Traversing the abyss: saintliness and the quest for meaning in Tolstoy and Nietzsche
Darcy, Gerard Mary
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The positions of Nietzsche and Tolstoy as 'prophets of dissent' in relation to modern culture and modern civilization is now widely recognised (Riser, 2006: passim), and in that broad sense their status as two of the most seminal and influential thinkers of the nineteenth century is beyond dispute. It is accordingly commonplace to see them characterised as the two figures who, with Dostoyevsky and Kierkegaard, ultimately laid the foundations for the emergence of the philosophical movement known as existentialism. However, because the orientations of their respective ideologies are seen to be fundamentally divergent, they are usually represented as oppositional thinkers, with the idiosyncratic Christianity of Tolstoy being contrasted with the fiercely radical atheism of Nietzsche (Lavrin, 1925: 69) While explicitly recognising and giving testament to a sharp divergence between Nietzsche and Tolstoy on the role which religious belief can and should play in the treatment of the question of the human existential condition, this dissertation seeks to demonstrate deep affinities between them in their treatment of the concept of meaning and the connection between thought and action. The tradition of the 'holy fools' in religion, literature and folklore is detailed as an entry point into Tolstoy's and Nietzsche's critiques of post-Enlightenment scientism, and their philosophies are then evaluated as expressions of those critiques. The dissertation concludes with an examination of an important convergence between the two thinkers in their interpretations of the nature of existential meaning.
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm (1844-1900)
Tolstoy, Leo (1828-1910)