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Philosophy 151 Winter, 2004 G. J. Mattey

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1 Philosophy 151 Winter, 2004 G. J. Mattey
Fyodor Dostoevski Philosophy 151 Winter, 2004 G. J. Mattey

2 A Utopian Vision Notes from Underground (1864) was written in response to N. G. Chernyshevsky’s What is to be Done (1862) This book was in turn a response to a nihilistic character in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons (1862) Chernyshevsky portrayed a utopian society populated by beautiful, healthy people and symbolized by a crystal palace

3 A Sick and Spiteful Man The narrator begins by declaring himself to be a sick and spiteful, as well as distinctly non-beautiful, man Dostoevski states in a footnote that this person is a representative of a type that must exist in present society He adds that in the first part of the work, the narrator tries to explain why his own type is an inevitable product of his society

4 A Spiteful Official Our narrator writes at age forty
He has probably had liver disease since age twenty, but he refuses to see a doctor He was formerly a government bureaucrat He tells us that he was rude to his clients and took pleasure in his rudeness Yet he admits paradoxically that he was not really spiteful, but only amusing himself at the expense of his clients

5 Opposite Elements What caused the narrator’s spite was the recognition that even in his most extreme moments, he could not be spiteful Many elements contrary to spite have always been in him, though he has suppressed them This is the basis of his sickness If treated like a child, he might be appeased or even touched, though he would be ashamed of this

6 Characterless To be spiteful or kind, a rascal or honest man, a hero or an insect, is to have some kind of character Character is possessed by people of action, who are limited in intelligence Intelligent people, conversely, can not be anything: they can have no character This is the narrator’s “spiteful and useless consolation” for his wretched existence

7 Underground Having worked as a collegiate assessor, the narrator quit when he came into a small inheritance His living conditions have deteriorated His dwellings are wretched His servant is ill-natured, stupid, and smelly The climate is bad for his health It is too expensive for him to live where he does But he is not going away

8 Too Conscious To be too conscious is an illness
Human beings only need a quarter of the consciousness of an intelligent inhabitant of a sophisticated city This claim is not directed at the “man of action,” since to be ill is no source of pride Absurdly, the narrator (as do others) prides himself on his illness

9 The “Sublime and Beautiful”
In the presence of what was called the “sublime and beautiful,” the narrator thinks ugly thoughts and does ugly deeds His so doing did not seem to be accidental to him, but rather his normal state At first he was ashamed of his abnormality But he came to cultivate it, to the point where it brought him “real positive enjoyment”

10 The Last Barrier The narrator is writing to try to explain his enjoyment in his degradation The enjoyment of degradation is rooted in natural laws that govern the over-acute consciousness, so that there is no blame One feels that one’s degradation is horrible but cannot be overcome Or, if it could be overcome, one would do nothing to overcome it

11 The Enjoyment of Despair
The narrator is hyper-sensitive He supposes that he would find enjoyment from being slapped in the face He would find enjoyment in his despair, his “consciousness of being rubbed into a pulp” He is always to blame due to: His cleverness His lack of magnanimity

12 No Response Even if the narrator had had magnanimity, he would have suffered from his sense of its uselessness He would not not forgive the assault, since the slap was a consequence of a law of nature He would not forget the assault because it is insulting, even if it is the result of a law of nature Nor could he have exacted revenge, since he could not have brought himself to carry it out, even if he had wanted to

13 The Direct Person In general, one who seeks revenge devotes his whole being to it He charges against his opponent like a raging bull with its horns down The only thing that can stop him is a wall The narrator envies such a man, despite his stupidity The direct person appears to be the normal person

14 A Mouse, Not a Man Confronted with the direct person, the hyper- conscious person regards himself as a mouse No one asks him to view himself in this way He may be a mouse of acute consciousness, but he is not a man He seems to have been born from a test- tube, not from nature

15 The Mouse in Action How does the mouse react when insulted?
He may accumulate more venom than the natural man, who stupidly looks at his revenge as mere justice He creates a web of doubt and indecision and then retreats into his mouse-hole He becomes absorbed in cold, malignant, everlasting spite, which is magnified with the passage of time If he acts at all, he only hurts himself

16 The Stone Wall Confronted with the impossible, people of strong nerves stop their bellowing The impossible, the stone wall, is the violation of the laws of nature “Twice two is a law of mathematics. Just try refuting it” Although the narrator does not have the strength to knock the wall down, he is not reconciled to it because it disgusts him

