imagesWell, I’ve been on a little bit of a Dostoyevsky kick lately :). So, your question is inspired by Dostoyevsky’s work in moral psychology. From Socrates through Aquinas there was an idea variously represented by the original authors, but now called psychological eudaimonism. This idea argues that every act of man is for some perceived good. Now, it’s important to distinguish here between a perceived good and an actual good, because in this theory they are two different things. For instance, for a cocaine addict, his next hit is a perceived good, and the pain of rehab is a perceived evil, even though it is actually the rehab that will be good for him, and the drug that is killing him.

However, over the years many people have taken issue with this idea. While it seems clear that most of the time most people choose courses of action that take them towards things that they perceive as good, it also seems clear that sometimes people decide to do things that they don’t perceive as good. In Notes From Underground the narrator is one such character. In the first few paragraphs he lists a string of petty, vindictive actions that he has taken which have been, and which he knew when taking them, were going to be bad for him and for others, and he claims to have done it all from spite. However, a few paragraphs later he claims that it wasn’t spite at all, but just amusement and random cruelty. Later in the book he gives a variety of different motives, all equally asinine and confused, and ultimately it seems that the characters actions were simply random and vicious with no clear motive or goal behind them. Further, in Crime and Punishment the main character, Raskolnikov, murders an old pawnbroker. At first, he claims that his motive was robbery, but he steals relatively little, never actually looks to see what he stole, and then hides it all under a rock and never goes back. He also tries to justify the murder by convincing himself that she wasn’t actually a human being, but was instead a leech, sucking away at the dregs of society. However, again, this seems like an excuse as his motive is clearly not to punish her. Further, later in the novel it seems that he killed her simply to prove that he was a certain type of man, but proving this doesn’t actually seem to be a good thing in his eyes. So, consider: how do we explain Dostoyevsky’s characters?

Do people always act on something they perceive to be good? Do people sometimes act on things that they see to be bad in every way (i.e. I don’t see paying my taxes as good, but I do see not going to jail as good, which means that I pay may taxes to avoid jail – thus there is some good and some bad)?

As always, write me a 1000 word story that presents and defends your response.

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3 thoughts on “Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

  1. I think the confusion is between something ‘perceived as good’ and something desirable. We often desire things that we know aren’t good for us, and we often try to rationalize how they actually are good for us, or at least less bad, or at least how we don’t actually have a choice in doing the bad thing. And then sometimes there are people who are honest with themselves. They admit that they do bad things, that they know are bad for themselves and others, because they wanted to. Maybe they admit this in shame and repentance, or maybe they admit it in pride, but they admit it.

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