By Brian Liu
Often when someone sees his friend reading a very long book, he’ll ask wittingly “What are you reading? War and Peace?” The irony of the joke is that it does not stray too far from describing the experience of reading the book by Leo Tolstoy. War and Peace is indeed a very long book. It is so long in-fact that one student calculated over that the summer she would have to read 6.06 pages every waking hour to finish it before the fall’s first seminar.
A book of such length does not lack in profound things to say, one of which, I’d like to share.
Towards the end of the work, one the main characters, at the threshold of his death says this to himself:
“Love? What is love?” He thought. “Love hinders death. Love is life. Everything, everything I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is connected only by that. Love is God, and to die – means that I, a part of love, return to the common and eternal source.”- Volume IV, Part One, Chapter XVI
Quite a romantic realization, huh? Our character, on many levels, is coming to terms with his life now that he is at the threshold of death. On one particular level he is establishing, perhaps for the first time, his basis for his epistemology. In other words, he has defined his basis for understanding anything and everything: love. One could argue that how we interact meaningfully with the world begins with how we understand it. Love is the necessary conduit through which he reaches out and grasps the world, and yet it is also that which builds it and makes it complete. Love is the crown of his theology and gives him a hope beyond death.
A fundamental question that I’ve repeatedly asked at St. John’s is: what is my epistemological basis? Plato related it to the Forms, Decarte said it was built on principles revealed through deduction, Kant said it was something about the mind (clearly, I still don’t understand Kant), and now, our character says it is love. How we define our epistemology not only effects our morality and spirituality but also how we think we perceive things like time and beauty.
I’d like to end with the question: What would it mean for us to place our epistemology as love? I don’t have a clue. Yet its answer would not only have implications in academia or spirituality, but also in the meaning of our lives. I guess I’ll keep pondering over this.