“Shestov : Faith Against Reason” (Adam Drozdek)

Laval théologique et philosophique, 63(3), 473–493. Faculté de philosophie, Université Laval et Faculté de théologie et de sciences religieuses, Université Laval. [PDF]

Résumé : Selon Chestov, la connaissance est incompatible avec la liberté, qui ne peut être trouvée que grâce à la foi, parce qu’elle établit ses vérités en vertu des principes de nécessité et d’universalité. En fait, le péché originel résiderait dans le désir de connaître, où non seulement la connaissance scientifique est visée, mais aussi la connaissance de la vie quotidienne. La chute s’exprime bibliquement comme un désir de connaître le bien et le mal. Or il semble bien, au contraire, que le domaine de la dimension morale ne devrait pas être au-delà du bien et du mal, ainsi que le suggère Chestov, mais au-delà de la rationalité. Contraster la foi et la raison aussi fortement que le fait Chestov ne peut que conduire à un concept schizophrénique de l’être humain, selon lequel ce dernier posséderait deux facultés irréconciliables, voire hostiles l’une envers l’autre. On peut penser que l’image de Jérusalem et d’Athènes devrait être remplacée par celle de St. Paul et de Minneapolis aux États-Unis : deux cités différentes, à la fois très proches l’une de l’autre et qui ne sont pas dans une relation hostile, mais coopèrent au sein d’une entente amicale. De plus, Chestov privilégie une expression très irrationnelle de la liberté, et ne fait guère face aux conséquences pratiques d’un tel point de vue dans la vie sociale.

ABSTRACT : According to Shestov, knowledge is incompatible with freedom which can be found only through faith because it establishes its truths through the principle of necessity and universality. In fact, the original sin lies in the desire to know, in which not only scientific knowledge is meant, but also knowledge of everyday life. The fall is biblically expressed as a desire to know good and evil. However, it seems that the domain of the moral dimension should not be beyond good and evil, as Shestov suggests, but beyond rationality. Contrasting faith and reason as strongly as Shestov does leads only to a schizophrenic concept of man : man has two faculties that are irreconcilable and even hostile toward one another. It seems that the image of Jerusalem and Athens should be replaced with the image of St. Paul and Minneapolis : different cities that are very close together, not in hostile relationship, but cooperating in a friendly arrangement. Also, Shestov allows for a most irrational expression of freedom. However, he hardly addresses the problem of practical consequences of such a view in social life.

One of the more significant Russian philosophers of the beginning of the twentieth century was Lev Shestov (1886-1938). Born in Kiev, he studied in Kiev and in Moscow, worked in his father’s business, since 1895, he traveled and lived in Europe writing and publishing his philosophical works. Since the outbreak of World War I, he lived in Russia, but in 1920 he emigrated to Paris. In France, he became renowned as an existential philosopher and exercised some influence of French existentialism.

From the first pages of his first book to the end of his life, Shestov remains an adamant critic of exaggerated claims of rationalism and scientism. One claim is that reason is the only way of approaching all problems, in inanimate and living nature, in physics and in psychology ; another claim is that nothing escapes scientific approach and science offers the only valid way of explaining the world. If something cannot be explained now, then it will be explained some time in the future or is a pseudoproblem worth no serious consideration. “Science gave an excellent theory, of having limited scope, of the order of external world and called it the law of cause and effect. Its application made it possible for man to subjugate the most concealed and most unbridled forces of nature. But a scholar schooled by the system and used to victories took confidence in his method as in a higher truth” and applies it everywhere (SKB 12).1 Science’s claims of being able to explain all things are impossible to fulfill and eventually harmful. One way to accomplish these claims is to remove the realm of morality and religion as pure fiction. What started on the wide scale with the so-called enlightenment became widely accepted and approved as valid. This is expressed in the philosophy of positivism ; Shestov dreamed about times when the “unshakeable foundation of positivism will be shaken” (ATP 86), and he saw his role as a philosopher in bringing it to reality… [PDF]