ETHICS AND SENSITIVITY

„Yes, love, …but not the love that loves for something, to gain something, or because of something, but that love that I felt for the first time, when dying, I saw my enemy and yet loved him. I knew that feeling of love which is the essence of the soul, for which no object is needed. And I know that blissful feeling now too. To love one’s neighbours; to love one’s enemies. To love everything – to Love God in all His manifestations. Some one dear to one can be loved with human love; but an enemy can only be loved with divine love. And that was why I felt such joy when I felt that I loved that man. What happened to him? Is he alive?
…Loving with human love, one may pass from love to hatred; but divine love cannot change. Nothing, not even death, can shatter it. It is the very nature of the soul. “

Leo Tolstoy, “War and Peace”, Chapter XXXII

Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer, War and Peace, 1956

Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer, War and Peace, 1956

Tolstoy’s description of Prince Andrey Bolkonsky’s death in 1812 is usually regarded as one of the most effective scenes in Russian literature. Some analysts say, that both “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” advance the idea that ethics can never be a matter of timeless rules applied to particular situations. Rather, ethics depends on a sensitivity, developed over a lifetime, to particular people and specific situations. Tolstoy’s preference for particularities over abstractions is often described as the hallmark of his thought.

Tolstoy wrote: “The truth that for our life one law is valid, the law of love which brings the highest happiness to every individual as well as to all mankind.”, leads to his relations with Gandhi. Leo Tolstoy and Gandhi never met, but they exchanged letters during the final two years of Tolstoy’s life. Tolstoy had read Hind Swaraj (1909), where Gandhi set out his vision of a liberated India, the means to reach liberation, and what an independent India could mean for the world. It was Gandhi’s plan of action before he set out to put it in practice. Gandhi had listed some of Tolstoy’s books in a list of supplementary readings to Hind Swaraj in particular The Kingdom of God is Within You and Letter to a Hindoo.

There are memories of those who visited Tolstoy as an old man who reported feelings of great discomfort when he appeared to understand their unspoken thoughts. It was commonplace to describe him as godlike in his powers and titanic in his struggles to escape the limitations of the human condition. Some viewed Tolstoy as the embodiment of nature and pure vitality, others saw him as the incarnation of the world’s conscience, but for almost all who knew him or read his works, he was not just one of the greatest writers who ever lived but a living symbol of the search for life’s meaning.

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