Tolstoy`S Confessions: What Is The Aim Of Human Life? Essay, Research Paper
What is the aim of human life? Tolstoy ponders this thought in his Confessions. His philosophy was that the aim was a union with God. A lack of faith was death as shown in his quote from the Confessions, as quoted by Stumpf (Elements, 549).
The rational knowledge brought to me the recognition that life was meaningless, -my life stopped, and I wanted to destroy myself. When I looked around at people, at all humanity, I saw that people lived and asserted that they knew the meaning of life. I looked back at myself: I lived so long as I knew the meaning of life. As to other people, so even to me, did faith give the meaning of life and the possibility of living.
But faith only gave the possibility of life, so something more is needed. The moral life, as it seemed to Tolstoy. He talks of evils and vices, and therefore the corresponding goods and virtues. In this paper, I plan to address these two things. The supreme end of man and the goods and virtues used in attaining it. To attain this goal, we need to agree upon a common understanding of the supreme end of man. An explanation of how faith affects man attaining his supreme end leads us into God’s predestination of man. Understanding this we see that faith is the key to reaching the supreme end of man. But now that we have the key we need to see what it unlocks. Faith compels us to avoid vices and therefore reach our moral end. This requires the acquiring and use of the virtues.
The Supreme End
In order to know the aim of human life I suppose we must know then what the supreme end of man is. The views of several philosophers on the supreme end of man have held relatively consistent over the centuries. According to Aristotle as quoted by Stumpf, happiness is “ that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else.” (Elements, 32) He continues to say that happiness and good are synonymous. This happiness or good is the ultimate end of the human act. St. Augustine, 7 centuries later, reiterates the end of man as happiness, namely eternal life. He also continues to say that faith is the only way to find the ultimate end. (Philosophy, 90-1) St. Thomas Aquinas, eight centuries later, reaffirms God as the end of our desires. The following quote from The Pocket Aquinas, page 192 continues to explain his understanding.
The act whereby we are primarily joined to Him is basically and
substantially our happiness. But we are primarily united with God by
an act of understanding; and therefore, the very seeing of God, which
is an act of the intellect, is substantially and basically our happiness.
The greatest happiness then is thinking of the ultimate being, God. This greatest happiness is a union with the Everlasting, or as St. Augustine called it, eternal life. Life in this world is less of a good than life in paradise. This is due to the fact that life in paradise is eternal and the life of a man in this world is just a brief stretch of time. Paradise is also more perfect than earth and life there is a greater good because of this. Another 1500 years later, Tolstoy in the Confessions again comes to the conclusion of an eternal paradise. He drew the conclusion from a very simple path of premises. One, you must live “according to God’s law.” Two, “eternal torment or eternal bliss” result from life. Three, the meaning that is not lost to death is “the union with the infinite God.” (Elements, 549) Throughout a span of over two centuries philosophers have agreed upon the ultimate end of man or else have been confronted with absurdity.
Does God Predestine the Human End
How does faith lead man to his eternal end? It leads man to God by helping him to avoid the vices. Since God is the ultimate being, could God predestine man’s end? This is an important question since if men are predestined by God, it can affect achievement of the supreme end. God does predestine men. This is because God is superior to man. Those higher powers are given control of the lower powers. An example is that man controls beasts. Therefore God controls or predestines man towards happiness. But this is a two-fold end. One that is eternal life and the other is the attainment of the perfection of the created nature of man. (Summa, 175) God then gives merits as he predestines them. They are predestined according to the following principle.
…giving us to understand that God gives grace to a person, and preordains that He will give it, because He knows beforehand that he will make good use of it… (Summa, 177)
So God gives merit as they are prepared for it. So this is where faith plays a role in achieving and giving the supreme end. Faith is the preparation that leads to merits being given to a man. For faith allows man to live according to God’s plan, not man’s will. Living by man’s will allows those things that Tolstoy says are pamperings of the will to exist. These pamperings are the acts, reflections, sciences, and arts of the rich educated class.
