Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Tolstoy, in this reading, emphasizes the social aspect of art:

    If people lacked this capacity to receive the thoughts conceived by the men who preceded them and to pass on to others their own thoughts, men would be like wild beasts…

    Yet this places an interpersonal value on feeling of all men. Rilke notes that there is no universality of feeling:

    And I certainly should have know that this third person who appears in every life and literature, this ghost of a third person who never existed, has no significance and must be denied. he is one of the pretexts of nature who is always intent on diverting men's attention from her deepest mysteries.[1]

    Isn't art essentially subjective? Aren't the expressions of the artist unique? Or is it possible that artistic value is the general value of the common person's ideals as to spirituality, as Tolstoy writes?

  2. What is the distinction, on Tolstoy's view, between the art in everyday objects and the art which communicates the brotherhood of man? Tolstoy writes:

    All human life is filled with works of art of every kind—from cradlesong, jest, mimicry, the ornamentation of houses, dress, and utensils, up to church services, buildings, monuments, and triumphal processions. It is all artistic activity.

    What does the art of everyday experience have in common with what Tolstoy calls genuine art?

  3. Investigate Tolstoy's distinction between "real" and "counterfeit" art. Is this a distinction that can be maintained or is it instead merely a persuasive definition? Charles L. Stevenson clarifies:

    A "persuasive" definition is one which gives a new conceptual meaning to a familiar word without substantially changing its emotive meaning, and which is used with the conscious or unconscious purpose of changing, by this means, the direction of people's interests.[2]

    As Stevenson points out, "It is imperative … to distinguish between persuasion and rational demonstration."[3]

  4. What exactly do you think Tolstoy means by the phrase, "the religious perception of the given time and society"? He states: "[I]t is by the standard of this religious perception that the feelings transmitted by art have always been appraised."[4] What is the standard of religious perception?

  5. David Hume in his "On the Standard of Taste" states that ęsthetic preferences vary to some degree with an individual's age, temperament, and culture according to two variations: "The one is the different humours of particular men; the other, the particular manners and opinions of our age and country.…"[5]. Yet Tolstoy believes that every age has its standards of religious meaning as social value and if this emotion is not shared by all persons, there is no art:

    If a man, without exercising effort … experiences a mental condition which unites him with that man and with other people who also partake of that work of art, then the object evoking that condition is a work of art.[6]

    Is Tolstoy's view of art compatible with Hume's view of taste?



Rainer Maria Rilke. The Notes of Malte Laurids Brigge. Trans. by Walter Kaufmann in Existentialism From Dostoevsky to Sartre. New York: New American Library, 1975. 135-136.


Charles L Stevenson. Facts and Values. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1963. 32.


Stevenson, 42.


Tolstoy, XVI.


David Hume, "On the Standard of Taste." In Four Dissertations. London: A. Millar. 1757.


Tolstoy, V.