U.S. CitiesCity-Data Forum Index
Go Back   City-Data Forum > General Forums > Philosophy
 [Register]
Please register to participate in our discussions with 2 million other members - it's free and quick! Some forums can only be seen by registered members. After you create your account, you'll be able to customize options and access all our 15,000 new posts/day with fewer ads.
View detailed profile (Advanced) or search
site with Google Custom Search

Search Forums  (Advanced)
 
Old 12-26-2013, 09:07 PM
 
Location: Somewhere on this 3rd rock from the sun
521 posts, read 722,635 times
Reputation: 706

Advertisements

In 1869, at the age of forty-one, Leo Tolstoy published the last installment of War and Peace. Eight years later, he finished Anna Karenina. At the age of fifty, Tolstoy achieved everything he desired from life. A famous novelist, happily married with six loving children, and the owner of a 16,500-acre estate, he should have been supremely happy.

Just before he turned fifty, Tolstoy experienced moments of perplexity and an arrest of life, when two questions began to recur oftener and oftener: What is it for? What does it lead to? At first, the questions seemed “stupid, simple, and childish,” but soon he became convinced they were the most important and profound of all life’s questions.

Unlike few of us, Tolstoy had fulfilled his every desire, and he had nothing left to wish for. He no longer could close his eyes to avoid seeing that nothing lie ahead for him but suffering and death — complete annihilation. He beheld what he believed was the fundamental truth of human existence — life is meaningless.

Tolstoy felt that what he “had been standing on had collapsed,” and that he “had nothing left under his feet.” With brutal, unflinching honesty, he admitted to himself that what he “had lived on no longer existed, and there was nothing left.”

Healthy, gifted, energetic, Tolstoy felt he no longer could live. Suicide seemed the only recourse; yet, he was in no hurry, for he hoped to untangle the dreadful situation he found himself in. Nevertheless, the urge for self-destruction was so intense that he confessed, “I, a man of fortune, hid a cord from myself lest I should hang myself from the crosspiece of the partition in my room where I undressed alone every evening, and I ceased to go out shooting with a gun lest I should be tempted by so easy a way of ending my life.” He desired to escape from life and yet hoped to discover why he should live.

In contrast to the characters in his novels, Tolstoy could not give a reasonable meaning to any single past action of his or to his life as a whole. “How could a person fail to see the meaningless of life?” he asked himself. No one cannot see the truth of what the preacher in Ecclesiastes says, “All is vanity and a striving after wind; a man dies and nothing remains.”

Thanks to a life spent in learning and his fame as a novelist, Tolstoy had access to scientists and scholars in all branches of knowledge. He turned first to the scientists, the wise men of his day, and learned, “You are a transitory, casual cohesion of particles. The mutual interactions and changes of these particles produce in you what you call your ‘life.’” Although the vocabulary of science changed somewhat from the nineteen century to our day, Tolstoy heard what we have drummed into our ears by present-day physicists, neuroscientists, and biologists: “You are an accidentally united little lump of something. That little lump ferments. The little lump calls that fermenting its ‘life.’ The lump will disintegrate and there will be an end of the fermenting and of all the questions.” Science only confirmed the senselessness of life.

Tolstoy, next, sought answers from the great teachers of mankind, and instead of freeing him from despair, the ancient sages only strengthened his hopelessness.

Socrates: “The wise man seeks death all his life and therefore death is not terrible to him. The life of the body is an evil and a lie. Therefore, the destruction of the life of the body is a blessing, and we should desire it.”

Solomon: “All that is in the world — folly and wisdom and riches and poverty and mirth and grief — is vanity and emptiness. Man dies and nothing is left of him.”

Buddha: “To live in the consciousness of the inevitability of suffering, of becoming enfeebled, of old age, and of death, is impossible — we must free ourselves from life, from all possible life.”

Tolstoy’s conclusion about life was not much different than that arrived at by the Greek tragedians. In his book The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche re-tells an ancient story. “King Midas hunted in the forest a long time for the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, without capturing him. When Silenus at last fell into his hands, the king asked what was the best and most desirable of all things for man. Fixed and immovable, the demigod said not a word, till at last, urged by the king he gave a shrill laugh and broke out into these words, ‘Oh, wretched ephemeral race, children of chance and misery, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is — to die soon.”

