Leo Tolstoy
· The Circle of Reading
Translated by Dmitry Fadeyev

January 25

There are certain things that every human being should know. Until he has assimilated this knowledge, all other knowledge is harmful to him.

1

Socrates has constantly pointed out to his students that correct education in every science involves reaching only a certain limit, which should not be crossed. He said that in geometry it is enough to be able to measure a piece of land you are selling or buying, or divide an inheritance, or allocate tasks to laborers. “It is so easy,” he would say, “that with a little effort you will have no problem measuring anything, even if you were to measure the whole of the earth.” But he did not approve working on the difficult problems in this science, and, despite knowing them himself, he said that they can occupy a person’s whole life and distract him from other useful sciences, while being of no use themselves. In astronomy he found it enough to be able to use the celestial signs to tell the hour of the night, the day of the month and the time of the year, to not lose one’s path, to stick to a bearing at sea, and to change watchmen. “This science is so easy,” he would add, “that it is accessible to every hunter, to every sailor, or really to everybody who wants to spend some time with it.” But to reach the point of studying the different orbits circumscribed by the celestial bodies, to calculate the size of the planets and the stars, their distance from the earth, their movement and changes—this he strongly criticized because he saw nothing useful in such studies. He held such a low opinion of them not because of his own ignorance, for he had studied these sciences himself, but because he did not want time and energy to be wasted on superfluous activities, which could be spent on what is most necessary to a human being: on his moral self-perfection.

— Xenophon

2

Woe to scientists who gather knowledge, woe to self-satisfied philosophers, to insatiable researchers. These foolish rich people hold daily celebrations on their intellectual feasts, while Lazarus continues to starve. These people are filled with nothingness, because this empty knowledge benefits neither inner nor social self-perfection.

— Fenelon

3

Turn away your gaze from the world of deception and do not trust your senses, for they lie, but seek the eternal human being in yourself, in what is impersonal.

— The Dhammapada

4

Experimental sciences are akin to a face without eyes when they are studied for their own sake and developed without the guidance of philosophical thought. They represent an activity suited for those of average abilities, but who are devoid of higher gifts, which would only get in the way of these painstaking searches. People with such average abilities focus all their strengths and all their skills on a single limited field of science, which allows them to achieve complete expertise on the condition of complete ignorance in all other domains. They can be compared to workers in clockmaking workshops, where one group makes just the wheels, another just the springs, and the third just the chains.

— Schopenhauer

5

It is better to know a few rules of life than to become learned in many useless sciences. The rules of life will stop you from doing evil, will guide you towards the good, whereas the knowledge of useless sciences will only lead you into the temptation of pride and will make it more difficult for you to clearly see the rules of life that you need.


Do not fear ignorance, fear false knowledge. It is better to know nothing than to think that that which is false is true. It is better to know nothing about heaven than to think that it is solid and that upon it sits God. But it is not much better to think that what we see as heaven is infinite space: infinite space is no more accurate than solid heaven.