Leo Tolstoy quotes

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Leo Tolstoy

Birthdate: 28. August 1828
Date of death: 7. November 1910
Other names: Лев Толстой, Lev Tolstoj, Lev N. Tolstoj

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy , usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time. He received multiple nominations for Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1902 to 1906, and nominations for Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1902 and 1910, and the fact that he never won is a major Nobel prize controversy.Born to an aristocratic Russian family in 1828, he is best known for the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina , often cited as pinnacles of realist fiction. He first achieved literary acclaim in his twenties with his semi-autobiographical trilogy, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth , and Sevastopol Sketches , based upon his experiences in the Crimean War. Tolstoy's fiction includes dozens of short stories and several novellas such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich , Family Happiness , and Hadji Murad . He also wrote plays and numerous philosophical essays.

In the 1870s Tolstoy experienced a profound moral crisis, followed by what he regarded as an equally profound spiritual awakening, as outlined in his non-fiction work A Confession . His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus, centering on the Sermon on the Mount, caused him to become a fervent Christian anarchist and pacifist. Tolstoy's ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God Is Within You , were to have a profound impact on such pivotal 20th-century figures as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Tolstoy also became a dedicated advocate of Georgism, the economic philosophy of Henry George, which he incorporated into his writing, particularly Resurrection .

Works

Anna Karenina
Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace
War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy

„If one has no vanity in this life of ours, there is no sufficient reason for living.“

—  Leo Tolstoy, book The Kreutzer Sonata

Source: The Kreutzer Sonata (1889), Ch. 23. This is not, as it is often quoted, a stand-alone Tolstoy epigram, but part of the narration by the novella's jealousy-ridden protagonist Pozdnyshev.

„The inherent contradiction of human life has now reached an extreme degree of tension“

—  Leo Tolstoy, A Letter to a Hindu

Source: A Letter to a Hindu (1908), VI
Context: The inherent contradiction of human life has now reached an extreme degree of tension: on the one side there is the consciousness of the beneficence of the law of love, and on the other the existing order of life which has for centuries occasioned an empty, anxious, restless, and troubled mode of life, conflicting as it does with the law of love and built on the use of violence. This contradiction must be faced, and the solution will evidently not be favourable to the outlived law of violence, but to the truth which has dwelt in the hearts of men from remote antiquity: the truth that the law of love is in accord with the nature of man. But men can only recognize this truth to its full extent when they have completely freed themselves from all religious and scientific superstitions and from all the consequent misrepresentations and sophistical distortions by which its recognition has been hindered for centuries.

„The conscience of a man of our circle, if he retains but a scrap of it, cannot rest, and poisons all the comforts and enjoyments of life supplied to us by the labour of our brothers, who suffer and perish“

—  Leo Tolstoy

What then must we do? (1886)
Context: The conscience of a man of our circle, if he retains but a scrap of it, cannot rest, and poisons all the comforts and enjoyments of life supplied to us by the labour of our brothers, who suffer and perish at that labour. And not only does every conscientious man feel this himself (he would be glad to forget it, but cannot do so in our age) but all the best part of science and art - that part which has not forgotten the purpose of its vocation - continually reminds us of our cruelty and of our unjustifiable position. The old firm justifications are all destroyed; the new ephemeral justifications of the progress of science for science's sake and art for art's sake do not stand the light of simple common sense. Men's consciences cannot be set at rest by new excuses, but only by a change of life which will make any justification of oneself unnecessary as there will be nothing needing justification.

„Humanity unceasingly strives forward from a lower, more partial and obscure understanding of life to one more general and more lucid.“

—  Leo Tolstoy

What is Art? (1897)
Context: Humanity unceasingly strives forward from a lower, more partial and obscure understanding of life to one more general and more lucid. And in this, as in every movement, there are leaders — those who have understood the meaning of life more clearly than others — and of those advanced men there is always one who has in his words and life, manifested this meaning more clearly, accessibly, and strongly than others. This man's expression … with those superstitions, traditions, and ceremonies which usually form around the memory of such a man, is what is called a religion. Religions are the exponents of the highest comprehension of life … within a given age in a given society … a basis for evaluating human sentiments. If feelings bring people nearer to the religion's ideal … they are good, if these estrange them from it, and oppose it, they are bad.

