Reading for – oh stuff it, it should be 30 June

Well, here we go – some 33 days late – but the post on the final chapter of War and Peace. Nothing particularly earth-shattering after everything Tolstoy has built up. Just simply the idea that history must run on laws, but because we sense that we have free will, therefore it’s hard to buy into them.

It’s like admitting that the earth revolves around the sun, when to us it feels like it’s standing still.

If we admit that we have perfect free will and can cause whatever we like, we fly in the face of all the evidence Tolstoy has built up. But if we admit we have no free will, because like automatons. The truth is, Tolstoy wants us to accept both.

So now that I’ve read his full argument, what do I think?

Myself, I do believe that history is predetermined – it’s a major thing that distinguishes Christianity from Deism is that Christians believe not just in a God that set the world going – but a God who keeps it going.

With Tolstoy’s view, it could be either. God could have made the world (or it could have just come into being some other way) and it just runs along by itself, following necessary laws and interactions.

But I don’t quite buy that – because that really does take away from man’s free will. I believe simply that God is in control of all things ultimately, but he has created man to make his own choices and to wear his own consequences.

Because, really, we have choices. Certainly, our environment, our past experiences – these do all combine to make us who we are. But not everyone who grew up in a poor area surrounded by criminals chooses a life of crime. People with identical backgrounds can be put in different situations and make different choices.

But at the same time, in ways we can’t understand, God is running the whole show. Nobody does something and makes God say, “Whoa! I wasn’t expecting that one!” But by the same token, nobody feels like they’re a robot – compelled to do things they didn’t want to do.

So the end result is that one person can play a part in changing the world. If a group of people get together for a common purpose, they can change a larger part. It’ll start with your values that you use to make decisions as an individual and work its way out from there.

Well, look, as they say, “all good things” . . . however, I’m not quite finished with War and Peace yet. I’ve got two more posts I’d like to do.

One is just a general round-up of my thoughts on the whole novel, now that I’ve read it twice and a few thank yous. The other is a bit of a musical treat, which may or may not be obvious to guess, but I’ll leave it for a surprise. Talk to you soon.

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5 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace E2.12 – Overcoming Our Senses

  1. Yes, it has been an incredible journey – but glad to hear, Matt, that it’s not quite over yet.

    You certainly describe the dilemma and tension between determinism and free will very well, and particularly the way your own view of the world tries to reconcile the two. I am much less clear on my spiritual beliefs than you are on yours, but, for me, as I have mentioned several times, similar issues about what drives events arise for me in a political sense – and most particularly as a Marxist.

    Marx was a determinist – and he very much believed that things happen the way they do essentially because of class conflicts and that pretty well all human economic, moral, ethical, cultural, political and even interpersonal dynamics grom from this fundamental class issue. Did that mean he denied the existance of free will?No, I don’t think so – but rather that free will is not an unbridled thing – we make choices, but we make them in the context of a whole lot of other conditions, influences and, for Tolstoy, laws.

    I think you are saying something similar as a Christian. But the whole question is very much a perennial one. I remember discussing it in High School when we studied the ancient Greek Tragedies, and had to try to understand how choice fitted in there with the destiny and decrees of the gods.

    I think maybe Tolstoy is, then, really ultimately just honing in on the centre point of a question that has plagued human beings ever since they hae had the capacity to ask it – how free are we really? Even after two reads of War and Peace and even after all the discussion we have had here, I am not entirely sure what his ultimate answer to that question is. It is tempting almost to say that he really doesn’t believe we have free will at all. But I don’t think that’s quite it either – I think it’s more about his view that our consciousness of freedom leads us to see things in a certain way, but that’s not necessarily the way they really are.

    It’ll always be a fascinating question. I’m just so glad that a writer and thinker of Tolstoy’s greatness was able to explore it, and that we were able to share the ride.

  2. Thank you for sharing this labor of love, Matt! Not sure I would have completed this book if it hadn’t been for your trio. Matt, Ian and Carly, you’ve been valuable companions across Tolstoy’s space and time.

    1. Wow, you made it all the way through! That is completely and utterly awesome. I hope you enjoyed the experience as much as we did.

      (Now you can go back and try a different translation of it, just for the fun of it …)

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