Why does philosophy exist? The answer is simple, yet complex at the same time for those whose minds aren’t open to various interpretations of literature, ideals, but most importantly, questions. This is why philosophers dedicate virtually their entire lives to such questions and ideals that spark their interests. Philosophy can be defined as love of wisdom, and with such wisdom comes experience, knowledge, and good judgment. Such elements of wisdom invoke curiosity; thus, bringing us to the inevitable question pondered for countless centuries by some of the greatest minds in the history of philosophy: what is the meaning of life? or simply, why do we exist? This question has plagued the minds of intellectuals, mainly philosophers, and particular individuals have tried to answer this question, failing to do so throughout the span of their lifetime. However, I want to focus on one individual; someone who dedicated their entire life to answering this question. This person is thought to be one of the most influential Russian philosophers and writers of all time. He is, none other than, Leo Tolstoy. His search for the meaning of life brought him to numerous places, both mentally and spiritually.
Leo Tolstoy had been baptized and brought up in the Orthodox Church. As he progressed through his childhood and formative years, and eventually adulthood, he had already given up and abandoned his faith. Tolstoy also gave up on college when he was 18 years of age. He believed he was too educated to believe in such doctrines, and that there had to be an answer to the meaning of life, purely based on rationalism, science, and nothing to do with religion. Thus, his life was a complete and utter struggle, in which he dedicated to finding an answer to this seemingly unanswerable question. Through such hardship, Tolstoy, having searched all if not most aspects of science, realized that the answer and the ultimate truth to the meaning of life was indeed faith and religion, a preconception that he had once deemed false and irrelevant with regard to the meaning of life. I completely agree with Tolstoy’s answer to the meaning of life. Faith, which I see as having a particular set of morals, allows us to follow certain principles that, in turn, dictates who we are as human beings, and what the purpose of our lives is. However, free will and moral responsibility, as we’ve talked emphatically about throughout the entirety of this semester, is a critical determinant to what faith you decide to live by. Believing in something gives you a sense of direction in life. Our actions, which resonates from our beliefs and faithful orientations, are what give us character, purpose, but most importantly, shows us who we are.
Why do people have faith? What does faith do for us? It is a common practice that’s persisted for thousands of years. Even before the origin of Christianity, faith was a conception that’s always existed regardless of time. Even looking as far back as ancient Athens, civilizations praised the Greek gods and lived their lives in accordance with faith and admiration of them. Why? Well, why do scientists believe in science? We believe in such things to give our lives meaning, truth, understanding, and to deviate from such purpose is to renounce your faith. Faith allows us to reach such purpose by instilling morals in us that helps us achieve successful and fulfilling lives; successful in a sense of becoming the best person you can possible be. Leo Tolstoy studied many faiths during the course of his life, such as Buddhism, Mohammidanism, and especially Christianity. Despite all that he’d gone through to search for the answer to the ultimate question, he says, I asked: What is the meaning of life, beyond time, cause and space?… With the result that, after long efforts of thought, the answer I reached was: None (36). Though he later went on to state in life, in which I concur, that faith is the one and only true answer to the meaning of life. Otherwise, one could literally drive themselves insane and even ponder suicide in an attempt to answer life’s most common yet indubitably non-answerable questions. The reason as to why one might even go as far as to ponder suicide is because if the person cannot find what gives his/her life purpose, they’d begin to believe that their life is not even worth living; thus the suicidal thoughts.
One might ask: Why is faith the one true meaning of life? Why can’t happiness in itself and bringing about mass happiness be the meaning of life? This question may very well be answered best by a utilitarian such as John Stuart Mill, though the answer is rather simple, and it all has to do with faith. Happiness and even morality are but mere constituents of faith itself. Happiness can be brought about by pleasures, and not all pleasures can be achieved from good intentions. However, faith brings out the best in a human being and determines what actions are the right actions; thus bringing about happiness as an end to such means. To illustrate, let me give you an example. A man robs a bank, having harmed numerous innocent people in the process. Is this man happy? Of course he is. This man is happy because of all the money he has acquired in the process of robbing the bank, though he is certainly not at all morally just due to his intentions. Happiness is indeed an important end. However, how you achieve that happiness in your life makes all the difference, in which I reiterate: faith leads to good choices, which leads to happiness and morally correct/acceptable behavior.
