Chapter 7. "Only Faith Can Give Truth" by Leo Tolstoy

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from A Confession
The Reading Selection from A Confession
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Portrait of Tolstoy, (detail) by Vasily Perov, State Tretyakov Gallery

About the author…

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), orphaned at the age of nine, was reared by relatives. Following his study of oriental languages at the University of Kazan, Tolstoy fought as an artillery officer in the Crimean War. The beginning of his second period of his writing was marked by the selected reading below. Following his "arrest of life," described here, Tolstoy followed the Sermon on the Mount as a guide for living, and sought a simple, humble life of regular manual work and ethical writing.

About the work…

A Confession[1] from which the following selection is drawn, marks a significant change from Tolstoy's earlier War and Peace and Anna Karenina. These works, composed during his so-called first writing period, established the Russian realistic novel as a major literary genre. However, the mental crisis described below, from his later writings, led to his own elucidation of the meaning of life. His writings from this period have greatly influenced subsequent Utopians, pacifists, and social activists.

Ideas of Interest from A Confession

  1. Explain Tolstoy's "arrest of life" from both a philosophical and a psychological point of view.

  2. In this reading, Tolstoy gives several different definitions of "truth." He first states "truth" as "everyday life"; he second states "truth" is "death", and finally concludes "truth" is "faith." Explain what each definition of "truth" means, and then explain what aspect of each definition has in common with the other definitions Tolstoy offers. Which, if any, of these definitions do you think most people would agree is the "truth" of their lives?

  3. Explain for each case, according to Tolstoy, why understanding of the fields of knowledge (science), abstract science (mathematics and metaphysics), or speculative understanding (philosophy) cannot yield substantive meaning to life? Do you agree with his assessments?

  4. Why does the working person, the person with the least theoretical knowledge, have no doubt about life's meaning? In what ways is Tolstoy's characterization of this type of person similar to Russell's characterization of the practical person?

  5. Carefully characterize Tolstoy's conception of faith. In what sense is "faith" another kind of "truth" for Tolstoy? Is the notion of "irrational knowledge" meaningful from a philosophical point of view?



Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. A Confession, 1882.