I just finished reading Crime & Punishment by Dostoyevsky, one of those heavy Russian novels you have to make a commitment to like it’s a relationship of the most serious kind - yes I’ll stay with you to the very end! It’s about a young man who commits a murder, he’s hunted down by police but eventually ends up turning himself in. He’s wracked by inner torment the whole time, and the crux of the novel is the psychology of it all, together with the moral dilemmas Raskolnikov faces. We all know there’s a massive emphasis on utilitarian value these days, and I can’t help worrying that because of this, activities of the “soul,” things like poetry and art, aren’t respected (cut your hair, get a real job you bum!). This prompts the question; is belief in the soul necessary for existence? Dostoyevsky seems to think it is; and he’s fighting Nihilism, a philosophy that negates things like the soul, nail and teeth. According to Nihilism, life doesn’t have intrinsic value or objective meaning; so taking this to an extreme, if one man kills another, like this Raskolnikov from Crime & Punishment did, there’s no harm done and he could walk away scot-free. Ah but he couldn’t; the moral outcome of him committing murder, the inner torment he receives, even as a free man, is equal to a jail sentence; and his mind would still offer him the punishment he deserves for his deeds. You could say that this is an outcome of social pressure, not human nature, yet this is the soul he’s receiving punishment from. Really these are just arguments for something that is blatantly obvious; human matters are complicated exactly because they’re not black and white; so there’s an element of human nature that can’t be stated or proven in an objective way. The reason why things like music and romantic love are so powerful is because they appeal to that element of human nature; the intuitive side, the emotional side. Everyone has their own definition of things, but religious connotations aside, that’s what I personally refer to with “soul.” Not silly things like life after death, but real matters that affect everyone, yet matters of heart and emotion, not things that can be worked out by a computer. What’s my proof? Ever lost your head over something really stupid? I have. If I was a robot I wouldn’t get angry or feel pain, love or happiness; I’d just live and die, eat and sleep, without all that messy stuff between. Personally, I’d rather the human stuff though. Ahhh, maybe it doesn’t exist, who knows, I’m just trying to kill time here. That Dostoyevsky was pretty funny too, he manages to combine philosophy with laughter. That’s cool right, clever he was. Have a good day.
Photo taken in Rylands Library, Manchester.