PHL 212
Instructor: Dr. Bob Zunjic


Selections from

The Brothers Karamazov (1880)

An Outline

The Brothers Karamazov is perhaps the greatest philosophical novel of all time. It is the last piece Dostoevsky managed to finish and publish before his sudden death in January of 1881. On the surface it is a strange life story of the family Karamazov (Fyodor - sensualist father, Dmitri - violent eldest son, Ivan - intellectual second brother, Alyosha - gentle youngest brother, and Smerdyakov - immoral half-brother). In its core, however, the novel advances some complex moral and philosophical arguments about human existence in general. By contrasting the father and his elder sons, on the one hand, with the young Alyosa, on the other, Dostoevsky wanted to demonstrate the spiritual emptiness of atheism, crude materialism and scientistic arrogance of his time. While not every reader may feel comfortable in accepting Dostoevsky's fervor for Christian Orthodoxy as the remedy for the illnesses he is depicting with an incredible sensitivity toward the ambiguities of human condition there is no doubt that his powerful portrayal of these representative characters and their dilemmas possesses universal relevance. The section about the existing evil raises many disturbing issues about God and our tendency to reconcile with the suffering of the innocent or even to justify it.
This outline covers the fourth chapter of the fifth book of the Brothers Karamazov.


How to Defend God in View of the Existing Evil?

  A Dialogue Between Two Karamazovs:
A devout Christian monk.
A philosophical agnostic.
First Problem: The Existence of God

Question 1:

Does God Exist? What is Ivan's answer?


There are several possible positions with regard to the existence of God:


1. Theist:

'I believe that God exists.'
(This is the conviction of Alyosha who stakes out his whole life on that belief.)

2. Atheist:

'I believe that God does not exist.'
(Notice that atheism is also a kind of belief. Initially Ivan simply denied the existence of God but afterwards recanted his statement, which is more in keeping with agnosticism.)
Note: Ivan notes that those who do not believe in God but strive to accomplish "the transformation of all humanity on a new pattern" turn the religious idea of salvation inside out. In other words anarchism and socialism are just a reversed glove of Christian Kingdom of Heaven.

3. Pantheist: 'I think that God resides everywhere - he is indistinguishable from Nature.' (Some Native Americans have beliefs that come very close to pantheism.)

4. Deist:

'I believe that there is a Supreme Mind or a Principle indifferent to human exploits.'
(Some people do not believe in a personal God but allow that there is something higher out there. Voltaire was one famous deist.)
5. Nihilist: 'There is no hereafter and what is here is also an illusion.'

6. Agnostic:

'I don't know whether God exists or not; this question could not be rationally decided.'
(This appears to be the true position of Ivan Karamazov.)

Theism Asserts the existence of God.
Pantheism Identifies God with the world.
Deism Claims that there is an Intellect behind the universe.
Atheism Denies the existence of God.
Nihilism Denies the existence of both the world and God.
Agnosticism Asserts the inconclusiveness of all answers about God.
Doubts: For Alyosha, the ensuing discussion about the existence of God is very disturbing - at best it can yield only what he already believes - that God exists.
For Ivan, it is an open intellectual game which at worst can only estrange him from his brother. He himself is not much concerned for the outcome because his own existence seems to be rendered meaningless either way. This creates the impression Ivan is a cynic, but he is not. He is more concerned for the consistency and purity of moral principles.
"The Old Sinner": The allusion is to Voltaire (1694-1778), French philosopher of the Enlightenment, who was at one a deist and a man of mundane pleasures. He did not believe that morality in the masses could be sustained without relying on something beyond us (= heteronomous morality). Therefore he used to say that "if there were no God, he would have to be invented" ("Si'l ne existait pas Dieu, il faudrer il inventer", Epitre a l'Auteur du Livre des Trois Imposteurs, 10 November 1770). But he himself enjoyed life to the fullest.
Why? Why do we need a God?
Various Answers:
To be moral? To keep people in check? To be hopeful?
  Note: B. Brecht suggests the following test: Ask yourself would you change anything in your conduct if there were a God! If you would, you need a God. Those who ground morality on religion must conclude that everything is permitted if God did not exist. Dostoevsky was the first to formulate this frightening statement through Ivan. However, most recent studies show that there are no significant differences in moral intuitions between the believers and non-believers (cf. P. Singer, M. Hauser). One can argue with Lacan that if there were a God then everything would be permissible to him.
Creation: Voltaire amended the statement from Genesis (1,26-7) about the creation of man in the image of God by adding that man promptly returned the compliment. Which evens the score and settles the issue. Not only that men should have invented God - they have actually invented him in response to the great divine creation.
The same reasoning could be used to explain the relationship between man and the Devil - and it was already applied in that manner.
Anthropomorphism or Theomorhism Ivan does not tackle the question who has created who, God man in his own likeness or man God by over-blowing his own image? In the final analysis it really does not matter. If the former, we should certainly believe in God. If the latter, we need a God and therefore we should believe in him as if he really exists.
Pragmatic Stance There is no way that we can resolve the matter by using our limited human mind. Precisely because it is impossible to rationally decide the issue of the original authorship it makes sense either to simply accept or reject the existence of God or to entertain alternately both views.

This is the reason why Ivan advises Alyosha in the following manner:
"Never think whether God exists or not!"
"I can't expect to understand about God." "All such questions are utterly inappropriate for a mind created with an idea of only three dimensions."

Marvel: No matter whether God exists or not the fact is that the idea of God exists. For a cynic, the sheer existence of this idea is a greater miracle than the marvel of possible God's existence. For it is amazing that "such a vicious and savage creature as man" could have recognized the necessity of such a lofty idea. It does a great credit to man (who otherwise does not deserve much admiration). The most vicious animal has developed the idea of the most sublime being. Ivan does not want to take away this credit from man by considering the possibility (espoused by many theologians) that God has implanted the idea of Himself in man (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas and Descartes).
Animals not vicious. Lack idea of God.
Humans vicious. Possess idea of God.
Denial Revisited: Recogniziong the existence of the idea, Ivan begins his reasoning by reformulating his previous outright denial of God:
  (a) "Perhaps I too accept God."


