English comp 4CW
May 14, 2014
Dostoevsky: Rationality and Reason
Many philosophers believed that reason could provide critical, informed solutions to social issues and in turn improve the human condition. Fyodor Dostoevsky conducts an assault against this notion in Notes From the Underground, making this work one of the most famous anti-enlightenment novels. Through this novel he showed what he believed were gaps in the idea that the mind could be freed from ignorance through the application of reason, and the rejection of the idea that humankind could achieve a utopian existence as a result. The narrator in this novel also known as the underground man is a ...view middle of the document...
25) and that choice is not necessarily “sensible and advantageous” (pg. 25). These statements suggest that humans are not rational by nature. It is the ability to exert our own free will that is most important. Man’s freedom of choice should not be controlled by anything, even reason.
When physiological science starts to break down what affects the human condition, people lose their feeling of freedom, and will act in any self-destructive way in order to preserve what free will they have left. The underground man claims that "If you say one can also calculate all this according to a table, this chaos and darkness, these curses, so that the mere possibility of calculating it all in advance would stop everything and that reason alone would prevail-in that case man would go insane deliberately in order not to have reason, but to have his own way" (pg. 22). By making this statement, Dostoevsky is arguing that these mathematic properties that have been set as law are restraining man's free will. This will make people go crazy just to retain it. The narrator describes this in his two times two analogy, "But gentlemen, what sort of free choice will there be when it comes down to tables and arithmetic, when all that's left is two times two makes four? Two times two makes four even without my will. Is that what you call free choice?" (pg. 23).
In order to demonstrate his discretion and unpredictable nature, the narrator shockingly states that what he stated before was nothing but a joke. He states, "Gentlemen, I'm joking of course, and I myself know that it's not a very good joke; but, after all, you can't take everything as a joke" (pg. 23). He continues his rant by saying “why, here's what would be better: if I myself were to believe even a fraction of everything I've written. I swear to you, gentlemen, that I don't believe one word, not one little word of all that I've scribbled. That is, I do believe it, perhaps, but at the very same time, I don't know why, I feel and suspect that I'm lying like a trooper." (pg. 27). By combining this with the previously mentioned joke statement, and assuming that both statements are meant literally, they create a double negative, canceling each other out. This only creates a bigger confusion. a following passage illustrates how the narrator believes a reader might react to his writings. In it, he includes, from a reader's perspective, "There's some truth in you, too, but no chastity; out of the pettiest vanity you bring your truth out into the open, into the marketplace, and you shame it... You really want to say something, but you conceal your final word out of fear because you lack the resolve to utter it; you have only cowardly...