the conflict between the brothers
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The central philosophical conflict of The Brothers Karamazov is the conflict between religious faith and doubt. The main characters illustrate the different kinds of behavior that these two positions generate. Faith in the novel refers to the positive, assenting belief in God practiced by Zosima and Alyosha, which lends itself to an active love of mankind, kindness, forgiveness, and a devotion to goodness. Doubt refers to the kind of logical skepticism that Ivan Karamazov practices, which, in pursuing the truth through the logical examination of evidence, lends itself to the rejection of God, the rejection of conventional notions of morality, a coldness toward mankind, and a crippling inner despair. Dostoevsky does not present these positions neutrally. He actively takes the side of faith, and illustrates through innumerable examples how a life of faith is happier than a life of doubt. Doubt, as we see in Smerdyakov’s murder of Fyodor Pavlovich and in Ivan’s breakdown, leads only to chaos and unhappiness. But the novel nevertheless examines the psychology of doubt with great objectivity and rigor. Through the character of Ivan, in chapters such as “The Grand Inquisitor,” Dostoevsky presents an incisive case against religion, the Church, and God, suggesting that the choice to embrace religious faith can only be made at great philosophical risk, and for reasons that defy a fully logical explanation.