It’s Hard Out Here for a Philosopher
It’s hard out here for a philosopher. Just ask Kutuzov. Kutuzov, at least as Tolstoy presents him, is certainly a philosopher. Today he is described, for instance, as one of “those rare solitary individuals who discerning the will of Providence submit their personal will to it.” On the stoic scale of one to Epictetus that places him squarely in the Sage zone.
What does Kutuzov get for his philosophic practice?
Outwardly, not much. He’s universally reviled. He’s openly mocked. He’s accused of blundering. Even Emperor Alexander is upset with him. Meanwhile, Napoleon, that hotheaded Corsican, gets all the glory and adulation. It doesn’t seem fair.
Inwardly, however, Kutuzov fares much better. There is, and has always been, for the most part, a calm way about him. According to Tolstoy Kutuzov’s mental tranquility is born of his practice of philosophy. “The source of that extraordinary power,” Tolstoy writes, “of penetrating the meaning of the events then occurring, lay in the national feeling he possessed in full purity and strength. […] And only that feeling placed him on that highest human pedestal from which he, the commander-in-chief, devoted all his powers not to slaying and destroying men but to saving and showing pity on them.”
So we see that the virtuous practice of philosophy makes Kutuzov a socially awkward outcast. A socially awkward outcast in possession of εὐδαιμονία and victory in war but a socially awkward outcast nonetheless.
Do you think you can behave as you do, yet be a philosopher? That you can eat and drink, give vent to your anger and displeasure as you do now? You must stay up at night, you must toil, you must get the better of certain desires, must abandon your familiars, be scorned by a slave, be laughed at by those you meet; come off worse than others in everything, in office, in honour, in the courts. When you have considered all these things with care, then, if you think fit, approach philosophy, and be willing to give up all of this in exchange for serenity, freedom and an undisturbed mind.
Epictetus, The Discourses