Human Perspective On Morality In Dostoevsky’s Novel Brothers Karamazov
I have an issue with pure logic in the full context of morality. For the extensiveness that these arguments reach, to attain some aspect of morality that I argue should not be separated from the problem of evil. This is perhaps best explained through the contrasting views of the two authors who have stuck with me the most out of the readings, those being Platinga and Dostoevsky.
Platinga, to me, has produced the most satisfying logical answer to the problem of evil, in so much as he has gone into incredible detail for the purposes of establishing a complete and defensible position for the problem in a way that addresses the grander context of a logical argument’s limits (explicit and implicit) and comprehensively defending his argument to the full extent of those limits. And yet, despite this impressive attention to detail, it is Dostoevsky’s writings that ultimately speaks more to me in the sense that it truly answers the problem of evil in a profoundly human way that, although done through the use of fiction, grounds evil and God within the grander context of human experience, with logic simply serving as one component of that experience.
If we follow this idea, we can see that, within the context of The Brother’s Karamazov, we are able to implement elements of Platinga’s argument. One of the earliest and main points Platinga makes in his deductions is that there exists no explicit contradiction within the original context of the problem of evil, meaning any argument created must necessarily add additional, implicit premises that could then derive a contradiction (Platinga, 2008). This type of argumentation is found within the Brothers Karamazov.
For instance, I make the inference that Ivan and Zossima believe in the same potential good for the world. If this were not the case, Ivan would not be appalled at the evil he describes to make his argument, which implies a potential good serving as a direct contrast to the evil (Dostoevsky, 2006). Zossima describes this potential good as the eventual harmony of the world, an idea he derived in part because of his observational experience watching his brother’s transformation (Dostoevsky, 2006). This experience, although not itself grounded in a purely logical sense, nonetheless affects Zossima to his core, serving as an accepted proposition which then goes on to serve his logical argument of a higher harmony.
Ivan does not have such an experience and so fails to anchor his logical thought with a similar feeling, resulting instead in a brutal conflict within as he struggles to reconcile how we feels about the world and the logic he deems irrationally defended. The same moral problem arises in both Zossima and Ivan, but because of a difference in circumstances, reach vastly different conclusions to the problem of evil, ones that utilizes logic, but that are not sufficiently described by that logic alone. In other words, there is more we can derive based on the characters actions when compared to their words. As a result, Dostoevsky’s arguments are contextualized in a way that provides a nuanced answer to evil, one that has at least impacted me more than the other.
This is not to discredit the work of Platinga, who, by all accounts, wrote an impressive account of evil as it relates to God. The main strength of Platinga’s argument is its grounding in exhaustive deduction based on accepted premises. This a luxury not seen in a work of fiction such as the Brothers Karamazov as we have read in class. As a result, Platinga’s essay provides a much more focused, legitimate execution of an argument than a work of fiction could justifiably do. Additionally, the formal nature of an essay means there are very few things left to interpretation, granting even more weight to the details contained within the writing.
The importance of that weight cannot be understated. We expect a character in a book such as Ivan to be in the process of changing, and so we may take his words with a grain of salt. If this were not the case, Dostoevsky would not have felt it necessary for Ivan to allow the Inquisitor to release Christ without penalty, seemingly contradicting the entirety of the brother’s Kasmarov Poem (Dostoevsky). Platinga is not shackled by the need to write a compelling story, he is simply analyzing and deducing a clear and focused argument.
Ultimately, I am more compelled to accept Dostoevsky’s call of conflict more than I am Platinga’s purely logical response as I feel it places the reality of the world as we perceive and interact within it in direct opposition to a purely logical world, forcing us to confront the fact that we are not purely rational beings and must take both our rational and non-rational cognitions into consideration rather than failing to rationalize a purely explicit argument which, so far, we have not shown to be capable of fully articulating anyways. Platinga says as much in his closing statements, stating that “such a problem calls not for philosophical enlightenment, but for pastoral care” (Platinga 2008).
I believe any moral system is pointless (or at the very least, incomplete) if it fails to address the whole point of morality in the first place. Morality naturally drives inner conflict within us, and that conflict must take into consideration more than just the logical implications one can derive from a logical argument. A purely logical answer to the problem of evil tells me nothing of what morality will entail in a realistic scenario and so seems ultimately pointless if the arguments are to be argued for the sake of theory crafting rather than to say anything tangibly meaningful within the scope of human perspective.
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