Reaching the Moral End
How do we live by God’s law? Tolstoy says that faith is the key to living by the laws of God. Faith gives the meaning of life. No course of action can be taken without knowing the goal or meaning of what is trying to be attained as the end. Faith gave the common people a life attached to the infinite. (Elements, 549) The more a person was drawn towards the pampering of the appetites, the farther they were drawn from the infinite. Tolstoy uses the running comparison of the commoners versus the wealthy. The affluent and learned members of society were controlled by their appetites. But faith can only light the way to the supreme end, something more is needed. This is a control over the appetites so that their control is by man. The controls of the appetites are virtues. Only then has he the chance to live. Since when the appetites control man, the meaning of life is lost.
What is a proper definition of virtue? I believe the following quote from Man as Man, page 150, is a suitable place to start.
Virtue derives from the Latin virtus, which means “power.” Applied to many things, virtue is the natural power or function of a thing. It is the virtue of the ear to hear, … But virtue is more than the mere power to act; it is the power to act well.
Aristotle continues to elaborate on the conditions by extending them to man. Virtue to Aristotle is a state of character. It makes a man good as well as induces his work to be well done. (Pocket Ar., 188) St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas both agree on the definition of virtue as being “ Virtue is a good quality of the mind, by which we live righteously, of which no one can make bad use; which God works in us, without us.” (Pocket Aq., 206) It is a quote by Aquinas of Augustine’s definition. Both definitions agree that a virtue is a character state or quality that makes its object good. They also agree that it causes the work of the object to be well done. Since this definition agrees with Aristotle and the quote in most points. I will use the prior and say that a virtue is a state of character, which makes its object good and induces its work to be well done.
Types of virtues
Multiple virtues exist. There must be a way to categorize these virtues. The virtues are basically classified according to their object. The main types of virtues to which I will be discussing are those that affect the intellect, will, and the appetites. There are two basic types of intellect- speculative and practical. Each has its own virtues. The speculative intellect has wisdom, science, and understanding as its virtues. The practical intellect has synderesis, prudence, and art as its virtues. The virtue of the will is justice. There are two types of appetites- pleasurable and aggressive. Temperance and fortitude are their respective virtues. Of these virtues, the cardinal virtues will be discussed. These are prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.
Prudence is the most important of the virtues because control of oneself is impossible without it. Justice, temperance, and fortitude also hinge on each other and are equally important. When one is missing the others cannot exist.
“Prudence is the ability to discern the becoming ends of human conduct and the morally good act in all contingencies of life.”(Man, p. 155) In other words, prudence is the ability to reason correctly about things that are done here and now. Aquinas agrees on this point in the Summa Theologica in the first part of the second book, question 61, article 2. (Philo. , p 565) “It orders man to his last end and makes clear the golden mean of other virtues.” (Man, p. 155) Its object is reason, which leads man to human nature adequately understood and therefore leads him to his end. The reason allows each of the virtues to function properly by making the work of reason done well. An example is fortitude in which reason is essential because man cannot choose which difficulties are worth bearing and those that would be unreasonably born. Aquinas talks of ignoring prudence and says that it is worse to ignore prudence than any of the other virtues since rejecting prudence is the same as rejecting reason. Rejecting another virtue ignores reason, but at a more specific level than that level ignored in prudence. This is because the virtue of prudence controls the other virtues and to ignore prudence means that all of the virtues are ignored.
Justice is the virtue where we give each individual that which is due to them. An example is that man should respect each other’s property. Therefore justice says that man should not steal. Aristotle talks of the working of this virtue. He relates it to friendship and discusses differential levels of justice. It is more unjust to ignore those closely attached to you, in example friends, comrades, and family, than strangers. This does not mean though that justice need not be used when dealing with strangers. It instead puts a greater responsibility of the individual to act justly toward those close people. (Pocket Ar., 247) Justice is especially important since man is a social animal and acting selfishly is against human nature adequately understood because in order for societies to exist some type of system for treatment of others is necessary. The virtue of justice is also necessary in the making of laws in that it tells how people should be treated, since laws should be just and in accordance with human nature adequately understood.