Provisional Assent: For the sake of an argument ("Only fancy!"), Ivan can both believe that God was invented and accept the idea that He now exists. In a way, if we accept God we in fact affirm the contention that "man has actually invented God".
Choice: But Ivan does not want to bother himself with the question of priority: who created whom, God man or man God. It does not change anything in his argument about the actual state of affairs that is so telling about the Creator of the world. Even less he seeks to determine the nature of God. Our abilities are not up to that task.
Ignoramus: we do not know:
Whether God exists.
What is his Nature.
Who has created whom.
Second Problem: "What Manner of Man I am?"
  With our limited abilities we cannot decide the question of God's existence. But our human powers suffice to reflectively determine who we are, what do we believe and what can we know. Ivan wants to explicate his own nature: what does he believe and what does he hope for. This is possible to figure out independent from the issue whether God exists and is relevant for the issue of evil.
Essential Nature: For Ivan, the main characteristic of man is to seek understanding and to be able to attain it within the confines of his earthly (limited) mind. Thus if God is accepted by Ivan He is accepted the way human understanding accepts something. This qualification is indicated by the expression "Euclidian mind".
Euclidian Mind: The expression was coined by Voltaire to denote the way human reason works or better to say the limits within which human understanding operates ("the impotent and infinitely small Euclidian mind of man"). Human mind cannot comprehend that some objects are not in space with 3 dimensions, that two objects occupy the same spot at the same time, that parallel lines meet, that things happen without any reason, that consequences follow without being caused.
Euclid: Note: Euclid (325-265BC?) was a Greek mathematician who has systematized the whole geometrical knowledge of his time in 13 books of the Elements. At the beginning he introduced 5 common logical notions and 5 specific geometric postulates that define our understanding of magnitudes and planes. The fifth geometrical postulate states in a rather cumbersome way the axiom of parallel lines: "If a straight line falling on two straight lines make the interior angles on the same side less than two right angles, the two straight lines, if produced indefinitely, meet on that side on which are the angles less than the two right angles." In other words, if these angles are not "less than two right angles" these lines will never meet. The impossibility to prove this postulate led Nicolai Lobatchevsky (1792-1829) to the conclusion that non-Euclidian geometry is as "true" (valid) as Euclidean.

As a man I can reason only in the following way:
(1) If God exists and if He did create the world, then He created it according to the geometry of Euclid. This geometry includes both the assumption of three dimensions and the axiom about parallel lines that is constitutive for the visible world. How does Ivan know that God must have created the world according to the axioms of Euclidean geometry? Because his mind operates in that manner and it has been presumably created by God.
Note: This is a rationalist presumption against those who place God above commonsense logic and against those who propound a non-Euclidian geometry as the geometry of the universe. It appears that the world we see is set up in accordance with the geometry of Euclid and this constitution inevitably defines the framework for any discussion and understanding of the world.

(2) If God has created the world, He also created the human mind with the conception of only three dimensions of space. This means that for human mind two parallel lines can never meet since that intuition is essential for our intellect - any other reasoning is not valid on this planet.
Note: Of course, if we put two parallel lines on a sphere they will meet, but this could be explained by means of the same Euclidean geometry. What we cannot conceive and accept is that a non-Euclidian geometry holds for the world that we see. It can only apply to non-intuitive and non-worldly entities beyond our comprehension and rational abilities.

Human Mind=> This World Logical Reasoning Euclidean Geometry
Divine Mind=> Beyond the World Non-intuitive reasoning Non-Euclidean Geometry
Ignoramus: Since we cannot understand what is beyond us it is reasonable not to raise questions about God's existence and his nature. The question of God is not a question of this world, not the question that human intellect can solve. It operates within Aristotelian logic and visualizes world in keeping with the principles of Euclidean space. But it is not necessary to place God somewhere in space in order to accept Him. God does not have three or any finite number of dimensions.


Ivan's Decision:

Since we cannot know or understand God we should simply accept or reject him on faith. Ivan decides to accept God precisely because we cannot determine whether he was created by man or the other way round, what is His nature and whether He exists. It makes sense to make a leap of faith in the absence of knowledge. ("I accept God simply.").

Third Problem: What does it mean to accept God?
The Meaning of Acceptance:

Since I cannot understand anything about God, and since you insist that God has created this world, I accept this assertion at least tentatively - 'since you say so', that is, for the sake of argument. "And so I accept God and am glad to."

But to "accept God" means much more than to accept that God exists and that He has created the world. This acceptance obviously entails a whole series of derived tenets.

(a) Wisdom: "I accept His wisdom": I accept that God has created the world (wisely).
(b) Teleology:

I accept "His purpose". As a good artisan God had an idea while creating the world and He has set a certain purpose for the world.
Note: "I believe in the underlying order and the meaning of life." We do not see always the manifestations of that wisdom and purpose. But we need to presume that there is an invisible order underneath the visible disorder, that there is a hidden sense in what now seems to be devoid of any meaning.

(c) Eschatology: Not only there is an order and meaning in the world; in the world's finale everything will shine in the true perfection of the 'eternal harmony': "I believe in the eternal harmony in which they say we shall one day be blended." This will be the final point in history. Hence Ivan echoes the credo from the Gospel of John: "I believe in the Word to which the universe is striving, and Which Itself was 'with God', and Which Itself is God and so on, and so on, to infinity."
Components By "accepting God" Ivan accepts all crucial moments of the great Christian story:
(1) God exists. EXISTENCE
(2) God has created the world. CREATION
(3) God has created the world wisely and nicely. WISDOM
(4) God has supplied a purpose for the world. TELEOLOGY
(5) God provides order to the world and the meaning to our lives. SIGNIFICATION
(6) God leads the world to its finale that will result in complete atonement. ESCHATOLOGY

All 6 components are constitutive for the belief in Christian God. However, the most decisive component of the story is (6), that there is a final moment at "the end of time", when everything will merge into an "eternal harmony".
Disengagement After accepting the whole package in accepting God Ivan all of a sudden qualifies his acceptance by rejecting some components. He cannot accept the world as it is (5) nor is he ready to accept the redemption of the world (6) although he does not deny that God exists (1), that he has created world (2), and that its final moment will come to pass under God's guidance (6).

"It's not that I do not accept God, it's the world erected by Him I don't and cannot accept."

"But I don't accept it, I won't accept it."

Rejection: Ivan does not see the order and the meaning in the existing world. He therefore finds (5) to be at odds with the idea of God and the constitution of his Euclidean mind. The fix at the end of time is unacceptable on moral grounds - it goes against Ivan's moral sense. In addition, since the existing world contains evil, suffering and injustices it is incompatible with the idea of a good and wise God which in turn undermines (3).

Ivan cannot accept these three tenets anymore than he can assent that parallel lines meet. In other words, he does not accept anything pertaining to this Euclidian world that is not in conformity with the geometry of Euclid (earthly logic and the principles of justice). If he sees that things defy logic and justice he will refuse to believe his eyes for the sake of his reason and sanity.
Analogy Even if parallel lines do meet and I see it myself I will not accept that fact. By the same token, even if eternal harmony comes to pass I will not accept the justification of suffering it entails.
Parallel lines meet
Suffering exists
Infamy / Absurdity
Sufferings redeemed
Non-Acceptance Ivan does not see the wisdom of creation asserted in (3).
He does not understand the order and the meaning asserted in (5).
And he rejects the announcement that the world will be redeemed in 'eternal harmony' (6).
For reasons that are to become clear shortly, these claims in Ivan's mind cannot be reconciled with the way how we humans accept something as factual, logical and moral.
Tenet Rejection
(3) Logical Reason
(5) Factual Reason
(6) Moral Reason
Fourth Problem: How to Love a Fellow Man?
Ivan's Difficulty:

Ivan: "I could never understand how one can love one's neighbor."

Note: Ivan's statement is a reference to the biblical command: "Love your neighbor!" (Lev. 19:18) Ivan Karamazov takes it in its OT meaning as pertaining to those who are close to us as members of our family, social group or ethnicity. In contrast, Jesus of Nazareth urges his disciples to extend the use of the expression 'neighbor' so that it applies universally to any fellow man who deserves love simply as human being (i.e. to every man).

Impossible Love:

1. Concrete individuals close to us are physically repugnant. One sees the ugliness of human race vividly present in those who are around us.

2. People we know do things that make love for them impossible. By their acts they demonstrate that humans do not deserve to be loved.

Counter-Argument: Alyosha: "But yet there's a great deal of love in mankind, and almost Christ-like love."
Refutation of CA:

1. Particular acts of practical love and compassion are in fact acts of self-laceration, duty or penance.

2. One can love mankind "in the abstract, or even at a distance". But we can espouse abstract humanism only if we forget what real people do. Once we see them as they are all love is gone.

3. A Christ-like love for (all men) is a miracle impossible on earth.

Disconnect Note: Ivan reverses the reasoning from the Gospel of John: If you do not love your brother whom you can see on a daily basis how can you claim you love God whom you cannot see?
Ivan responds: I cannot love my brother precisely because I see how he looks and what he does. This is an impediment rather than a stepping stone for loving God.
Fifth Problem: How to empathize with the Suffering of others?
Limits of Compassion:

Suffering is very real, but men by rule do not recognize it and even less empathize with it.

1) Another (man) can never really know how much I suffer, because he is another man and not I.

2) A man is rarely ready to admit another man's suffering because he is at best indifferent or (more often) does not like others.

Kinds of Suffering:

There are basically three types of suffering:
(a) Accidental suffering (like hunger, decease or earthquake). Although it negates humanity in us it is mostly caused by misfortune or objective factors (natural evil).

(b) Deliberate suffering for an idea. It is sustained for the sake of a noble cause (heros and martyrs).

(c) Suffering of the innocent (children). Undeservedly inflicted by others (moral evil).

Motive: People are typically ready to recognize only suffering (a), very rarely (b), and even less (c). But Ivan focuses preciesly on (c). He is fond of collecting facts that graphically illustrate the variety of pain and suffering inflicted by humans on children. Why does he, almost sadistically, list so many examples of (c)? Why Ivan brings up these horrific stories? Is he a sick person who pathologically enjoys retelling atrocities and tortures?
The Case:

No. He is not a sociopath. He is not a misanthrope either. By collecting examples of senseless and undeserved suffering Ivan is making a case against humanity, the world and God. And even though, he is making a case against humanity, he contends, he is doing this "from love for humanity".

Note: This apparent contradiction is the consequence of a discrepancy between the existing type of humanity and the one Ivan wants to see in the world. The existing humanity exposes children to many forms of evil and suffering, the one Ivan has in mind would go by the principle that children must not be blamed for possible mistakes or failures of their parents and therefore never exposed to suffering.

Reducing the Scope: Previous writers (notably Voltaire) drew up comprehensive lists of natural disasters and human crimes in order to undermine the idea that this world is good and that we have reason to be optimistic. Ivan is more selective. By focusing only on one segment of evil (the third kind of suffering from the above list) Ivan weakens quantitatively the case against the world, because children are only a portion of the whole human race. But this reduction makes the point qualitatively stronger, because children are entirely innocent.
Different Species In contrast to the grown-up people who are both physically and morally disgusting, children (1) could be loved even at close quarters (they are not physically ugly), and (2) they have not done anything wrong and are not guilty (metaphorically: they have not eaten "the apple").
Principle of Justice

The innocent must not suffer for another's sin, and especially such innocent as children!

The grown-up people have received a kind of compensation (knowledge and experience) for their suffering, or better to say, they are not any longer innocent, so let them pay the price.
Note: Ivan is willing to accept the doctrine of original sin so far as it applies to adults.

Exemption The theory of original sin is not applicable to children. The reasoning that all should suffer is "of the other world" and "is incomprehensible for the heart of man here on earth". The principle of solidarity in sin or retribution must not involve children!
Bestial Cruelty Children must not be exposed to human cruelty, let alone to the worst forms of "bestial cruelty". This latter phrase is in fact an insult to the beasts because they do not artistically torture and do not take pleasure in torturing their prey. Animals attack humans only in defense or for food. In contrast, humans very often savagely beat animals and take pleasure in inflicting pain to them.
Man = Devil Given man's proven ability to invent very refined methods of cruelty one can claim that the devil is just a self-projection of the dark side of man or even a summation of his evil. If it is a projection of something that something must be already inside: "in every man, of course, a demon lies hidden - the demon of rage, the demon of lustful heat at the screams of the tortured victim, the demon of lawlessness let off the chain, the demon of deceases that follow on vice." In this sense Ivan claims that man has created the devil "in his own image and likeness".
Man = God Alyosa retorts that, based on the factuality of good deeds, one can also contend that man has created God in his own image and likeness. Hence God must be good because man is good. But Ivan thinks that human vices and crimes by far outweigh the good sides of man. Therefore whoever the creator is (man or God), he could not be the paragon of goodness. If God was created as a projection of man's characteristics he could not be a very impressive being. "Yours must be a fine God, if man created Him in His image and likeness."
Sixth Problem: How to accept the World?
Difficulty: Ivan does not accept that the world makes sense (that it is meaningful). On the contrary, he is convinced that the world is deprived of sense (= absurd). Therefore he does not want to accept it although it has been created by God and obviously exists. He also renounces the claim that what we see could have any reasonable purpose. Finally he rejects the idea that an eternal harmony should bring atonement to such a world. The world as it is cannot be and should not be atoned or redeemed.
Reasons Consequently, Ivan does not accept this "world = arrangement" as having the underlying order on factual grounds, he does not accept its "meaning" and its "puprose" on logical grounds and he does not accept its alleged redeeming finale on moral grounds.
Contradiction By saying "I accept God" Ivan said 'yes' to the 6 components of the story: (1) Existence, (2) Creation, (3) Wisdom, (4) Order, Meaning, (5) Purpose, and (6) Harmony. Now he says "I do not accept" (the world, its arrangement and the final harmony). Is this a contradiction? Not exactly, because Ivan's initial acceptance and his subsequent denial have a slightly different meaning.
"I accept" = I believe God exists, he has created the world, he orders it and he leads the world toward its final harmony.
"I do not accept" = I think the world does not have a proper meaning, I disagree how its purpose unfolds and I do not want the world to merge in a harmony after all.
  Note: Of course, this raises the question how can one accept the Creator without accepting His creation, order and purpose? The crux of a believer's position is that he should accept not only article 1 of the creed but also those stated in 2 through 6. A believer must accept not only that God has created the world but also that He has done it wisely, with a purpose, by providing order and direction to our lives and ultimately by securing the final resolution for all discrepancies and tensions. By rejecting to accept personally what he accepts doctrinally Ivan in fact undermines his initial acceptance. (Therefore the word "accept" is being used equivocally.) The series 1 through 6 is a package. So, by not accepting some of the statements Ivan ultimately denies his assent to God whom he has verbally accepted.
Question 2: "Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted?"

This is a reference to the Christian story as a whole but most specifically to the fact that suffering and evil exist despite divine origin of the world. The expression was used by Voltaire to denote both the fact that the innocent suffer and human readiness to accept this arrangement of the world under different excuses. Voltaire's answer to that position was in general: "Crash the infamy!" (That is to say, reject the idea of perfection and renounce any justification; the only meaningful attitude is to act within the confines of our own abilities - as Voltaire's Candide says: "Let us look to our welfare; go into the garden and do our own work.")
Note: Infamy is a wrong reputation (notoriety for bad reasons).

Coping with evil The problem entailed by the presence of evil in the world is of a general kind and cannot be limited just to the way how Christianity justifies evil, miseries and misfortunes. We use different patterns of justification to cope with the world:
- Evil is just a fragment of an overall good world.
- Without evil we would not be able to appreciate good.
- We do not know why evil is necessary (or even good). God knows.
Instrumental Rationality:

All too often we inflict pain or suffering in order to achieve our goals. No objection to this so long as it is a self-chosen and self-inflicted suffering. But we expose other people to suffering without their consent. Except for arbitrary acts of torture we regard these actions as a means for some ends that should redeem the inflicted pain. This type of conduct is an example of instrumental rationality or teleological reasoning ("necessary costs", "unavoidable consequences", "co-lateral damage"). It is a kind of necessity we accept for the sake of something higher, more important or universal. God, if He exists, allows us to reason and act in this way. But from a moral point of view it is infamous to take others as a means and to claim that ends justify the means.

Moral Stance:

Instrumentalization of the other is immoral as such. No matter whether we appeal to their dedication or simply manipulate them. Morally the most abominable abuse is certainly the sacrifice of other people without their consent. In that case we do not ask others to let themselves sacrificed. We just sacrifice them. Reagrdless how important and great that good might be for the sake of which men require the sacrifice of others or simply use their lives - it is morally unacceptable to proceed according to such a reasoning. It is especially problematic to sacrifice the innocent. When we do that we typically apply some of the following schemes of justifiucattion:

Refusal of Relativization
for the sake of
for the sake of
for the sake of
for the sake of
for the sake of
for the sake of
for the sake of
for the sake of
for the sake of

Ivan rejects all means-end, present-future, small-big, low-high or individual-universal relations that are supposeed to portray the sacrifice of the left members of these pairs as something else from what it is - a crime, violence, an immoral act! Assuming, of course, that it is not voluntary.
Requirements If the sacrifice is a self-sacrifice it could be morally commendable. But even then some conditions must be met. For instance, that those who have sacrificed themselves be allowed to see the outcome either during their lifetime or after. If I am not alive to see the result of my sacrifice I may be reduced to a sheer means for something else. What is there for me in that future if I am dead? Therefore the minimal requirement for moral justification is to provide the opportunity for those who have lost their lives to assure themselves that it was worthy of sacrifice. An indefinite postponement of the outcome is tantamount to a deception. By the same token, Ivan does not accept that his sufferings "manure the soil of the future harmony for somebody else" just like that - without giving anything in return to the sacrificed.
Seventh Problem: Why is there Evil?
Question 3: Why should evil have happened in the first place? Does the fact that there is evil mean that God was not willing or not powerful enough to do something with it in general?
What is the purpose of so manifold suffering in the world?
Absurdity: Hard to say, - for Ivan, it is just an absurdity - but "this humiliating absurdity of human contradictions" appears to be constitutive for this world. "Let me tell you, novice, that the absurd is only too necessary on earth. The world stands on absurdities, and perhaps, nothing would have come to pass in it without them." It does not make sense to find evil in the world created by a good God, even less to see the innocent suffer. It is absurd both to have a crime committed and the perpetrator afterwards punished and finally redeemed. It is absurd that a monk asks for execution, "but" this particular absurdity (inconsistent with Christian attitude) is consistent with the absurdity of the whole that is allegedly wisely ordered and still includes evil, that is guided by a purpose and still allows the suffering of the innocent.

Some say suffering and pain are neccesary in order that humans could distinguish between good and evil and then freely choose between the two.
Maybe. But if the occurence of suffering is a condition for the knowledge of what is right and wrong (for otherwise man "could not have known good and evil"), then the answer is:

(a) This is a diabolical condition. Why do we need to know the difference between good and wrong "when it costs so much"? And just how much does it cost? Is the freedom of choice worth of this ever mounting cost or is it rather compromised by it? The cost-benefit analysis does not speak unambiguously in favor of such a knowledge. Would it be preferable not to have the freedom of evildoing at all? Why we were not given only good?



If one says that suffering is a necessary consequence of the original sin, because men "have eaten the apple", Ivan is ready to agree. Grown ups have inherited the sinfulness of their ancestors (the first couple). Their sufferings are thus (religiously speaking) deserved: Through the original sin the grown ups have clearly opted for freedom over the safety of paradise. Moreover they wanted to appropriate something that did not belong to them (knowledge = "stealing fire from heaven" and possibly immortality). So they have forfeited right to complain about the consequences (thus the devil can take them all).
Note: Ivan compounds the pagan myth about Prometheus (who actually gave fire to men) and the biblical myth about the first transgression (the discovery of free will was actually prompted by the prohibition pronounced by God).


Question 4: All the same, why "the little ones"?
(b) Ivan refuses to include children into the chain of suffering and to regard suffering as a legitimate means for something good and valuable. How can we accept the logic that a higher and greater good justifies the suffering of innocent children? Not even a universal good could compensate the suffering of a single child. Especially not if the only gain is knowledge. "The whole world of knowledge is not worth that child's prayer to 'dear, kind God'." Why God does not at least prevent the suffering of children if he cannot avoid general suffering?

Although the principles of Euclidean mind require that we find a rational explanation and moral justification for the general misery in the world as well as for the suffering of children in particular we do not get any satisfactory answer. But even if we had any explanation, no answer could be morally acceptable.
"I understand nothing, I don't want to understand anything now?"

Note: Striving to understand is psychologically motivated. We feel safer if we understand what is going on around us. Ivan wants to understand in order to be able to overcome the anxiety aroused by the troubling constitution of this world. But he cannot because it is absurd - it resists understanding both logically and morally.

Eight Problem: Why refuse Understanding?
Determination: By definition, absurdity cannot be understood. But Ivan does not want even to make a try to anderstand.
"I made my mind long ago not to understand."
Why is Ivan refusing to understand?
Mediation: To understand means to relate to something else, higher, more comprehensive, forthcoming, redeeming. In other words, it means to excuse and justify the unjustifiable. And exactly this rationalization is not just and moral. It circumvents the reality of suffering and the innocence of the victims. Justification does not necessarily lead to justice (it is not identical with justice).

Note: The decision not to understand could be a sign of humility that is the source of the will to believe (faith). But Ivan's refusal to understand is a sign of human pride that leads either to resignation or rebellion.
Facts for Themselves: In order not to betray the reality of existing suffering we have to reject any attempt to put it into a "bigger picture", "perspective", or "context":
"I want to stick to the fact. If I try to understand anything, I shall be false to the fact and I have determined to stick to the fact."
Hidden Purpose: Maybe the facts of suffering will be somehow integrated into a higher invisible purpose. Perhaps God knows what is this all misery for?

If I believe in God I shall also believe in his promise that everything will be eventually redeemed. In the Book of Revelation it is said that "He will wipe every tear from their lives. There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away." (Rev., 21, 4)

"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... 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 crimes of humanity, of all the blood they've shed."