17 Enjoyment in a Toothache
If enjoyment is found in despair at not being able to overcome the stone wall, may it be found even in a toothache? People with toothaches moan malignantly The moans express the aimlessness of the pain: no one is responsible The educated man will moan only to amuse himself, thereby annoying everyone else

18 Ennui A person who finds enjoyment in self- degradation has no self-respect The narrator used to get into trouble where he was not to blame He took offense on purpose Later he felt remorse and a sick feeling in his heart The reason of these ingrained pranks was inertia, ennui

19 Primary Causes “Men of action” are able to act because they mistake secondary causes for primary causes But a person of reflection will recognize that primary causes are unattainable, due to an infinite regress The laws of nature thus dissipate anger So his only motive for revenge is spite: the desire to beat against the wall so as to perform some action or other

20 Golden Dreams The narrator might have done nothing from laziness
Then he would have been able to respect himself He could have been a sophisticated sluggard and glutton, who drinks to the health of the “sublime and beautiful” He would be an “asset,” which is rare in the current negative age

21 Self-Interest It is a commonplace that if people were to know what is to their advantage, then they would act only according to them But this is naïve innocence Historically, humans have always acted against their own interests because they have disliked the beaten track What is to one’s “advantage” may be something that brings him harm

22 Advantage Advantage has been understood in terms of statistical figures and politico-economic formulas The advantages are supposed to be “prosperity, wealth, freedom, peace—and so on” Yet one advantage is left out invariably “The most advantageous advantage” motivates people to flout all laws and all the other “advantages”

23 Logical Exercises The most advantageous advantage breaks down all logical and social classifications All the systems of human “interests” are rendered nothing more than logical exercises The “predilection for systems and abstract definitions” lead to distortion of the truth The claim that civilization softens us is refuted by continual bloodshed

24 Which is Worse? We think that bloodshed is abominable, yet we still engage in it We may not be more bloodthirsty, but our bloodthirstiness is more vile Is not the present situation worse, because we should know better? Is it really the case that our problem is that we have not yet shed some old bad habits?

25 The Crystal Palace Modern thinkers claim that human actions are the outcome of laws of nature Humans are mere “piano-keys” Once this is known (it is claimed) human society will calm down and proceed on a scientific basis The “Palace of Crystal” will be built, and we will live in the halcyon days

26 Revolt If such a “rational” society were to develop, it would lead to boredom People would revert to cruelty because they would find life frightfully dull Someone will come along advocating the destruction of the beautiful palace in favor of “our own sweet foolish will” He expresses the fact that people in the end act simply as they choose to act

27 The Most Advantageous Advantage
The narrator’s thesis is that capricious action is the most advantageous It cannot be classified within a system, because it works against the system itself Theorizers have postulated that human beings want a rational choice But what they really want is an independent choice, wherever it may lead

28 Piano Keys The narrator’s inclination to be skeptical about the origin of choice is opposed by the results of science If choice is reduced to a formula, then desire will come to an end Human beings will be transformed into piano keys without free will The advocate of science accepts this conclusion

29 Reason and Will The narrator is “over-philosophical” due to his forty years underground He allows that reason is an excellent tool for that rational side of man, which is “one twentieth” of the capacity for life Will, on the other hand, manifests all of human life We assert our will, stupidly, in order to assert our personality and individuality

30 Moral Obliquity The worse defect of the “ungrateful biped” is his moral obliquity and lack of good sense All of history is proof of this It is monotonous because it is the chonicle of fighting and more fighting All the products of the most disordered imagination have come to pass “The only thing one can’t say is that it’s rational”

31 Never Enough Even if men lived in the most rational of societies, with all their needs fulfilled, they would still play some nasty trick out of sheer ingratitude or spite The reason is that they must prove that they are free and not piano-keys They will launch a curse upon the world The ability to unleash a curse is what separates human beings from other animals

32 Coincidence It can be objected that human freedom can be preserved despite the total predictability of human action Human will may freely coincide with the laws of rationality according to which we act to promote our interests But this is no kind of freedom Free willing is something that cannot be tabulated in advance

33 Reformation The narrator states that he is joking
But he has serious questions Is it desirable to reform people according to science and good sense? Why do people need reformation? Is not “reformed” behavior sometimes not to people’s advantage? The answers of the reformers are only suppositions, which “may be the law of logic, but not the law of humanity”

34 Creation and Destruction
Human beings have a creative side Even the most stupid practical person gets more out of the acting than out of accomplishing the end of acting It may be that humans love chaos and destruction because they are afraid of attaining their end Our lives do not begin and end with the ant- heaps we construct

