Living with death and dying
Living with death and dying

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Living with death and dying

1.2 Death and the meaning of life

1.2.1 Death and Tolstoy

Inevitably, the way in which people deal with death, whether by denial or by the construction of a complex system of beliefs and myths, leads to questions about the meaning of life. For Julia Neuberger this is the lesson of death. ‘It is nothing to fear of itself, but it concentrates the mind powerfully in examining what it is we mean by life’ (Neuberger and White, 1991, p. 13).

Click to view 'Death and the meaning of life [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] '.

Activity 1

Read the article by Leo Tolstoy, ‘Death and the meaning of life’. What effect did the knowledge of death have on Tolstoy?


For Tolstoy his understanding of death took away all meaning, all pleasure and all purpose from life. It is a very bleak picture and raises the question, ‘Is life always preferable to death?’ Tolstoy was certainly not sure and was clearly afraid that he would be tempted to take his own life. You will recall that he hid his hunting gun and other means by which he might kill himself. Others without a religious framework may be much more affirmative about life and find very positive meanings and purposes.

Tolstoy at work in his study
Tolstoy at work in his study

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus