The Ideas Of Freedom In Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov

In contemporary society, the issue of freedom holds a priority among most individuals. Freedom has different meanings and is viewed by different perspectives by multiple people. As a result, people have different opinions regarding the manifestation of freedom at the local and international level. Jean-Paul Sartre provides his thoughts on freedom in Existentialism is a Humanism. Also, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky presents his argument on freedom in his novel, The Brothers Karamazov. The arguments of Sartre and Dostoyevsky’s are compared based on the existence of a God, the nature of the approach in achieving freedom, and the complexities of the freedom of choice, which reveals the comprehensively of Sartre’s argument.

Both arguments concerning freedom presented by Sartre and Dostoyevsky are hinged upon the presence or absence of a higher authority. Sartre posits “that if God does not exist there is at least one being whose existence comes before its essence, a being which exists before it can be defined by any conception of it” (Sartre, 3). Based on Sartre’s argument, humans are the most superior beings on the earth and in the universe and should retain their ability to live among themselves in a manner, which they think is ideal after choosing those ideals. Conversely, Dostoyevsky defends the existence of a superior being that came before humans, which implies that their freedom belongs to the being. Dostoyevsky writes, “He deigned to appear for a moment to the people, to the tortured, suffering people, sunk in iniquity, but loving Him like children” (Dostoyevsky, 2). The dilemma in Dostoyevsky’s writing is the need to love a being that exposes them to endless suffering on the earth, which has the literal implication that the “keeper” of human freedom refuses to allow his creations to enjoy the luxury. The friction between Sartre and Dostoyevsky’s understanding of freedom starts at this point because of the ideology concerning existence.

Dostoyevsky’s argument is closely coined on a trial-error approach while Sartre's is adamant that there is no absolute approach to the realization of true freedom. Dostoyevsky explains that long after the coming of Christ, “we see that everything in those three questions was so justly divined and foretold, and has been so truly fulfilled, that nothing can be added to them or taken from them” (Dostoyevsky, 4). At the core of Dostoyevsky’s thoughts on freedom within the institution of the Church are the three temptations. The faults of human beings that are made evident in the temptations are used as justification of the Church stepping into the position of Christ on earth. In consequence, people will give up their freedoms to a higher power in the same way as Christ gave up his freedoms because the temptations represent “all the unsolved historical contradictions of human nature” (Dostoyevsky, 4). There is a belief that the controversy between peace, happiness, and freedom can be resolved by using the same tactics that Satan used on the “most worthy” human, Jesus. Sartre emphasizes that “everyone can do what he likes, and will be incapable, from such a point of view, of condemning either the point of view or the action of anyone else”. Sartre counterargument is that principles handed down by God guide the responses to the temptations. Therefore, there cannot be a sure way of attaining freedom because, in a truly free world, everyone would do whatever they think is appropriate given their circumstances. If there is no way to predict the reaction of humans subjected to similar temptations in the contemporary world, the idea that some three questions define humanity is not practicable.

At a deeper level, the two philosophers’ debate whether humans can deal with the concept of freedom of choice. Dostoyevsky’s notes that humans are indeed weak and shall fall for the temptation of bread because faith has “cut down the suffering of men for a thousand years; for they will come back to us after a thousand years of agony with their tower”. It appears that the fate of man is somewhat written in stone, but the only variable is time. Surprisingly, Ivan states, “They will marvel at us and look on us as gods . . . so awful will it seem to them to be free” (Dostoyevsky, 5). Humanity’s tenacity to hold on to an absent God that does not seem to tend to their needs will be tested, especially when the cost of freedom is too high. Sartre demonstrates a stronger belief in the ability of human beings to make choices. Sartre explains that an individual is typically “confronted by two very different modes of action; the one concrete, immediate, but directed towards only one individual; and the other an action addressed to an end infinitely greater, a national collectivity, but for that very reason ambiguous”. According to Sartre’s line of thinking there usually is no simple, correct, and sure response when put in the position to choose because there is no clear set of values if one has no belief in the existence of a higher power. Instead, Sartre suggests that “nothing remains but to trust in our instincts” (Sartre, 6). At this point, it is evident that humans are susceptible to specific weaknesses, which will always result in a biased choice with the equivalence of no choice. However, the removal of religion from the picture complicates decision making further, but the individual makes an actual decision.

Sartre and Dostoyevsky present well-defended perspectives of on freedom, but Sartre's argument is superior. Firstly, Sartre’s argument does not impose any conditions as compared to the need for the existence of a supreme being in Dostoyevsky’s argument. This implies that the argument works for humans in our original form at birth where we are not aware of the concepts of religions or ethics but merely exists as separate beings experiencing our environment. We are not forced to choose between one another and have the freedom to do as we please. Secondly, the fixed minded nature of the path to attain freedom or lose it is not necessarily true. There usually is more than one technique to reach the desired solution, and none of them is usually more correct than the other. Finally, freedom of choice is not real freedom if individuals have been continuously persuaded to select a particular choice through Christian doctrine. On the whole, Sartre’s argument portrays freedom in its purest form.

Works Cited

  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. 1880.
  • Kaufman, Walter. Existentialism Is a Humanism. World Publishing Company, 1956.Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre
16 August 2021
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