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Miami University

Department of Philosophy

PHL 310/RUS 250: Dostoevsky as a Social Philosopher

Spring 2006


MW 3.00-4.50 pm

Classroom: 220 Culler Hall



Dr. Costica Bradatan

Office: 221 Hall Auditorium,

Office Hours: Tuesday 5.00-6.30pm & Wednesday 1.30-3.00 pm (and by appointment)

Office Phone:  (513) 529-4739

Email: bradatc@muohio.edu

Webpage: http://www.users.muohio.edu/bradatc/ 


Course Description:

This course proposes a consideration of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novels (in particular: Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Possessed and The Brothers Karamazov) as writings with a distinct (and original) philosophical content. Combining philosophical interpretation, literary scholarship, and theological analysis, the course deals with a number of topics central to Dostoevsky’s universe, such as: solitude, alienation, suicide, death, nihilism, solidarity, revolution, community, freedom, theodicy, faith, sin, innocence, guilt, redemption, sainthood, and other topics. Throughout the course a special attention will be paid to the overlap between philosophy and literature and, in particular, to the specific narrative, rhetorical and stylistic modalities through which a work of fiction can harbor, nourish, and convey a philosophical message. These are only some of the questions to be addressed in the course of this interdisciplinary enquiry: What is gained and what is lost when a philosophical topic (or problem, idea, insight) is being dealt with in a literary fashion (that is, embodied into literary situations, characters, plots)? What should/could philosophers learn from fiction writers? What should/could fiction writers learn from philosophers? What role does “literariness” play in philosophy writing?


Course Rationale:

One of the basic presuppositions of this course is that philosophy is to be found not only in philosophy books, but also in other places, such as works of fiction. Consequently, it invites/challenges students to learn how to detect a philosophical content in non-philosophical situations, how to recognize a philosophical problem when this is presented in a narrative form, or, in general, when it is displayed using stylistic modalities that are not practiced anymore by today’s philosophers (parables, fables, poems, etc.). One of the major scholarly advantages that such an approach brings forth is that philosophy comes to be considered in a broader, more comprehensive and pluralistic manner.

At the same time, another fundamental supposition on which this whole course is based is that the works of fiction are not confined to the specific study of literary scholars, but they have to be seen as open, multi-facetious, meaningful in a variety of ways and useful for a variety of purposes.


Course Goals:

·         The course will familiarize students with some of Dostoevsky’s works and the fundamental philosophical problems they raise. 

·         The course will make students realize the dialectical relationship between philosophy and literature, how philosophy overlaps with literature, and how relative disciplinary boundaries sometimes are.   

·         The course will help students understand the major role that language, style, and writing play in philosophy.


Required Texts: 

·         Bakhtin, Mihail (1984), Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, Edited and translated by Caryl; Introduction by Wayne C. Booth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).*

·         Berdyaev, Nicolas (1984), Dostoevsky. An Interpretation, Translated by Donald Attwater (New York: Sheed & Ward) [selections]**

·         Dostoevsky, Fyodor (1994) Notes from Underground (New York: Vintage)*

·         Dostoevsky, Fyodor (1984), Crime and Punishment (New York: Bantam)*

·         Dostoevsky, Fyodor (2000), The Possessed (aka Demons) (New York: Vintage)*

·         Dostoevsky, Fyodor (2002) The Karamazov Brothers (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux)*

·         Harper, Ralph (1965), Seventh Solitude: Metaphysical Homelessness in Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press) **

  • Koestler, Arthur (1968), Darkness at Noon, Translated by Daphne Hardy (New York: Bantam Books.)*
  • Miller, Robin Feuer (1986), Critical Essays on Dostoevsky (Boston: G.K Hall & Co.) [selections]**
  • Sandoz, Ellis (2000), Political Apocalypse. A Study of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books).*


It is recommended that those books marked with an asterisk (*) be purchased as they will be used more extensively. You should be able to find them at the MU Bookstores. Fragments from books marked with ** are on electronic reserve (password: phl310).


