In the first case it was necessary to renounce the consciousness of an unreal immobility in space and to recognize a motion we did not feel; in the present case it is similarly necessary to renounce a freedom that does not exist, and to recognize a dependence of which we are not conscious.
So Leo Tolstoy concludes his great novel. Because of course any sane man would end his epic nineteenth century tale of love and loss and strife and joy set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars with an extended expatiation on Copernican physics and scientific historiography. That’s just Novel Writing 101 right there. All joking aside, perhaps this ending is the perfect ending for our purposes. What Tolstoy is saying is that we must abandon old ways of thinking if those ways of thinking no longer stand to reason. And isn’t that what we’ve been working on this year? Hasn’t our project been a project of self-improvement by means of literary and philosophical reflection on the lives of Tolstoy’s characters? Haven’t we seen the errors of our ways in the similar follies of Natasha, Pierre, Nikolai, Marya and Prince Andrei? Haven’t we thought about new ways to address the vicissitudes of life and perhaps avoid the many existential pitfalls those characters fell into?
That’s been the idea anyway. I hope it’s helped.
Thank you for reading with me.
In human life time is but an instant, and the substance of it a flux, and the perceptions dull, and the composition of the whole body subject to putrefaction, and the soul a whirl, and fortune hard to divine, and fame a thing devoid of certainty. And, to say all in a word, everything that belongs to the body is a stream, and what belongs to the soul is a dream and vapor, and life is a warfare and a stranger’s sojourn, and after-fame is oblivion. What then can guide a man? One thing and only one, philosophy. But this consists in keeping the daimon within a man free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and pleasures, doing nothing without a purpose, nor yet falsely and with hypocrisy, not feeling the need of another man’s doing or not doing anything; and besides, accepting all that happens, and all that is allotted, as coming and, finally, waiting for death with a cheerful mind as being nothing else than a dissolution of the elements which every living being is compounded. But if there is no harm to the elements themselves in each continually changing into another, why should a man have any apprehension about the change and dissolution of all the elements? For it is according to nature, and nothing is evil that is according to nature.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations