What is to be Done: Responses to Determinism in Notes from Underground

Essay completed 12 October 2016

In Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky is responding to the idea of rational egoism with the character of the Underground Man. The Underground Man is unable to justify his motivations for acting in light of the principle of rational egoism, which holds that the motivations of all human behavior can be traced back to self-interest. The utopian intellectuals to whom Dostoevsky is responding in the novel believe that eventually humanity can eliminate all crime from society. Under rational egoism, human transgression does not come from evil or sinfulness because all actions can be traced back to social pressures or injustices. There is no reason to punish or take revenge, as people are not responsible for their actions. This idea consumes the Underground Man leading him to agonize over the proper response to a life bound by determinism. Continue reading “What is to be Done: Responses to Determinism in Notes from Underground”

Enlightenment and Despair in The Sickness unto Death

Essay completed 21 September 2016

Kierkegaard makes a bold claim in The Sickness unto Death when he asserts “no human being ever lived… who has not despaired” (Kierkegaard 51). All humans have experienced the despair of lacking a self, according to Kierkegaard. He makes an even more sweeping claim when he asserts that almost all people live in despair (55).  While I normally hesitate to accept universal assertions about human nature, I find this claim oddly compelling. Kierkegaard’s statements about despair are interesting because of the issue of consciousness; most people are unaware of their own despair. Continue reading “Enlightenment and Despair in The Sickness unto Death”