A Confession

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

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The book is a brief autobiographical story of the author's struggle with a mid-life existential crisis. It describes his search for the answer to the ultimate philosophical question: "If God does not exist, since death is inevitable, what is the meaning of life?." Without the answer to this, for him, life had become "impossible".
The story begins with the Eastern fable of the dragon in the well. A man is chased by a beast into a well, at the bottom of which is a dragon. The man clings to a branch that is being gnawed on by two mice (one black, one white, representing night and day and the relentless march of time). The man is able to lick two drops of honey (representing Tolstoy's love of his family and his writing), but because death is inevitable, he no longer finds the honey sweet.
Tolstoy goes on to describe four possible attitudes towards this dilemma. The first is ignorance. If one is oblivious to the fact that death is approaching, life becomes bearable. The problem with this for him personally is that he is not ignorant. Having become conscious of the reality of death, there is no going back.
The second possibility is what Tolstoy describes as Epicureanism. Being fully aware that life is ephemeral, one can enjoy the time one has. Tolstoy's problem with this is essentially moral. He states that Epicureanism may work fine and well for the minority who can afford to live "the good life," but one would have to be morally empty to be able to ignore the fact that the vast majority of people do not have access to the wealth necessary to live this kind of life.
Tolstoy next states that the most intellectually honest response to the situation would be suicide. In the face of the inevitability of death and assuming that God does not exist, why wait? Why pretend that this vale of tears means anything when one can just cut to the chase? For himself, however, Tolstoy admits he is too cowardly to follow through on the most logically consistent response.
Finally, Tolstoy says that the fourth that he is taking is the one of just holding on, living despite the absurdity of it, because he is not willing or able to do anything else. So it seems utterly hopeless - at least without God.
So Tolstoy turns to the question of God's existence. After despairing of his attempts to find answers in classic philosophical arguments for the existence of God (e.g. the Cosmological Argument, which reasons that God must exist based on the need to ascribe an original cause to the universe), Tolstoy turns to a more mystical, intuitive affirmation of God's presence. He states that as soon as he said "God is Life," life was once again suffused with meaning. This faith could be interpreted as a Kierkegaardian leap, or a disingenuous compromise, but Tolstoy actually seems to be describing a more Eastern approach to what God is. The identification of God with life suggests a more monistic (or panentheistic) metaphysics characteristic of Eastern religions, and this is why rational arguments ultimately fall short of establishing God's existence: by misidentifying God, philosophical arguments miss the point. Tolstoy's original title for this work indicates as much, and his own personal "conversion" is suggested by an epilogue that describes a dream he had some time after completing the body of the text, confirming that he had undergone a radical personal and spiritual transformation.

Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (9 September [O.S. 28 August] 1828 - 20 November [O.S. 7 November] 1910), usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time.[3] He received multiple nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1902 to 1906, and nominations for Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1902 and 1910, and the fact that he never won is a major Nobel prize controversy.
Born to an aristocratic Russian family in 1828,[3] he is best known for the novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877),[8] often cited as pinnacles of realist fiction.[3] He first achieved literary acclaim in his twenties with his semi-autobiographical trilogy, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth (1852-1856), and Sevastopol Sketches (1855), based upon his experiences in the Crimean War. Tolstoy's fiction includes dozens of short stories and several novellas such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886), Family Happiness (1859), and Hadji Murad (1912). He also wrote plays and numerous philosophical essays.
In the 1870s Tolstoy experienced a profound moral crisis, followed by what he regarded as an equally profound spiritual awakening, as outlined in his non-fiction work A Confession (1882). His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus, centering on the Sermon on the Mount, caused him to become a fervent Christian anarchist and pacifist.[3] Tolstoy's ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894), had a profound impact on such pivotal 20th-century figures as Mahatma Gandhi[9] and Martin Luther King Jr.[10] Tolstoy also became a dedicated advocate of Georgism, the economic philosophy of Henry George, which he incorporated into his writing, particularly Resurrection (1899).


Einband Taschenbuch
Seitenzahl 80
Erscheinungsdatum 13.07.2019
Sprache Englisch
ISBN 978-2-491-25119-2
Verlag Les prairies numériques
Maße (L/B/H) 19.8/12.9/0.4 cm
Gewicht 96 g


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