Saturday, September 26, 2009

Murder's Benefit: A Test of Morality

In the novel Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky presents a character named Rodion Raskolnikov, who is the murderer in the novel and therefore the main character throughout the story. His main crime is the intentional murder he committed of the old pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna and the second murder of Alyona’s sister, Lizaveta, who walks into the room and is murdered because Raskolnikov panics. Similar to Dostoevsky’s point in Notes from the Underground, he is trying to show that humans are not like “piano keys” and that people can choose to break certain expectations. Murder is not legal or morally right; this is an establishment agreed upon in society and a social fact because people even in a lawless society would agree that murder is not morally correct. However, Raskolnikov breaks this societal establishment by committing murder. Any person has the ability to break the laws, so does Raskolnikov. The murder itself becomes a test of morality for Raskolnikov. Raskolnikov’s real punishment is the psychological torture that he experiences because his mind is dealing with the guilt from immorality for committing murder; therefore, the mind transforms into being something very weak.

My main question is what would Friedrich Nietzsche say about a person such as Raskolnikov? In Nietzsche’s, claim the weak invented concepts such as good and evil, as opposed to terms as such good and bad, to overcome the strong or superior. The term evil also implies that there is some form of morality introduced to societal thinking.

Can breaking societal rules that are so fundamental to the basics of law, like murder which is an "evil" act, make a person who is inferior into a superior being? I am not sure whether harming others would make Raskolnikov more superior than before committing the crime. As a result of Raskolnikov taking the initiative to kill Alyona Ivanovna, who is a weaker being, does that make him one of the superior in society? He could be seen to have an Übermensch complex, which makes him think that he is superior to the rest of society even though he is a part of the “weaker” beings in society.

If Raskolnikov does have a guilty mindset about the murder he has committed, does guilt restrain him into remaining one of the weaker beings in society by causing him not to surpass societal constraints? In contrast, is the benefit of Rashkolnikov’s immoral act of murder that he breaks the barrier of being one of the inferior in society to become a superior being?


  1. I suspect Nietzsche would view Raskolnikov disfavorably, because even though he acts contrary to the dictates of slave morality he still binds himself to its judgements. For Nietzsche, there seems to be little room for the ubermensch (sp?) to experience something so slavish as guilt. In essence, it seems as though Nietzsche could construe Rashkolnikov's action as one possilby consistent with an ubermensch's action (providing that act's motive wasn't one of fear or some other 'slavish' quality), but he would still view Dostoevsky's protagonist as one who remain a submensch (it's fun making up words =p)--someone who has yet to transcend the existing unnatural moral status quo-- if he experiences guilt.

  2. I do not think that Nietzsche would view Raskolnikov as an entirely superior being. I think that to Nietzsche, one who is “superior” rises above all that is entailed in slavish morality. That person would feel justified in committing crimes and acts that make him or her more powerful. To commit murder defies the collective view of morality, and to feel guilt would be seen, to Nietzsche, as the slavish morale “haunting” Raskolnikov. Therefore he can never be an entirely “superior” being by relating to the popular conception of morality.

  3. I hate to be that guy to bring up the death penalty, but we do have a comment quota. Is murder something that it is established as morally apprehensible when our government commits murder somewhat regularly, both domestically and at war? So I don't think there is such an established morality, rather it seems to be a fluctuating purveyor of control to those who hold power over us. Our country's government has administered to us voluminous, concrete, and codified laws, and yet there is a substantial amount of acceptable murder that occurs. So, in a lawless environment, I'm led to believe that murder would have an even smaller impression on our morality.

  4. I believe Nietzsche would view Raskolnikov in a manner similar to how he viewed Socrates in "Twilight of the Idols," "there was but one choice: either to perish or--to be absurdly rational." Raskolnikov attempted to test his rationality, as his social situation was driving him insane. He merely proved that he was not the Ubermensch he was attempting to be, as somehow above the moral norms of society in which he was raised. As Sam pointed out, a lawless environment would have us cling to a different justice than in a peaceful society, to not feel pangs of guilt when killing for survival. Raskolnikov himself recognizes the inherent foolishness and hardheartedness of killing two old women for almost nothing, that rationality has its limits.


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