35 Afraid of the End? Human beings go to great lengths to attain mathematical certainty But it may be that humans are afraid of attaining it, just as the narrator is When the end is attained, there is nothing else to look for Humans absurdly do not like what it is they have endeavored to attain, once they attain it

36 Suffering Why is it assumed that what humans seek to attain is well-being Perhaps they are just as fond of suffering Perhaps suffering is just as much a benefit to humans as is well-being It is sometimes very pleasant to smash things, whether it is good or bad Suffering is the origin of consciousness, which we will never renounce

37 A False Mansion The palace of crystal exists only in the imagination of men of a certain era The real situation is one more resembling a hen-house or a block of apartments Everything that has been constructed is subject to ridicule It would be good if there were something that could not be ridiculed We must at least hope for such a thing

38 The Underground Life Although the narrator envies the normal person, he does not want to be normal At first he praises the inertia of the underground life But then he retracts this and says only that he desires something different which he cannot find And he says that the whole diatribe was a lie

39 As if I Had Readers The imaginary audience to which the narrator has addressed his speech accuses him of dishonesty He responds that the audience itself is a fiction—that his is writing only for himself He is trying to be totally honest with himself regarding his “early adventures” To commit his thoughts to paper may be helpful in this endeavor, as well as to get rid of his oppressive thoughts of the past

40 At the Office The narrator describes his workplace
He hated his fellow-clerks, who were lowly but did not care that they were His attitude alternated between despising them and feeling them to be superior to him He could not look anyone in the face He was conventional to avoid looking ridiculous to those upon whom he looked down

41 A Coward and a Slave The narrator was morbidly sensitive, as one should be at that time He was intelligent enough to know himself to be a coward and a slave To be a coward and a slave is was the normal condition No one is valiant: at the moment of truth everyone will flee

42 Romantic The narrator was not always in a morbid frame of mind
He would sometimes become skeptical and indifferent He socialized with others He would reproach himself for being romantic But he would then be a realistic romantic, not a transcendental European romantic

43 Solitude The dalliance with social life soon ended
The narrator spent most of the time alone His main activity was reading, from which he got pleasure, pain, and sometimes boredom To overcome boredom, he plunged into petty vice His “justification” was that he was depressed and had nothing in his surroundings that he could respect

44 The Officer One night, the narrator passed by a tavern and saw someone defenestrated He went into the tavern looking to get thrown out of a window himself Instead, a military officer unceremoniously lifted the narrator out of his way He did not protest (for which he would have gotten his wish), but instead resentfully retreated from the tavern

45 Moral Cowardice The narrator asserts that he was not a coward at heart, but a coward in action His action was based on “an unbounded vanity” He was afraid not of a beating, but of his actions being misunderstood by the rabble The officer himself would have insulted him before beating him and throwing him out the window

46 Revenge For years, the narrator nourished his spite and plotted revenge He found out the details of the officer’s life He tried to write a satire about him, but he could not get it published His “brilliant” plan was not to get out of the way when the officer came toward him But first, he had to borrow money to dress himself half-decently

47 Brief Respite The narrator could not work out the courage to carry out his plan His nerve failed him just before the would-be collision He resolved to abandon the plan When he was rehearsing the abandonment, he chanced into the officer and rammed him This made him feel avenged, and happy for a few days, but it could not last

48 Escape The narrator learned to endure his sickness
But he also had a means of escape through his dreams of “the sublime and the beautiful” He became a hero, not a “chicken heart” He was full of emotion and positively happy He fancied reality as opening up to him as almost riding a white horse and crowned with a laurel

49 Fantastic Love The narrator felt a love that exists only in his fantasies, not in reality He was triumphant over everyone, who in turn recognized his superiority Then he forgave them all He fell in love, acquired a fortune, then gave it away But this is all “vulgar and contemptible,” as is the attempt to justify himself through this

50 Plunging into Society The period of dreaming would last a few months and would be followed by attempts to be sociable He carried this out by visiting his boss at his home on the boss’s day off But the scene there was stultifying, and the narrator did not interact with anyone He went home re-thinking his romantic resolve to embrace all of humanity

51 A Schoolmate The narrator’s other acquaintance was a schoolmate
He had hated his schoolmates generally But he found in one of them “a certain independence of character, and even honesty” They had had close moments, but those moments were now an embarrassment The schoolmate probably disliked him