In his pursuit of the meaning of human existence, Tolstoy, then, turned to life, hoping to find among the people around him the reason for living. He found four ways out of the terrible position in which we are all placed. The first way out is ignorance, not to ask, “Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?” Or expressed differently, not to utter the terrible question, “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?” Tolstoy claimed the way of ignorance is open to only the very young or the very dull.

The second way out is Epicureanism, which consists in knowing the hopelessness of life, yet enjoying the sweet, although transitory, pleasures within reach. Tolstoy rejected this solution because the dullness of an Epicurean’s imagination enables him to “forget the things that gave Buddha no peace — the inevitability of sickness, old age, and death, which today or tomorrow will destroy all these pleasures.”

The third escape is that of strength and energy. When one understands his life is an absurdity, a cosmic joke, an accidental cohesion of particles, he puts a rope around his neck or a bullet through his brain. Tolstoy saw this is the worthiest way of escape and wished to adopt it.

The fourth way out is weakness. One sees the truth of the situation, yet clings to life, knowing that nothing can come of it. Not having the strength to act rationally, Tolstoy found himself in this category. Recognizing that life is a stupid joke played on him and everyone else, he went on “living, washing, dressing, dining, talking, and even writing books.” He found this “repulsive and tormenting,” yet remained in that position.

Looking back on his spiritual crisis, Tolstoy explained why he did not commit suicide: “I see now that if I did not kill myself, it was due to some dim consciousness of the invalidity of my thoughts.” In his search for meaning, Tolstoy made an assumption that he was not aware of until much later. First he asked, “What is the meaning of my life within time, cause, and space?” After long efforts of thought, and after searching for answers from the Masters, he reached the answer, “None.” The logic is impeccable. Death destroys all meaning within finite time and space.

After a painful struggle, Tolstoy realized that he implicitly assumed an answer to the question “What am I?” — a finite being. The solution to the problem of life Tolstoy discovered lies in a few words, in the correct answer to “What am I?” — I am a part of the infinite.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message

 
Old 12-27-2013, 01:44 AM
 
Location: Winston-Salem, NC
321 posts, read 459,318 times
Reputation: 205
The article is fine.

I think Tolstoy failed to invent Existentialism. I don't know if Existentialism had any philosophical antecedents in his time, as I'm not that well versed in the history of philosophy. Tolstoy was free to make meaning out of his life and choose one thing over another. He chose what I would call grandiose simplifications, which have little to do with trying to improve the human race as an ongoing exercise, after one's death. He could have striven for social justice, or scientific achievement, or continued on the artistic trajectory he was already previously on. He could have lived as though he had 1000 or 10,000 years to live, and just tried to do as much as he could in the limited amount of time he actually had. Instead he spent a lot of time worrying, wasting and cancelling his energy. Granted, I've had the benefit of bright minds to work through these issues and many other things. Tolstoy, despite his wealth back in the day, may not have had the same access because the world was not the same place back then. We knew less.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 12-27-2013, 06:07 AM
 
Location: Las Vegas
5,886 posts, read 4,188,219 times
Reputation: 4161
He could have chosen the path that Buddha took, acceptance and non-attachment. I consider myself an existentialist so I do not believe life has any inherit meaning. Life only has meaning if you give it meaning. The existential crisis Tolstoy went through, I went through a similar one. I've chose to accept that and move. Since we are here by random chance, some absurd chain of events I look at life as a gift and I will not waste it.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 12-27-2013, 01:37 PM
 
Location: Victoria TX
42,663 posts, read 74,241,442 times
Reputation: 36087
Never seek enlightenment -- it will lead you to despair.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 12-27-2013, 01:50 PM
 
1,003 posts, read 1,330,103 times
Reputation: 1316
Quote:
Originally Posted by jtur88 View Post
Never seek enlightenment -- it will lead you to despair.
Rep to you. Enlightenment leads one back to the void of nothingness and being egoless.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 12-27-2013, 06:55 PM
 
Location: Winston-Salem, NC
321 posts, read 459,318 times
Reputation: 205
Existentialists don't think so.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 12-27-2013, 08:58 PM
 
35 posts, read 35,923 times
Reputation: 39
Quote:
Unlike few of us, Tolstoy had fulfilled his every desire, and he had nothing left to wish for.
I think this is an interesting idea- if we desired nothing, could life have meaning?

