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Miami University

Department of Philosophy

PHL 360: Politics, Religion and Philosophy in The Brothers Karamazov

Fall 2005

MW 2.00-3.50 pm

Classroom: 301 Laws Hall


Costica Bradatan

Office: 221 Hall Auditorium,

Office Hours: Tuesday 2.00-4.00pm & Wednesday 12.45-1.45pm (& by appointment) 

Office Phone:  (513) 529-4739

Email: bradatc@muohio.edu

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

Course Description:

In this course we will be considering The Brothers Karamazov from the complementary angles of philosophy, theology, literary theory, and political science. The course will be divided into three main sections. The first section offers an introduction to the relationship philosophy-literature in general, and to Dostoevsky as a thinker in particular. In the second section we will be focusing on the intrinsic qualities of Dostoevsky’s novel as a writing with a distinct philosophical, political and theological content. At this stage discussions will be mostly clustered around Dostoevsky’s dealing with such topics as theodicy, suffering, redemption, rebirth, quest for earthly paradise, utopia, authenticity, Anti-Christ, foundations of morality, and other topics. Also, the genesis and structure of The Brothers Karamazov will be discussed in detail in this section. In the third section of the course, we will be experimentally considering some of the 20th century developments in the fields of philosophy, arts, literature, and politics precisely through the lens of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. At this stage, the course will briefly explore, from the particular vantage point provided by Dostoevsky’s novel:


  • some figures or schools of thought in the 20th century philosophy (Existentialism, psychoanalysis, Bakhtin, etc)
  • or topics in the 20th  literature (the devil in 20th century fiction, Thomass Mann’s indebtedness to Dostoevsky)
  • some movements or individual thinkers in the 20th century theology (“the death of God” theology, Soloviev, Berdiaev, the revival of the Orthodox theology in the 20th century).  
  • some moments/features of the 20th cinema (for example, Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev)


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).

·         * Belknap, Robert (1989), The Structure of the Brothers Karamazov (Chicago: Northwestern Unievrsity Press)

·         * Belknap, Robert (1990), The Genesis of the Brothers Karamazov (Chicago: Northwestern Unievrsity 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 (2002) The Karamazov Brothers (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

  • * 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).
  • ** Soloviev, Vladimir, A Short Story of the Anti-Christ



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. Items marked with ** are either on electronic reserve  (password: PHL360) or will be provided by the instructor.


Course Requirements:

  1. One research paper, developed in three stages
  2. Oral presentations (at least two)
  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), at the end of the semester, within a portfolio. (For deadlines, please see “General Schedule of Events” below.)


2. Oral presentation:

Each student is expected to present the reading(s) for at least two sessions and then briefly conduct the subsequent discussion. A list of topics (readings) for which students can volunteer will be circulated at the beginning of the semester. 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 third presentation during the semester (in addition to the first two), 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.


Please keep copies of the materials you write and submit for this course as at the end of the term all these materials will be formally submitted as a portfolio. The portfolio includes: the notes for your oral presentation, the drafts commented on, and returned to you, by the instructor, and the final version of your research. The reason why you are asked to submit a portfolio is that it helps the instructor evaluate your progress and your work for the course over the whole semester.


 Grading Policy:

·         10%           Regular attendance of seminar meetings.

·         10%           Active participation in classroom discussions

·         20%           Oral presentations

·         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. You will learn your oral presentation grade shortly after you give it. The grade for the research paper will be determined after you submit it, along with the portfolio.


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:

·         Wednesday (8/24)

o        Topic: Introduction. Overview of the course.

o        Discussion: Philosophy and interdisciplinarity


Week 2:

·         Monday (8/29)

o        Topic: The overlap philosophy/literature. The problem of genres in philosophy. “Literary genres” in philosophy: dialogue, confession, poetry, fables. The “philosophical novel”: specifics, examples, techniques.

o        Discussion: Ways of embodying philosophical ideas

o        Reading: The Brothers Karamazov (pp 1-50)


·         Wednesday (8/31)  

o        Topic: The limits of the philosophical discourse. When words are not enough. Alternative forms of doing philosophy.

o        Movie watching: “The Life of David Gale”

o        Reading: The Brothers Karamazov (pp 51-100)


Week 3:

·         Tuesday (9/06) (Monday classes meet this day; Monday is Labor Day)

o        Topic: Philosophy as a “way of life” – philosophy as an art of dying. Philosophical martyrdom. The concept of “founding murder” in the history of Western philosophy (Socrates, Bruno, Patocka)

o        Discussion: “The Life of David Gale”

o        Reading: The Brothers Karamazov (pp 101-150)


·         Wednesday (9/07)

o        Topic: The image of the philosopher in Western literature (Plato, Voltaire, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche). The philosopher as a literary character. First encounter with Ivan Karamazov.

o        Discussion: Do philosophers really need to exist “in flesh and blood”?

o        Reading: The Brothers Karamazov (pp 151-200)


Week 4:

·         Monday (9/12)

o        Topic: Introduction to Dostoevsky I. Biography. Historical Context. Dostoevsky’s involvement in revolutionary circles. Experience of prison & exile.

o        Movie watching: “Fyodor Dostoevsky” (Series: Great Russian writers; 30 min.)

o        Readings: Sandoz (Chapter I) & The Brothers Karamazov (pp 201-250)


·         Wednesday (9/14)

o        Topic: Introduction to Dostoevsky II. Overview of the main writings and themes. The complexity of his work. Dostoevsky’s late political views. His religious (Orthodox) background.

