Study Guide

Fathers and Sons Philosophical Viewpoints

By Ivan Turgenev

Philosophical Viewpoints

"A nihilist is a person who does not take any principle for granted, however much that principle may be revered." (5.57)

Based on the different discussion of nihilism throughout the book, does Arkady seem to have a good understanding of what nihilism is? In what way does this make nihilism similar to the scientific method? Does it seem, in any way whatsoever, to be a practical philosophy? Is it supposed to be?

"We base our conduct on what we recognize as useful," Bazarov went on. "In these days the most useful thing we can do is to repudiate – and so we repudiate." (10.58)

Is there a contradiction in Bazarov's explanation of his life philosophy? How is repudiation useful? Does the word "do" seem like an overstatement? Can inactivity be useful?

"Nihilism's a panacea for every ill, and you – you are our saviors and heroes. Very well. But why do you abuse other people, even other accusers like yourselves? Aren't you just talking like all the rest?" (10.96)

Is Pavel's caricature of nihilism unfair? Is it accurate? Is nihilism a position that can be defended in argument? If they decide only to do what is useful and if they don't deem talking useful, then how can they expect to be able to defend their position while talking? Doesn't nihilism apply a certain silence on behalf of its proponents?

"In the first place, experience of life does that, and in the second, I assure you the study of separate individuals is not worth the trouble it involves. All men are similar, in soul as well as in body. Each of us has a brain, spleen, heart and lungs of similar construction; and the so-called moral qualities are the same in all of us – the slight variations are of no importance. It is enough to have one single human specimen in order to judge all the others. People are like trees in a forest: no botanist would dream of studying each individual birch-tree." (16.39)

Let's hope that we all recognize how absurd Bazarov's viewpoint is. How does this application of a scientific point of view to basic human matters fall incredibly short? Could there be a modified view that would not fall so short? Is Bazarov simply articulating his position incorrectly or is there something fundamentally wrong with it?

"System is needed in everything." (16.74)

How does Anna Sergeyevna's retort to Bazarov capture one of the basic problems of nihilism as a basic code of conduct? Does Anna Sergeyevna act as if there is system in everything? Is she perhaps constrained by this viewpoint?

"For a thinking man there is no such thing as wilderness." (20.43)

What does Vassily Ivanych mean by this line? How does the line capture the difference between his own romantic philosophizing and Bazarov's more rationalistic brand? How is Vassily Ivanych comforted by his own philosophy? Is Bazarov ever comforted by his own philosophy?

"The time has come now – and thank God for it! – when each one of us must secure his sustenance by the work of his own hands; it is no use relying on others – one must labour oneself. Thus Jean-Jacques Rousseau is right." (21.3)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau had a belief in the "noble savage," the belief that men were best and noblest before they became corrupted by civilization. Noting the fact that the peasants are now free and that each man must labor for himself, Vassily Ivanych concludes that Rousseau was correct. Why is this conclusion unfounded? Does it seem like a conclusion that Bazarov would make?

"Here I lie under a haystack... The tiny bit of space I occupy is so minute in comparison with the rest of the universe, where I am not and which is not concerned with me; and the period of time in which it is my lot to live is so infinitesimal compared with the eternity in which I have not been and shall not be... And yet here, in this atom which is myself, in this mathematical point, blood circulates, the brain operates and aspires to something too... What a monstrous business! What futility." (21.58)

Why is it that Bazarov's philosophizing makes him feel his own insignificance so poignantly? Is the inevitable result of thinking too much? What is the point of viewing the world accurately if it leads to a viewpoint like Bazarov's? Is there something missing from his scientifically 'accurate' worldview that would make his life more livable?

"As a matter of fact principles don't exist – you haven't tumbled to that even yet – there are feelings. Everything depends on them." (21.90)

What does Bazarov mean that nothing exists but "feelings"? Doesn't this seem to be contradictory to his anti-romantic output? Do you think he is talking about lofty feelings or so-called base emotions? What does this line about Bazarov's tendency to swing to an extreme whenever he has a new idea?

"Death is an old jest but it comes new to everyone." (27.141)

What does Bazarov mean when he calls death a "jest"? Does it seem as if he is taking his own death as a joke or that he is taking it seriously? Why must death always come "new to everyone"? If death is a joke then what is the punch line?