What is the meaning of life for Levin in "Anna Karenina"?

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Matt24
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What is the meaning of life for Levin in "Anna Karenina"?

Post by Matt24 »

In the last chapters of the book, Constantine Levin tries to find an answer to life. He says that he can't accept his life is purposeless (as science appeared to point out) nor that it is a creation of God.

When I read up to that point, I was desperate to find out how Tolstoy would solve these philosophical questions.

Yet to my surprise, Levin realizes when talking to a peasant that our purpose in life is to live for God; for the "soul". In other words, he finds that he had to act in a godly way, and comes to an irrational logic that if there wasn't a God (that is, if he hadn't believed during his childhood) he would have had no sense of morality.

I still don't understand how he could've got to that conclusion! Is there something I'm missing?
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WanderingLands
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Re: What is the meaning of life for Levin in "Anna Karenina"

Post by WanderingLands »

Matt24 wrote:In the last chapters of the book, Constantine Levin tries to find an answer to life. He says that he can't accept his life is purposeless (as science appeared to point out) nor that it is a creation of God.

When I read up to that point, I was desperate to find out how Tolstoy would solve these philosophical questions.

Yet to my surprise, Levin realizes when talking to a peasant that our purpose in life is to live for God; for the "soul". In other words, he finds that he had to act in a godly way, and comes to an irrational logic that if there wasn't a God (that is, if he hadn't believed during his childhood) he would have had no sense of morality.

I still don't understand how he could've got to that conclusion! Is there something I'm missing?
I believe that the man you're talking about obviously had to have took a journey (in a metaphorical sense); contemplating on the mysterious and metaphysical nature of God. It is by looking into the Law of Cause and Effect, and how far it could go before having to conclude that it is the work of divine providence (or God).

If you, though, want to fully understand how that man got to the point of concluding that God exists, it is you that must contemplate on the nature of God yourself. You must also be willing to be open minded to look into different philosophical and spiritual systems, and their perspectives on what God is, to get the picture.
Matt24
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Re: What is the meaning of life for Levin in "Anna Karenina"

Post by Matt24 »

WanderingLands wrote: I believe that the man you're talking about obviously had to have took a journey (in a metaphorical sense); contemplating on the mysterious and metaphysical nature of God. It is by looking into the Law of Cause and Effect, and how far it could go before having to conclude that it is the work of divine providence (or God).

If you, though, want to fully understand how that man got to the point of concluding that God exists, it is you that must contemplate on the nature of God yourself. You must also be willing to be open minded to look into different philosophical and spiritual systems, and their perspectives on what God is, to get the picture.
I don't really think I'm narrow-minded. I define myself as an agnostic, so I don't fully disregard the notion of a God. Yet the way in which the character comes to that conclusion seems... illogical in the way it is presented.

Here's a transcript of the moment of the revelation. It sounds confusing at times, but maybe I'm just not understanding his argument. I'd love it if you could give it a read (it's a bit long as you may know; however, it's a very compelling read):

