Reading for Friday, June 26

This chapter is really impressive more for the strength and beauty of its writing more than anything else. After having laid the foundation of free will being more or less observable based on our relation to 1. the external world, 2. time and 3. prior causes, Tolstoy proceeds to say that all of life is generated by necessity – in other words, everything that happens is definitely going to happen and no other option is possible, because of the laws of necessity. So in one sense, history is fixed from the beginning all the way to the end (assuming you belive in a beginning and ending of history – this was a distinctly Christian doctrine that used to set it apart from othe religions many centuries ago).

But, says Tolstoy, we are all conscious of our own free will. So, for Tolstoy, free will becomes the driver of necessity. It becomes the force.

Will an apple fall from a tree if it breaks off? Yes, it will. The apple will fall from necessity.

What is the necessity of the apple falling? The law of gravity.

Why does history happen a certain way (and no other)? Because of necessity.

What is that necessity that makes things happen? Tolstoy calls it freewill. We understand it as being free to make choices from a philosophical point of view. But for Tolstoy freewill is also another name for the force that drives history along.

At least I think that’s what he’s saying . . . it makes so much sense when I read it in the book, but gets fuzzy when I think about it later.

One thought on “One-Year War and Peace E2.10 – Freewill & Necessity

  1. Yes, this is complicated stuff – but it reminds me, to a considerable extent, of my days (so long ago) when I sutdied philosophy at uni, and in particular when I read the work of Immanuel Kant, who talked about the ways in which our perception of the world is very much shaped by the nature of human consciousness. Kant argued that we think of everything in terms of time, space and causality – but that really just tells us about the nature of consiousness, and of how we organise concepts, rather than what reality is really like. I think Tolstoy is saying something similar here in relation to freedom and necessity. We experience events as if they are happening because of our freely made choices – but really that only tells us how our minds work, and how consciousness makes sense of things. It doesn’t tell us about the real laws of necessity. So, in reality, Tolstoy argues (I think), our perceived free will is just one of the forces that contributes to driving history. Metaphysicians can work out what the actual nature of that perceived free will is but historians, says Tolstoy, have to rather look at how it fits in with, and interacts with, all the other laws that cause things to happen, and to drive history onwards.

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