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Dostoevsky and the Conflicting Worldviews of Chernyshevsky and Christianity
by Kevin Fox

The Russian translators, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky claim that Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground satirizes much of N. G. Chernyshevsky's What Is to Be Done? (Notes 133 n.15). They claim that Dostoevsky is satirizing the "rational egoism," the scientific and utilitarian side of Chernyshevsky's writings (ibid). Chernyshevsky and the movement that revolved around his novel, What Is to Be Done?, "played a central role in both popularizing materialist, positivist, and rational utilitarian ideas among the intelligentsia and persuading many of its younger members that radical action was possible as well as necessary" (Katz and Wagner in Chernyshevsky 7). It is my claim that Dostoevsky is not only reacting against Chernyshevsky's ideas in Notes from Underground, but that he is also reacting against the implications of such ideas in Crime and Punishment and in The Brothers Karamazov.

Utilitarianism can make an ordinary man think that he is extraordinary and it can justify the murder and conquest of peoples through simple mathematics. This is the trap that the main character in Crime and Punishment has fallen into. He has accepted a utilitarian morality and therefore acts under the presumption of personal grandeur and utilitarian responsibility. In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky does not satirize Chernyshevsky's utilitarianism; he instead writes a tragedy that describes the agony that will inflict the Russian people when they are given an unsatisfactory alternative to the Russian Christian Orthodox worldview. By worldviews, I mean a system of encompassing the world with some definitive foundation, such as God or mathematics. Dostoevsky fears the outcome of this duality and prophesizes the misery to come when men and women are forced to choose between a more rationalized scientific worldview and a faith-based worldview that has its roots deep in Russian culture. Dostoevsky does not take sides, either with the scientific worldview or with the Christian worldview, but he does point to the appealing side of faith. Although appealing, however, Dostoevsky is not satisfied with providing one worldview as the exemplar. In The Brothers Karamazov, these two worldviews demand that some of the characters lie to themselves, and in self-deceit, they inevitably destroy themselves and everyone around them.

The main character in Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov, is acting under utilitarian precepts, he believes that he is doing humanity the most good by committing one simple crime. He believes that he can be extraordinary if he acts upon a mathematical equation of human happiness. If he kills one pawnbroker, he saves around a dozen souls who are constantly in her debt. The happiness of a dozen souls, he posits, is more important than the life of "a stupid, senseless, worthless, spiteful, ailing, horrid old woman, not simply useless but actually doing mischief, who has not an idea what she is living for herself, and who will die in a day or two in any case," (C and P 63). Given such a despicable person, utilitarian mathematics would conclude that it is right to "kill her (the old woman), take her money and with the help of it devote oneself to the service of humanity and the good of all" (ibid). This is the mathematics provided by a student and an officer and they are the same mathematics that Raskolnikov uses to commit that very homicide. The men and women who subscribe to this morality consider themselves extraordinary, because of their new utilitarian morality. They believe that they are able to make decisions of life and death according to its mathematical impact on the greater population. These extraordinary men and women are nothing more than criminals, and they cannot, in fact, handle the implications of their own morality. Crime and Punishment's Raskolnikov is a fool and a utilitarian who deems himself extraordinary.

Dostoevsky presents the extraordinary man in three fashions: the first is Dostoevsky's theory of the extraordinary man (which differs from the utilitarian concept), the second is Raskolnikov's utilitarian notion of himself as an extraordinary man and the third is Dostoevsky's view of Raskolnikov's attachment to his self-identification with the extraordinary. Dostoevsky's ideas about the extraordinary man are given in Raskolnikov's speech to Porfiry Petrovich on pages 242 and 243, Dostoevsky's polemic against the "extraordinary" utilitarian expressed ironically as an article written by Raskolnikov. The main concern of this speech or polemic is to define what exactly an extraordinary man is, according to Dostoevsky. Lending the protagonist the use of this definition, however, does not signify the author's acceptance of Raskolnikov's supposed extraordinariness. Dostoevsky parodies Raskolnikov's declaration of having extraordinary qualities inasmuch as he conjoins the adjective, extraordinary, with dream states, transformations, delirium and chance, thus equating Chernyshevsky and the utilitarians with these states of delusion. Dostoevsky is not satirizing the idea of an extraordinary man; on the contrary, he is proposing it as a possibility-a possibility that is actually impossible in utilitarianism. Rather than satirizing the concept of the extraordinary man, Dostoevsky satirizes people who think that they have the right to act like extraordinary men. Raskolnikov and Svidrigaïlov are representative of such people, and their ultimate fate is supposed to teach the lesson of knowing one's place and knowing which bounds you can overcome and by which bounds you are constrained. Raskolnikov is not the hero of the novel, but the fool.

