On the Faculty of Choice

Day 172 of A Year of War and Peace

Yesterday Prince Andrei’s life was in shambles. Today he’s improving. Things are getting better. They’re getting better, in large part, because he has seemingly given up on searching for and thinking about Anatole Kuragin. His mind is now “occupied by the interests of . . . conducting a gigantic war, and he was glad to be free for a while from the distraction caused by the thought of Kuragin.” That is Tolstoy’s way of saying that today Prince Andrei is more focused on what is under his control rather than what is not under his control.

What is under his control, as an army man now, is his opinion on the army’s progress and its position. So he surveys their progress and position. Then, with all the relevant information collected, he reflects on and articulates the competing philosophical schools that compose the various parts of the Russian army. His reflections brings him to a thought perfectly in keeping with what we already know about Tolstoy’s theory of history:

Readers will note the contrast between Andrei’s calm and focused contemplation in this chapter and the rage, frenzy, and gloom of yesterday’s reading. There is a reason for that.


If any of you, withdrawing himself from externals, turns to his own faculty of choice, working at it and perfecting it, so as to bring it fully into harmony with nature; elevated, free, unrestrained, unhindered, faithful, self-respecting: if he has learned too, that whoever desires, or is averse to, things outside his own power can neither be faithful nor free, but must necessarily be changed and tossed back and forth with them; must necessarily too be subject to others, who can procure or prevent what he desires or wants to avoid: if, finally, when he rises in the morning, he observes and keeps to these rules; bathes and eats as a man of fidelity and honour; and thus, in every matter that befalls, puts his guiding principles to work, just as the runner does in the business of running, or the voice trainer in the training of voices: this is the man making progress, this is the man who has not travelled in vain. But if he is wholly intent on reading books, and has labored at that only, and gone abroad for the sake of that: I bid him go home immediately, and not neglect his domestic affairs, for what he has travelled for is nothing.

Epictetus, The Discourses

This is the one hundred and seventy-second installment in a daily, yearlong, chapter-by-chapter reading devotional and meditation on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. For more information on this project please read the introduction to the series here.

I’m also very interested in hearing what you have to say about the novel. So leave a comment and let me know.

I’m on twitter and I have a webpage if you want to talk more.

For my friends and family, love. For my enemies, durian fruit.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store