Topics Worth Investigating

  1. How does Tolstoy distinguish "belief," "faith," and "revelation"? Why does Tolstoy point out "one has first to define 'faith' and then define 'God,' and not define 'faith' through 'God'"?

  2. Tolstoy observed that the people around him answered the question of the meaning of life in four different ways. Briefly describe those four ways. Do you know anyone who takes a different approach than one of these four ways?

  3. Can you relate the objectives of the main divisions of philosophy to some of the typical answers Tolstoy evaluates for the question of life's meaning? Additionally, can you relate Carl Jung's theory of temperaments to these approaches to finding meaning in life?[1]

  4. Analyze the following passage from Abraham Joshua Heschel's God in Search of Man in light of Tolstoy's understanding of philosophy and religion:

    Theology starts with dogmas, philosophy begins with problems. Philosophy sees the problem first, theology has the answer in advance. We must not, however, disregard another important difference. Not only are the problems of philosophy not identical with the problems of religion; their status is not the same. Philosophy is, in a sense, a kind of thinking that has a beginning but no end. In it, the awareness of the problem outlives all solutions. Its answers are questions in disguise; every new answer giving rise to new questions. In religion, on the other hand, the mystery of the answer hovers over all questions.[2]

  5. How do you think Tolstoy would respond to William James' praise and criticism for A Confession" as argued in his essay "What Makes a Life Significant?"? James writes:

    Tolstoï's philosophy, deeply enlightening though it certainly is, remains a false abstraction. It savors too much of that Oriental pessimism and nihilism of his, which declares the whole phenomenal world and its facts and their distinctions to be a cunning fraud.[3]



Jung observed that personality types fall typically into four main categories superficially described here as (1) thinking type—persons who rely on principles, theories, and facts; (2) feeling type—persons who rely on appropriate social or personal value; (3) sensation type—persons who seek experience and interactive change; and (4) intuitive type—persons who rely on perception via the unconscious.


Abraham Joshua Heschel. God in Search of Man. New York: Octogon, 1978.


William James. "What Makes a Life Significant?" in Talks to Students on Some of Life's Ideals. 1899.