“Reason discovered the struggle for existence, and the law that requires us to oppress all who hinder the satisfaction of our desires. That is the deduction of reason. But loving one’s neighbor reason could never discover, because it’s irrational.” — Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Aside from being a novel about betrayal, faith, family and marriage, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is also a story about one man’s search for meaning in a complicated world.
Konstantin Levin, the story’s second main character, spends a large portion of the novel trying to figure out how his wife Kitty could believe in a higher power he’s never seen any signs of.
One day, he was listening to a peasant talk about two landowners—a stingy one and a generous one—and asked the peasant, Fyodor, how it could be that these two men were so different from each other.
Fyodor replied that the generous landowner “lives for his soul” and “does not forget God,” leading Levin to realize the miracle that he’s been looking for this whole time—goodness.
Levin reasons that it’s rational for a person to live for his needs like food and shelter, but not for goodness. Yet, humanity knows about this concept called “goodness,” and many people even give up their own personal interests to be good.
So, he reasons, where could this idea have come from if it wasn’t bestowed upon humanity by some higher force?