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Lecture

Tolstoy (Lecture Schemata 4)

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Department
Philosophy
Course
PHIL 1200
Professor
David Matheson
Semester
Winter

Description
4   Tolstoy:  The  traveler  on  the  steppe     An  "arrest  of  life"     The  fable  of  the  traveler     Motivation  to  taste  the  honey:  Faith  beyond  reason     Leo  (Lev  Nikolayevich)  Tolstoy  (1828-­‐1910)  was  a  Russian  novelist  whose  most  famous   works,  War  and  Peace  (1869)  and  Anna  Karenina  (1877),  are  recognized  as  among  the   greatest  novels  of  all  time.  After  a  major  mid-­‐life  crisis  in  the  1870s,  despite  his  success  and   fame,  and  at  the  height  of  his  literary  career,  he  converted  to  an  ascetic  form  of  Eastern   orthodox  Christianity  and  became  increasingly  interested  in  social  and  moral  reform   (including  a  preference  for  pacifism  and  Christian  anarchism).     Recall  the  general,  troubling  argument  we've  called  the  Nihilist's  Worry:     The  Nihilist's  Worry     Premise1       If  there  is  a  meaning  of  life,  then  ___________________________________________________               ________________________________________________________________________________________.     Premise  2     There  is  no  transcendent  meaning  of  life.   Premise  3     There  is  no  immanent  meaning  of  life.     Conclusion    _____________________________________________________________________________________.     Tolstoy  describes  his  mid-­‐life  crisis  as  one  in  which  he  gradually,  subtly,  and  disturbingly   became  more  and  more  convinced  of  something  like  the  conclusion  of  the  Nihilist's  Worry.   And  the  more  he  came  to  be  convinced  of  it,  the  more  depressed  and  psychologically   debilitated  he  became,  until  he  was  all  but  paralyzed  psychologically  and  experienced  an   intense  "arrest  of  life":     I  had  tasted  the  seduction  of  authorship,  of  the  enormous  monetary  remunerations  and   applauses  for  my  insignificant  labor,  and  so  I  submitted  to  it,  as  being  a  means  for   improving  my  material  condition  and  for  stifling  in  my  soul  all  questions  about  the   meaning  of  my  life  and  life  in  general.[…]       Thus  I  proceeded  to  live,  but  five  years  ago  something  very  strange  began  to  happen   to  me:  I  was  overcome  by  minutes  at  first  of  perplexity  and  then  of  an  arrest  of  life,  as   though  I  did  not  know  how  to  live  or  what  to  do,  and  I  lost  myself  and  was  dejected.  But   that  passed,  and  I  continued  to  live  as  before.  Then  those  minutes  of  perplexity  were   repeated  oftener  and  oftener,  and  always  in  one  and  the  same  form.  These  arrests  of  life   found  their  expression  in  ever  the  same  questions:  “Why?  Well,  and  then?”  […]       There  happened  what  happens  with  any  person  who  falls  ill  with  a  mortal  internal   disease.  At  first  there  appear  insignificant  symptoms  of  indisposition,  to  which  the   patient  pays  no  attention;  then  these  symptoms  are  repeated  more  and  more  frequently   and  blend  into  one  temporally  indivisible  suffering.  (7-­‐8)   2     Tolstoy  then  goes  on  to  provide  an  alternate  description  of  this  frightening  state  of  affairs,   by  making  use  of  an  ancient  "Eastern  story"-­‐-­‐an  old  fable  about  a  traveler  on  a  steppe:     Long  ago  has  been  told  the  Eastern  story  about  the  traveller  who  in  the  steppe  is   overtaken  by  an  infuriated  beast.  Trying  to  save  himself  from  the  animal,  the  traveller   jumps  into  a  waterless  well,  but  at  its  bottom  he  sees  a  dragon  who  opens  his  jaws  in   order  to  swallow  him.  And  the  unfortunate  man  does  not  dare  climb  out,  lest  he  perish   from  the  infuriated  beast,  and  does  not  dare  jump  down  to  the  bottom  of  the  well,  lest   he  be  devoured  by  the  dragon,  and  so  clutches  the  twig  of  a  wild  bush  growing  in  a  cleft   of  the  well  and  holds  on  to  it.  His  hands  grow  weak  and  he  feels  that  soon  he  shall  have   to  surrender  to  the  peril  which  awaits  him  at  either  side;  but  he  still  holds  on  and  sees   two  mice,  one  white,  the  other  black,  in  even  measure  making  a  circle  around  the  main   trunk  of  the  bush  to  which  he  is  clinging,  and  nibbling  at  it  on  all  sides.  Now,  at  any   moment,  the  bush  will  break  and  tear  off,  and  he  will  fall  into  the  dragon’s  jaws.  The   traveller  sees  that  and  knows  that  he  will  inevitably  perish;  but  while  he  is  still  clinging,   he  sees  some  drops  of  honey  hanging  on  the  leaves  of  the  bush,  and  so  reaches  out  for   them  with
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