There are certainly normal people that live calm and relatively stable lives free from any sort of disconcerting mindsets, who do not acknowledge the existence of God, or some other divine entity. However, unfortunately, there are those who don’t believe in God and are constantly struggling to find meaning to their life. A prime example being Leo Tolstoy himself. As mentioned, Tolstoy’s entire life was a journey in search for the answer to the meaning of life without the need for the mentioning of God. Obtaining immense amounts of knowledge (e.g. science, mathematics, social sciences, literature, etc.) will not bring you anywhere near closer to answering the question of the meaning of life. People in such cases see life as a trap, and believe that death is the only relief from it. During his darkest years of malicious thought, Tolstoy states, and it was then that I, a man favored by fortune, hid a cord from myself lest I should hang myself from the cross piece of the partition in my room where I undressed alone every evening, and I ceased to go out shooting with a gun lest I should be tempted by so easy a way of ending my life (15).
Faith and religion can be a means of preventing such actions from occurring. For example, most religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islamism, Hinduism, just to name a few, deeply frown upon suicide and see it as a sin that can condemn a person to hell. When it all comes down to it, regardless of what kind of life you have, when all else is lost, such as even the desire to live, a person always has their hope and faith, which is something that can never be broken down and diminished. Faith alone has the ability to uplift a damaged soul, and it can be the difference between life and death.
Faith can be an expression of one’s liveliness and willingness to prosper in life by taking into account the decisions one makes based on that faith. I think we can all agree that all, if not, most human beings long for a fulfilling life and aspire to be the best person they can possible be. Therefore, faith gives people a set of values and ethics by which to live by. Such values in itself does not completely dictate your life; rather, these ethics remind a person of what to take into consideration when they act. To put things into perspective, let me give you a simple example: A low socioeconomic status individual, who is a strong believer in his faith, notices a well-dressed businessman drop his wallet across the street. Does he keep the wallet or give it back? You know the answer as well as I do. The lower class individual acts in accordance with his faith and believes that the morally correct thing to do is give the wallet back, in spite of personal desire to keep the wallet.
Why then would this low class commoner decide to follow his faith if he’s well aware that there would be no afflictions affiliated with keeping the wallet? No one would ever know he kept the wallet if he had made the opposite decision. To reiterate, these values that people’s faiths (many different faiths) rely upon are some of the things that build character, and establishes a sense of pride and spiritual fulfillment that one so desires. I’m not saying that nonbelievers aren’t capable of such goodness in their lives; on the contrary, they might even have the same personal values regardless of religious beliefs. What I am really trying to get at is the fact that such individuals who rely on faith seem more apt to do the right thing in comparison with others (e.g. Tolstoy during his years of fame, wealth, and malicious indulgence). Faith does not necessarily mean a person is obligated to do good in their life. It is simply a way of directing a person on the right path to a morally just life.
Although some people may see faith as paramount relative to other important constituents with the question of the meaning of life, logic and reasoning is also something that should be strongly considered. As Aristotle stated, man is a rational animal. Therefore, rationalism and logic are both important aspects in every, if not, most decisions that a person makes in their life. Tolstoy brilliantly states, All the concepts we use to compare the finite to the infinite, and to arrive at an understanding of life, of the concepts of God, freedom and goodness, are put to the test of logic. But they fail to stand up to the critique of reason. What Tolstoy means by this is that religion has a relationship in accordance with reason and knowledge; they complement each other, and help an individual make the right choices in life. Without reason, faith is all but relevant due to the fact that all decisions a human being makes should be rational and in accord with their faith; that is, a particular set of morals brought upon by a God or divine entity of some sort. He also states, furthermore, I said to myself, the essence of every faith consists in its giving life a meaning which death does not destroy (50).
I completely agree with Tolstoy in that faith, although irrational to some people, gives humanity a reply to the question of life. Every human being is entitled to their own faith due to freedom of choice. The most important thing is what you do with that faith, and how your actions shape who you become as a morally just and rational human being.
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