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Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Existentialism and Other Ideas in Crime and Punishment
Transcript of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Existentialism and Other Ideas in Crime and Punishment
Key Idea: The Necessity
The most important fact in Dostoyevsky's philosophy is that humans are free to choose and act.
Humans have both a predisposition and
to act irrationally
in order to preserve their freedom
Key Idea: The Futility
Dostoyevsky, like Jonathon Swift, did not believe that human "progress" resulted in the improvement of the human condition.
He saw his own "enlightened" time riddled with war and cruelty
He believed that "progress" just gives us more efficient was to kill each other.
These ideas strongly anticipate post WWI ideas of Modernist angst.
Principles of Existentialism in Dostoyevsky's works
Choices are only meaningful if they result in action.
Therefore, those who choose not to act, in effect, do not exist.
Human beings are totally free. No predispositions constrain our actions.
Therefore, we are entirely defined by the choices we make.
Born 1821, died 1888
Father army doctor – stern to serfs and children
Dostoyevsky 1st came to St. Petersburg in 1840s to train as an engineer.
1st success – Poor Folk - destructive influences of poverty.
Dostoyevsky is surrounded by new Western ideas: socialism, utopianism, social Darwinism.
Met secretly with group and discussed revolution but was arrested in 1849 for radical activity.
He was sentenced to death, placed in front of a firing squad, blindfolded, but was at the last minutes given a reprieve by czar. Received 4 years hard labor, followed by 5 years as a soldier.
Returned to St. Petersburg 10 years after his arrest. He became conservative. Vocal proponent of tradition. Only great writer of his time to support the czar.
Published Crime and Punishment in 1861. Printed serially in magazine along with Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Czars of the 19th Century
Prestupleni i Nakazani (Russian title)
The word “crime” in Russian, “prestupleni” (преступление) means a stepping over.
“‘People [are] divided generally…into two categories: a lower or, so to speak, material category (the ordinary), serving solely for the reproduction of their own kind; and people proper – that is, those who have the gift or talent of speaking a new word in their environment’” (260).
In the beginning, there was the word…
r. 1801 - 1825
Nicholas I (imprisoned Dostoyevsky)
Alexander II (emancipates serfs in 1861)
1894 - 1917(had to abdicate the throne, Bolshevik Revolution, executed along with family)
Let's look at a few passages, shall we?
p. 65: “‘Listen now. On the other hand…’”
p. 70: “At first--even long before--he…”
p. 259: “‘That isn’t quite how…’”
p. 262: “‘Well, at least…’”
p. 329: “‘Go where?’ she asked…”
p. 417, v. bottom of page: “‘And then I also learned…’”
REASON - it is our over reliance on reason that is at the root of many humanity’s problems ….it’s all perfectly reasonable and scientific…disregard for the weak ones of community
Reason is not the test of Truth
Emotional Virtues (loving, suffering, pitying, remembering) are more fundamental than intellectual virtues (ideas of social justice, revolutionary change, primacy of art)
"So far as we are human, what we do must be either evil or good: so far as we do evil or good, we are human: and it is better, in a paradoxical way, to do evil than to do nothing: at least we exist." - T.S. Eliot