Atonement: Thus Ivan traces down the consequences of his initial assent to God. He accepts that there could be a final end which will redeem all sufferings and atone all crimes in the world. And he understands the meaning of that moment: It is going to be a radical turn of events, the most comprehensive change in the whole history of mankind (suffering, crimes and all illnesses will be eliminated from the world).
Upheaval: "I understand, of course, what an upheaval of the universe it will be, when everything in heaven and earth blends in one hymn of praise and everything that lives and has lived cries aloud: 'Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed.'"
Longing: All religions are built on a longing for a such consolation, compensation, reconciliation, atonement, redemption, and harmony. What religions offer/promise is an attempt to quench this longing. If we cannot have finality now we should be given the prospect of attaining the final end in the future.
Condition: Ivan accepts this idea of harmony assuming that all affected perons can witness that compensating and redeeming end. If I have suffered for something I want to see that suffering redeemed. Otherwise it would be unfair or in vain. Not to speak about manipulations or mistakes that are always possible, self-deception included.
Note: If I stake out everything on eternity and hereafter and consequently sacrifice my life (like a monk) then everything hinges on whether that promised harmony will come to pass or not. If it does not follow I have lost everything. Contrary to Pascal's Wager, in that case for the whole life one can say: use it or lose it.
Understanding: At the moment of final reconciliation God will be praised and men will reach "the crown of knowledge"- they will understand what they have been observing only through a mirror. The 'Euclidian' indirect (rational) knowledge will be replaced with a direct intuition of the perfect order. But Ivan cannot understand that it was necessary to go through suffering in the first place and he cannot accept the atonement of all committed crimes.
Ninth Problem: What to do with Children?
The idea that the victims should be compensated and witness their compensation is fair and acceptable. However, one difficulty remains unresolved. "What about the children?" Even if I can see the result accomplished in general, I cannot see how it redeems the suffering of children.
Unanswerable Question: Why should children suffer? Why they should pay for the final harmony even if it is the price for the coveted result? "If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it...?" "Why should they furnish material to enrich the soil for the harmony of the future?"

Hereditary sin implies a responsibility that is transferred to descendants (if they are adults).
Ivan accepts this solidarity in retaliation (punishment) although it could be questioned as well.
Collective and lasting punishment for previous crimes of ancestors or fellow nationals makes sense for grown up people. Especially if they continue to enjoy the benefits of the transgression ("fire from heaven" = knowledge, freedom).


But children must not be included in the lineage of adult people's guilt and punishment (no "solidarity in retribution" for them). They are absolutely innocent.

Therefore the suffering of children cannot be inculculated in the final tally of the redeemed world. The opposite goes against human logic and moral sense.
The argument that children are part of human race and therefore must share its fate is cynical; of course, they are, but those whose lives have been taken before they were able to reach adulthood are members of human race only virtually.

Renouncement: Although the final atonement "will make it not only possible to forgive, but to justify all that has happened with men" Ivan does not accept it. If not in principle than at least with regard to children. Hence he does not want to take part in a reconciliation that would incorporate crimes committed over children. At the end of time he does not want to join the chorus of praise to the wise Creator even if he succumbed to the appeal of the moment. He cannot accept that harmony.
  From "love of humanity" he does not accept this harmony (he has a better concept of humanity and higher expectations from life stemming from the notion of justice).
Difficulty: "With my pitiful, earthly, Euclidian understanding, all I know is that there is suffering and that there are none guilty; that cause follows effect, simply and directly; that everything flows and finds its level - but that's only Euclidian nonsense, I know that, and I can't consent to live by it!"
Note: This is the most difficult sentence in the whole selection. The beginning is intelligible up to the phrase "none guilty" which poses significant problems. Does it refer to God, unknown perpetrators or innocent children? It could be taken in a very general, unspecified way. Nobody is guilty for the sufferings of mankind, or at least we do not see who is to be blamed. The world consists of causal chains but there is no causal connection between the suffering and guilt. If nobody is guilty there is no justice.
Causality: However, it is possible to interpret this passage in a more specific manner. If we take Constance Garnett's translation as our guide ("cause follows effect") the resulting idea would be a regressive concept of causation that contradicts our natural understanding of causation according to which cause always precedes effect (or at least is simultaneous with it) but never comes after it.
In another translation the passage gives a different meaning: "all things follow simply and directly one from another". If we follow this version of the text we get a better meaning. In the world of physics and logic everything unfolds according to the principles that we can understand. But in the world of men we have absurdity: those who have not caused anything are exposed to the effects of suffering. They suffer without any reason or cause. You may say that everything happens for a reason, but in this case it is not consoling to accept that general principle because what is needed here is justice.
Note: Whichever translation we accept Ivan makes a reference to the Enlightenment dictum that a stimulus leads to a response and that, consequently, events in the world are subject to the principle of causation. If so, our lives (effects) should be determined by our previous acts (causes), not gratuitously defined by chance (being either friendly - like grace - or adverse). But with the suffering of the innocent we have an effect without any cause. There is suffering and still there are "none guilty". This is outrageous and Ivan, with his earthly mind, is not willing to consent to the principle "suffering exists" but "none are guilty", or those who suffer have not caused their suffering .
Non-sense: We now see why that what a Euclidian mind can comprehend is "nonsense" when matched with reality or the Christian point of view. That "everything flows and finds its level" (reaches equilibrium) may be in keeping with Euclidian reasoning that every effect has a cause; however, it resonates much more with the eschatological perspective than with reality or Euclidian geometry. With regard to that perspective it is just a "Euclidian nonsense". Why Ivan cannot live by "Euclidian nonsense" when he defends it otherwise? Because it cannot provide any justification or intelligibility for the actual suffering of the innocent. The idea of equilibrium is something we can understand and accept but the facts do not support it now and the promise of subsequent fulfillment rests on some troubling assumptions. Even if intelligible it remains unacceptable because of its moral cost.
Beyond 'Ken' How can Ivan exclude any possibility of redemption and reconciliation? He cannot, but he contends that such a reconciliation of evil is humanly incomprehensible (it is "beyond our ken" = knowledge). Therefore it could be accepted only on faith. Everything else will be just an overly optimistic distortion of reality like the counterfactual claim that the world is good.
Note: Dostoevsky evidently echoes Voltaire's critique of the teleological and eschatological optimism as satirically formulated in The Candide. The real target was Leibniz and his overly rationalistic view that the actual world with all its misfortunes and injustices was "the best of all possible worlds" (given the constraints of logic and reality). Hegel mocked this same idea by comparing the world of Leibniz with a "grocery store" - one can get there only that what is available.
Self-Protection: The main reason for renouncing the eternal harmony is moral. Ivan does not want to partake in something that is inherently unjust. "While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself and so I renounce the higher harmony altogether." He does not want to be involved in such a harmony. On the contrary, he hastens to exclude himself and to withdraw from any partnership in the whole arrangement.


