Afrikan Aleksandrovich Spir (November 15,1837 - March 13, 1890) was a little-known Neo-Kantian philosopher from Ukraine, whose book Denken und Wirklichkeit (Thought and Reality) exerted a very strong influence on the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. An alternative spelling of his name is African Spir.
Spir was born on the 15th of November 1837 near the city of Yelisawetgrad (Elizabethgrad, now Kirovohrad, Khersonskaya guberniya) in that part of the Russian Empire that is now Ukraine. His father, Alexander Alexandrovich Spir, was a Russian doctor and former professor in Moscow. His Greek mother, Helena Arsenowna Spir (née Poulevich), was the daughter of a famous painter. Alexander Spir gave each of his five children – four boys and one girl – names derived from months in the old Greek calendar. This is the source of the curious name “Afrikan.” From the age of eight Afrikan was educated at military academies, including a naval school at Nikolaijeff, to which he was sent at 14 and at which he first developed an interest in philosophy. In addition to reading (in a French translation) Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Spir was also strongly influenced by David Hume at the time.
He participated in the Crimean War from 1855-56, during which he was twice decorated and made a lieutenant in the Russian navy. Spir defended the same bastion as Leo Tolstoy during the siege of Sevastopol. He inherited his father’s estates after his father’s death in 1852, his final remaining brother, Aristanrch, having died in 1841. In 1861, Spir freed his serfs and gave them land. The next year he left Elizabethgrad for a two year trip to Western Europe. His sister died soon after his return to Russia in 1864. After the death of his mother, he sold his estates and possessions in 1867 and left Russia permanently.
He first went to Leipzig and audited courses there at the same time that Nietzsche was a student, although it does not appear that they met. In 1869 he moved to Tübingen and in 1871 to Stuttgart. In 1872 he married Elizabeth Gatternich and the two had a daughter, Hélène. In Leipzig, Spir befriended the publisher and fellow freemason J.G. Findel, who published most of Spir’s works. His most important book, Denken und Wirklichkeit: Versuch einer Erneuerung der kritischen Philosophie (Thought and Reality: Attempt at a Renewal of Critical Philosophy) was published in 1873. A second edition, which was the one owned by Nietzsche, was published in 1877.
In 1878 Spir contracted a lung infection. On the advice of his doctor, he moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, where he spent five years. In 1886 he moved to Geneva. He died there of influenza on March 26, 1890, survived by his wife and daughter, Elona Afrikanovna Klapared-Spir or Hélène Claparède-Spir (). Although he spent most of his life as a philosopher, he never held a university appointment and his writings remained relatively unknown and unrecognized throughout his life.
Six years after Spir's death, Tolstoy read the books of his former companion in arms and was deeply impressed and succeeded in gaining permission from the Russian censorship for publication of Russian versions of Spir's works, which had originally been published in German.
Spir sought to establish philosophy as the science of first principles, he held that the task of philosophy was to investigate immediate knowledge, show the delusion of empiricism, and present the true nature of things by strict statements of facts & logically controlled inference. This method led Spir to proclaim the principle of identity as the fundamental law of knowledge which is opposed to the changing appearance of the empirical. Socially, Spir demanded just distribution of material goods but disapproved of collectivism.
Selected works by Spir
Selected works on Spir
- Hélène Claparède-Spir [Spir's daughter], Un précurseur: A. Spir (Lausanne & Paris: Payot & cie, 1920).
- Hélène Claparède-Spir, "Vie de A. Spir" in Afrikan Spir, Nouvelles esquisses de philosophie critique (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1899).
- Humanus, pseud., African Spir: ein philosoph der neuzeit (Leipzig: J.G.Findel, 1892).
- Theodor Lessing, African Spirs Erkenntnislehre (Gießen: Münchow 1900).
Lessing's dissertation at Erlangen was accurately described by Lessing himself as "really bad." Theodor Lessing, "Gerichtstag über mich selbst", in Theodor Lessing, Einmal und nie wieder: Lebenserinnerungen 389, 401 (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann 1969). Lessing mentions Nietzsche in passing and once describes Nietzsche and Spir as "antipodes", but he was not aware at the time that he wrote this work that Nietzsche had read Spir.