"Fyodor came from a village at some distance from the one in which Levin had once allotted land to his cooperative association. Now it had been let to a former house porter.
Levin talked to Fyodor about this land and asked whether Platon, a well-to-do peasant of good character belonging to the same village, would not take the land for the coming year.
"It’s a high rent; it wouldn’t pay Platon, Konstantin Dmitrievitch," answered the peasant, picking the ears off his sweat-drenched shirt.
"But how does Kirillov make it pay?"
"Mituh!" (so the peasant called the house porter, in a tone of contempt), "you may be sure he’ll make it pay, Konstantin Dmitrievitch! He’ll get his share, however he has to squeeze to get it! He’s no mercy on a Christian. But Uncle Fokanitch" (so he called the old peasant Platon), "do you suppose he’d flay the skin off a man? Where there’s debt, he’ll let anyone off. And he’ll not wring the last penny out. He’s a man too."
"But why will he let anyone off?"
"Oh, well, of course, folks are different. One man lives for his own wants and nothing else, like Mituh, he only thinks of filling his belly, but Fokanitch is a righteous man. He lives for his soul. He does not forget God."
"How thinks of God? How does he live for his soul?" Levin almost shouted.
"Why, to be sure, in truth, in God’s way. Folks are different. Take you now, you wouldn’t wrong a man...."
"Yes, yes, good-bye!" said Levin, breathless with excitement, and turning round he took his stick and walked quickly away towards home. At the peasant’s words that Fokanitch lived for his soul, in truth, in God’s way, undefined but significant ideas seemed to burst out as though they had been locked up, and all striving towards one goal, they thronged whirling through his head, blinding him with their light.
(...)
He was aware of something new in his soul, and joyfully tested this new thing, not yet knowing what it was.
"Not living for his own wants, but for God? For what God? And could one say anything more senseless than what he said? He said that one must not live for one’s own wants, that is, that one must not live for what we understand, what we are attracted by, what we desire, but must live for something incomprehensible, for God, whom no one can understand nor even define. What of it? Didn’t I understand those senseless words of Fyodor’s? And understanding them, did I doubt of their truth? Did I think them stupid, obscure, inexact? No, I understood him, and exactly as he understands the words. I understood them more fully and clearly than I understand anything in life, and never in my life have I doubted nor can I doubt about it. And not only I, but everyone, the whole world understands nothing fully but this, and about this only they have no doubt and are always agreed.
"And I looked out for miracles, complained that I did not see a miracle which would convince me. A material miracle would have persuaded me. And here is a miracle, the sole miracle possible, continually existing, surrounding me on all sides, and I never noticed it!
"Fyodor says that Kirillov lives for his belly. That’s comprehensible and rational. All of us as rational beings can’t do anything else but live for our belly. And all of a sudden the same Fyodor says that one mustn’t live for one’s belly, but must live for truth, for God, and at a hint I understand him! And I and millions of men, men who lived ages ago and men living now—peasants, the poor in spirit and the learned, who have thought and written about it, in their obscure words saying the same thing—we are all agreed about this one thing: what we must live for and what is good. I and all men have only one firm, incontestable, clear knowledge, and that knowledge cannot be explained by the reason—it is outside it, and has no causes and can have no effects.
"If goodness has causes, it is not goodness; if it has effects, a reward, it is not goodness either. So goodness is outside the chain of cause and effect.
"And yet I know it, and we all know it.
(...)
"I have discovered nothing. I have only found out what I knew. I understand the force that in the past gave me life, and now too gives me life. I have been set free from falsity, I have found the Master.
"Of old I used to say that in my body, that in the body of this grass and of this beetle (there, she didn’t care for the grass, she’s opened her wings and flown away), there was going on a transformation of matter in accordance with physical, chemical, and physiological laws. And in all of us, as well as in the aspens and the clouds and the misty patches, there was a process of evolution. Evolution from what? into what?—Eternal evolution and struggle.... As though there could be any sort of tendency and struggle in the eternal! And I was astonished that in spite of the utmost effort of thought along that road I could not discover the meaning of life, the meaning of my impulses and yearnings. Now I say that I know the meaning of my life: ‘To live for God, for my soul.’ And this meaning, in spite of its clearness, is mysterious and marvelous. Such, indeed, is the meaning of everything existing. Yes, pride," he said to himself, turning over on his stomach and beginning to tie a noose of blades of grass, trying not to break them.
"And not merely pride of intellect, but dulness of intellect. And most of all, the deceitfulness; yes, the deceitfulness of intellect. The cheating knavishness of intellect, that’s it," he said to himself.
duszek
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Re: What is the meaning of life for Levin in "Anna Karenina"

Post by duszek »

You have to live for your soul because otherwise you would be afraid to look into the mirrow, fearing to see a scoundrel.

Your soul knows what is good and right.

Some souls are embittered and cynical. They think that being selfish is the right thing to do.
I am not sure if they are honest or simply provokative. It is not possible to search another person´s soul unless you are a pschoanalyst perhaps.
duszek
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Re: What is the meaning of life for Levin in "Anna Karenina"

Post by duszek »

Sometimes it is crystal clear what the good thing is. The soul speaks with a clear voice.

But often there are conflicting good things at stake.
Shall I be merciful towards a debter and his children ? Or shall I take care of my own family who needs the money too, for basic things and not luxuries ?

What would Levin do under such circumstances that´s what I am going to ask Tolstoy in the beyond if I get a chance.

It´s dealing with terrible conficts of values that makes a novel interesting.

Anna Karenina wanted some passion in her life and she sacrificed her reputation.
Tolstoy punishes her for her selfish choice.
Matt24
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Re: What is the meaning of life for Levin in "Anna Karenina"

Post by Matt24 »

duszek wrote:You have to live for your soul because otherwise you would be afraid to look into the mirrow, fearing to see a scoundrel.

Your soul knows what is good and right.

Some souls are embittered and cynical. They think that being selfish is the right thing to do.
I am not sure if they are honest or simply provokative. It is not possible to search another person´s soul unless you are a pschoanalyst perhaps.
Ok, I understand how one can live for the soul; for doing good.

Yet that's not enough to justify belief in God. I mean, I can live for doing good deeds, but what's that got to do with any god? Levin immediately becomes a believer after this revelation. In my mind, there is no way that answer to the question of meaning in life contains proof of God's existence.

However, Levin appears to start believing because he arrives at the conclusion that only God can give you a sense of morality (according to him :roll:).

Am I misinterpreting the link between his revelation and religion?
Ansiktsburk
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Re: What is the meaning of life for Levin in "Anna Karenina"

Post by Ansiktsburk »

Rememer Anna Karenina was written back in the days of christian hegemony. Reading the text, I read "love of god" as "live for others". A hippie version would be "love, peace and understanding".

Simply.being unselfish. But I think his standpoint is partly stupid, since I think being social or egocentric is something innate in the person, a part of your personality which you or others should not try to change. Then again, on a more day to day basis, being kind and treating people with kindness and respect normally pays off in the long run, sure.
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