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Philosophy Research Archives

Volume 4, 1978

Lawrence Stern
Pages 68-89

Freedom and Love in Notes From Underground

The narrator of the Notes is opposed to determinism, rationality, and socialism. He is also a severe neurotic. The solution to the neurosis, missed in personal life by the narrator, is love. But love also bears on the theoretical positions just discussed. For love is what the socialist programs lack (thinks Dostoevsky). And love is incompatible with a calculating attitude toward personal relations. Dostoevsky and his narrator, while making a telling case against the over-calculated life, mistakenly identify calculation with rationality. Similarly, a manipulative strain in socialism is mistakenly taken to presuppose, And stem from, a belief in determinism. But Dostoevsky's true quarrel would appear to lie not with the deterministic tendency of socialist theory but with its tendency to ignore factors in human nature he thinks important. The narrator's personal disaster occurs through his belief in his incapacity to change his life. But, pace Dostoevsky, this does not show the harm of believing in determinism: it shows the danger of counting oneself out too soon.