- Piero Martinetti (1872-1943), "Il dualismo di Africano Spir", in 28 Rivista di filosofia 240-250 (1937)
- Piero Martinetti (1872-1943), Il pensiero di Africano Spir (Torino: Albert Meynier, 1990).
With an introduction by Franco Alessio.
- Andreas Zacharoff, Spirs theoretische Philosophie dargestellt und erläutert (Weida i. Th.: Thomas & Hubert, 1910).
Zacharoff's dissertation at Jena.
- Mary-Barbara Zedlin, "Afrikan Alexandrovich Spir", in Paul Edwards ed., Encyclopedia of Philosophy 544 (New York: Macmillan 1972).
A very brief introduction to Spir's philosophy.
Selected works on Nietzsche's Relationship to Spir
- Maudemarie Clark & David Dudrick, "Nietzsche's Post-Positivism," 12 European Journal of Philosophy 369-85 (2004).
- Hélène Claparède-Spir [Spir's daughter], Evocation: Tolstoi, Nietzsche, Rilke, Spir (Genève : Georg, 1944).
- Hélène Claparède-Spir, "Friedrich Nietzsche und Afrikan Spir," 6 Philosophie und Leben 242-50 (1930).
- Karl-Heinz Dickopp, "Zum Wandel von Nietzsches Seinsverständnis: Afrikan Spir und Gustav Teichmüller," 24 Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 50-71 (1970).
Dickopp discusses Nietzsche's response to Spir's and Teichmüller's views on the Cartesian cogito.
- Domenico M. Fazio, "Il Pensiero del Giovane Nietzsche e Afrikan Spir," in 9 Bollettino di Storia della Filosofia dell'Università degli Studi di Lecce 243-62 (1986/9).
- Paolo D'Iorio, "La superstition des philosophes critiques: Nietzsche et Afrikan Spir," 22 Nietzsche-Studien 257-294 (1993).
D'Iorio does a good job of chronicling Nietzsche's responses to Spir's thought in Nietzsche's Nachlaß.
- Michael Steven Green, Nietzsche and the Transcendental Tradition (Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press - International Nietzsche Studies Series 2002).
- Michael Steven Green, "Nietzsche’s Place in Nineteenth Century German Philosophy," 47 Inquiry 168-88 (2004).
Review of Will Dudley, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Philosophy: Thinking Freedom (Cambridge U. Press 2002). Uses Spir's influence on Nietzsche to emphasize the differences between Nietzsche and the tradition of German Idealism and to place Nietzsche within late-nineteenth century neo-Kantianism.
- Nadeem J. Z. Hussain, "Nietzsche's Positivism", 12 European Journal of Philosophy 326-68 (2004).
- Sergio Sánchez, "Logica, verità e credenza: alcune considerazioni in merito alla relazione Nietzsche–Spir” in La trama del testo: Su alcune letture di Nietzsche (Maria Cristina Fornari ed., Lecce: Millela, 2000), pp. 249-282.
Sánchez is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Córdoba in Argentina. This first work deals directly, and the next two more tangentially, with Spir's influence upon Nietzsche.
- Sergio Sánchez, “Linguaggio, conoscenza e verità nella filosofía del giovane Nietzsche: I frammenti postumi del 1873 e le loro fonti”, 16 Annuario Filosofico 213-240 (2000).
- Sergio Sánchez, El problema del conocimiento en la filosofía del joven Nietzsche (Córdoba, Argentina, 2001).
- Karl Schlechta & Anni Anders, Friedrich Nietzsche: Von den verborgenen Anfängen seines Philosophierens 119-22, 159-66 (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: F. Frommann 1962).
- Robin Small, "Nietzsche, Spir, and Time", 32 Journal of the History of Philosophy 85-102 (1994).
Reprinted in Chapter One of Robin Small, Nietzsche in Context (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate 2001). Small discusses Spir's influence on Nietzsche's conception of time, including Nietzsche's "time atomism" fragment.