Tolstoy'S Confessions: What Is The Aim Of Human Life?
What is the aim of human life? Tolstoy ponders this thought in his Confessions. His philosophy was that the aim was a union with God. A lack of faith was death as shown in his quote from the Confessions, as quoted by Stumpf (Elements, 549).
The rational knowledge brought to me the recognition that life was meaningless, -my life stopped, and I wanted to destroy myself. When I looked around at people, at all humanity, I saw that people lived and asserted that they knew the meaning of life. I looked back at myself: I lived so long as I knew the meaning of life. As to other people, so even to me, did faith give the meaning of life and the possibility of living.
But faith only gave the possibility of life, so something more is needed. The moral life, as it seemed to Tolstoy. He talks of evils and vices, and therefore the corresponding goods and virtues. In this paper, I plan to address these two things. The supreme end of man and the goods and virtues used in attaining it. To attain this goal, we need to agree upon a common understanding of the supreme end of man. An explanation of how faith affects man attaining his supreme end leads us into God’s predestination of man. Understanding this we see that faith is the key to reaching the supreme end of man. But now that we have the key we need to see what it unlocks. Faith compels us to avoid vices and therefore reach our moral end. This requires the acquiring and use of the virtues.
The Supreme End
In order to know the aim of human life I suppose we must know then what the supreme end of man is. The views of several philosophers on the supreme end of man have held relatively consistent over the centuries. According to Aristotle as quoted by Stumpf, happiness is “ that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else.” (Elements, 32) He continues to say that happiness and good are synonymous. This happiness or good is the ultimate end of the human act. St. Augustine, 7 centuries later, reiterates the end of man as happiness, namely eternal life. He also continues to say that faith is the only way to find the ultimate end. (Philosophy, 90-1) St. Thomas Aquinas, eight centuries later, reaffirms God as the end of our desires. The following quote from The Pocket Aquinas, page 192 continues to explain his understanding.
The act whereby we are primarily joined to Him is basically and
substantially our happiness. But we are primarily united with God by
an act of understanding; and therefore, the very seeing of God, which
is an act of the intellect, is substantially and basically our happiness.
The greatest happiness then is thinking of the ultimate being, God. This greatest happiness is a union with the Everlasting, or as St. Augustine called it, eternal life. Life in this world is less of a good than life in paradise. This is due to the fact that life in paradise is eternal and the life of a man in this world is just a brief stretch of time. Paradise is also more perfect than earth and life there is a greater good because of this. Another 1500 years later, Tolstoy in the Confessions again comes to the conclusion of an eternal paradise. He drew the conclusion from a very simple path of premises. One, you must live “according to God’s law.” Two, “eternal torment or eternal bliss” result from life. Three, the meaning that is not lost to death is “the union with the infinite God.” (Elements, 549) Throughout a span of over two centuries philosophers have agreed upon the ultimate end of man or else have been confronted with absurdity.
Does God Predestine the Human End
How does faith lead man to his eternal end? It leads man to God by helping him to avoid the vices. Since God is the ultimate being, could God predestine man’s end? This is an important question since if men are predestined by God, it can affect achievement of