Quote:
“All is vanity and a striving after wind; a man dies and nothing remains.”
It's possible for meaning to exist in spite of the fact that us and everything we do will disappear eventually. But I think our individual experiences are pretty short, I wouldn't mind living for a few hundred years.

Quote:
“You are a transitory, casual cohesion of particles. The mutual interactions and changes of these particles produce in you what you call your ‘life.’”
Nothing is "just" particles. Everything we are made of can be causally explained by particles and other physics, but physics can create more than particles.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 12-28-2013, 06:26 AM
 
2,836 posts, read 3,093,500 times
Reputation: 1399
"Life is; what life means is unanswerable."
- Wendell Phillips

. . .

Count Tolstoy spent much of his later years searching for the meaning of his life. For someone who had everything in life - fame, fortune, family, freedom - he wanted more; he wanted to know why. He studied science, history and philosophy, as well as the great religions of the world. He consulted the greatest teachers, scientists, philosophers and theologians, but he could find none to answer the simple question of existence. All that anyone could tell him was that man and the universe exists, but that there was no explanation for it. No matter how he posed the question, it all came back to the point that life was meaningless; and he knew no more truth than he knew before. Then, in the end, he ceased to doubt, and took solace in the certain knowledge of man’s false beliefs. See Leo Tolstoy, A Confession and Other Religious Writings (1879-82).

In 1901, Tolstoy was excommunicated from the church by the Russian Synod and placed on a watch list of subversives by the Czar’s government.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 12-29-2013, 12:22 PM
 
10,531 posts, read 15,586,917 times
Reputation: 11841
Quote:
Originally Posted by NorthGAbound12 View Post
He could have chosen the path that Buddha took, acceptance and non-attachment. I consider myself an existentialist so I do not believe life has any inherit meaning. Life only has meaning if you give it meaning. The existential crisis Tolstoy went through, I went through a similar one. I've chose to accept that and move. Since we are here by random chance, some absurd chain of events I look at life as a gift and I will not waste it.

He did. He lived, for the rest of his life, a very simple, rustic existence. He worked just like any other farmer in his properties, supported community and was a good pastor to his flock.
What is described in the article, is very basic mid life crisis, when a person realizes, that there is very likely less in front of you, than behind. Then, person realizes, that what is behind is done and over and can not be changed (btw, he was a great promiscuous feudal, number of bastards he had with local farm girls is unknown indeed, but hey - de mortuis nihil nisi bene) and then, suddenly, person starts looking for solutions, for fixes to this realization. Nothing new or special. Due to his written works, he became a classic writer standard, and big deal is made, as result, out of keeping his ideal as such. But he was only human.
Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum p-uto. Fortunately, unlike most humans, he listened to the voice of conscience and, at least, tried to take steps proper. Most don't even pay attention, and only drink more, eat more, pork around more, and don't give s... more. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
 
Old 12-29-2013, 05:56 PM
 
19,078 posts, read 21,902,637 times
Reputation: 13432
Quote:
Originally Posted by rishi85 View Post
After a painful struggle, Tolstoy realized that he implicitly assumed an answer to the question “What am I?” — a finite being. The solution to the problem of life Tolstoy discovered lies in a few words, in the correct answer to “What am I?” — I am a part of the infinite.
Very nice! I imagine his struggle was torment for him. I do not really grasp the need for life to have meaning beyond what we choose to give it.
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
Please register to post and access all features of our very popular forum. It is free and quick. Over $68,000 in prizes has already been given out to active posters on our forum. Additional giveaways are planned.

Detailed information about all U.S. cities, counties, and zip codes on our site: City-data.com.


Reply
Please update this thread with any new information or opinions. This open thread is still read by thousands of people, so we encourage all additional points of view.

Quick Reply
Message:

Over $104,000 in prizes was already given out to active posters on our forum and additional giveaways are planned!

Go Back   City-Data Forum > General Forums > Philosophy
Similar Threads
Follow City-Data.com founder on our Forum or

All times are GMT -6.

© 2005-2019, Advameg, Inc. · Please obey Forum Rules · Terms of Use and Privacy Policy · Bug Bounty

City-Data.com - Archive 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35 - Top