Raskolnikov's speech to Porfiry, in which he defines what it is to be extraordinary and where he justifies the actions of extraordinary men, is a definition and idea that can be attributed to Dostoevsky. Raskolnikov gives the speech as though he were detached from it. He does not realize the implications of what he is saying, he doesn't realize that what he is describing is not him. This speech should have made Raskolnikov reflect; it should have made him question his situation, especially after the murder he commits and his self-identity sickness (extraordinary or ordinary?). But Raskolnikov's speech has no such effect; he speaks as though reading a transcript or reciting a memorized poem, as if somebody is talking through him and as if the words had no affect on his conscience. He looks at the ground while speaking, as if frightened of the implications of the theory for his own life, but he never voices this fear, he simply moves on, "as he said these words and during the whole preceding tirade he kept his eyes on one spot on the carpet" (245). Why does Raskolnikov never stop to reflect on his own essay, when it holds the key to his self-identity sickness? Why does he never question the murder he committed, why does he not try and discern whether his crime is extraordinary or ordinary? Why does he not struggle with his utilitarianism when it is obvious, via his essay, that utilitarianism cannot bring about extraordinary men? He has not come to terms with his identity or the nature of the crime, yet he never tries to reconcile these identities with "his own" essay. Raskolnikov also ignores the fact that he is acting, out of sickness, literally the same way that he describes an ordinary man playing at being extraordinary, "for they never go very far. Of course, they might have a thrashing sometimes for letting their fancy run away with them and to teach them their place, but no more; in fact, even this isn't necessary as they castigate themselves, for they are very conscientious: some perform this service for one another and others chastise themselves with their own hands" (245). Raskolnikov's detachment from his speech identifies it as Dostoevsky's. The speech is so clearly allegorical (which is exactly why the officer, Porfiry, wishes to bring it up) that Raskolnikov should have a hard time not applying his utilitarian theories to his actions, but he does not do it. Raskolnikov, unlike extraordinary men, has no new "word" to bring to the world, and therefore his crime is just ordinary. The "new word," Dostoevsky's argument for justifying crime, is that "all great men or even men a little out of the common, that is to say capable of giving some new word, must from their very nature be criminals-more or less, of course" (242). The descriptions of the extraordinary man given in this speech are Dostoevsky's, and they build the foundation for satirizing the utilitarian characters that act out of their ordinary role.

