Have the Standards Ready
There is a realm of confusion beyond mere misunderstanding. It’s a befuddled state of mind where rational apprehension of a situation cannot even begin. Think Josef K. and his indictment. Or a toddler and the tax code. Think internet comment sections. The Rostovs, ruled by their passions and emotions, are particularly prone to falling into this mental condition. Natasha, her rational faculties sozzled on the vile wine of Anatole’s advances, finds herself lost in this state today.
“She felt herself,” writes Tolstoy of Natasha, “again completely borne away into this strange senseless world — so remote from her old world — a world in which it was impossible to know what was good or bad, reasonable or senseless.” On two additional occasions, for a total of three times within the space of three short pages, she is described as failing to understand the situation. At one point, after Anatole has declared his love for her and begs of her a response, she can only tell him, “I don’t understand. I have nothing to say.”
Lucky for her the old count is with her and, uncharacteristically, he’s quite sensible. He recognizes at once that the party he has taken her to is filled with libertines. He understands that he must shepard his daughter intelligently. For the most part he does. He slips up once, however, and this allows Anatole to get Natasha alone with him where he offers her heart some sweet words and her lips a mischievous kiss.
We can’t really blame count Rostov here. He can only be held responsible for Natasha’s actions up to a point. In the end, Natasha is responsible for Natasha. It’s up to her how she behaves. We don’t want her to be an ascetic. It’s good and beneficial to partake in society. But not all in society are so virtuous. We must be on guard against the Anatole’s of the world. To do so it’s best to equip ourselves with regular reference to and practice of our philosophy.
Thus are things judged, and weighed, when we have the standards ready. This is the task of philosophy: to examine and establish the standards; and to make use of them when they are known is the business of a wise and good man.
Epictetus, The Discourses