19th Century Russian Literature


Saying a “New Word.”

Book Three steps outside of the world of Raskolnikov to include others. They are all trying to restore him to health, but as the doctor remarks, that requires identifying cause.  Does Raskolnikov’s theory of the “extraordinary man” provide a clue? Does the theory stand up to careful scrutiny even if Raskolnikov is not one of those extraordinary men?


  1. Patrick O'Neill
    April 8th, 2009 | 10:59 am

    I disagree with the theory to a certain extent, even seeing that Raskolnikov is not in fact on of these extraordinary men. If I am not mistaken, the theory that Rodion asserts, which interestingly enough was only “hinted” at towards the end of his article (the main point of which I would like to touch on in a second), expounded that there are essentially two classes of human beings: the ordinary, which maintain the status quo and simply procreate, and the extraordinary, which are given the natural right to be above the law in the name of progress, although they are constantly met by the checks (laws) of the former group.

    Ultimately, I think that Raskolnikov sought to test his theory in the wrong way, by putting all his chips in the pot when he really did not, and could not, know with certitude what the outcome would be beforehand. In a way, he was not even sacrificing himself for the rest of humanity and progress, like he claimed that many great men do, but instead merely for himself, to see if he in fact was great. I am now of the belief that his fall from vanity, that is, the fact that he realizes he is not destined to be a “great man” is one of the primary causes of his illness.

    That being said, I would like to draw another conclusion in that because Raskolnikov clearly is not great, he must now on the contrary, which since the inception to the novel is clear as day, have committed his crime as a result of a mental illness. This point was actually the main point of the article he wrote and I am rather surprised that Raskolnikov himself has not yet explicitly realized that his own mental sickness was certainly a big factor in bringing him to ultimately commit the crime. However, Pyotr Petrovich’s suspicions were certainly aroused by the fact that Raskolnikov fell sick after the crime (“Yes, sir, and you maintain that the very act of carrying out a crime is alway accompanied by illness” (Peaver and Volokhonsky trans., 258), which explains why he was so interested in getting the chance to finally meet Rodion, a fact that Razumikhin was clearly oblivious of while bringing Raskolnikov to the meeting.

  2. Patrick O'Neill
    April 8th, 2009 | 1:06 pm

    Just a small correction: I mixed up Porfiry and Pyotr Petrovich

  3. Brett Basarab
    April 8th, 2009 | 3:52 pm

    Under careful scrutiny, Raskolnikov’s theory is seriously flawed, but the entire theory is not completely incorrect. In the most extreme cases, it is allowable and even necessary for people to overstep laws in order to accomplish a goal that undoubtedly leads to the greater good. In class we talked about the case where there is a 100% chance that we can kill a terrorist leader. To make the case even more extreme, imagine that we had irrefutable evidence that this terrorist’s group was going to carry out a horrible attack on the US within the next week. If we have the chance, we have to kill this terrorist, even if civilians and children have to die too. The logic seems simple and cold: led even a few dozen civilians die to save thousands or tens of thousands. However, this is the correct action, and any other approach would be ludicrous, even immoral. Whoever gives the order to kill this terrorist, then, has the right (I would even say the obligation) to overstep the law in pursuit of peace and less bloodshed overall.

    Raskolnikov’s theory runs into trouble when it tries to distinguish between extraordinary and ordinary men. It may be possible that there are “extraordinary men” who can benefit society so much that they have a right to overstep boundaries to enact their ideals. However, distinguishing these extraordinary individuals from the rest of society is next to impossible. We could look at someone’s past accomplishments but what if the person is young and has not yet done his or her first great thing? Thus, we cannot pluck out certain individuals from society who we then free from society’s laws. Such a practice would lead to chaos because everyone would then believe that they could benefit society and would put themselves above the law. You could argue that any idea you have is great for society and then enact it, disregarding all laws. Raskolnikov does just this: he believes his act is a great benefit to society, but killing an obnoxious, greedy old woman is far different from killing the leader of a deadly terrorist group. Raskolnikov’s approach to the greater good is flawed, so even if his theory were correct, he would not qualify as an extraordinary man.

  4. Alexandra Boillot
    April 8th, 2009 | 4:01 pm

    I find Raskolnikov’s theory to be pretty fascinating while at the same time a little scary since I would not want to think the theory to be true in real life. However, for Dostoyevsky’s purpose in Crime and Punishment I think the theory works very well. I think that Raskolnikov in writing his article fashioned the extraordinary man to be like himself in some respects, specifically the particulars of how an extraordinary man would deal with the aftermath of killing someone. The extraordinary man, as described as Raskolnikov, is interpreted to be like a Napoleonic figure: very courageous, daring, and egotistical, to an extent in which it could almost be reckless. Following this interpretation of Raskolnikov’s extraordinary man, the illness and delirium that Raskolnikov believes will follow a murder for the greater good seems out of place. The extraordinary man seems like he would feel completely justified in his act and would not look back long enough to even regret it; he would simply move forward in whatever it was he was doing that required him to kill someone. Therefore, when Raskolnikov builds an extraordinary man that gives off this kind of impression, his hypothesis of illness following murder leads me to believe that in his extreme desire to be an extraordinary man, he put aspects of his own character into this theory in imagining how he would feel and act after committing a murder.

