Crime and Punishment at 150 (2016)

Crime and Punishment and the Philosophy of Human Soul Gabor, Octavian


In an era where philosophy is perceived as obsolete, without reference to daily life, one often wonders how to open students to philosophical thought. I propose here that Dostoevsky’s work can do the trick. The idea of using the Russian novelist’s stories in a philosophy class is not new. Fragments from his The Brothers Karamazov are often discussed in reference to the problem of evil. However, one rarely considers teaching an entire novel in a philosophy class. This paper focuses on the benefits and challenges of using Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment for teaching a class in the Philosophy of the Human Soul. While the main discussion will concern the philosophy of Crime and Punishment, the paper will inevitably entertain questions about the use of fiction in philosophical courses. I suggest that the use of literature has two benefits. On the one hand, it familiarizes students with philosophical problems through stories. On the other hand, it reemphasizes that, at its basis, philosophy is the attempt to directing one’s thought towards the understanding of life and of the place a human being has in this world. In fact, I argue that courses in philosophy could gain audiences by engaging universal human experiences, such as one finds in Dostoevsky’s novels. Thus, Crime and Punishment can be the territory where one tackles the distinction between a person and an individual, understands the notion of human being as it appears in the writings of the Church Fathers (Dostoevsky’s novel may be read as a commentary on Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Soul and the Resurrection), or approaches a soul’s responsibility for the other and for the world.

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