Dostoyevsky and the utilitarian calculus

I’ve just finished Robert Harris’s brilliant novel about the Dreyfus Affair, [amazon_link id=”0091944554″ target=”_blank” ]An Officer and A Spy.[/amazon_link]

[amazon_image id=”0091944554″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]An Officer and a Spy[/amazon_image]

His hero, Colonel Picquart, quotes Dostoyevsky’s [amazon_link id=”048627053X” target=”_blank” ]Notes from Underground[/amazon_link], a quotation that sent me scurrying to the book.

“And why are you so firmly, so triumphantly, convinced that only the normal and the positive–in other words, only what is conducive to welfare–is for the advantage of man? Is not reason in error as regards advantage? Does not man, perhaps, love something besides well-being? Perhaps he is just as fond of suffering? Perhaps suffering is just as great a benefit to him as well-being? Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering, and that is a fact. There is no need to appeal to universal history to prove that; only ask yourself, if you are a man and have lived at all. As far as my personal opinion is concerned, to care only for well-being seems to me positively ill-bred. Whether it’s good or bad, it is sometimes very pleasant, too, to smash things. I hold no brief for suffering nor for well-being either. I am standing for … my caprice, and for its being guaranteed to me when necessary.”

[amazon_image id=”048627053X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Notes from the Underground (Dover Thrift)[/amazon_image]

Indeed, the whole book is a spirited rant against rational economic man, and the ‘palace of crystal’ constructed by scientific rationalism. I don’t agree, but equally counting utils isn’t the answer to everything.

It’s outside the remit of this blog, but if you want a cracking page turner of a novel that is also illuminating about modern European history and some current issues about surveillance, I can’t recommend the Robert Harris book too highly. Fabulous.

4 thoughts on “Dostoyevsky and the utilitarian calculus

  1. I love Dostoevsky.

    Notes from the Underground (you’ve left out the ‘the’ btw) is the proto- Crime and Punishment.

Comments are closed.