DOSTOEVSKY: The Brothers Karamazov

Albert Einstein once said, “Dostoevsky gives me more than any scientist.” In this video, we will discuss Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, and also learn why Einstein and millions of others have turned to Dostoevsky for both instruction and entertainment.

On the surface, The Brothers Karamazov is a story about a Russian family. Fyodor is the dissolute father. Dmitri is the passionate and eldest son of Fyodor. Ivan is the intellectual atheist, and Fyodor’s second son. Alyosha is the pious novice, and the youngest legitimate son. Smerdyakov is the immoral and illegitimate son. Although the plot is thrilling and entertaining in itself, Dostoevsky’s primary goal in writing the novel is to explore complex moral and philosophical themes. Specifically, he addresses the existence of God and evil.

Book V is the heart of the novel, in which Dostoevsky presents the two opposing philosophical arguments of faith and doubt concerning God. Ivan, who represents the skeptic, argues that the existence of God is irrelevant. “It’s not that I do not accept God, it’s the world erected by Him I don’t and cannot accept.” Ivan rejects the world because there is innocent suffering and evil in it.

Theologians and philosophers have provided several justifications for the existence of evil, but Ivan is not convinced by them. He first considers the explanation that evil is necessary to understand what is good. In other words, we would not understand what is good unless there was evil. Ivan claims that the understanding of good and evil costs too much. The whole world of knowledge is not worth the suffering of one child.

Ivan also asserts that the Christian concepts of Heaven and Eternal Harmony are not adequate justifications for innocent suffering. “Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature, and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?”

In response to Ivan, Alyosha, who represents the man of faith, does not try to refute his brother by using logical arguments. Instead, he performs a profound act of love – he kisses Ivan. This act is symbolic. It means that words are incapable of explaining the world and God. It is only through our intuitions and emotions, specifically through love, that we can understand and accept them.

Despite Dostoevsky’s religious zeal, he presents a much more compelling case against God and His creation than for them. William Blake once said of Milton, “He was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” The same can be said of Dostoevsky.

We will conclude this video with one of Ivan’s most scathing criticisms of the Christian God. “There was a little girl of five who was hated by her father and mother. This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture by those cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her for no reason till her body was one bruise. Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty—shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy, and because she didn’t ask to be taken up at night (as though a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound sleep could be trained to wake and ask), they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this. And that mother could sleep, hearing the poor child’s groans! Can you understand why a little creature, who can’t even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? Do you understand that, friend and brother, you pious and humble novice? Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted?”

5 thoughts on “DOSTOEVSKY: The Brothers Karamazov

  1. Pingback: Nietzsche & Bodybuilding :) | Mike's Blog

  2. Interesting piece. This is my favorite novel largely because of the dialogue between Ivan and Alyosha. I like how you point out Alyosha’s response to Ivan is a kiss and the apophatic argument present. I do believe Dostoevsky further elaborated though. The response to Ivan was the life and character of the Elder Zosima. Zosima speaks about his transformation and Alyosha is an heir to the wisdom. Therefore his only response to the suffering Ivan is an act of compassion which is the answer to the problem of theodicy.

  3. Great write up, and like the author above I agree that this is my favorite novel. I take a somewhat different view on the strength of Dostoevsky’s case for faith, and I find Ivan to be a conflicted agnostic still earnestly searching for the answers to the meaning of life than a decided ane committed atheist. Ironically, one of Doestoevsky’s strongest cases for faith comes from the mouth of Ivan when he states, ““I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”

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