Immortality and Immorality (Dostoevsky)

The Brothers Karamazov by Fydor Dostoevsky is one of those classics that has been on my reading list for quite some time. I’m currently working through it. So far I’m enjoying it although I would certainly not call myself an expert on Dostoevsky or this book, The Brothers Karamazov. But I still want to share this fascinating dialogue I ran across this morning in chapter six. This dialogue takes place soon after Dimitri joins the discussion of Palovitch, Father Zossima, Miusov, Father Paissy, and Ivan Fyodorovitch. The topic of immorality and immorality comes up after the group has a discussion about the church, the state, socialism, and Christianity. Here’s the quote:

“I ask your permission to drop this subject altogether,” Miusov repeated. “I will tell you instead, gentlemen, another interesting and rather characteristic anecdote of Ivan Fyodorovitch himself. Only five days ago, in a gathering here, principally of ladies, he solemnly declared in argument that there was nothing in the whole world to make men love their neighbours. That there was no law of nature that man should love mankind, and that, if there had been any love on earth hitherto, it was not owing to a natural law, but simply because men have believed in immortality.”

[Miusov continued:] “Ivan Fyodorovitch added in parenthesis that the whole natural law lies in that faith, and that if you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up. Moreover, nothing then would be immoral, everything would be lawful, even cannibalism. That’s not all. He ended by asserting that for every individual, like ourselves, who does not believe in God or immortality, the moral law of nature must immediately be changed into the exact contrary of the former religious law, and that egoism, even to crime, must become not only lawful but even recognised as the inevitable, the most rational, even honourable outcome of his position. From this paradox, gentlemen, you can judge of the rest of our eccentric and paradoxical friend Ivan Fyodorovitch’s theories.”

“Excuse me,” Dmitri cried suddenly; “if I’ve heard aright, crime must not only be permitted but even recognised as the inevitable and the most rational outcome of his position for every infidel! Is that so or not?”

“Quite so,” said Father Paissy.

Again, I’m certainly no expert on The Brothers Karamazov, but it seems to me that Ivan’s statement is another way to talk about one outcomes of the so-called “death of God.” Is there overlap? If I’m not mistaken, Fyodor Dostoevsky died before Friedrich Nietzsche did much of his writing so I’m not sure about this. Feel free to comment if you have more info – I’d love to hear your thoughts and learn more!

The above quote is found in chapter six of Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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