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

o        Readings: Bakhtin (pp 5-22; 47-75)


Week 5:

·         Monday (9/19)

o        Topic: Dostoevsky and philosophy. Dostoevsky as a thinker. The influence of his work on the 20th century philosophy. The Brothers Karamazov and philosophy.

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

o        Readings: Bakhtin (pp 78-100) & The Brothers Karamazov (pp 251-300)


II. The World of The Brothers Karamazov


·         Wednesday (9/21)

o        Topic: The underground man as a predecessor of the Karamazovs. Solitude and alienation. Meaninglessness. Quest for stable existential ground.

o        Discussion: The underground man and Ivan Karamazov

o        Readings: Notes from Underground (pp. 1-41)


Week 6:

·         Monday (9/26)

o        Topic: The underground man and us. Dostoevsky as a visionary thinker. 

o        Movie Watching: “Happiness”

o        Readings: Notes from Underground (pp. 42-130)


·         Wednesday (9/28)

o        Topic: Radion Roskolnikov as predecessor of Ivan Karamazov. “If God is dead, everything is permitted.” Murder as philosophical (self-)experimentation.

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

o        Readings: The Brothers Karamazov (pp 301-350)


Week 7:

·         Monday (10/3)

o        Topic: Complexity of The Brothers: at once, detective story, philosophical treatise, hagiographical writing, etc.

o        Discussion: Dostoevsky’s unorthodoxy in using the established literary genres.

o        Readings: Terras (in Miller): 215-222 & The Brothers Karamazov (pp 351-400)


·         Wednesday (10/5)

o        Topic: The Karamazov family as a domestic hell.  

o        Movie watching: “The Celebration”

o        Readings: The Brothers Karamazov  (pp 401-450)




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



Week 8:

·         Monday (10/10)

o        Topic: The genesis of The Brothers Karamazov I

o        Discussion: Imagination and imitation

o        Readings: Belknap (1990)


·         Wednesday (10/12)

o        Topic: The genesis of The Brothers Karamazov II

o        Discussion: The place of Dostoevsky’s personal experiences in the novel.

o        Readings: Belknap (1990)


Week 9:

·         Monday (10/17)

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

o        Readings: Bakhtin, pp. 122-180.


·         Wednesday (10/19)

o        Topic: Ivan is introduced. The discussion at the monastery. Ivan the “paradoxalist”: defender of radical theocracy and atheist at the same time.

o        Why is Ivan holding contradictory views?

o        Readings: The Brothers Karamazov  (pp 451-500)


Week 10:

·         Monday (10/24)

o        Topic: The epistemological and the ethical corollaries of “If God does not exist.” Ivan’s godless epistemology. Ivan Karamazov and Kant. Ivan’s godless epistemology and “the antinomies of pure reason.”

o        Discussion: “If God does not exist, then…” Then what?

o        Readings: The Brothers Karamazov  (pp 501-550)


·         Wednesday (10/26)

o        Topic: Ivan’s Father. The “cosmic farce” argument for the existence of God. 

o        Discussion: How (un)serious is this argument. 

o        Readings: The Brothers Karamazov  (pp 551-600)


Week 11:

·         Monday (10/31)

o        Topic: “If God does not exist, then who is laughing at man?”

o        Movie watching: “The Truman Show”

o        Readings: The Brothers Karamazov  (pp 601-650)




Submission of first draft of the research paper.


·         Wednesday (11/2)

o        Topic: The world as a farce of cruel God. Metaphysical scandal. Ivan’s Rebellion The suffering of children. 

o        Close reading: Chapter “Rebellion”

o        Readings: The Brothers Karamazov  (pp 651-700)


Week 12:

·         Monday (11/7)

o        Topic: The unaccountability of (certain) sufferings. Ivan returns the ticket.

o        Close reading: Chapter “Rebellion”

o        Readings: The Brothers Karamazov  (pp 701-770)


·         Wednesday (11/9)

o        Topic: The Structure of The Karamazov Brothers

o        Discussion: Dostoevsky the architect

o        Readings: Belknap (1989)


Week 13:

·         Monday (11/14)

o        Topic: The Grand Inquisitor I. Freedom as burden. Human nature and personal freedom.

o        Close Reading: “The legend of the Grand Inquisitor”

o        Readings: Sandoz 75-126


·         Wednesday (11/16)

o        Topic: The Grand Inquisitor II. Political theology. Dostoevsky and the Russian mysticism. Dostoevsky and Soloviev.

o        Close Reading: “The legend of the Grand Inquisitor”

o        Readings: Soloviev


Week 14:

·         Monday (11/21)

o        Topic: The Grand Inquisitor III. The Grand Inquisitor’s perfect society. The Grand Inquisitor and the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.

o        Discussion: “Darkness at Noon

o        Readings: Koestler


Thanksgiving Break


III. After The Brothers Karamazov


Week 15:

·         Monday (11/28)

o        Topic: Dostoevsky and Freud. Dostoevsky and the existentialists.

o        Discussion: How indebted is Camus to Dostoevsky?  

o        Readings: Freud, Camus.


·         Wednesday (11/30)

o        Topic: Dostoevsky and Thomas Mann. Dostoevsky and Patocka

o        Discussion: The devil.

o        Readings: Patocka, Thomas Mann 


Week 16:

·         Monday (12/5)

o        Topic: Dostoevsky and Tarkovsky.

o        Movie Watching: “Andrei Rublev”


·         Wednesday (12/7)

o        Topic: Course’s conclusions

o        Course evaluation by students.




Submission of research paper (final version).  

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