See my write-up Note1.
Write-up2 (as at 17/08/2018 17:35:31): Ivan Ilych
- Tolstoy’s short novella "Tolstoy (Leo) - The Death of Ivan Ilyich" tends to feature in discussions on the philosophy of death4.
- I first came upon it via "Kagan (Shelly) - The nature of death (continued); Believing you will die". The contention in Kagan’s lecture was that Tolstoy’s novella taught that no-one really expects to die, an idea Kagan rejects.
- My own view is that this isn’t really what the novella is about, but is rather about how we should live our lives – or at least how we should not live them.
- In this context, bridge and related card-games appear in a negative light.
- In this Note, I intend to consider two main questions5:-
- Does Tolstoy suggest that no-one really expects to die?
- What is the aim of the novella?
- As I’m not a literary critic, I’ll be somewhat briefer with regards to the third question than Tolstoy’s work deserves.
- The explicit passage on the expectation of death is where Ivan – on hearing that he is about to die – observes that the syllogism beginning “all men are mortal” applies to “all men”, but not specifically to him.
- Of course, no-one really believes they are immortal (or, at least, that they are not going to die) but the reality of personal death is pushed so far into the background that it is hardly taken into account in our plans (other than in the making of rather impersonal provisions), until it is just around the corner. Our plans always extend infinitely on, without the explicit acknowledgement until the last possible minute that we – and more urgently our faculties – will not continue on for ever, and that we need to eke out our time more carefully.
- No doubt this is especially true of the young, but I can vouch for the fact that it’s still true of at least one person aged 626.
- In the overall context of the work, this is something of a side-show and there’s much else of value7 in Tolstoy’s novella. It is discussed more widely in the papers in the reading list below.
- Note that “Ilych” is sometimes spelled “Ilyich”.
- For a page of Links8 to this Note, Click here.
- Works on this topic that I’ve actually read9, include10 the following:-
- "Cook (T.C.B.) - The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories: Introduction", Cook
- "Gawande (Atul) - Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End", Gawande
- "Kagan (Shelly) - The nature of death (continued); Believing you will die", Kagan
- "Kagan (Shelly) - Dying alone; The badness of death, Part I", Kagan
- "Lichterman (Boleslav) - Medical Classics: The Death of Ivan Ilych", Lichterman
- "Tolstoy (Leo) - The Death of Ivan Ilyich", Tolstoy
- A reading list (where not covered elsewhere) might start with:-
- "Donnelly (John) - Death and Ivan Ilych", Donnelly
- "Feldman (Steven P.) - The Professional Conscience: A Psychoanalytic Study of Moral Character in Tolstoy's 'The Death of Ivan Ilych'", Feldman
- "Felps (Maryann) - How to Live? What We Can Learn from Ivan Ilych's Death", Felps
- "Gavin (William J.) - En Attendant La Mort: Plato's Socrates, Tolstoy's Ivan Ilych, and Beckett's Waiting for Godot", Gavin
- "Kamm (F.M.) - Rescuing Ivan Ilych: How We Live and How We Die", Kamm
- "Napier (James J.) - The Stages of Dying and 'The Death of Ivan Ilych'", Napier
- "Olney (James) - Experience, Metaphor, and Meaning: 'The Death of Ivan Ilych'", Olney
- "Pachmuss (Temira) - The Theme of Love and Death in Tolstoy's the Death of Ivan Ilyich", Pachmuss
- "Pope (Stephen J.) - Compassion and Self-Deception: The Unity of Love and Truthfulness in Leo Tolstoy's 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich'", Pope
- "Wexelblatt (Robert) - The Higher Parody: Ivan Ilych's Metamorphosis and the Death of Gregor Samsa", Wexelblatt
- This is mostly a place-holder11.
- This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (17/08/2018 17:35:31).
- Link to Latest Write-Up Note.
- A number of my philosophical Notes are “promissory notes” currently only listing the books and papers (if any) I possess on the topic concerned.
- I’ve decided to add some text – whether by way of motivation, or something more substantive – for all these identified topics related to my Thesis.
- As I want to do this fairly quickly, the text may be confused or show surprising ignorance.
- The reader (if such exists) will have to bear with me, and display the principle of charity while this footnote exists.
- I’m also interested in the question “What references to card games appear, and what is the implied objection to them?”, but it is scarcely relevant.
- When I originally wrote this in February 2016.
- Tolstoy’s main purpose is moral – to encourage us to live less conventional and more authentic lives.
- There’s a helpful footnote in "Kamm (F.M.) - Rescuing Ivan Ilych: How We Live and How We Die":-
- In brief, this is the way Ivan lived. He conformed to the social code, having a profession, a wife, and a family, but he was driven by concern for social and professional climbing, had no deep feelings for others, enjoyed having power over them, and got pleasure from superficial pursuits.
- We may not agree that everything was all wrong with his mature years. For example, he was an incorruptible judge. This should count for something positive, at least if the laws he applied had any justice in them. One may even argue that the real pleasure he took in his last interior decoration project can be defended.
- However, when Tolstoy has Ivan say that his life was all not right, Tolstoy may have in mind that the reasons why Ivan did even the useful acts in his life were wrong. That is, the principle (or maxim) of his conduct was competitive social climbing. Tolstoy would then be suggesting that when we judge our lives, we focus on the maxim at the root of it, rather than on behavior.
- But surely it would be correct to feel better about a life in which we did not kill someone (due to an accidental intervention) than one in which we did, even if the deep maxim in each life that led us to act as we did was equally wrong.
- This is the problem of moral luck. Even if this were true, we should remember that Tolstoy’s point is that someone who was not a bad person in the most obvious criminal way can still have a remarkably worthless life. Since most people are not criminals, this makes Ivan’s story of greater relevance to them.
- If only a “non-updating” run has been made, the links are only one-way – ie. from the page of links to the objects that reference this Note by mentioning the appropriate key-word(s). The links are also only indicative, as they haven’t yet been confirmed as relevant.
- Once an updating run has been made, links are both ways, and links from this Notes page (from the “Authors, Books & Papers Citing this Note” and “Summary of Note Links to this Page” sections) are to the “point of link” within the page rather than to the page generically. Links from the “links page” remain generic.
- There are two sorts of updating runs – for Notes and other Objects. The reason for this is that Notes are archived, and too many archived versions would be created if this process were repeatedly run.
- Frequently I’ll have made copious marginal annotations, and sometimes have written up a review-note.
- In the former case, I intend to transfer the annotations into electronic form as soon as I can find the time.
- In the latter case, I will have remarked on the fact against the citation, and will integrate the comments into this Note in due course.
- My intention is to incorporate into these Notes comments on material I’ve already read rather than engage with unread material at this stage.
- I may have read others in between updates of this Note – in which case they will be marked as such in the “References and Reading List” below.
- Papers or Books partially read have a rough %age based on the time spent versus the time expected.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)