Notes from Underground

The Underground Man and Freedom Beyond Reasons

In Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, the Underground Man proposes a radically different conception of free action from that of Kant. While Kant thinks that an agent is not acting freely unless he acts for some reason, the Underground Man seems to take the opposite stance: the only way to be truly autonomous is to reject this notion of freedom, and to affirm one's right to act for no reason. I will argue that the Underground Man's notion of freedom builds on Kant's, in that it requires self-consciousness in decision-making. But he breaks from Kant when he makes the claim that acting for a reason is not enough, and only provides an illusion of freedom. When faced with the two options of deceiving himself about his freedom (like most men) or submitting to ├Čthe wall,├« (a form of determinism), the Underground Man chooses an unlikely third option - a 'retort'. I will conclude this paper by questioning whether this 'retort' succeeds at escaping the system of nature he desperately seeks to avoid.

I will begin by explaining how the Underground Man's argument builds on Kant's notion of freedom. Throughout the work, the Underground Man speaks of consciousness. He claims that consciousness is an...

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