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Discernment of Good and Evil in Dostoevsky’s Novels: The Madman and the Saint

Christoph Schneider

Abstract

This article discusses madness and saintliness in Dostoevsky’s novels and investigates how the madman and the saint discern between good and evil. I first explore the metaphysical, spiritual, and moral universe of Dostoevsky’s characters by drawing on William Desmond’s philosophy of the between. Second, I argue that the madman’s misconstrual of reality can be grasped as an idolatrous, divisive, and parodic imitation of the good (Raskolnikov, Stavrogin, Kirillov). Third, I reflect on disembodied discernment. In some cases, due to the weakness of the moral agent, the good cannot be properly embodied in space and time, even if a person exhibits ethically sound discernment (Prince Myshkin). Fourth, I look at examples of holy discernment and examine how, through love, the genuinely good person is able to transform idolatry into a universal and cosmic sacramentalism (Elder Zosima, Alyosha).

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