Kantian Journal

2023 Vol. 42. №1

Back to the list Download the article

Semyon Frank and the German Neo-Kantianism: Aspects of Debate



The widespread assessment of the early period of Semyon L. Frank’s work as being influenced by German Neo-Kantianism is in need of a critical scrutiny. There are several reasons why the Russian philosopher’s interest in Neo-Kantianism merits a closer look. First, two systemic theories belonging to different trends exerted a decisive influence on Russian philosophy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: German Neo-Kantianism and Vladimir Solovyov’s school of all-unity. Second, Frank himself and the German Neo-Kantians considered Nicholas of Cusa to be one of their forerunners and pointed out the importance of his mathematical ideas for their mathematical studies. Thirdly and lastly, Frank paid particular attention, especially in his formative period as a philosopher, to the leading trend in the early twentieth century, namely German Neo-Kantianism, which led some students of his work to believe that German Neo-Kantianism played the decisive role in Frank’s abandonment of Marxism in favour of religious ontology. Frank’s fundamental disagreement with German Neo-Kantianism was expressed in his work The Object of Knowledge in which he criticised the Neo-Kantian concepts of number and time. Although Frank rightly points out the one-sidedness of the Neo-Kantian definition of number, most notably in the works of the Marburg philosopher Paul Natorp, on the whole his criticism of the Neo-Kantian concept of number and time as being different from his own is not entirely convincing. In my opinion, Frank’s attempt to explain the abstract concept of number through a still more abstract concept of all-unity was not crowned with success because he ignored the experience of Christian theology and the Trinity dogma as well as the profound thoughts of the Rev. Pavel Florensky on this topic.


Cassirer, E., 2010. The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy. Translated with an introduction by M. Domandi. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Cohen, H., 1984. Einleitung mit kritischem Nachtrag zur „Geschichte des Materialismus“ von F. A. Lange. In: H. Cohen, 1984. Werke. Volume 5.2. Edited by H. Holzhey. Hildesheim: Olms.

Cohen, H., 1922. System der Philosophie. Erster Teil. Logik der reinen Erkenntniss. Dritte Auflage. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer Verlag.

Dushin, O. E., 2015. Сoincidentia oppositorum and Resolution of Contradictions: Nicholas of Cusa, Semyon Frank, Pavel Florensky. Veche, 27(2), pp. 74-85. (In Rus.)

Ehlen, P., 2014. Russischen Religionsphilosophie im 20. Jahrhundert: Simon L. Frank. Freiburg & München: Karl Alber.

Evlampiev, I. I., 2010. Two Poles of Perception of Nicholas of Cusa in Russian Philosophy (S. Frank and L. Karsavin). Voprosi filosofii, 5, pp. 125-138. (In Rus.)

Florensky, P., 1997. The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters. Translated and annotated by B. Jakim with an introduction by R. F. Gustafson. Princeton: Princeton University Press. doi: https://doi-org.ezproxy.princeton.edu/10.1515/9780691187990

Frank, S. L., 1972. Ontologicheskoe dokazatel’stvo bytia Bozhia [Ontological Proof of the Existence of God]. In: S. L. Frank, 1972. Po tu storonu pravogo i levogo [On the Other Side of Right and Left]. Paris: YMCA-Press, pp. 114-123. (In Rus.)

Frank, S. L., 1983. The Unknowable. An Ontological Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. Translated by B. Jakim. London & Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Frank, S. L., 1995. Predmet znania [The Object of Knowledge]. In: S. L. Frank, 1995. Predmet znania. Dusha cheloveka [The Object of Knowledge. Man’s Soul]. St. Petersburg: Nauka, pp. 37-417. (In Rus.)

Gessen, S. I., 1995. Osnovi pedagogiki. Vvedenije v prigladnuju filosofiju [Fundamentals of Pedagogy. Introduction to Applied Philosophy]. Moscow: Shkola-Press. (In Rus.)

Kaufman, I. S., 2011. Nicholas of Cusa and the History of Mathematics. Verbum. Almanah Zentra izuchenija srednevekovoj kulturi [Almanac of the Center for the Study of Medieval Culture]. Volume 13. St. Petersburg: Nestor-Istorija, pp. 97-101. (In Rus.)

Krijnen, C., 2022. Heterologie oder Dialektik? Rickerts Lehre vom Ursprung des Denkens im Spiegel der Hegelschen Logik. Hegel-Studien, 56, pp. 97-127.

Mormann, T., 2019. Mathematische Wissenschaftsphilosophie im Marburger Neukantianismus. Siegener Beiträge zur Geschichte und Philosophie der Mathematik, 11, pp. 55-75.

Obolevich, T., 2014. From Neo-Kantianism to Ontologism. Misl’ [Thought], 16, pp. 62-69. (In Rus.)

Obolevich, T., 2017. Semyon Frank: shtrichi k portretu filosofa [Semyon Frank: Strokes to the Portrait of a Philosopher]. Moscow: BBI. (In Rus.)

Obolevich, T. and Tsygankov, A. S., 2017. The Philosophy of Religion of S. L. Frank in the Light of New Materials. Filosofskij zhurnal | Philosophy journal, 10(1), pp. 99-115. (In Rus.)

Raushenbach, B. V., 1993. Trinity Logic. Voprosy Filosofii, 3, pp. 62-70 (In Rus.)

Rickert, H., 1924. Die Methode der Philosophie und das Unmittelbare: Eine Problemstellung. Logos. Internationale Zeitschrift für Philosophie der Kultur, 12, pp. 235-280.

Swoboda, P. J., 1995. Windelband’s Influence on S. L. Frank. Studies in East European Thought, 47(3-4), pp. 259-290.

Tsygankov, A. S. and Obolevich, T., 2019. Nemezkij period filosofskoj biografii S. L. Franka (novye materialy) [The German Period of S. L. Franca (New Materials)]. Moscow: Institute of Philosophy RAN. (In Rus.)

Zenkovsky, V. V., 1967. A History of Russian Philosophy. Authorized Translation from the Russian by G. L. Kline. Third Edition. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.