On arriving in Moscow by a morning
train, Levin had put up at the house of his elder
half-brother, Koznishev. After changing his
clothes he went down to his brother’s study,
intending to talk to him at once about the object
of his visit, and to ask his advice; but his brother
was not alone. With him there was a well-known
professor of philosophy, who had come from Harkov expressly
to clear up a difference that had arisen between them
on a very important philosophical question.
The professor was carrying on a hot crusade against
materialists. Sergey Koznishev had been following
this crusade with interest, and after reading the
professor’s last article, he had written him
a letter stating his objections. He accused
the professor of making too great concessions to the
materialists. And the professor had promptly
appeared to argue the matter out. The point in
discussion was the question then in vogue: Is
there a line to be drawn between psychological and
physiological phenomena in man? and if so, where?
Sergey Ivanovitch met his brother
with the smile of chilly friendliness he always had
for everyone, and introducing him to the professor,
went on with the conversation.
A little man in spectacles, with a
narrow forehead, tore himself from the discussion
for an instant to greet Levin, and then went on talking
without paying any further attention to him.
Levin sat down to wait till the professor should go,
but he soon began to get interested in the subject
Levin had come across the magazine
articles about which they were disputing, and had
read them, interested in them as a development of
the first principles of science, familiar to him as
a natural science student at the university.
But he had never connected these scientific deductions
as to the origin of man as an animal, as to reflex
action, biology, and sociology, with those questions
as to the meaning of life and death to himself, which
had of late been more and more often in his mind.
As he listened to his brother’s
argument with the professor, he noticed that they
connected these scientific questions with those spiritual
problems, that at times they almost touched on the
latter; but every time they were close upon what seemed
to him the chief point, they promptly beat a hasty
retreat, and plunged again into a sea of subtle distinctions,
reservations, quotations, allusions, and appeals to
authorities, and it was with difficulty that he understood
what they were talking about.
“I cannot admit it,” said
Sergey Ivanovitch, with his habitual clearness, precision
of expression, and elegance of phrase. “I
cannot in any case agree with Keiss that my whole conception
of the external world has been derived from perceptions.
The most fundamental idea, the idea of existence,
has not been received by me through sensation; indeed,
there is no special sense-organ for the transmission
of such an idea.”
“Yes, but they Wurt,
and Knaust, and Pripasov would answer that
your consciousness of existence is derived from the
conjunction of all your sensations, that that consciousness
of existence is the result of your sensations.
Wurt, indeed, says plainly that, assuming there are
no sensations, it follows that there is no idea of
“I maintain the contrary,” began Sergey
But here it seemed to Levin that just
as they were close upon the real point of the matter,
they were again retreating, and he made up his mind
to put a question to the professor.
“According to that, if my senses
are annihilated, if my body is dead, I can have no
existence of any sort?” he queried.
The professor, in annoyance, and,
as it were, mental suffering at the interruption,
looked round at the strange inquirer, more like a
bargeman than a philosopher, and turned his eyes upon
Sergey Ivanovitch, as though to ask: What’s
one to say to him? But Sergey Ivanovitch, who
had been talking with far less heat and one-sidedness
than the professor, and who had sufficient breadth
of mind to answer the professor, and at the same time
to comprehend the simple and natural point of view
from which the question was put, smiled and said:
“That question we have no right to answer as
“We have not the requisite data,”
chimed in the professor, and he went back to his argument.
“No,” he said; “I would point out
the fact that if, as Pripasov directly asserts, perception
is based on sensation, then we are bound to distinguish
sharply between these two conceptions.”
Levin listened no more, and simply
waited for the professor to go.