    Consequently, I think that Raskolnikov’s theory provides a huge clue in the murder mystery solely because he projected parts of his personal character onto his imagined extraordinary man. He attributes the reactions of an ordinary man to the action of the extraordinary man and this fundamental contradiction in his theory points fingers at him for the murder. Only the author of such a theory could overlook this contradiction, and then act it out, because he desires to be an extraordinary man so it is only natural for him to insert a bit of himself into his description of the extraordinary man subconsciously.

  5. Ben Tabb
    April 8th, 2009 | 4:11 pm

    I think that to an extent, Raskolnikov’s theory does make sense, although I disagree with him on two things: firstly, as we can all see, he is clearly not one of these extraordinary men. Secondly, while I believe the world may benefit from extraordinary people bypassing laws and rules that would otherwise hold them back, I think there is a limit that should stop short of cold-blooded murder.

    It’s hard for me to take an exact stance on Raskolnikov’s theory, because I am unsure what exactly he means when he says extraordinary people should be able to break moral rules and established laws. If he simply means that breaking a law can be justified in the case of someone with a greater goal, than there is no doubt in my mind that his argument is fair. Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” inspired those such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. to do great things through protest and civil disobedience that could not have been accomplished through lawful movements. I don’t think anyone would disagree that they were extraordinary men whose crimes were justified.

    On the other hand, although he uses the word “crime” in a general sense, all of his examples are geared toward murder or in his mind justifiable homicide. This is obviously a different case. King and Gandhi only engaged in peaceful protest and largely broke unjust laws. Had they committed murders to achieve their goals, it would be a much harder justification. Would the deaths of a few be worth the freedom of millions and all of their descendants? What about the deaths of hundreds? Thousands? For me, I think even the deaths of some can be justified if the gains as a result are high enough. If the bombing of Hiroshima saved the lives of millions at the expense of 100,000 than I think it is justifiable, no matter how horrible it was (the bombings of Tokyo were equally deadly, yet not nearly as effective at ending the war). Of course killing is terrible, and should always be considered a last resort, but I do think in some very very extraordinary cases, it may be justified.

    The problem with this theory, is that it’s only a theory, and is difficult to apply to actual practice. I had trouble thinking of examples to defend Raskolnikov’s idea because the majority of cases in which someone thinks they are extraordinary and justified in killing, we can see in hindsight that they, like Raskolnikov, are not. The leaders of the crusades and the leaders of genocides always think that they’re in the right with their actions, and that they are extraordinary, but they never are. Hitler and Stalin believed that in order to make an omelet they had to break a few eggs, but neither of them were able to create “omelets.” Even if such a theory holds true, it is a very dangerous belief for one to hold, because as history can tell us, the majority of the people who believed they were extraordinary were not. While I agree that the ends can justify the means, often the ends one is trying to accomplish never come, and the means stand alone. Such is the case with Raskalnikov.

  6. Sophie Clarke
    April 8th, 2009 | 4:20 pm

    The theory of the extraordinary man can not stand up to the scrutiny of anyone with a descent moral code, however, if we take the (pretty disgusting) theory as it is, we can not deny that Raskolnikovis certainly extraordinary.

    The most disturbing part of the Eman theory is that it allows for a large range of people to fall under the category of extraordinary. Raskolnikov emphasizes that those with the right and obligation to kill (if doing so in necessary to replace present reality with something better) are not necessarily great, but rather are anyone who “deviates marginally from the common rut.”

    Raskolnikov, then, certainly falls into this category. He certainly deviates from the norm and can say “a new word”—he must have been one of the first people to condone murder on the grounds of conscious!

    His actions are also in line with “replacing present reality with something better.” The world was better off after the old woman louse was killed. Raskolnikov, was thus, extraordinary—he improved the world!

    And, given that he is extraordinary, we should view his murders of Lizaveta and her child not as despicable common crimes, but rather as two more murders to “replace present reality with something better.” If he didn’t kill Lizaveta, he would have been arrested and then his function as an extraordinary man (who, remember—are only one in thousands—would be nothing. So, by sacrificing a commoner—Lizaveta—for himself—an extraordinary man—Raskolnikov again made the world a better place. According to his theory of course.

