Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Underground Man's Reasoning

Here is something to prepare you for what will be said in the next paragraph. I may be mistaken in what I am saying because I am connecting what is rational and ethical as pretty much the same thing. Dostoyevsky claims that the conclusion of that the underground man came to makes him irrational. Not so much the process by which he gets to the conclusion. Dostoevsky seems to associate what is ethical with what is rational. For example the doctor says it is rational to get treatment because it is in your best interest, and it is ethical for you as an individual to act in your best interest. That is where I get my connection between the rational and the ethical.

I believe that The problem with Dostoevsky's argument for freewill is that he claims that there is only one universal definition of what counts as rational. He claims that working against rationality proves that we have free will. He claims that turning down a liver operation proves that he is not a logic calculator. However he never asks by what standard is he acting irrational. There are many different philosophies that discuss which action are ethical, and which actions are rational. Kant for example says that reason should dictate ethics. He says that we should "act as if the maxim from which you act were to become through your will a universal law". He says that it is rational and ethical to act in a way that is applicable to everybody, and to not act in this way is a violation of the rational, and the ethical. He says that if you do not act in a universal way you violated what reason should tell you. A Hedonist claims that a rational man will maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Among the many philosophies there are many different criteria people have for rational people.

I am asking by what standard is the underground man acting irrationally? Is what is rational defined by what benefits a person as an individual? Is what is rational defined by what can be applied to everyone universally like Kant said? To Kant you are not using reason if you decide to live like a hedonist. To a hedonist the same thing can be said about kant. I make say these things to demonstrate that many different philosophies have their own idea of what is rational.

The underground man Dostoevsky discusses is not acting irrationally and thus proving his free will, he merely makes his own version of rationality. He decided that he was going to take the doctor’s version of rationality and do the exact opposite.He made a rational idea that says it is ethical he should do the opposite of whatever the doctor says will help him, so as to prove he has free will because he did not have to follow the other guys rational idea. He still used logic to come to his conclusion. The underground man still acts rationally; It is just by his own definition. Using this new definition of reason he concludes that his action is ethical because it will make him think he has freewill. I think if you agree with me that the underground man had his own definition of reason, then the argument for whether or not someone has freewill completely changes.

Hopefully you comments will help me iron out my argument.

1 comment:

  1. I think a very central problem to this argument is the definition to the word rational. I had always understood rational as requiring some sort of thought proccess rather than animal instincts to reach a conclusion or decision, where the process itself is always rational, even if the conclusion doesn't align with conventional reason. However, there are various definitions of the word rational that support and invalidate my own definition.

    Here is are some definitions that support the idea that rationality is just the process of reaching a conclusion -

    of or associated with or requiring the use of the mind; "intellectual problems"; "the triumph of the rational over the animal side of man" (Princenton Wordnet)

    •having its source in or being guided by the intellect (as distinguished from experience or emotion); (Princeton Wordnet)

    And here are some definitions that are dependent on conventional reason itself which would qualify some conclusions as irrational

    •consistent with or based on or using reason; "rational behavior"; "a process of rational inference"; "rational thought" (Princeton Wordnet)

    •To act "rationally" is to act in one's own best interest (

    •Reasonable. Drawing conclusions form juxtaposing facts to each other (

    I think that it is best to agree on a definition of rationality so that we can focus on other aspects of Dostoyevsky. I personally now agree with the second set of definitions, because it allows for more structure and it also coincides with Dostoyevsky's definition of rationality. Furthermore, after rereading the piece, it seems that what he meant rationality to mean is what the second set of definitions all suggest. This was originally written in Russian, so maybe that also has something to do with the slight confusion in the choice of words used.


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