The Brothers K

Okay, so I’m supposed to be reading “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky along with some other homeschool moms I know (yes, you already knew we’re gluttons for punishment; I can also conjugate “amo” in six tenses in Latin, in case anybody’s interested). I have to make it through Part One by late November, and I’m about halfway there. I skipped my version’s introduction entirely because it amounted to an extra twenty pages of reading (with really tiny print, I may add).

Anyway, I thought this whole affair might be made more interesting by sharing an occasional quote with you, my intelligent readers, in case you have any insights to share. I’m sure there are at least a few other people out there who’ve made it through this book (I have at least one friend who has listened to it.)

So here’s what caught my attention for today:

A character named Muisov, in describing Ivan’s (one of “the brothers”) philosophy, says, “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… For every individual…who does not believe in God or immortality, …egoism, even to crime, must become…the most rational…outcome of his position.” (p. 71)

A few pages later, we get a response to this argument from a character named Rakitin: “Humanity will find in itself the power to live for virtue, even without believing in immortality. It will find it in love for freedom, for equality, for fraternity.” (p.82)

Dostoevsky is giving a very logical conclusion to where natural selection and rationalism lead us – if “survival of the fittest” is the highest level order in the universe (no God), then why shouldn’t we all pursue our own wishes even to the point of crimes against others? I find it fascinating that he’s presenting this argument back in the mid-19th century, even as Darwin was first putting concepts of evolution and natural selection into the popular arena.

Your turn… What do you think? If everyone stopped believing in God, would we all become utterly selfish? Or is Rakitin right – would we live for virtue and the greater good anyway? And would we be doing it selfishly because it promoted our own survival (via natural selection), or because people can still choose to be virtuous and to act unselfishly apart from belief in the eternal?


2 thoughts on “The Brothers K

  1. hey, i just did a little twitter search up of The Brothers K and found this post. But I was actually looking for “The Brothers K”, not Karamazov. Always worthwhile thinking Doestoevsky again and I enjoyed that, but before I left I thought I should leave you with a new book suggestion, David James Duncan’s very american novel.
    It is absolutely incredible. Yes, even up against D. a late 20th century masterpiece.


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