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Raskolnikov's Use of Utilitarianism

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Christina Liu

on 19 November 2014

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Transcript of Raskolnikov's Use of Utilitarianism

What if...
The brakes in your car do not work. There are five people in your path that you are certain to hit. You can save their lives, but only by steering the car towards one pedestrian.

What would you do?

Nothing- letting the 5 people die, but saving the pedestrian

Steer the car towards the pedestrian: killing him/her, but saving the 5 people

Raskolnikov's Use of Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism in Russia
Russian Utilitarianism:
blend of French Utopian Socialism and Utilitarianism

Chernyshevsky (1828-1889)
Redefined 'crime'

Belinsky (1811-1848)
“If to ensure the happiness of the majority, one were forced to cut off a thousand heads - he would would cut them off”

Raskolnikov's Use of Utilitarianism

A hundred, a thousand good deeds and undertakings could be done and helped on that old woman’s money
, which will be buried in a monastery! Hundreds, thousands perhaps, might be set on the right path;
dozens of families saved from destitution, from corruption, from ruin, from vice, from venereal wards--and all with her money.
Kill her, take her money and with the help of it devote yourself to the service of humanity and the common good. What do you think,
would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds?
One death, and a hundred lives in exchange--it’s simple arithmetic!
...Raskolnikov was extremely agitated...why had he happened to hear just such a discussion and such ideas at the very moment when his own brain was conceiving...the very same ideas?” (Dostoevsky 65-66)
Quote #2
“Almost every criminal is subject to a failure of will and reasoning power by a childish and phenomenal heedlessness, at the very instant when reason and caution are most essential...he decided that in his own case there could not be such morbid reversals, that his reason and will would remain unimpaired at the time of carrying out his design, for the simple reason that
his design was 'not a crime…'
” (pg 71)
Quote #3
“I asked myself this question one day--what if Napolean, for instance, had happened to be in my place, and if he had not had Toulon or Egypt or the passage of Mont Blanc
to start his career
, but instead of all this picturesque and monumental things there had simply been some ridiculous old hag, a pawnbroker, who had to be murdered too to get money from her trunk
(for his career, you understand)
Well, would he have brought himself to that, if there had been no other means? Wouldn’t he have felt a pang and its being so far from monument and...sinful, too?
Well, I must tell you that I worried myself so terribly over that ‘question’ that I was extremely ashamed when I guessed at last (all of a sudden, somehow) that it would not have given him the least pang, that it would not even have struck him that it was not monumental...that he would not have seen that there was anything in it to pause over, and that,
if he had had no other way, he would have strangled her in a minute without thinking about it! Well, I too...left off thinking about it...murdered her, following his example.
And that’s exactly how it was!” (Dostoevsky, 394)

Quote #4

Follows "The Greatest Happiness Principle"

The action that results in the most happiness and the least pain is the ideal one.

Lisha Jacob and Christina Liu
English Utilitarianism
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
French Utopian Socialism
English Utilitarianism
French Utopian Socialism
William Godwin (1756-1836)
Here we can see Raskolnikov using utilitarian ideas to justify the crime he was planning.
He thinks the crime will be justified by the benefit it will bring upon others in society.
He thinks it's his destiny to kill the pawnbroker.
Quote #1
Raskolnikov does not believe that he is committing a crime
believes he is acting for the greater good of the society
there is no need to justify the act as it is beneficial to society
the crime is his service to bring good back into society
Raskolnikov thinks he is superior to others and the law, therefore he should do something for the welfare of the society - übermensch idea
Uses Napolean's career as an example
Raskolnikov recognizes that his actions may be "sinful", but justifies them with utilitarianism
Possible problem: inability to take factor of justice into account

'Crime? What crime?'
he cried in sudden fury. 'That I killed a vile noxious insect, an old pawnbroker woman,
of no use to anyone!...Killing her was an atonement for forty sins. She was sucking the life out of poor people.
Was that a crime?'” (Dostoevsky, 491)
Raskolnikov is reluctant to give himself up
Is he truly a utilitarian?
Quotes #5-8

Man conceives the idea of committing a crime, plans it, does the crime, defends himself, and finally confesses.

Raskolnikov does not feel remorse until the day he makes amends for his crime.

Literary Criticism by Emile Melchior

Concluding Thoughts
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
Although Raskolnikov does not pinpoint and explicitly state a specific motive for killing Aliona and Lizaveta Ivanovna, he used utilitarian ideals to justify his wrongdoings. Eventually, he admits that he is a murderer, and his utilitarian ideals disappear as he accepts this title.
To what extent is vigilante justice justifiable? To what extent is it acceptable to commit a crime if it is for the greater good?

What defines the “greater good”?

Should one rely more on reason or emotion as a way of knowing? Why?

Did Raskolnikov actually support Utilitarianism, or was it simply his scapegoat for murder?

In what ways is utilitarianism beneficial and or destructive in society? Is it more harmful or beneficial?

What other pieces of literature have characters who use utilitarianism to justify their actions?

Melchior, Emile. "Criticisms and Interpretations." Crime and Punishment. Vol. 18. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1917. 7-10. Print.

"Philosophies in Crime and Punishment." Center Stage. N.p., 2009. Web. 01 Sept. 2014. <http://www.centerstage.org/crimeandpunishment/digital-dramaturgy/philosophies-in-crime-and-punishment.aspx>.

Sissa Medialab. "Virtual reality moral dilemmas show just how utilitarian we really are." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 January 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140115075408.htm>.
Now, what if the one pedestrian was a close family member or friend, and the 5 people were complete strangers...what would you do then?

Belief in a peaceful new world
Continuation of Christian beliefs
Charles Fourier (1772-1837)
"'It was not because of your dishonor and your sin I said that of you, but because of your great suffering. But you are a great sinner, that's true,' he added almost solemnly, 'and your worse sin is that you have destroyed and betrayed yourself for nothing.
Isn't it terrible...that you are not helping anyone by it, not saving anyone from anything!
...It would be better, a thousand times better and wiser to leap into the water and end it all!'" (Dostoevsky, 308)
"'Of course, in that case many of the benefactors of mankind who snatched power for themselves instead of inheriting it out to have been punished at their first steps. But those men succeeded and so they were right, and I didn't, and so I had no right to have taken that step.'
It was only in that that he recognized his criminality, only in the fact that he had been unsuccessful and had confessed it."
(Dostoevsky, 515)
"But he could not think of anything for long that evening, and he could not have analyzed anything consciously;
he was simply feeling. Life had stepped into the place of theory and something quite different would work itself in his mind."
(Dostoevsky, 521)
Character development: Raskolnikov evolves and slowly disregards his utilitarian views
Replaces rational nature of utilitarianism with irrational nature of emotion
Redefines 'crime'
"It's late, it's time to go! I am going to give myself up. But I don't know why I am going to give myself up." (Dostoevsky, 491).
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