52 Crashing the Party-Planning
The narrator visits his schoolmate, who has guests who are planning a party They pay no attention to him, treating him like a “common fly” The narrator’s failure in life magnified the hatred they had for him as a student The guest of the party is a vulgar, swaggering heir to a fortune, who “had been favored by the gifts of nature”

53 Zverkov The schoolmate Zverkov was to leave St. Petersburg, hence the going-away party The narrator had verbally attacked in him school when he was boasting about his future sexual exploits The attack was not out of sympathy for the women, but because the other students had applauded him Eventually they parted on good terms

54 Crashing the Party The three schoolmates planning the party decide on the place and the contribution The narrator insists on being included, claiming he is hurt by being left out The schoolmates agree reluctantly to include him in the festivities The narrator questions his own motives in agreeing to go But he justifies it exactly because it would be so unseemly for him to do so

55 Bad Memories Having agreed to attend the party for someone he scorned, the narrator recollects his school days He was an orphan who had been sent to boarding school by distant relatives At school, he was mercilessly taunted by the stupid other boys They were not “real people” in contrast to his dreaming: they knew nothing of life

56 Reaction The narrator did not desire the affection of his fellow-students, but instead longed to humiliate them His weapon was to excel in his studies He was no longer mocked, but he was still hated He wanted a social life, but it never worked out Once he had a friend, but he repaid his affection by tyrannizing him

57 The Real Thing The narrator was quickened by the thought of the party, though he was ill-prepared for it He brooded over how it would go, but still he thought it was “the real thing” He dreamed of getting the upper hand over these vulgar people Yet he recognized that he did not really care how it would turn out

58 Condescension The narrator was humiliated by arriving an hour early because he was not informed of a change in schedule Zverkov greeted him with condescension It startled the narrator to see the Zverkov really believed he was superior to him He was embarrassed to reveal the circumstances of his employment He starts to mock Zverkov’s speech

59 Drunk The narrator thinks it is an honor for the others to be with him, while they think it is an honor for him to be with them He decides to leave, but he stays He finally gets drunk and causes a scene by condemning Zverkov’s type He tries unsuccessfully to provoke a duel He waits for them to address him, but they ignore him

60 To the Brothel After dinner, the company retire to a sofa for more drinking The narrator walks back and forth between his table and the stove The revelers become even more drunk and decide to go to the brothel The narrator apologizes for insulting Zverkov, but he replies that it would be impossible for the narrator to insult him

61 Everything is Lost! The narrator borrows money to follow the party to the brothel, to try again to humiliate them In his mind, he humorously contrasts this reality with his romantic fantasies He declares himself a scoundrel for making fun of his situation But he dismisses the thought because he has committed himself to the act: “everything is lost!”

62 “I’ll Give it to Him” The narrator resolves that upon entering the brothel, he will “give it to” Zverkov He will pull the hair of the prostitute who once refused him and pull Zverkov’s ears Although he will be beaten up, he will have taken the initiative Then the duel will finally take place The plan, of course, was obviously absurd, and he stops en route but goes on by fate

63 Liza The revelers have already left the parlor when the narrator arrives There, he meets a somber young prostitute, Liza The narrator declares himself happy to be repulsive to her After a very long silence, he begins to question her He tells her horror-stories about the ultimate fate of the young prostitute

64 Sentimentality The narrator next paints a deeply sentimental picture of the life that Liza left He romanticizes the relation between father and daughter Liza points out that many fathers are eager to sell their daughters The narrator responds by saying that a woman in a bad marriage should count her blessings

65 Love The romantic theme is taken to even greater depths
Love will overcome all quarrels between husband and wife “Love is a holy mystery” It should abide after the the first phase of marriage, culminating in a “union of souls” Even the most difficult times will seem happy, etc.

66 Bookishness Liza responds by telling the narrator ironically that he speaks “somehow like a book” In reaction, an “evil feeling took possession” of him He did not realize that her irony was covering up her feelings In an innocent persons, the feelings are kept back out of pride

67 Worthless Love Now the narrator turns his rage against Liza, doing his best to humiliate her He says that in other circumstances, he could fall in love with her But in the brothel, he can only dominate her Her love—her priceless treasure—is worth nothing here Any lover she had would have to share her

68 Consumption Liza’s ultimate fate is grim
She will never be able to get out of debt She will move to more and more disgusting brothels Eventually, she will be sick from consumption She will be abandoned in the filthiest corner to die No one will remember her

69 Despair The speech had its intended effect
The narrator had never before witnessed such despair He asks her forgiveness and gives her his address She fetches a letter from a medical student “who knew nothing” of her plight She wanted to show she was loved, though nothing would come of it

