Thursday, 31 July 2014

Free will- Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky

Reading Memoirs from the House of the Dead by Dostoyevsky, trans. Jessie Coulson.
In the epilogue of War and Peace, Tolstoy argues that free will is an illusion. Human beings, in order to live, must believe themselves to have freedom, but there are always so many factors that we cannot plan and cannot control everything, or even anything. Things happen because they're supposed to happen.
Dostoyevsky argues for free will. In Notes from Underground, attacking utilitarianism and rationalism, Dostoyevsky stresses: 1, that human beings are complex and self-contradictory; 2, that reason has its limitations; 3, that human beings don't always choose profit; and 4, that a man may risk his so-called happiness and ginger bread only to prove that he has free will. In Memoirs from the House of the Dead, he says that man can always adapt, but also discusses several factors that help people survive in (Siberian) prison, such as an occupation (a job, a trade or a hobby), something they can possess as their own, the belief that the compulsory work they do is useful and productive (something meaningless such as carrying water or soil from 1 place to another and back again, several times, is torture and would certainly lead to madness), hope, dreams, respect, dignity, etc. and above all, money, which gives the illusion of freedom, because when a man spends his money, he carries out his own will, so that he can convince himself that he has more freedom than he actually does. Dostoyevsky later writes, "It is high time for us to stop our apathetic complaining that our environment has ruined us", "... it is true that our environment swallows up much of what is in us, it still does not devour everything...". 
So it seems that Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky have opposite views, and as I find Dostoyevsky right, I must disagree with Tolstoy. Yet I think both are right. Tolstoy says that free will is an illusion, not in order to say that people don't have to take responsibility for their own actions, especially when committing crimes, but in order to say again what has been repeated many times throughout the book, that historians are greatly mistaken to single out 1 cause or to attribute everything to 1 man's will, whereas in war there are lots of people and lots of factors beyond our control.
They only explore 2 different aspects.

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