„This new fraud is just like the old ones: its essence lies in substituting something external for the use of our own reason and conscience and that of our predecessors: in the Church teaching this external thing was revelation, in the scientific teaching it is observation. The trick played by this science is to destroy man's faith in reason and conscience by directing attention to the grossest deviations from the use of human reason and conscience, and having clothed the deception in a scientific theory, to assure them that by acquiring knowledge of external phenomena they will get to know indubitable facts which will reveal to them the law of man's life. And the mental demoralization consists in this, that coming to believe that things which should be decided by conscience and reason are decided by observation, these people lose their consciousness of good and evil and become incapable of understanding the expression and definitions of good and evil that have been formed by the whole preceding life of humanity. All this, in their jargon, is conditional and subjective. It must all be abandoned - they say - the truth cannot be understood by one's reason, for one may err, but there is another path which is infallible and almost mechanical: one must study facts. And facts must be studied on the basis of the scientists' science, that is, on the basis of two unfounded propositions: positivism and evolution which are put forward as indubitable truths.“

—  Leo Tolstoy

What then must we do? (1886)
Context: This new fraud is just like the old ones: its essence lies in substituting something external for the use of our own reason and conscience and that of our predecessors: in the Church teaching this external thing was revelation, in the scientific teaching it is observation. The trick played by this science is to destroy man's faith in reason and conscience by directing attention to the grossest deviations from the use of human reason and conscience, and having clothed the deception in a scientific theory, to assure them that by acquiring knowledge of external phenomena they will get to know indubitable facts which will reveal to them the law of man's life. And the mental demoralization consists in this, that coming to believe that things which should be decided by conscience and reason are decided by observation, these people lose their consciousness of good and evil and become incapable of understanding the expression and definitions of good and evil that have been formed by the whole preceding life of humanity. All this, in their jargon, is conditional and subjective. It must all be abandoned - they say - the truth cannot be understood by one's reason, for one may err, but there is another path which is infallible and almost mechanical: one must study facts. And facts must be studied on the basis of the scientists' science, that is, on the basis of two unfounded propositions: positivism and evolution which are put forward as indubitable truths. And the reigning science, with not less misleading solemnity than the Church, announces that the solution of all questions of life is only possible by the study of the facts of nature, and especially of organisms. A frivolous crowd of youths mastered by the novelty of this authority, which is as yet not merely not destroyed but not even touched by criticism, throws itself into the study of these facts of natural science as the sole path which, according to the assertions of the prevailing doctrine, can lead to the elucidation of the questions of life. But the further these disciples advance in this study the further and further are they removed not only from the possibility but even from the very thought of solving life's problems, and the more they become accustomed not so much to observe as to take on trust what they are told of the observations of others (to believe in cells, in protoplasm, in the fourth state of matter,1 &c.), the more and more does the form hide the contents from them; the more and more do they lose consciousness of good and evil and capacity to understand the expressions and definitions of good and evil worked out by the whole preceding life of humanity; the more and more do they adopt the specialized scientific jargon of conventional expressions which have no general human significance; the farther and farther do they wander among the debris of quite unilluminated observations; the more and more do they lose capacity not only to think independently but even to under-stand another man's fresh human thought lying outside their Talmud; and, what is most important, they pass their best years in growing unaccustomed to life, that is, to labour, and grow accustomed to consider their condition justified, while they become physically good-for-nothing parasites. And just like the theologians and the Talmudists they completely castrate their brains and become eunuchs of thought. And just like them, to the degree to which they become stupefied, they acquire a self-confidence which deprives them for ever of the possibility of returning to a simple clear and human way of thinking.

„In the upper, rich, more educated classes of European society doubt arose as to the truth of that understanding of life which was expressed by Church Christianity.“

—  Leo Tolstoy

What is Art? (1897)
Context: In the upper, rich, more educated classes of European society doubt arose as to the truth of that understanding of life which was expressed by Church Christianity. When, after the Crusades and the maximum development of papal power and its abuses, people of the rich classes became acquainted with the wisdom of the classics and saw, on the one hand, the reasonable lucidity of the teachings of the ancient sages, and on the other hand, the incompatibility of the Church doctrine with the teaching of Christ, they found it impossible to continue to believe the Church teaching.

„When I started life Hegelianism was the basis of everything: it was in the air, found expression in magazine and newspaper articles, in novels and essays, in art, in histories, in sermons, and in conversation. A man unacquainted with Hegel had no right to speak: he who wished to know the truth studied Hegel.“

—  Leo Tolstoy

Source: What then must we do? (1886), Chapter XXIX
Context: When I started life Hegelianism was the basis of everything: it was in the air, found expression in magazine and newspaper articles, in novels and essays, in art, in histories, in sermons, and in conversation. A man unacquainted with Hegel had no right to speak: he who wished to know the truth studied Hegel. Everything rested on him; and suddenly forty years have gone by and there is nothing left of him, he is not even mentioned — as though he had never existed. And what is most remarkable is that, like pseudo-Christianity, Hegelianism fell not because anyone refuted it, but because it suddenly became evident that neither the one nor the other was needed by our learned, educated world.

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„Religions are the exponents of the highest comprehension of life … within a given age in a given society … a basis for evaluating human sentiments.“

—  Leo Tolstoy

What is Art? (1897)
Context: Humanity unceasingly strives forward from a lower, more partial and obscure understanding of life to one more general and more lucid. And in this, as in every movement, there are leaders — those who have understood the meaning of life more clearly than others — and of those advanced men there is always one who has in his words and life, manifested this meaning more clearly, accessibly, and strongly than others. This man's expression … with those superstitions, traditions, and ceremonies which usually form around the memory of such a man, is what is called a religion. Religions are the exponents of the highest comprehension of life … within a given age in a given society … a basis for evaluating human sentiments. If feelings bring people nearer to the religion's ideal … they are good, if these estrange them from it, and oppose it, they are bad.

