Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov is both a squalid tale of murder, depravity, and betrayal, and a heartfelt attempt to reconcile the evil in the world with the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent God. And yet it manages to be one of the greatest novels of all time — a huge influence on figures as diverse as Nietzsche, Freud, Joyce, and Woolf. One reason why The Brothers Karamazov is so influential is that it brims with philosophy. We will take an unusual approach in this class, reading the novel alongside work in contemporary analytic philosophy that refines and tries to address the philosophical questions it raises. This approach will enrich both our understanding of the novel and our understanding of a wide range of philosophical issues, including judgment and punishment, moral luck, the distinction between doing and allowing, special obligations (especially those to family), the nature of testimony, the relationships between intention, causation, and culpability, and the force of our words and actions on others. The philosophers we will read and discuss include Robert Adams, Elizabeth Anscombe, J.L. Austin, David Hume, David Lewis, J.L. Mackie, John Rawls, Bernard Williams, and Susan Wolf.
In class we will discuss drafts of papers submitted in advance by individual students and read in advance by the class, with an eye toward helping the entire class improve the revision of their own writing.
This is a capstone seminar for junior and senior concentrators in philosophy.