Leo Tolstoy
Circle of Reading
Translated by Dmitry Fadeyev

January 18

An enlightened human being is one who knows his purpose in life.


A learned person is someone who knows a lot from books; an educated person is someone who has assimilated all the widespread knowledge and methods of his time; an enlightened person is someone who understands the meaning of his own life.


For as long as humankind has existed, every nation had teachers who created the science of what a human being needs to know most. This science has always taught what one’s purpose is, and consequently what constitutes the good of every individual and of all people. It is only in relation to this science that the meaning of all other knowledge can be considered.

The subjects of the sciences are innumerable, and without knowing the purpose and the good of humankind, it is impossible to choose between this infinite amount of subjects. Consequently, without this knowledge, all other knowledge and art will become, as they have in our time in the Christian world, an idle and harmful pastime.


The only explanation for the senseless life led by the people of our time, which the best people of all times find repulsive, consists in young people studying many of the most difficult subjects: of the positions of celestial bodies, of the composition of Earth a million years ago, of the origin of species, etc. The only thing they are not learning is what everyone always needs: what is the meaning of human life, how should one live and what did the wisest people of antiquity think of this question and how did they solve it? Not only are the young people of our time not studying this but, instead of this, they are taught, under the name of God’s law, the most obvious nonsense in which even the teachers do not believe. Every edifice of our life is built on air balloons instead of rock. How can such an edifice remain standing?


It is a most common phenomenon of our time to see people who consider themselves learned, educated and enlightened, who know countless useless things, stagnating in deepest ignorance, not only not knowing the meaning of their lives, but feeling proud of this ignorance. And vice versa, a phenomenon that is no less common is to meet among the uneducated and the illiterate people, who know nothing of the periodic table of chemical elements, parallaxes and the properties of radium, people who are truly enlightened, who know the meaning of their lives and who are not proud of it, but who merely pity those so-called enlightened people, whose ignorance is made indestructible by their limitless arrogance.

We need only one thing from science: the knowledge of how a human being should live. And this knowledge is accessible to everyone.

Themes & Sources