Course Requirements:

  1. One research paper, developed in three stages
  2. Oral presentation
  3. Regular attendance and participation in class
  4. Individual conferences


1. Research paper:

The bulk of the final grade (see below “Grading policy”) will be determined by the quality of the research paper. This piece is the culmination of students’ work during the whole semester. It must be on a course-related topic, designed by the student in consultation with the instructor. The research paper must be conceived of, structured, developed and written in such a way as to meet the standards of academic excellence in the humanities, and following the guidelines for submission of written work listed below. The three stages for the production of this research paper are: a) Submission of proposed topic, brief description and basic bibliography (1/2 pages). b) Submission of the first draft (4/5 pages), and c) Submission of the final draft (8/10 pages). (For deadlines, please see “General Schedule of Events” below.)


2. Oral presentation:

Each student is expected to present the reading(s) for at least one session and then briefly conduct the subsequent discussion. Each oral presentation will be graded and will count toward the final grade. A good presentation means: a careful reading of the texts in question, placing these texts within the context of the author’s work, rendering the material into a coherent, well-structured, and agreeable form, and presenting it in a clear manner to the other students attending the class. For a good – to excellent – oral presentation grade, you are encouraged to read as much as you can by, and about, the author whose texts you decide to present. If you make a second presentation during the semester, that will be graded separately, and its grade will count toward the final grade, too. You are encouraged (although not required) to design your research paper in such a way as to be able to use in it those texts you have read for preparing your oral presentations.   


3. Attendance and participation in class:

It is imperative that you attend every class. Please do not be late! Any unexcused absence will have an impact on your class participation/attendance grade (5% for each absence). After five (5) unexcused absences the instructor may, at his discretion, recommend the University Registrar to drop the student from the course. An absence is excused when you provide serious documented evidence about it (signed note from the physician, signed letter from the Dean, death notice, etc.) Fore more about class attendance please consult the 2005-2006 Student Handbook: http://www.miami.muohio.edu/documents_and_policies/handbook/ (“Class Attendance”). Active participation in classroom discussions includes (but is not limited to): posing relevant questions; making informed comments and formulating original points of view, establishing a fruitful dialogue with the other students during the class, etc. When formulating your points of view, remarks or comments, please do so in a respectful manner, in such a way as not to harm the feelings of the other members of the class.


4. Individual conferences:

Students are strongly encouraged to discuss with the instructor about any aspects of their work for this class, and in particular about their research paper. All students taking this course are encouraged to make appointments with the instructor in order to discuss issues related to the course. The instructor may ask you to come in at other times for discussing particular issues. Please feel free to email the instructor whenever you need to discuss with him aspects of your work.


As the semester progresses each of you must think of a topic for your research paper. The topic for this final essay is designed by you, but must be course-related, and discussed with the instructor (on the occasion of a conferences or just make an appointment!).


Guidelines for Submission of Written Work:

·         MLA Citation Style

·         Word-process all written work; handwritten papers will not be accepted;

·         Use standard font, in 12 point; double-spaced.

·         Number your pages;

·         Staple your pages together;

·         At the top of the first page include your name, date, and essay title;

·         Proofread and spell-check before bringing any papers to class.


Grading Policy:

·         10%           Regular attendance of seminar meetings.

·         10%           Active participation in classroom discussions

·         20%           Oral presentation

·         20%           First draft of the research paper

·         40%           Final draft of the research paper


The grades for class attendance and participation will be determined only after all class meetings take place, at the end of semester. The grade for the first draft of the research paper will be communicated along with the instructor’s feedback. The final grade will be determined after you submit the final draft of the research paper.


University Policies and Regulations:

The instructor of this course respects and upholds University policies and regulations pertaining to the observation of religious holidays; assistance available to the physically handicapped, visually and/or hearing impaired student; plagiarism; sexual harassment; and racial or ethnic discrimination. All students are advised to become familiar with the respective University regulations and are encouraged to bring any questions or concerns to the attention of the instructor.


