Monday, April 30, 2018

The Sense of Death in Tolstoy and Kierkegaard

The Sense of Death in Tolstoy and Kierkegaard

By Michael K. Macrakis, M.A., Ph. D.


Death is a subject which concerns mainly religion, the philosophy religion. «The oldest and most common definition is that religion is the link between man and God». According to this definition, religion derived from religare and originally meant «a bond». This bond, of course, is not between two men, «between the sexes», as Ludwig Feuerbach wishes, but between God and man because religion can not exist without God.

The bond, which was made the first time between God and Adam, was broken by original sin through which physical death entered the world. «Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have Sinned».Sin in general is that which separates man from the infallible God and creates in human consciousness what Rudolf Otto called mysterium tremendum. For this reason, sin, as cutting man off from God, who is the source of life, was characterized by the Church Fathers as «death of the soul». And it is exactly this meaning that Kierkegaard gives to despair as identical with sin his book, The Sickness unto Death.

Thus, besides physical death, there is also spiritual death from which man is redeemed by the so-called «philosophical death». The latter is what constitutes, according to Plato, the definition of philosophy: «the study of death». It is the daily endeavor of the true philosopher to disengage himself from the body by governing his passions; the endeavor of man in general, according to St. Paul, to «mortify [his] members on the earth». In reality, mortification is immortality for it is related not to the mortal nature of man but to the immortal life of his soul. This immortality is attained, according to Kierkegaard, by the choice of the «self» or the «spirit», which spirit is defined by him in terms of self-mortification. Spirit, he says, «is to live as though dead (dead to the world)».

In view, then, of the double nature of death, the physical and the spiritual, the latter in relation to self-mortification, we divide our essay into two parts. In the first part we treat death in its real sense, death as a concrete and actual event contrasted to life. In the second part we examine death in its relation to immortal life, and therefore death as identified with life. The first case concerns Leo Tolstoy while the second is the case of Soren Kierkegaard.