Crime and Punishment

Utilitarianism in Crime and Punishment 12th Grade

“Which action would give the greatest number of people the greatest happiness?” is a question a utilitarian would ask him or herself before making a decision. Utilitarianism is the belief system in which an action is considered ethically acceptable if that action benefits a large number of people. The novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky explores mid-nineteenth century utilitarianism as a motivation of characters’ actions, while demonstrating his own perspective on the philosophy. Dostoyevsky is able to reveal the true selfish and unselfish nature of characters, such as Raskolnikov and Sonya, through each of their uses of utilitarianism.

First, Raskolnikov selfishly uses utilitarianism to hide his true motivations behind murdering the pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna. Raskolnikov reasons to himself that Alyona Ivanovna is a bane to society by hoarding all of her money instead of helping the poor. By killing her and using her money to help others, Raskolnikov decides that he would be carrying out a good deed. Raskolnikov first gets the idea of murdering her when overhearing one man in a bar saying to another, “A hundred thousand good deeds could be done and helped, on that old woman’s money...

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