Students with Disabilities:

In compliance with the Miami University policy and equal access laws, I am available to discuss appropriate academic accommodations that may be required for students with disabilities. Requests for academic accommodations are to be made during the first three weeks of the semester, except in unusual circumstances, so that arrangements can be made. If you want to know more about these issues, please contact Miami University’s Office of Disability Resources: http://affserver1.aff.muohio.edu/ODR/


Academic Integrity:

Plagiarism, or academic theft, is passing off someone else’s work as your own. Please note: plagiarism simply means using someone else’s ideas without acknowledging it (no matter if you use that person’s actual words or not). Regardless of your background, you are responsible for not plagiarizing. Plagiarism will be prosecuted; it can affect your permanent record. Being a plagiarizer is incomparably worse than being unoriginal! For more about plagiarism (and academic dishonesty in general), please consult 2005-2006 Student Handbook: http://www.miami.muohio.edu/documents_and_policies/handbook/ (“Academic misconduct”)


General Schedule of Events


I. Introductory issues


Week 1:

·         Monday (1/9)

o        Topic: Introduction. (Overview of the course.) The overlap philosophy/literature. The problem of genres in philosophy. The “literary genres” in philosophy: dialogue, confession, poetry, fables.

o        Discussion/Debate: How can literature help philosophy? How can philosophy help literature?   


·         Wednesday (1/11) 

o        Topic: Philosophy as a way of life

o        Film: “The Life of David Gale”


Week 2:

·         Monday (1/16)

o        No Classes (Martin Luther Kind Day)


·         Wednesday (1/18)  

o        Topic: Introduction to Dostoevsky I (Biography. Historical Context. Dostoevsky’s involvement in revolutionary circles. The experience of prison and exile.)

o        Film: “Fyodor Dostoevsky” (Series: Great Russian writers)

o        Readings: Berdyaev (Chapter VII), Sandoz (Chapter I)


Week 3:

·         Monday (1/23)

o        Topic: Introduction to Dostoevsky II (Overview of the main writings and themes. The complexity of his work.)

o        Discussion: How independent is one’s work from his/her personality?

o        Readings: Bakhtin (47-75 pp.)


·         Wednesday (1/25)

o        Topic: Dostoevsky and philosophy (Dostoevsky as a thinker. Why, how and when philosophers became interested in Dostoevsky’s works)

o        Discussion: “literary philosophers” and “philosophical literati”

o        Readings: Bakhtin 78-100



II. Individual (Notes from Underground & Crime and Punishment)


Week 4:

·         Monday (1/30)

o        Topic: The underground man (Presentation of Notes…What is at stake in this novel.)

o        Discussion: The underground man c’est moi.

o        Readings: Notes…


·         Wednesday (2/1)

o        Topic: Despair, alienation, cynicism (The Existentialist context. Existentialist motifs in Dostoevsky’s Notes…Dostoevsky and his posthumous career as an Existentialist.)

o        Film: “Taxi Driver”

o        Readings: Harper (5-18)

Week 5:

·         Monday (2/6)

o        Topic: The rhetoric of confession in Notes… (The use of confession in philosophy. The underground man and J.J. Rousseau’s Confessions. Confession and self-knowledge.)

o        Discussion: The rhetoric of frankness

o        Readings: Howard (in Miller), Notes…,


·         Wednesday (2/8)

o        Topic: Solitude (Solitude as the absence of others/solitude as the absence of God. Solitude in Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Dostoevsky’s nihilism.)

o        Discussion: Philosophy and solitude

o        Film: “The Seventh Seal”

o        Readings: Frank (in Miller), Notes…


Week 6:

·         Monday (2/13)

o        Topic: A detective story with a philosophical twist (Presentation of Crime… What is at stake in the novel. The Napoleonic motif)

o        Film: “Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment” (Series: “Ten great writers of the modern world”)

o        Readings: Crime


·         Wednesday (2/15)

o        Topic: “If God is dead, everything is permitted” (Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. Roskolnikov attempts to be an Ubermensh. God as the only foundation of morality.)

o        Film: “A Short Film about Killing”   

o        Readings: Crime…




Submission of topic, brief description and basic bibliography for the research paper.


Week 7:

·         Tuesday (2/21) (Monday classes meet this day; Monday is President’s Day)

o        Topic: Murder as philosophical self-experimentation (Philosophical self-experimentation in Nietzsche and Dostoevsky.)

o        Readings: Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals (fragments), Crime…


·         Wednesday (2/22)

o        Topic: Redemption (Dostoevsky’s Christianity. Dostoevsky and the tradition of Russian mysticism. Auto-biographical elements. Eros & Agape. The discovery of “the others.”)

o        Discussion: Remorse, Rebirth, Redemption

o        Readings: Crime…


III. Society (The Possessed)


Week 8:

