science without psychologism and metaphysics, an approach evident in his early work Appearance and Sense (1914). In Moscow Schpet was in touch with a circle of linguists and was the first Russian philosopher to introduce Husserl's phenomenology to Russia. In 1916 he defended his Ph.D. thesis, History as the Problem of Logic. In 1918 Schpet became a Professor of Philosophy of Moscow University and, at the same time, wrote his main book, Hermeneutics and its Problems. During 1922–1927 he published three key books for his semiotic studies: Aesthetic Fragments, Inner Form of the World. Etudes and Variations on the Humboldt's Theme, and Introduction into Ethnic Psychology. Schpet knew 17 languages, and he is also known as an interpreter of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, his translation of which remains in use even today.

From 1921–1929 Schpet was the chairman of the philosophical section of the Russian State Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as the Academy's vice-president. In 1921 he became a founder and first director of the Institute of Scientific Philosophy. In 1935 he was falsely accused, arrested, and exiled to Tomsk (Siberia), where, on 16 November 1937, he was shot. He was rehabilitated only in 1956.

Schpet was the first philosopher to investigate the relationship between phenomenological semiotics and hermeneutics. He created a theory of understanding that was intended to serve as the logical basis for all further studies in semiotics and hermeneutics. This theory was also meant to do the same for the humanities, whose aims consist not in description and explanation, but in understanding. Schpet argues that language is the most powerful tool for conveying true understanding.

The most important predecessors of Schpet are Aristotle, Augustine, Schleiermacher, Humboldt, Husserl, and Dilthey. Both the World, a person, nature and history, are, according to Schpet, different types of the text, which should be deciphered, interpreted and understood to make a history. Schpet was also well acquainted with the important contribution of Austrian thinkers of the Brentano school (Marty, Gomperz, Meinong) to the theory of cognition and philosophy of language. Among German influences, it is necessary to mention Reid, with his theory of spiritual acts.

In his work Hermeneutics and Its Problems, Schpet introduced the notion of hermeneutic logic for the first time, long before this notion was formulated by Mish and Heidegger. In his historic study of semiotic and hermeneutic problems Schpet links a theory of the sign with a theory of understanding. According to Schpet's way of thinking, hermeneutics requires a certain independence: it is not transferred by means of logic. Therefore a logical and grammatical analysis can serve to achieve the hermeneutic goal. Years before Wittgenstein made the question part of his own agenda, Schpet asked, 'What does it means to understand?' Schpet considers that, to understand, it is necessary to follow logical and grammatical (formal) structure, but to make a sentence logical, it is necessary to know the way of understanding. Schpet thought that forms of interpretation are the forms of the external perception, while the forms of understanding are internal logical forms.

The contribution of Schpet into the development of hermeneutical logic can be considered as a connecting link between Husserl and Dilthey, and later Mish, Lipps, Heidegger and Gadamer. The main intention of Schpet is to understand a person as the history of a human being, who expresses himself in narration by means of a language; therefore human being is a narrative, which one tells about one's own existence.

Schpet also anticipated many thoughts that would be later be investigated by Husserl and Mish: (1) he believed that any consciousness is consciousness about something, that it has an 'intentionality'; (2) he considered that language arranges the objective world and habituates human beings; (3) he raised the question of the relationship between sentence and word in a way that proved central to analytical philosophy in the twentieth century. He also researched the hermeneutic way of the development of philosophical logic. Schpet's work can be considered to have ushered in a new era in hermeneutics and semiotics.


by Schpet:

Schpet G.G. Problem of Causality in Hume and Kant, 1907

Schpet G.G. Appearance and Sense, 1914 [English: Shpet G. Appearance and Sense: Phenomenology as the Fundamental Science and its Problems. Transl. by Thomas Nemeth. 2001]

Schpet G.G. Philosophical Legacy of P. Yurkevich, 1915

Schpet G.G. History as the Problem of Logic, 1916

Schpet G.G. The Consciousness and the Possessor, 1916

Schpet G.G. Hermeneutics and its Problems, 1918 [German: Schpet G. Die Hermeneutik und ihre Probleme, 1918]

Schpet G.G. Hertzen's Philosophical Outlook, 1921

Schpet G.G. Essays of Development of Russian Philosophy, 1922

Schpet G.G. Lavrov's Anthropology in History of Philosophy, 1922

Schpet G.G. Aesthetic Fragments, 1922-23

Schpet G.G. Introduction to Ethnic Psychology, 1927

Schpet G.G. Inner Form of the World. Etudes and Variations on the Humboldt's Theme, 1927

Schpet G.G. Thought and the Word. Selected Works, 2005

Schpet G.G. Letters. Epistolary Legacy, 2005

Schpet G.G. Philosophia Natalis. Selected Works on Psychology and Pedagogy, 2006

on Schpet:

Schpet in Siberia: Exile and Death, 1995

Gustav Schpet and Contemporary Philosophy, 2006


Nonna E. Smelova, Ph.D., Assoc. Prof.

Altay State Technical University
Rubtsovsk, Russia


Bibliography by Dmitry A. Olshansky, M.A. in Philosophy (St. Petersburg)



International Society for Philosophers