Manual Notes From Underground

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Fyoder Dostoyevsky - Notes from Underground BOOK REVIEW

This particular novel advocated the establishment of a utopia based upon the principles of nineteenth-century rationalism, utilitarianism, and socialism. Such a rationalistic, socialistic society, Dostoevsky thought, would remove from man his greatest possession: human freedom.

Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Dostoevsky therefore becomes the champion of the freedoms of man: the freedom to choose, the freedom to refuse, the freedom to do anything he wants to do. For Dostoevsky, then, man's freedom was the greatest thing that he possessed and Dostoevsky thought that in a scientific, rationalistic, utilitarian society man's freedom would be replaced by security and happiness. This is what Chernyshevsky and other socialists were advocating: that if man is given all the security he needs, then man will automatically be happy.

Dostoevsky attacked these ideas because he believed that if man were simply given security and happiness, he would lose his freedom.

To him science, rationalism, utilitarian or socialism were equated with the doctrines of fatalism and determinism, which contradict man's freedom to control or determine his own fate. When the Underground Man says that twice two makes four, this is a scientific fact. But man does not always function merely by scientific fact. For Dostoevsky the rational part of a man's being is only one part of his makeup.

That is, man is composed both of the rational two times two makes four and the irrational.

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It would be nice to think sometimes that twice two makes five. This would be, in Dostoevsky's words, "a very charming idea also. Dostoevsky's point is that man's actions are not predictable. There are even some men who enjoy suffering and are only happy when they suffer. Consequently in a socialistic society where man's security and happiness is being assured, this would deny the fact that men — some men — want to suffer and are improved by their suffering. Thus one of the great ideas throughout all of Dostoevsky's fiction is the idea that through suffering man achieves a higher state in the world.

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That is, through suffering man can expiate all his sins and become more closely attuned with the basic elements of humanity. Consequently if a utopia removes suffering, then it is removing one of the essential ingredients by which man improves himself and becomes a greater person. In another image in the novel Dostoevsky is afraid that if man lives in this utopian society then he will end up like a mechanical being — the "organ stop," as Dostoevsky puts it.

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Man is meant to be more than an organ stop or a piano key; he is meant to be more than a mechanism in a well-regulated clock. The freedom to choose was, for Dostoevsky, the greatest thing that man had. The freedom to choose, if he wished to, suffering. The freedom to choose religion.