Lev Tolstoy was a renowned artist, poet, and teacher. He was born in Russia in the year 1828 and died in the year 1910 (Tolstoy 1). Tolstoy was considered the world’s top supporter of literary realism during his time. Globally, Tolstoy is renowned for writing War and Peace and Anna Karenina novels. In his early 40s, Tolstoy reviewed his achievements and failures and concluded that life was worthless (Tolstoy 3). A Confession offers an understanding of his thoughts from the time he began to adopt and enhance radical philosophies about life. In this article, I focus on why the inevitability of death makes human accomplishments meaningless based on Tolstoy’s arguments. Thereafter, I illustrate my opinion on the subject.
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A Confession asserts that when Tolstoy was in his early forties, he lost the meaning of life and could not totally comprehend why he was living (Tolstoy 6). From there on, he continually asked himself why he should pursue new things, yet death was inevitable. He began to refer to human endeavors as useless pursuits. Through this, he was unable to acknowledge the value of life, and this caused him more misery. In the book, he questions the reasons for humans’ existence. The book illustrates that Tolstoy contemplated suicide a number of times. Tolstoy’s afflictions were attributed to his failure to define the true meaning of life and his fear of inevitable death. After acknowledging that he had no power over death, he chose to live a miserable life.
According to Tolstoy, the inevitability of death implies that all human accomplishments are in vain (Tolstoy 8). He questions how he will benefit from all his wealth once he dies. He visualizes himself owning and managing a number of estates and large tracts of land in the town. His ambitions to achieve the above goals were halted back by a mere imagination of impending death. The thought of impending death convinces him that there is no reason as to why his current estates should develop further. He seems to have already given up on expanding it, and he wonders how big it has grown without his contribution. Based on the above questions, he concludes that all material gains are useless because they will not benefit the owners when they die. He concluded that given that death was inevitable, it was meaningless to acquire the material property.
Secondly, Tolstoy considers all the social achievements in one’s life as mere vanity. He acknowledges that he had achieved a lot as an artist and a poet (Tolstoy 26). He asserts that his career had earned him much respect among the learned and the illiterate. Even when he wrote about unrelated topics, he still received praise and respect from his audience. After understanding that death was inevitable, he is unwilling to gain any more respect or fame. He maintains that respect and fame would add no value to him once he dies. He argues that if death was imminent, there was no reason for him to be famous or respectful anymore. Through the above arguments, he illustrated how the inevitability of death meant that all human accomplishments were in vain.
In the book, Tolstoy wonders why he should continue to love his wife and children if he dies. Equally, he questions if love holds any essence in situations where one cannot define life. According to him, love did not raise any sense of importance to him, and he would rather not have them. Through this argument, he affirms that with the inevitable reality of impending death, social gains are useless, and they cannot add any value to the meaning of life.
Throughout the book, it is apparent that Tolstoy is trying to understand the meaning of life and its origin. He is sure of death, and he is bothered less about its coming. It is the fear of death, which he knows very little about, that prompts him to classify all human accomplishments as worthless and useless (Tolstoy 30). Thus, he is preoccupied with finding justifications that will fulfill his earlier thesis about life. He applies the theory of evolution to justify his ignorance about life. According to him, the evolutionary theory should be continuous. As such, human beings should keep on developing and should never die.
To substantiate why the inevitability of death meant that human accomplishments were in vain, Tolstoy goes to the extent of acknowledging various philosophers who shared his opinion (Tolstoy 28). He realizes Socrates for stating that the life of a body is evil and deceptive in nature. He also acknowledges Schopenhauer for saying that there is nothing good in life. In addition, he recognizes King Solomon for saying that human endeavors were vanity. He uses the above philosophers’ statements to justify his notion of undervaluing life and deeming it useless.
I find it wrong for Tolstoy to assert that the inevitability of death implies that human accomplishments are in vain. His arguments are false because they were only based on prejudiced thoughts. Equally, if his ideas are taken to be accurate, humans will have no value in their lives. It is wrong for him to reach a conclusion that since death is inevitable, life is meaningless. I believe that every organism survives to play a crucial role on earth. For instance, humans depend on plants and other animals for their survival. Equally, humans rely on other humans for their well-being. The above illustrations imply that every living thing plays a vital role in the existence of life on our planet. Just as living organisms are essential in ecology, humans also play crucial roles on earth. Based on Tolstoy’s arguments, our positions on ground are vanity because we will one day die. I acknowledge the fact that death is inevitable. However, it is wrong for humans not to play their roles because they will one day die. If we fail to pursue our endeavors because of the fear of death, as Tolstoy suggests, life would be impossible. Innovation, learning, entrepreneurship, and all other human efforts aimed at making the world a better place would be irrelevant.
Similarly, I believe that Tolstoy was wrong because his thoughts were generalized. Conventionally, different people in different states of mind and social classes will attach varied values to life. It is, therefore, wrong to make a general statement that each person does not value life. In real life situation, the optimists are not scared by the presence of death and will work hard to acquire material possessions as much as possible. On the other, the pessimists are scared about the reality of death and will do nothing to better their lives. Regardless of this, it should be noted that life would be impossible without possession. Therefore, Tolstoy’s arguments should be rejected because they will lead to miserable lives for those who adopt them.
I object to Tolstoy’s arguments because he quotes the philosophers in the wrong context. For instance, Socrates had lost his lover. Therefore, saw no reason to live. On the other hand, Solomon was speaking from a religious point of view. Thus, his comments were aimed at advising fellow Jews not to overindulge in earthly possessions at the expense of praising their God. In this regard, it is apparent that the above philosophers’ statements are not in agreement with Tolstoy’s arguments.
While substantiating his claims, Tolstoy’s cites the evolution theory. He asserts that as evolution suggests, life should be continuous. I disagree with his arguments because there is no relation between growth and acquisition of possession. I believe that evolution theory is only applicable when explaining the stage-by-stage development process of humans underwent from the most primitive creatures to the current intelligent humans. It is inappropriate for him to use the theory in explaining the meaning of life. Equally, the evolution theory supports the existence of death. Tolstoy failed to note that even though humans have evolved from different species to another, death has always been inevitable. Therefore, I believe that it is inappropriate for humans to disown their possessions and achievements on the basis that they will one day die. In conclusion, I do not support the views put across by Tolstoy or any other philosopher that all human acquisitions are useless due to the inevitability of death.
Tolstoy, Leo. A confession. 10th ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2010. Print.