    I foresee a common argument that the fact the Raskolnikov fell ill is proof that that he was not extraordinary. However, Raskolnikov’s theory does not differentiate between the effects on an extraordinary or ordinary man after a crime (such as a murder.) Rather, the theory merely says that illness invariably follows all crimes. Furthermore, the fact that Raskolnikov suffers at all is not proof that he is not extraordinary. In fact, Raskolnikov admits, “pain and suffering are inevitable for persons of bread awareness and depth of heart. The truly great are, in my view, always bout do feel a great sense of sadness…”

  7. Kara Shurmantine
    April 8th, 2009 | 5:11 pm

    Raskolnikov’s theory is rational, and there are probably many people in the world (and in our class) who see reason and truth in it. But on the question of the “extraordinary” individual, separated from and superior to the “ordinary” masses that surround him, I disagree entirely with Raskolnikov. On the question of whether or not “extraordinary” individuals exist in society, powerful and important individuals who shape and mold the course of human history and to whom, therefore, certain laws are not applicable, I am heavily influenced by Leo Tolstoy’s theory of history, which I read in War and Peace. I think that Dostoevsky and Tolstoy may have held these views in common, even though their expression of them and intention in writing about them are different.

    Raskolnikov asserts that in society there are certain individuals who are special: they possess great power, influence, and authority; they carry great historical significance; they shape the course of human history and are responsible for its triumphs and failures; they are superior to all other men, and therefore exempt from his laws if this exemption means they can further their grand, influential, history-making goals.

    Tolstoy says (and I agree) that no such special, extraordinary, history-making individual exists. The current of human life is not shaped or defined by any one man, or any group of men, but by all men. There is a supreme Force, greater than any individual or group of individuals, that guides human life and its triumphs and failures; the existence of this Force renders null and void the concept that certain “extraordinary” individuals can exist, because each man is as subject to the workings of this Force as any other man. None are special.

    Tolstoy suggests, and I think perhaps Dostoevsky would disagree, that this Force is God. This is why I think Raskolnikov misses the point entirely, and why Dostoevsky wrote the book so that we could all read it and see how he misses the point entirely. He assumes an egocentrism so profound and so absolute that he elevates himself into the stars, alongside God and his fellow “extraordinary men.” He presumes to be a great actor of history, an influential and specially designated individual with the sheer force of will to break petty human laws for the advancement of a collective humanity. But this is silly: no man is God, no man has the power to determine history’s movement of his own will, no man is more powerful than any other man. Every individual is subject to the Force (God?), and therefore there can be no “extraordinary” individuals.

  8. Kara Shurmantine
    April 8th, 2009 | 5:12 pm

    at the beginning of my last paragraph it should be “Dostoevsky would AGREE.” whoops

  9. Ashley Quisol
    April 8th, 2009 | 8:01 pm

    The theory of the extraordinary man has been tested time and again throughout history and is reflected in the actions and justifications of many rulers who claim to commit atrocities in the name of a better society. The list of these examples is enormous and one can simply read the theories of Machiavelli in “The Prince” to find their justifications. In terms of Russia during the time period (more or less) when “Crime and Punishment” was written, the theory of the extraordinary man is most prevalent in the socialist revolution and the events to follow.
    In Profiry’s apartment, the debate about socialist theory continues from the night before. Rodion states that the fundamental flaw with the theory is that its vision for the creation of a perfect society is too mechanical and fails to take human nature into account. This flaw in the logical construction of socialism, Rodion says, essentially dismisses the “living soul” and since you can’t “skip over nature for logic,” the system will eventually come to ruin attributed to nothing more than human nature. (219)
    In the theory of the extraordinary man, Rodion takes this idea of human nature being at the heart of civilization and (ironically)logically and systematically categorizes it into two groups: one with the right, and at times duty, to eliminate “obstacles” standing in the way of creating a perfect society, whereas in the second group men are expected to follow law. The first group, then, consists of primarily leaders, while the second group consists of the populous. According to this theory, the leaders presumably know what is best for the populous in a perfect society; they are justified in paving a path to this civilization, even if that means murdering the opposition.
    Many of the leaders of the Communist state (Stalin, for example) did believe in the theory of the extraordinary man and committed numerous atrocities in the name of a perfect society. Though the argument in favor of this theory does pan out in the minds of these megalomaniacal leaders and explains (and in their eyes, justifies) many of their actions, to me there is no question that it should not be followed as a rule: no people should be inherently empowered to act in the name of humanity and it is for this reason that we have a legal system. I won’t devote any more space to explaining why the theory of the extraordinary man is morally wrong, since there is an abundance of historical events which attest to that fact. Plus, morally, I think it’s a no brainer.