Tenth Problem: What to do with Myself?
Meaningless Suffering: Ivan cannot live by the principle that there is suffering and that there are none guilty. That is tantamount to saying that there is no justice. He cannot accept that there is meaningless suffering. That would be sheer evil.

Instrumental evil in its various forms (suffering, sacrifice, pain) is acceptable under very specific conditions:

Acceptable Unacceptable
Voluntary Sacrifice Unwilling Sacrifice
Results During Life Time Results Postponed Indefinitely
Resurrection after Death No Resurrection

If somebody by his own will sacrifices himself, obtains the result or is given the opportunity to see it after death, this is a legitimate choice, assuming it does not involve anybody's non-consensual suffering.

Meaningful Suffering:

But Ivan cannot accept "meaningful suffering" if it is inflicted upon others without their consent. Even if we could make the whole world happy by torturing to death a single peevish baby we are not permitted to do that. Ivan is not willing to live by the principle that the innocent must suffer for the sake of something else even if that happens to be something higher and more universal. He wants that undeserved suffering never occurs.


Full Restitution: If suffering is inflicted on others then nothing short of full restitution is acceptable. For Ivan, it is not satisfactory to say that justice will come in some remote infinite time and space. He wants to see it it with his own eyes. Here and now "on earth". Otherwise it is a non-verfiable promise that could easily become the subject of endless manipulation and deception. It is only just to allow that those who suffered (by their own will to be sure), to witness the final compensation for their sacrifice. Ivan himself wants to see it in its entirety restituting everything damaged and hurt including the tears of the children.
Irreparability: But a total restitution is not possible. Once you inflict suffering it has been inflicted for ever. This means that justice can never be served fully.
Justice: "What comfort is to me that there are none guilty and that cause follows effect simply and directly, and that I know it - I must have justice, or I will destroy myself." There is no justice if nobody is responsible for the suffering of the innocent in a world created by God. Even if we accept the possibility of voluntary sacrifice and individual compensation we must realize that it has some boundaries. In fact, it seems that once committed crimes and inflicted sufferings do not allow a satisfactory response in the current scheme of things nor a fair compensation in eternity.

Note: These lines echoe Schiller's poem "Resignation" (1784) in which eternity admits that it cnnot restitute what we lose in a minute. Hope and faith are denounced as the only (illusionary) pay and alloted joy for the missed happiness.
Since I cannot get full restitution and justice, eternal harmony at the end does not help resolve the problem of denied happiness. What should I do?


A. Unintelligible Reality:

"I cannot understand why the world is arranged as it is." I am not able to understand what else may be in the universe or in God's mind, but it is an undeniable fact that in this world innocent people suffer and that I do not see why.

B. Immoral Linkage: It is not morally acceptable to make men happy in the end if the condition for that happiness is "to torture to death only one tiny creature". It is immoral to cause suffering and it is absolutely immoral to make the innocent children suffer for the sake of some future good. "If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it?" They have not done anything. It is therefore unforgivable to inflict pain on them and particularly to instrumentalize their lives.
C. Disproportion: If children suffer there is no justifiable proportion between cause and effect. On the contrary, innocence would then trigger punishment, which is absurd.
D. Unacceptable Means: Nothing is "worth the tears of one tortured child". The final end cannot justify all the crimes that have been committed on the way toward it. Not even "the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little feast and prayed in its stinking out-hose with an expiated tear to 'dear, kind God'."
E. Devaluation: The cost is too high no matter what should be the final good. (Such a good is a "diabolical good" if it entails the suffering of children.) "And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for the truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price."
F. Insufficiency: To enjoy the benefits of crime is outrageous. All the more so to ground the edifice of happiness on un-avenged tears of children. But even if the oppressors are going to be punished at the end, this does not make the whole scheme more acceptable. "What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured?" Revenge is not atonement. Avenging does not atone for. Once the tears have been shed, the damage is irrevocable.
Forgiveness: I can forgive for myself, not for others. Parents can forgive for themselves, if they will, only for the pain they have suffered. But the sufferings of their tortured children they have no right to forgive. They dare not forgive the torturers, even if the children were to forgive them!
Not even God has the right to forgive the crime and then ground the subsequent harmony on the suffering previously inflicted on the innocent.


Ivan Karamazov is sometimes portrayed as a "philosophical cynic", or, to use the words of Oscar Wilde, somebody who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. His reasoning in this matter shows, however, that his position is not that of cynicism = knowing how things are bad but not minding that. His true convictions are rather moralistic = not wanting to accept anything less than full justice. Consequently, he refuses any action that entails undeserved pain of the innocent, let alone the one which puts them in the situation of "collateral damage" in the pursuit of some good . This is the position of absolutely "clean hands", difficult but noble. Since this attitude is not suited for real social world (the rule of majority, utilitarian principles of decision making, teleology of historical progress) a withdrawal from the world appears to be an inevitable outcome.