Dostoevsky satirizes utilitarians who presume themselves to be extraordinary-but who are actually ordinary-by always attributing the adjective "extraordinary" to the fantastic and the unreal. On page 52, dreams are described as having "a singular actuality, vividness and extraordinary semblance of reality." "Extraordinary" is later used to describe an impression of a random coincidence: "Of course it was a chance, but he could not shake off a very extraordinary impression…" On page 66, "extraordinary" is used in correlation with drowsiness and stupefaction, "And his drowsiness and stupefaction were followed by an extraordinary, feverish, as it were distracted haste." On page 152, "extraordinary" is used to describe Raskolnikov's state after a transformation took place: "Raskolnikov's set and earnest face was suddenly transformed… and in one flash he recalled with extraordinary vividness of sensation a moment in the recent past…" "Extraordinary" is also referenced to describe Razumihin while he is not quite himself: "Razumihin was in extraordinary excitement… he was in a state bordering on ecstasy (185-86). On page 236, Razumihin describes Raskolnikov's escape while he was delirious as "extraordinary," as if Raskolnikov's sickness and simultaneous ability to act makes him extraordinary. Over and over, each instance of "extraordinary" describes a situation that is abnormal, has dreamlike qualities, or is equivalent to delirium. Extraordinary is also a term used by people who are in the aforementioned states. The adjective, when used in Raskolnikov's aforementioned speech to Porfiry, is out of place in the context, making it apparent that Dostoevsky uses "extraordinary" in this ridiculous way because he is equating somebody's notion of being extraordinary with the unreal or absurd. By using "extraordinary" this way, Dostoevsky is showing the reader the dangers of utilitarianism and, in turn, he shows us why utilitarians think that they are above the average man. Utilitarianism leads people to believe that they are extraordinary, and Dostoevsky condemns this belief as delirium and self-deception. It is plain that Dostoevsky uses Raskolnikov to parody utilitarians who think that they are above the ordinary, and that those who think that they are extraordinary are actually mad, sick or drunk. This explains Dostoevsky's persistence in using "extraordinary" to describe states in which the character is not himself. If the characters were not in a state that caused him/her to act out of character and instead acted normally within the bounds of their established personality, "extraordinary," does not appear. We do, however, almost always find the use of this adjective associated with characters in an abnormal state, or when the narrator describes abnormal states such as dreams and sickness. Dostoevsky thus treats utilitarianism as a sort of poison that can make an ordinary man delirious, sick and mad.

Dostoevsky also believes that being extraordinary is not something that an extraordinary man can ponder because it is not something that he can know. He cannot know if he is or is not extraordinary because "the same masses set these criminals [the extraordinary men] on a pedestal in the next generation and worship them… The first category is always the [ordinary] man of the present, the second the [extraordinary] man of the future" (243). Extraordinary men do not spend their time reflecting on whether or not they are extraordinary, rather, they "move the world towards the future" (ibid). They move the world inasmuch as they break down the ancient worldview and build a new one in its place. Raskolnikov admits to his friend, Razumihin, that "his essay" is nothing new (this is also a humble gesture concerning Dostoevsky's opinion of himself): "You see that there is nothing particularly new in all that. The same thing has been printed and read a thousand times before" (ibid). Raskolnikov admits to not creating anything, he is instead reinforcing ancient thoughts, philosophies and ideas concerning men and women who are extraordinary. These ancient thoughts somehow conceive of a man or woman who brings about a new worldview, and in this case, it is a worldview that is not science or religion. Chernyshevsky's utilitarianism is also, therefore, nothing new but rather a morality based on an already established math and science. The reason for the masses setting the extraordinary man on a pedestal a generation later is that it takes time for them to stop being the enemy of change-and it takes time to become an ally of the man and the worldview-which they fought so hard to deny.

How can one posit himself as an extraordinary man, given Dostoevsky's definition? If the extraordinary man is to be the man of the future, then it seems ridiculous for him to try to experiment with his extraordinary attributes (even if we assume that he has these attributes). Extraordinary men commit crimes for a cause, so the "masses set these criminals on a pedestal in the next generation." What is the cause for which Raskolnikov committed his crime? He conceives of freeing some poor people from the wrath of a pawnbroker. Raskolnikov understands that this is only a preliminary step to committing crimes for greater causes, in imitation of Napoleon, but the fact is that Raskolnikov does not have a great cause, which keeps him ordinary. It is because he lacks that essential characteristic of the extraordinary man that he is ironically and satirically described as extraordinary when he is in fact sick, delirious, or acting otherwise abnormally. Raskolnikov cannot know if he is extraordinary or ordinary in the same way that utilitarians cannot have an omniscient mathematics that decides life and death. Only the future can judge the actions of an extraordinary man, not mathematics.

Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is about a fool, and the intended audience is the utilitarian fool who think he sees the extraordinary in himself. In the guise of Raskolnikov's speech to Porfiry, Dostoevsky defines what an extraordinary man is for those who do not know but who pretend that they do know (i.e., Raskolnikov). The intention of the speech is to make such people reflect and, in reflecting, learn their ordinary place in the world and learn the futility of the utilitarian morals, much like Raskolnikov does.

Chernyshevsky's logical and mathematical utilitarianism is problematic for the Christian worldview. The two are at odds in the thought processes of many of the characters not only in Crime and Punishment but also in The Brothers Karamazov. Alyosha is a character that represents someone who lives under the doctrine of Christian morality. The character Ivan represents someone who lives by reason and logic, and as such a person, he battles with the Christian worldview. The repercussions of Ivan's worldview are shown by his gradual decent into sickness and his dreams of the devil. His dream represents his escape back into the Christian worldview as his own conscious is producing proof of Christianity (through the appearance of the devil): "Lies! The purpose of your appearance is to convince me that you are" (Brothers 645). Other characters in this novel who are also troubled by these conflicting worldviews are Fyodor Karamazov and Dmitri Karamazov. Fyodor likes to bait his servants against each other over religious questions and he loves to hear the opinions of his sons over the existence of God: "Ivan? For the last time, definitely: is there a God or not?" (Brothers 134). Both Ivan and Alyosha give their respective answer yet Fyodor never seems to make a conclusion for himself. Dmitri, like his father, does not settle the dispute until the end of the novel when he gives in to Christian suffering. This triumph of Christianity, both in Dmitri, Ivan and in the "hero" of the novel, Alyosha, is one over logic and over the inability to choose between these two worldviews. Ivan's fall is Chernyshevsky's fall; the failure of reason is the failure of science. Christianity, in its triumph over Ivan, is ironically brought about by the devil, implying that the only logical reason to have faith is the hope that there is justice for those who suffer needlessly, to hope that someone is responsible for the deaths of many. The devil, being responsible for suffering, acts as the tool of hope that Ivan needs to accept the world he lives in.

It seems as if Dostoevsky is promoting Christianity as the worldview, as the only means for being able to deal with life. Christianity surely is the victor over reason and logic but Dostoevsky points to its faults as well. The most notable fault that Dostoevsky emphasizes in The Brothers Karamazov is in Ivan's poem, "The Grand Inquisitor." Ivan's poem shuns Jesus for choosing to give mankind the freedom to believe or not to believe, he argues that if only Jesus made such a miracle occur that would make it impossible to not believe in him, then there would be no suffering, "[b]ut do you see these stones in this bare, scorching desert? Turn them into bread and mankind will run after you like sheep, grateful and obedient, though eternally trembling lest you withdraw your hand and your loaves cease for them" (Brothers 252). The freedom that Jesus granted mankind was also a curse and it is a curse that the Grand Inquisitor hopes to reverse. His attempt at releasing mankind from suffering was by relinquishing their freedom-this was attempted in the Inquisition. Ivan also condemns God for allowing children to suffer and for allowing them to be responsible for the sins of their fathers when they are sinless themselves. Alyosha and the Christian worldview are not without a rebuttal but the damage has already been done and Ivan cannot be convinced of Alyosha's reassurance that the sinless children who suffer and die are like Jesus himself. Ivan struggles with his rebellion against Christianity and he slowly comes back to it, but in the scene of his conversation with the devil he "forbid[s] [the devil] to speak of "The Grand Inquisitor!…" blushing all over with shame" (Brothers 648). Why would Ivan be ashamed of his poem unless he was lapsing back into the Christian worldview and had accepted the physicality of the devil? The existence of the devil removes the blame that the Grand Inquisitor places on Jesus for granting humanity freedom. The devil's existence means that there must be suffering; it is his role: "I might just roar 'Hossanah,' and the necessary minus would immediately disappear and sensibleness would set in all over the world, and with it of course, the end of everything" (ibid). Suffering is, therefore, a necessary part of the world, and in this light Jesus is redeemed for Ivan.

