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Worrell Lecture, 9/4: Tolstoy, Schopenhauer, and History

Originally Posted on admin, September 4, 2009

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Worrell Lecture, 9/4: Tolstoy, Schopenhauer, and History

Who:     Caleb Thompson, Tutor, St. John’s – Santa Fe

What:    The Carol J. Worrell Annual Lecture Series on Literature

Title:      Quietism from the Side of Happiness: Tolstoy, Schopenhauer, War and Peace

Where:   Great Hall, Peterson Student Center
               St. John’s College

When:    Friday, September 4, 8 p.m.

Details:  This lecture is free of charge, open to the public, and followed by a question-and-answer period.   

In this lecture, St. John’s tutor Caleb Thompson compares two understandings of history. Tolstoy once wrote about the epilogue to his novel War and Peace that the philosopher Schopenhauer had said “the same thing,” only Schopenhauer had approached it “from the other side.” What is it that Tolstoy and Schopenhauer said that was the same? And what did Tolstoy mean in saying that they had approached it from opposite sides?

Briefly, Tolstoy was thinking of his argument that history is not governed by the actions of “great men” but by the infinitesimal actions of the multitude of people. He was thinking, too, of the attitude towards life that underlies this critique of history, an attitude of acceptance, which he hoped to communicate to his readers. Schopenhauer offers a very similar critique of history and likewise hopes to make available to his readers the abandonment of the will.

But while Tolstoy aims to make people “love life in all its countless manifestations,” Schopenhauer aims to cure people of “the passion for enjoying and indeed for living.” Tolstoy’s critique of history starts from a glad embrace of all that life is, while Schopenhauer’s starts from a bitter confrontation with all that life is not.

A tutor at St. John’s since 1996, Caleb Thompson earned a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Virginia in 1994.

The lecture is presented by the Francis W. and Carol J. Worrell Charitable Trust. Carol was an avid reader of literature of all kinds, and Francis chose to honor her by establishing the Carol J. Worrell Annual Lecture Series on Literature.