But he [man] who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of the state. A social instinct is planted in all men by nature, … For man when perfected, is the e best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all
This quote of Aristotle from Elements of Philosophy (pg. 147) reiterates the importance of justice to society. Hobbes came to the conclusion that laws can dictate justice since justice means to obey the laws. ( Elements, 186) But as stated before the laws are developed with reason and justice. So the laws cannot be dictated from the virtue of justice and also dictate justice. The virtue of justice must then be part of the process of creating laws since this is the more reasonable of the two possibilities. This is because if someone creates a law it does not mean it is just. Here is an example: a people of African-American descent must be segregated from the main population of society could be a law. It would be unjust though and a lawmaker would use the virtue of justice in their decision making and decide that the proposed law that is above should not exist as a law.
Temperance is the virtue that constrains the fulfilling of our pleasurable appetites to a reasonable mean, according to the study guides. Temperance is needed to prevent bodily pleasures from making the spiritual pleasures less appealing. The most likely to be overindulged in pleasures are those that sustain and create new life, namely food, drink, and sex. The vices that coincide with these acts are gluttony for food and drink, and promiscuity for sex since the tendency is toward overindulgence. Temperance moderates these and the moderating effects are called abstinence for food, sobriety for drink, and chastity for sex. Abstinence and sobriety are just moderation in their objects, but chastity is slightly more complicated. Chastity is the moderation of sex, but it carries with it restrictions more than just moderation. It is wrong for the unmarried to seek sexual pleasure since it is an abuse of human sexuality. Human sexuality is designed for the continuation of man by begetting new life. Since a single parent cannot properly care for a child, society is robbed of a properly raised individual capable of being a responsible citizen who is well-trained in virtues, thought, etc. Nor is sexual activity out of one’s marriage accepted for the same reason, but also because of the injustice done to the family, whether just husband and wife or with children included. Families are social units of man that when combined build society. So the wife (and children) are hurt, but society is too as one of its parts is failing. Temperance then attempts to control the indulgence of the pleasurable appetites and in doing so attempts to prevent fornication. (Man, 155-6)
In passing, a capital sin does not result from singular failings when the virtue of temperance is ignored, but when the pleasurable appetite is corrupted and continually fails because temperance is not present. Temperance then is an aid in the prevention of capital sins. This is an example of how a virtue directs man towards his natural end. (Man, 156)
Fortitude is the virtue that inclines a man to act reasonably despite the prompting of his irascible appetite. This appetite moves toward an arduous good or shuns a difficult evil. In either case it may miss the mean of virtue. … Its function is to restrain our fears and moderate our rashness. It seeks a golden mean between cowardice and rashness, moderating our internal motions of fear and recklessness and our external acts of flight and aggression.
This quote from page 156 of Man as Man gives a wonderful description of fortitude. It parallels the definition in our study guides, which is that fortitude moderates the aggressive appetites and gives strength to persevere in difficult situations. The quote is more in-depth saying that cowardice and rashness are regulated by fortitude. It also addresses the situation of difficult circumstances because it ponders the fact that the appetite alone wills sometimes deviate from the golden mean given by reason. This is because all situations in which we are responsible to do something are not always the simplest option. An example is when we have the choice of leaving an injured person or staying at the scene and helping them. Leaving and letting it be someone else’s problem is easier to do and does not involve any work on our part. But staying there and helping them is the harder thing to do since it takes time and effort. Fortitude tells us that we should stay.
The aim of life is for man to reach his supreme end. That end is that he should achieve supreme happiness. How does one achieve this moral end? Philosophers say that it can be achieved by faith. One of these men is Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. Aquinas and others also support the idea that God is the ultimate end of our desires and that faith leads us to it. Faith leads man to his supreme end by allowing man a way to avoid vices by use of the virtues. These virtues are predestined by God to certain men based on their choices. God gives these men the virtues since it is known to him that those men will make good use of the virtues bestowed upon them. Virtues are any state of character that makes its object good and induces its work to be well done. The intellect, will, and appetites are affected by the virtues. The cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. These virtues are the ones for control of oneself. This is because none of the virtues can exist without prudence since prudence allows the virtues to be applied in accordance with human nature adequately understood. Virtues make man adhere to the plan of God by avoiding the vices that draw man from God.