·         Monday (2/27)

o        Topic: The world of The Possessed (Presentation of The Possessed. Dostoevsky’s new attitudes towards socialism and revolution.)

o        Discussion: Dostoevsky’s conversion

o        Readings: Howe (in Miller): pp. 135-148; The Possessed


·         Wednesday (3/1)

o        Topic: The evil revolution I (Theology of revolution. The anatomy of wickedness.)

o        Film: “Burnt by the sun”

o        Readings: The Possessed


Week 9:

·         Monday (3/6)

o        Topic: The evil revolution II (Dostoevsky and the Bolshevik revolution.)

o        Discussion: “Burnt by the Sun”

o        Readings: Marx (The Communist manifesto, Chap. I-III), The Possessed,  


·         Wednesday (3/8)

o        Topic: The phenomenology of suicide I (Kirillov’s theory of suicide. Reason and nothingness.)

o        Discussion: Kirillov as a philosopher

o        Readings: Harper (Chapter V, pp. 61-84), The Possessed,  


Spring Break:

·         Monday (3/13)

o        No classes


·         Wednesday (3/15)

o        No classes


Week 10:

·         Monday (3/20)

o        Topic: The phenomenology of suicide II (Kirillov’s nihilism. Kirillov and his XX-th century disciples. Kirillov as a “God-is-dead” theologian.)

o        Film: “The Barbarian Invasions”

o        Readings: The Possessed


·         Wednesday (3/21)

o        Topic: Stavrogin (The fascination with evil. Evil-doing as a metaphysical rebellion.)

o        Discussion: Stavrogin’s confession

o        Readings: Grossman (in Miller): 148-158; The Possessed




Submission of first draft of the research paper.


III. Perfect Society (The Brothers Karamazov)


Week 11:

·         Monday (3/27)

o        Topic: The world of the Karamazovs (Presentation of the novel. The use of discourse in the novel. Complexity of The Brothers: at once, detective story, philosophical treatise, hagiographical writing, etc. Dostoevsky’s unorthodoxy in using the established literary genres.)

o        Discussion: The architecture of The Brothers Karamazov

o        Readings: Terras (in Miller): 215-222, The Brothers…


·         Wednesday (3/29)

o        Topic: Polyphony (Dostoevsky’s multiple voices. Bakhtin’s reading of Dostoevsky. The self and the others. Carnival in The Brothers...)

o        Readings: The Brothers


Week 12:

·         Monday (4/3)

o        Topic: Ivan’s Rebellion (Ivan’s theodicy. The suffering of children. God is not dead, but he is evil and useless.)

o        Film: “Celebration”

o        Readings: The Brothers, pp 228-246


·         Wednesday (4/5)

o        Topic: Ivan as a Philosopher I

o        Readings: The Brothers


Week 13:

·         Monday (4/10)

o        Topic: Ivan as a Philosopher II

o        Readings: The Brothers


·         Wednesday (4/12)

o        Topic: The Grand Inquisitor I (Political theology. Political Messianism. Dostoevsky and the Russian mysticism. Dostoevsky and Solovyov. “The legend of the Grand Inquisitor” as a theological writing.)

o        Discussion: Christ and Anti-Christ

o        Readings: Solovyov & Sandoz 75-126


Week 14:

·         Monday (4/17)

o        Topic: The Grand Inquisitor II (The Grand Inquisitor’s perfect society. The Grand Inquisitor and the totalitarianisms of the XX-th century)

o        Film: “Orchestra Rehearsal”

o        Discussion: “Darkness at Noon

o        Readings: Koestler


·         Wednesday (4/19)

o        Topic: The City of God (Zosima and his role in the novel. The Brothers… as a mystical writing. The celestial order vs. the worldly order. The other-worldly dimension of The Brothers…)

o        Discussion: Dostoevsky as a hagiographer

o        Readings: Bortnes (in Miller)


Week 15:

·         Monday (4/24)

o        Topic: Alyosha (Alyosha’s angelism. Alyosha as the unifying factor in the novel. The two poles: Alyosha and Smerdyakov. The ultimate message of the novel.)

o        Readings: The Brothers…


·         Wednesday (4/26)

o        Topic: Dostoevsky as a social philosopher (Course’s conclusions)

o         Course evaluation by students.




Submission of research paper (final version).


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