Should We Make Every Choice Scientifically?

Psychology, the science of mental events, has grappled from the start with a critical question of moral neutrality. The science of psychology with its ideal of the impassive observer began as a branch of philosophy in the latter decades of the 19th century. In the United States William James, philosopher and close friend of Charles Peirce, was recognized as an originator of psychology. But philosophy including that of James and Peirce raises questions of value-choices.

Are human thought and behavior best defined from a position of scientific neutrality? It should come as no surprise that psychology took just such a value-neutral turn in 20th century modernity. Continue reading “Should We Make Every Choice Scientifically?”

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Sonya Tolstoy’s Contribution

Feminism sprang up as a social movement a few decades after Leo Tolstoy published his two great novels. Predating feminism, both War and Peace and Anna Karenina feature female characters whose lifelike portrayal equals and often exceeds that of the male protagonists.

In War and Peace, Natasha Rostov provides the developing character around whom the male figures come and go. In addition we meet Anna Pavlovna Scherer, who commands the true center of Petersburg society, orphan Sonya, the Rostovs’ niece, whose fate past childhood hangs in the balance, and Maria Bolkonsky, whose moral elevation redeems those around her. Anna Karenina has 4 major characters paired as Anna and Vronsky, Kitty and Levin, as well as a touching portrait of Varenka, a common girl raised and educated by an heiress.

Tolstoy leads his female and male readers alike not only to appreciate the women in his novels, but to identify with them, to feel their pain and their victories. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment, and one wonders how these fictional women became so true to life. Continue reading “Sonya Tolstoy’s Contribution”

The Will from Schopenhauer to Tolstoy

Lev Nikolayevitch Tolstoy wrote only 3 full novels, but many consider him to be the greatest of all novelists. Devotees debate whether War and Peace or Anna Karenina is his best work. Each required years of drafting and revising.

Sofya Andreyevna (Behrs) Tolstaya, or Sonya, wife of Leo Tolstoy, has received too little credit for her part in his writing career. She copied and discussed his manuscripts, read widely herself, protected him from distractions, took charge of household affairs, and most of this while pregnant as they had 13 children.

How does Tolstoy capture the interest of his readers? Like all great writers, he aptly presents just those details of scene, dialogue, and action on which the consciousness of each character in turn can focus, so that the reader transfers mentally into living moments of time. His prose evokes emotions, leads the reader to feel what the character feels. In narrative voice Tolstoy sometimes steps back and comments on how the character may once or repeatedly miss the mark, making crucial mistakes that lead to a growing dilemma. Yet the same character reveals within his or her own thoughts, presented to the reader, how actions are justified in a mind shaped by personal temperament, history, and goals. Continue reading “The Will from Schopenhauer to Tolstoy”