70 Aftermath After leaving, the narrator is amazed by his sentimentality and upset by the thought that Liza might call on him He repays his debt to his schoolmate, writing a noble letter He goes out into the busy street, wondering what is wrong with him He is worrying about Liza’s possible visit to his shabby underground hole

71 New Dreams The narrator considers going to Liza to explain himself and beg her not to come But this made him wrathful and determined to crush her He reflects on how easy it was to turn her life around with a few bookish words After she does not come around to visit, he begins to dream of saving Liza He fantasizes telling her that he knew of her love from the start

72 Apollon The narrator is distracted by the behavior of his servant, Apollon This dignified, elderly tailor despises him His behavior toward him was tyrranical In turn, the narrator hated Apollon He resolved not to pay him his wages Apollon responded by ritually staring at him

73 Visitation In the midst of the narrator’s confrontation with Apollon, Liza visits him He is humiliated by his ragged dress and his wretched dwelling-place Yet he professes not to be ashamed He becomes hysterical Liza begins to speak, saying that she wants to get away from the brothel

74 Confession The narrator reveals to Liza that the real object of his sentimental speech at the brothel was her humiliation He had no intention of saving her He was only playing with words, and wished that she and the others would go straight to hell He is an egoist who only played at being her hero, and he is ashamed

75 A Worm The narrator blames Liza for his own shame
He has confessed to her the worm-like baseness of his existence He asks why she remains there, “confronting” him Then he realized that she, out of love, realizes that he is unhappy She rushes to him and embraces him—and he responds by being ashamed

76 Mastery and Possession
At this point, there is a reversal of roles She is the heroine and he the humiliated creature He reacts in his usual way, by attempting to dominate and tyrannizing her He wants to master and possess her He hates her And she rapturously embraces him

77 The Final Insult Liza finally understands what the narrator is up to
She retreats behind a screen, crying The narrator paces about, peeking in through a crack He was incapable of loving her because he could only tyrranize and show his moral superiority That is even how he conceptualized love, even in his dreams

78 “Peace” All the narrator wanted at this point was to be left alone
He did not realize that she had come to love him, not to hear his “fine sentiments” “Real life” was again oppressing him, and he wanted only the “peace” of solitude When she was leaving, he tried to give her money, which she threw away This was the final act of cruelty

79 Remorse? The narrator pursues her fruitlessly
He wanted to beg forgiveness Yet he realized that it was to no purpose He would only hate her tomorrow And he would try to dominate her He tried to rationalize his situation to say that losing her would be better for both “Which is better—cheap happiness or exalted sufferings? Well, which is better?”

80 Oppression The narrator sums up by saying that the writing the story is not so much production of literature as corrective punishment A novel needs a hero, but the underground man is an anti-hero But are we not all cripples like him? Without books, we would have no idea what to do We do not know how to live and are oppressed at being real human beings

81 Crime and Punishment Two years later, Dostoevsky published his first great novel, Crime and Punishment The protagonist, Raskolnikov, in some ways resembles the underground man Leading an equally humiliating life, he sets out to do something real He commits a terrible crime in the name of a higher consciousness

82 Conscience The engine of the novel is the police investigation of the crime But the real theme is the gradual development of Raskolnikov’s guilty conscience He is aided in his purification by the prostitute Sonia In the end, he embraced Christianity and attempts to atone for his crime

83 The Idiot Another two years later, the second great novel, The Idiot, was published The central thesis is that a Jesus-like figure would find it impossible to survive in modern times Thus the book is an indictment of modern life as inhospitable to Christianity

84 The Possessed The third great novel came in 1871, three years after the second Here, Dostoevsky turns from the psychological arena to that of politics He portrays revolutionary reformers (as he once was) as utterly misguided The message is that only Christian faith, not political change, can bring salvation

85 The Brothers Karamazov
The final great novel was his last, published in 1879 The Brothers Karamazov is a sweeping tale of morality The characters personify the main types of human being The religious The sensualist The rationalist

86 Doubt In one place, the characters try to come to grips with the problem of evil How could God allow the immense suffering of children? Children are completely innocent and not deserving of any punishment A possible answer is that Jesus has the right to forgive everything, because of his own innocent suffering

87 The Grand Inquisitor The most famous passage in the book centers on an inquisitor in the Spanish Inquisition Jesus comes back to earth and is incarcerated He is told by the inquisitor that he has no right to return, since the welfare of souls has been turned over to the Church Jesus’s error was to invite humans to love him freely rather than enslaving them


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