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Dostoevsky's Conception Of Man

Its Impact on Philosophical Anthropology

by Peter M. Wolf

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Institution: The Pennsylvania State University
Advisor(s): Joseph Kockelmans
Degree: Ph.D., Literature and Philosophy
Year: 1997
Volume: 294 pages
ISBN-10: 1581120060
ISBN-13: 9781581120066


Dostoevsky's novels have contributed to a conception of man that reverberates in the conclusions of prominent twentieth-century philosophical anthropologists. Max Scheler, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Albert Camus, among others, have admitted that the works of Dostoevsky had an influence on the manner in which they learned to conceive of human nature and the world in which humans live. Our aim in this dissertation is to ask: what is there in the novels of Dostoevsky concerning the nature of man, of which certain philosophers could claim that in their philosophical conceptions of man they were positively influenced by him?

The main thesis is substantiated with a careful analysis of four novels: Notes From the House of the Dead (Zapiski iz mertvogo doma), Notes From the Underground (Zapiski iz podpol'ia), Crime and Punishment (Prestuplenie i nakazanie), and The Brothers Karamazov (Brat'ia Karamazovy). These novels were chosen partly because I have come to the conclusion that these novels, more than others, concretely show in what sense the leading characters appear to have made themselves be what they had freely chosen to be under the circumstances in which they had to live, and that they were fully aware of the responsibility they had to bear for the implications and consequences of what they had thus decided. Based upon a close reading, four interpretive chapters employ the most significant criticism from English, Russian and French literary scholarship. Dostoevsky's philosophical conception of man is compared and contrasted with the conception that Scheler and Heidegger hold, i.e., that freedom is man's essence, Sartre's atheistic humanism and Camus' thought.

The following conclusions are consonant with Dostoevsky's work: freedom is constitutive for the being (or the mode of being; essence) of man, it is an inalienable duty--one must become oneself. Man strives to overcome himself and to exceed his freedom but in so doing invariably loses it. Man exceeds himself only in the sense that he realizes an ideal human possibility. The Dostoevskian man reveals not only the absence of human nature but also the enormous power which man possesses for achieving his ideal human possibility.