Crime and Punishment

The Morality of Murder: Dostoyevsky's Complication of "the Trolley Problem"

When is one morally sanctioned to take another's life? In Fyodor Dostoyevsky's highly acclaimed philosophical detective story, Crime and Punishment, the author casts light on several important existential and metaphysical quandaries that are universally applicable to understanding the human condition. The story centers on the tale of "our hero" Raskolnikov's premeditated murder of the old "louse," Alyona, a self-serving, morally reprehensible pawnbroker. Additionally, it describes the "other" murder, of Alyona's largely ignored (but philosophically crucial) pitiful, vulnerable, and victimized half-sister, Lizaveta, in the novel's opening section, as well as Raskolnikov's subsequent (largely internally driven) "Punishment." Dostoyevsky sets up several dichotomies between philosophical binary extremes, a number of which Raskolikov attempts to reconcile in the remaining five sections of the novel and its epilogue. These polarized philosophical issues include the relationship between the secular (nihilistic) and the religious (faithful), free will and determinism, anarchy and the law, and utilitarianism and social ethics, among others. While Raskolnikov--whose name, in...

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