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Tolstoy Journal, March 31, 2017: Tolstoy Refutes Daniel Dennett!

This morning I finished reading Volume VI of the Works and Novels of Lyof Tolstoi and so finished reading War and Peace. Tomorrow I start Volume VII, the next three volumes consisting of Anna Karenina.

I have been copying and pasting the texts of these blogs into a word document, and wondering how I would turn this whole thing into a book. I still don’t know if I want to just chisel out a book from this block of marble or rework it entirely. I am leaning towards the former because I would like to write another book next year.

The photo is of the version of What is Art that I read long ago. Simultaneously loving and hating it, or perhaps I should say loving one passage, hating the next. I remember Tolstoy tries to destroy opera, which he hated, but I don’t think he succeeds. He can be a fierce reductionist when he wants to be but he leaves out the heart of things. I think it goes to that hedgehog/fox thing, you can see it in all his work. The fox in him sees all the variety of art, but the hedgehog wants to reduce it to all One Thing, peasant songs, etc.

The last pages of War and Peace are devoted to a discussion of history, how it consists of both necessity and free will. The further away we get in time from the event, the more necessary it seems but in the present moment our consciousness tells us we are free. Tolstoy says reason looks for laws, consciousness knows or thinks it knows we are free. In the penultimate chapter I think he is saying history is a combination of necessity and free will, but then in the last chapter he appears to say that history should do as astronomy and other sciences have done to progress, which is to follow only the evidence, to search only for the laws that govern them, and if history does this then it would ignore free will just as we ignore our sensation that we are the center of everything and the stars and sun move around us. But this seems to me to ignore what he has just said in the previous chapter, that is, that we are conscious of our freedom. He says this is an illusion in one place, but in others he says, it is conditionally true. On the other hand, it almost seems at times that he is approaching St. Thomas Aquinas’s solution to the free will problem: that God predestines all that happens in such a way that we still have free will.

Here is Tolstoy’s answer to Daniel Dennett, by the way:

“‘There is no soul, no free will, because the life of man is expressed by muscular movements, but these muscular movements are conditioned by nervous action; there is no soul, no free will, because, in some unknown period of time, we came from monkeys.’

“This is spoken, written, and printed by men who do not even suspect that for thousands of years all religions, all thinkers, have not only recognized, but have never denied, this same law of necessity which they have been striving so eagerly to prove, with the aid of physiology and comparative zoology.

“They do not see that in regard to this question the natural sciences are only to serve as a means of throwing light on one side of it.

“Since, from the standpoint of observation, reason and will are only secretions of the brain, and man, following the general law, may have developed from lower animals in an indeterminate period of time, it only explains from a new side the truth, which has been recognized for thousands of years by all religions and all philosophical theories, that from the standpoint of reason man is subject to the laws of necessity, but it does not advance by a single hair’s-breadth the solution of the question which has another and contradictory side, based on the consciousness of liberty.

“If men could have come from monkeys in an indeterminate period of time, it is just as comprehensible that they could have been formed from a handful of clay during a determined period of time (in the first supposition, x is the time; in the second, it is descent); and the question as to how far man’s consciousness of freedom can be reconciled with the law of necessity to which man is subject, cannot be solved by physiology and zoology, for we can observe only the muscular activity of the frog, the rabbit, or the monkey, while in man we can observe neuro-muscular activity and consciousness.

“The naturalists and their disciples, who think they have solved the question, are like masons commissioned to stucco one side of the walls of a church, and who, in a fit of zeal, taking advantage of the absence of the overseer, should put a coat of plaster over the windows, the sacred pictures, the scaffolding, and the walls as yet uncemented, and should be delighted from their plasterer’s point standpoint, at having made the whole so even and smooth!”

That seems to me pretty goddamn devastating.

Here are some more quotes from The Hedgehog and the Fox. I have not finished reading Russia Against Napoleon, but am going to try. That’s next on my list, to finish that then get back to Wilson’s Tolstoy and Simmons.

“Tolstoy’s genius lies in a capacity for marvellously accurate reproduction of the irreproducible, the almost miraculous evocation of the full, untranslatable individuality of the individual, which induces in the reader an acute awareness of the presence of the object itself, and not of a mere description of it, employing for this purpose metaphors which fix the quality of a particular experience as such, and avoiding those general terms which relate it to similar instances by ignoring individual differences–‘the oscillations of feeling’–in favour of what is common to them all. But then this same writer pleads for, indeed preaches with great fury, particularly in his last, religious phase, the exact opposite: the necessity of expelling everything that does not submit to some very general, very simple standard: say, what peasants like or dislike, or what the gospels declare to be good.”


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