Incompleteness: Harmony is good in itself if it is complete. But real harmony is not possible if everything is not atoned for, avenged, forgiven and restituted.
(a) Atonement: A full atonement is not possible if there is only one tear left un-atoned. If the price for the happiness of all men is to torture one individual to death it is not worth paying it. If the price is exacted there will be no atonement.
(b) Avenging: Revenge and punishment only partly compensate the pain and the loss. It is not possible to avenge all crimes on earth, or at least this is not happening. If the punishment is postponed for the Last Judgment then hell will coexist with harmony. But it is incompatible with harmony. And why do we want to avenge something that has already been done? To appease our feelings. But this would be only a cover up. Leaving suffering un-avenged is in fact better than an unprincipled acceptance of atonement. Avenging crimes creates the illusion of a just compensation. At least un-avenged suffering does not blur the distinction between the just and the unjust.
(c) Forgiveness: Forgiveness is better than revenge, but there are limits in imparting forgiveness. It could be given only for ourselves, not for others. If parents must not forgive for the children exposed to suffering, what is left of harmony? To say the least, it is incomplete.
Restitution Impossible
Atonement Incomplete
Avenging Futile
Punishing Contradictory
Forgiveness Limited

(1) Personal:

Both avenged and forgiven sufferings do not meet Ivan's moral standards. Since it is not possible to undo once inflicted suffering and pay full justice there is no solution for the problem of innocent suffering. This outcome affects Ivan's personal existence.

"I must have justice or I will destroy myself." (Suicide?)
"And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible."
(By giving back the ticket Ivan rejects the show: salvation)
Note: This is a reference to the verses of Schiller: "Take, then, these joy-credentials back from me! Unopened I return them now to thee, Of happiness, alas, know naught!" Both Ivan and the poet have not used their ticket to happiness. However, there is an important difference: while the poet returns the ticket for his earthly happiness in order to redeem it in eternity, Ivan returns the ticket in order to avoid its redemption in eternal harmony.

Source Human Understanding
Nature Absolute Justice
Purpose Peace of Mind
(2) Theological Issue:

Can God be justified in view of the existing evil? How can we reconcile the existence of evil with the existence of God? How the following three propositions could be reconciled (all are theologically uncontestable):

(1) God is all powerful. (2) God is wholly good. (3) Evil exists.

  The Problem of Theodicy
Final Stance: Ivan has tentatively exempted God from his doubts and attacks. Although he was not sure whether God existed he agreed to say "yes" to Him. But he shifted his focus to the world and its finale. In this way he demonstrated that the problem did not lie with God himself but in the relation between God and the world. Now the initially accepted God needs to be justified in view of the factual suffering and injustice or the appropriate conclusions have to be drawn relative to His nature and even existence.

Possible Answers:

Weakness: 1. God is not all-powerful, or at least, all-knowing. Thus He either cannot prevent evil or is not aware of it. This could be the case and if so God would be fully exonerated. But does He then (as weak and ignorant) deserve our veneration?
Disillusionment: 2. God is not good. A wholly good God could not consent with evil. If this is the case we can only pity or fear Him, not respect or love Him. A denial of goodness would be an easy way to avoid the problem, but no theologian would accept it.
Necessity: 3. Evil is necessary as a counterpart of good, or good cannot exist without evil, or evil is a means to a higher good. Some theologians offer this as an explanation. But this solution also sets limits to what God can do. The limits are either logical or physical. In both cases they cast doubts on God's omnipotence. Additional problem is that we do not see why the world cannot exist without evil.
Optimism: 4. The world with evil is better than the one without it. This comes down to the idea that this is the best world possible (Leibniz), which is a counter-empirical claim. It is very difficult to find evidence for the claim about the "best possible world" and to accept the reasoning for the contention that a world with evil is to be preferred to the one without it. Voltaire has justifiably ridiculed the inclination of many intellectuals to accept this self-deceptive world-view.
Benefit: 5. Some theologians claim that evil is here to enable us to better value the good. But this is a too high price for our ability to distinguish between right and wrong. If God could have done differently he should have. Not to avoid suffering of the innocent (if you can) is morally even more problematic than just allowing it. If God was not able to find another way of teaching people then He is not all-powerful. The same answer holds for the contention that elimination of evil would be tantamount to a permanent deception as to the ruggedness of reality. Why not create a different reality?


6. We do not understand God's ways. Endowed with an Euclidean mind we cannot understand a superhuman reasoning that we must assume for God. Therefore we should refrain from calling discrepancies in the world and especially from judging God. A sub-variant of this answer says that God allows evil or what appears to be evil for His own purposes. However, this solution separates God from the world and humans from Him. Not to mention that it abdicates from using reason in evaluating the world.

Free Will: 7. Evil is due to human free will and God should not be blamed for it. But this solution opens new questions. Has God made men so free that He cannot do anything with their choices? Why God has not made men so that they always freely choose the good?
Atheism: 8. God does not exist. It is inconceivable that any God worthy of respect would allow suffering of the innocent. Therefore pure logic requires to reach the verdict of non-existence.
Ivan's Position Ivan vacillates between atheism, theism and agnosticism. He first accepted the creation of the world but then rejected it based on his moral principles. This could not leave God untouched either. Eventually not only the creation of a specific world but the Creator himself becomes a target. The existence of the world is adduced as the most powerful evidence against its Creator.
Ivan does not accept theodicy both in view of so many evils and in general; for him it is a mechanism of rationalization that cannot be morally justified. The question whether God exists or not must be reopen.
Reasons for Belief and Disbelief:

It seems that the suffering of the innocent is the strongest and probably the most frequent reason for religious skepticism.


  In contrast, the perfection of organic design and apparent regularities in the universe are the strongest basis in favor of the belief in the "direct hand of a divine architect".




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