In this paper I will be discussing Tolstoy and Sartre views on the meaning of life by comparing and contrasting Tolstoy’s objectivism and transcendentalism and Sartre’s subjectivism and existentialism. I will later conclude why it is that Sartre’s view resonates more within myself. Tolstoy’s view on transcendentalism states that the only way for you to live a worthwhile life is if you follow God’s plan, for following God’s plan is the only way to maintain the “two ingredients”: immortality and an external significance for individual lives, which Tolstoy believes are essential for obtaining a worthwhile life.
According to Tolstoy, God’s plan gives things purpose and the value they have and that they are good in virtue of playing a role in the plan. However, Sartre contradicts Tolstoy’s view of transcendentalism with his position on existentialism, the complete opposite of transcendentalism. Existentialism says that human beings were not designed with a purpose in mind; the only way for humans to have purpose in their life is if they assign one to themselves. Sartre goes on to say that each individual is in charge of inventing his or her own self, there is no plan nor a larger picture.
Sartre also argues that there is no such thing as human nature, and since God does not exist, human beings must be in charge of themselves when deciding what is right and wrong and how they should live their life. From existentialism, Sartre concluded through subjectivism that there is no correct way to live life. It is up to the individual to invent their own life and the standards they will use to assess it. We are free in the sense that we must create our own personal values. Sartre goes on to state that we are born nobody and that it is our actions that start to create the meaning in our lives.
Sartre believes that there is no external meaning outside of life. There is no god. There is no path for us to follow. Again, this is the opposing opinion of Tolstoy, which he argues through objectivism. Objectivism is the view that for a life to be considered “worthwhile” there must be a given set of features present in our life. Although, we play no role in deciding what exactly it is that constitutes as a worthwhile life and that we have no control over the matter. Essentially, there is a correct way to live life, and it is possible that you can be living your life wrong.
With myself being an atheist, Sartre’s views on the meaning of life resonates more within myself. Perhaps I am too young and too naive to believe that God does not exist, but in the eighteen years I have lived, I can honestly say that I have no reason to believe in God or any other higher power. This became very clear for me at a young age when I lost a very close friend in car accident. I could never understand that if God has a plan for everyone and everything that he would create so much pain and suffering.
How is it possible that such horrible things happen to such good people? Why would God purposely give parents the burden of burying their own child, at such a young age with such a bright and promising future? And then for people to justify pain and suffering by simply stating that “everything happens for a reason” or “ God needed his angel back” as if it makes it all okay. The pain and suffering goes far beyond my own life and experiences. Why was it Gods plan to have third world countries without food or water or to have six million Jews killed during the Holocaust?
I could never come to understand the reasoning behind that. So why spend your whole life in fear of God trying to please a higher power that has created so much evil in the world. Instead, I believe that you should live life freely, the way you want to live. You shouldn’t live in fear of God and that in the end there should be no ultimate goal of heaven or fear of hell. Why should it be that faith makes an individual life meaningful? When what really should be meaningful is the individual life itself. Why does there have to be an ultimate meaning to life?
Is it simply not enough to gain happiness and meaning from everyday life itself? For instance, the smiles parents get from their children or enjoying a walk outside on a sunny day. Why must there be further reason. Decide what is right and wrong based on your values and live your life accordingly. At the end of your life, before you die, be able to look back on your life and know that you lived with no regrets because you did what made you happy and you lived your life how you wanted to and not how anybody else told you to. After all, it is your life.