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Tolstoy and the Moral Instructions of Death

From: Philosophy and Literature
Volume 28, Number 2, October 2004
pp. 417-429 | 10.1353/phl.2004.0036


Tolstoy critiques the assumption one can live a meaningful life merely by following social conventions. Though they may give a semblance of control, they do not prepare one to face mortality. Compassion for others enables one to transmute a preoccupation with filling one's preferences and desires to an appreciation of others and one's individuality. In telling of Ivan's death, Tolstoy shows the ineffectiveness of the practice of medicine and marriage when they are treated only as conventions.