Philosophy of Crime and Punishment
Dostoevskys Crime and Punishment is a tale of poverty and suffering by all characters. Through suffering comes rationalization of decisions made and the circumstances of life. Philosophical theories develop through rationalization of the character.
Two main philosophical motifs arise through out Crime and Punishment. Existentialism and Nihilism are the two main philosophies represented. Raskolnikov, the main character, is involved with the text in which these philosophies are represented.
Although Existentialism and Nihilism and heavily represented by characters in the novel Dostoevskys personal belief were quite the opposite. Being an avid member of the Russian Orthorodox Church was Dostoevsky dedicated to religious mysticism. (Barna, 320) Dostoevsky himself was a Christian, to be sure, and for that matter also a rabid anti-Semite, anti-Catholic, and anti-Western Russian nationalist. We have no right whatsoever to attribute to him the opinions of all of his most interesting characters.(Kaufmann, 14)
Representation of Dostoevskys opposition is most easily found in the last few chapters of the book. Raskolnikov the Existentialist/Nihilist is eventually punished for his crime. Raskolnikov failure is Dostoevsky way of dispelling the beliefs of Existentialism and Nihilism. If Dostoevsky true believed in the righteousness of Existentialism and Nihilism Raskolnikov would never have been punished or shown as a criminal failure.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language Existentialism is A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of ones acts. These ideas of the individual defines everything is a philosophy used throughout the novel when crimes and criminals are concerned.
In part three, chapter five at the police station a conversation arises between the police officer Porfiry and Raskolnikov concerning a topic discussed at Rasumihin (Raskolnikovs friend) party. The discussion was concerning the Socialist doctrine, and centered around the belief that crime is a protest against the abnormality of the social organization. (251) This statement is in clear consensus with the dictionary definition of Existentialism.
However Raskolnikov is never clearly in agreement with this theory. Instead the conversation is turned to an article Raskolnikov wrote when he was a student. The article was the psychology of a criminal before and after the crime, but the point of interest lay in the extraordinary man theory. This theory is basically a suggestion that there are certain persons who canthat is, not precisely are able to, but have a perfect right to commit breaches of morality and crimes, and that the law is not for them.(Porfiry, 254)
Raskolnikovs extraordinary man theory is indirectly agreeing with existential beliefs. If existentialists actively promote the freedom of individuals and certain individuals have a perfect right to commit breaches of morality and crimes, then one freedom of individual is to commit breaches of morality and crimes.
Nihilism is the rejection of all distinctions in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all precious theories of morality or religious belief. The direct definition of Nihilism is never represented in Crime and Punishment; rather the theories of famous Nihilist philosophers are firmly incorporated.
Friedrich Nietzsche and Georg Hegel are perhaps two philosophers most often associated with Nihilism. Hegel and Nietzsche are also the founding fathers of the Extraordinary Man theories. This superman theory is very important to the novel because Raskolnikov uses the theory to justify and rationalize the crime.
For Raskolnikov all men are divided into two categories: ordinary and extraordinary. The ordinary man is inferior, a must live in submission and has no right to transgress the law because he is ordinary. However the extraordinary man has the rightthat is not an official right, but an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstepcertain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfillment of his idea (sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity). (Raskolnikov, 254)
Raskolnikovs extraordinary man theory is a combination of Nietzsche and Hegels rationale. The Hegelian superman exists for noble purposes in the view that if the ends are noble then the means can be justified. The emphasis is always on the ends rather than the means. The Hegelian superman is one that stands above the ordinary man, but works for the benefit of all mankind.
Raskolnikov crime, the murder of the old pawnbroker is in alignment with this because it considered noble. The old pawnbroker is an evil person who is actually harming society by her vile and cynical grasp on the poor people who come to her for pawning. According to Hegel, any harmful segment of society should be removed. Therefore, Raskolnikov reasons that by murdering the old pawnbroker, he will be removing a harmful thing from society. This justification is also reaffirmed in chapter five of part by unnamed student in the tavern Kill her, take her money and with the help of it devote oneself to the service to humanity and the good of all. What do you think, would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds? (Student, 67)
The Nietzschean superman is slightly different from the Hegelian superman in respect to motive. The Nietzschean superman does not exist for the benefit of society. Instead he exists for his own personal gratification. His aims are not prompted by any type of nobility. When Raskolnikov states the extraordinary has an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstepcertain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfillment of his idea it demonstrates that his foremost important aim is self-gratification. The Nietzschean superman asserts his own will in order to gratify his own desires. This freedom by the individual to assert ones will also ties back in with Existentialism stress on freedom of choice for the individual.
Svidrigailov is another example of the Nietzschean superman. He can rape a thirteen-year-old girl so as to satisfy his will, he can be the instrument causing the death of his wife or a servant, and he can pursue Dounia (Raskolnikov sister) because that is what he wants.
Dostoevskys Crime and punishment not only provided
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