The irreducibility of guilt in Dostoevsky
Bridges, James Terrell.
Nielsen, Niels C.
Master of Arts
Dostoevsky views guilt as a qualitative determination of the person. Guilt's referent is man's personality, his ontological status, and not simply external or conventional judgments. Both the judgment and the chastisement for guilt are internalized in conscience. Dostoevsky placed guilt within a religio-theological context: the religious doctrine of the brotherhood of all men comes both before and after personal involvement in a community of guilt. The oneness of man in Christ is the precondition for communal guilt. The community of guilt presents the possibility for the realization of universal brotherhood. Within this religious context, guilt is taken up as a moment in the dialectic of redemption. Outside of the religious context, guilt is experienced as condemnation. Man becomes conscious of personal guilt and responsibility for evil not primarily through an analogy to the wickedness of others, but through the confrontation with a suffering world. This understanding of guilt is presented forcefully in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky's approach to guilt proves to be inapplicable to both law and ethics because of its qualitative, communal, and internal nature. It can, however, have a therapeutic function in psychology because it integrates suffering into a meaningful scheme and summons man to his responsibility. In the last analysis, Dostoevsky's notion of guilt finds its distinctive characteristics within the Christian confession.