The brothers are role-playing in order to escape the conflict that is produced by these two worldviews. Ivan is a rationalist who defines his ideas and beliefs through logic. He cannot set himself as firmly behind his position as his brother, Alyosha, but he is an unmoving logician throughout most of the novel. Ivan therefore avoids the conflict by standing himself behind the worldview of logic and science. The character Alyosha decides to be a monk who devotes himself earnestly to his faith, and in his stay in the monastery he is not only hiding from the conflict produced by these two worldviews in thought, he is hiding from the implications of this conflict on his family. Instead of immersing himself in the conflict, he chooses to set himself behind a worldview in blind faith. Dmitri and Fyodor are immersed in this conflict but instead of reaching a conclusion to this conflict, they escape into debauchery. Dmitri and Fyodor play buffoons because of their being stranded in indecision over the conflict of worldviews. Their acting outrageously prolongs their indecision and only continues their self-deception, their hiding from their own conflict. These two characters do not have a place within these two present worldviews, they are not like Ivan, rational and logical, and they are not like Alyosha, pious and faithful. They are forced to play buffoons because they cannot properly define themselves. The members of the Karamazov family that are hiding from the conflicted worldviews are Fyodor and Dmitri; the characters who do not hide are Ivan and Alyosha. Father Zosima has the solution to both Fyodor and Dmitri's problem: "Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others" (Brothers 44). Father Zosima is pleading with Fyodor (and indirectly with Dmitri) to deal with the conflict that they evade with his debauchery. If he deals with it, he will be able to love himself and the people in his life. Coming to a conclusion of this crisis of worldviews would be the end of the self-deception that is perpetrated by Dmitri and by Fyodor.

If Ivan is not deceiving himself, why does he have a fall-out? Why can he not love? Ivan's mistake is that he has answered the conflict of worldviews incorrectly. He answers with logic and that, as we saw with Raskolnikov, leads to a self-deception that is different from Fyodor's or Dmitri's inasmuch as it has a mathematical foundation. Dostoevsky is in conflict with this mathematical foundation and so Alyosha's answer is the only viable answer. Yet even Alyosha's answer somehow does not satisfy us. It is harder for the reader to reject Ivan's poem 'The Grand Inquisitor' as Alyosha and eventually Ivan does, and it is harder for the reader to accept the justification of the suffering of children being that they are emulating Jesus. If children, in their sinless suffering, are emulating Jesus, then why were they dying before Jesus came to Earth and why must they die after? We also feel sympathy for the devil that Ivan converses with because he is nothing but a servant under a tyrannous God: "And, I swear by all that's holy, I wanted to join the chorus and shout 'Hossanah,' with everyone else… I missed the moment!… because of my official duty and my social position, I was forced to quash the good moment in myself and stay with my nasty tricks" (Brothers 647).

Dostoevsky voices opposition to both the scientific and the faith-based worldviews. It is obvious that he favors faith over science and Christian morals, over utilitarian morals, but his dissatisfaction with these moralities leaves us with the hope of finding a third worldview in Dostoevsky's works. This is where Dostoevsky and Nietzsche express a similar alternative to both science and religion. It is an alternative that Dostoevsky ironically mentions in Notes From Underground and it is based on the imagination. Dostoevsky seems to be implying a breach of logic and faith: "Two times two is four has a cocky look; it stands across your path, arms akimbo, and spits. I agree that two times two is four is an excellent thing; but if we're going to start praising everything, then two times two is five is sometimes also a most charming little thing" (Notes 34).

1 All quoted instances of "extraordinary" are translations of the Russian word, Neobynkbovennyi. There are variations on the Russian word that Constance Garnett, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translate as "extraordinary." Thus, each of these words literally translates into "neo-ordinary" or "neo- usual." The translators use extraordinary because the Russian word for "ordinary" and the Russian word for "usual" are the same. The term, "unusual" would not seem out of place in some of the quotes I used as examples but whether or not the term has the same meaning as the English "extraordinary" does not matter as much as the fact that Dostoevsky is using the same term to describe states of delirium and to describe Raskolnikov's view of himself as "extraordinary."

Works Cited

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