„In order that the conditions of a life contrary to the consciousness of humanity should change and be replaced by one which is in accord with it, the outworn public opinion must be superseded by a new and living one.“

—  Leo Tolstoy

Source: Patriotism and Christianity http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Patriotism_and_Christianity (1896), Ch. 17
Context: One man does not assert the truth which he knows, because he feels himself bound to the people with whom he is engaged; another, because the truth might deprive him of the profitable position by which he maintains his family; a third, because he desires to attain reputation and authority, and then use them in the service of mankind; a fourth, because he does not wish to destroy old sacred traditions; a fifth, because he has no desire to offend people; a sixth, because the expression of the truth would arouse persecution, and disturb the excellent social activity to which he has devoted himself.
One serves as emperor, king, minister, government functionary, or soldier, and assures himself and others that the deviation from truth indispensable to his condition is redeemed by the good he does. Another, who fulfils the duties of a spiritual pastor, does not in the depths of his soul believe all he teaches, but permits the deviation from truth in view of the good he does. A third instructs men by means of literature, and notwithstanding the silence he must observe with regard to the whole truth, in order not to stir up the government and society against himself, has no doubt as to the good he does. A fourth struggles resolutely with the existing order as revolutionist or anarchist, and is quite assured that the aims he pursues are so beneficial that the neglect of the truth, or even of the falsehood, by silence, indispensable to the success of his activity, does not destroy the utility of his work.
In order that the conditions of a life contrary to the consciousness of humanity should change and be replaced by one which is in accord with it, the outworn public opinion must be superseded by a new and living one. And in order that the old outworn opinion should yield its place to the new living one, all who are conscious of the new requirements of existence should openly express them. And yet all those who are conscious of these new requirements, one in the name of one thing, and one in the name of another, not only pass them over in silence, but both by word and deed attest their exact opposites.

„Progress consists only in the greater clarification of answers to the basic questions of life. The truth is always accessible to a man. It can't be otherwise, because a man's soul is a divine spark, the truth itself.“

—  Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy's Diaries (1985) edited and translated by R. F. Christian. London: Athlone Press, Vol 2, p. 512
Context: People usually think that progress consists in the increase of knowledge, in the improvement of life, but that isn't so. Progress consists only in the greater clarification of answers to the basic questions of life. The truth is always accessible to a man. It can't be otherwise, because a man's soul is a divine spark, the truth itself. It's only a matter of removing from this divine spark (the truth) everything that obscures it. Progress consists, not in the increase of truth, but in freeing it from its wrappings. The truth is obtained like gold, not by letting it grow bigger, but by washing off from it everything that isn't gold.

„The good is the everlasting, the pinnacle of our life. … life is striving towards the good, toward God. The good is the most basic idea … an idea not definable by reason … yet is the postulate from which all else follows.“

—  Leo Tolstoy

What is Art? (1897)
Context: The good is the everlasting, the pinnacle of our life. … life is striving towards the good, toward God. The good is the most basic idea … an idea not definable by reason … yet is the postulate from which all else follows. But the beautiful … is just that which is pleasing. The idea of beauty is not an alignment to the good, but is its opposite, because for most part, the good aids in our victory over our predilections, while beauty is the motive of our predilections. The more we succumb to beauty, the further we are displaced from the good.... the usual response is that there exists a moral and spiritual beauty … we mean simply the good. Spiritual beauty or the good, generally not only does not coincide with the typical meaning of beauty, it is its opposite.

„No longer able to believe in the Church religion, whose falsehood they had detected, and incapable of accepting true Christian teaching, which denounced their whole manner of life, these rich and powerful people, stranded without any religious conception of life, involuntarily returned to that pagan view of things which places life's meaning in personal enjoyment.“

—  Leo Tolstoy

What is Art? (1897)
Context: No longer able to believe in the Church religion, whose falsehood they had detected, and incapable of accepting true Christian teaching, which denounced their whole manner of life, these rich and powerful people, stranded without any religious conception of life, involuntarily returned to that pagan view of things which places life's meaning in personal enjoyment. And then among the upper classes what is called the "Renaissance of science and art" took place, which was really not only a denial of every religion, but also an assertion that religion was unnecessary.

„All the diversity, all the charm, and all the beauty of life are made up of light and shade.“

—  Leo Tolstoy, book Anna Karenina

Variant: All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.
Source: Anna Karenina

„The only absolute knowledge attainable by man is that life is meaningless.“

—  Leo Tolstoy, book A Confession

Source: Confession (1882), Ch. 5, translated by David Patterson, 1983
Source: A Confession

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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