  10. Harry Morgenthau
    April 8th, 2009 | 8:12 pm

    It is an undeniable fact that throughout history there have been extraordinary men who have broken the rules and single-handedly pushed humanity forward. Rules are, by nature, designed to keep things balanced, and to hold humanity in check. While laws are all well and good for creating a comfortable, trusting society, they do not provide much wiggle room for significant progress to take place. Small changes, changes that fit within the system, are tolerated, but they can only take you so far. A real, significant change, must, out of necessity destroy part of the system, so that a new, improved thing can be built in its place.
    Concerning the argument that it would be impossible to determine who was actually an extraordinary man, and who was just an ordinary man with crazy ideas, I do not think it is something that the society, or the police, should worry about. A man who is not truly extraordinary will be brought down by the law in their attempts to break it. A truly extraordinary man, however, will rise to the top now matter how harshly he is pursued and beaten down. If he is worthy, then he will make his make his change seen no matter the resistance.
    I would say Raskalnikov cannot be considered an extraordinary man because he is not actually trying to change anything, or make any real progress for humanity. His only desire is to see if he can do it, if he can kill and get away with undetected. But, just because he has not yet been caught, does not mean that he is absolved for his sins, as his theory suggests an extraordinary man should be. All it shows is that he has gotten lucky, and slipped around the law. He has not destroyed the law and created a new one. He has not made any progress for mankind. The world is not better or more advanced because of this killing – all we get is another dead person. A truly extraordinary man would be absolved of his sins because the advancement that he has made for humanity is so powerful and impressive that it overrides his negative actions. An extraordinary man leaves the world a better place; Raskolnikov has not come even close.

  11. Casey Mahoney
    April 8th, 2009 | 8:32 pm

    Kara’s comments regarding Tolstoy and Dosteoevsky, and their ideas on God and history interest me greatly. I think both authors, religious are they (eventually) are/become, have a great respect for the hierarchy of nature, which is embodied in Christian doctrine, which places God above all, men next in order, and then the rest of creation. However, within that hierarchy of men, I think that both of these figures’ religious belief would lead them to conclusions ultimately not so different form those of Raskolnikov’s.

    As affirmed by any political and philosophical literature, and by experience, too, the fact of life that there are always those who rule and those who are ruled is undeniable. Indeed, Dostoevsky wrote C&P at a time when nascent awareness for human rights issues came of age (emancipation of the serfs 1861, etc.), yet the fact that although all humans are equally worthy of life, in a very real, deep sense does not exclude one from drawing the conclusion that each human serves a different purpose in society.

    Of course, in the mode of the 1860s, Raskolnikov takes such a premise to an extreme conclusion, yet it is not one that I readily discount. I don’t think it outrageous to claim that there are people who go through life happily, concerned with family, their jobs, and so forth, and that there ARE also people who philosophize and strive to make a great, sometimes revolutionary difference in the world who only do so out of an innate sense that whatever unpopular means they employ will be justified in the end. Very quickly, Raskolnikov figures out that he cannot even justify to himself his means of murder, and spends the rest of the novel confusedly trying to figure out how to redeem himself.

    Raskolnikov’s claim that there are predetermined, cut-and-dry categories, I think, comes only from a very deterministic, fatalistic view of life, which I think is simply a debate that is separate from the idea of “The Extraordinary Man.” (Does Raskolnikov have control of his situation, or is he a “product of environment”? Do the events of parts 5-6 happen due to illness/delirium, a free choice, or what—and what would each conclusion imply for Raskolnikov’s justification? I think that these issues can only be taken up after the epilogue is digested).

  12. Casey Mahoney
    April 8th, 2009 | 8:33 pm

    …And I agree with Ashley’s relation of “The Prince” to Rodya’s theory.

  13. Zachary Harris
    April 8th, 2009 | 9:12 pm

    I think that Raskolnikov’s theory is pretty hard to refute at its core, that the most influential people in history for the most have had to commit base deeds in order to enact change on society. I think that the most influential people have been mostly political leaders. While great scientists and artists have also enacted great change on society, they are only able to create and share their achievements in societies which have been molded by at some point in the past by political figures to allow for science and art to be pursued.

    Almost all great political figures that have changed the world have had to deal with the fact that in order to further their agenda some people must suffer or die. There have been some great political leaders that for the most part not did not have to face this dilemma, Ghandi being a good example. Yet even Ghandi had to have realized that some of his followers would die or be seriously injured (by being beaten by the police for example) in carrying out his goals. In other cases it has been even more clear that violence was necessary to achieve one’s political goals. To defeat Nazi Germany, the Allies bombed many German cities. While they realized that many innocent civilians would die, they were necessary casualties to further their political goals.

    However, while Raskolnikov’s theory seems self-evident to me, he is using it to justify his actions which are by no means just. He assumes that he is an extraordinary man without there being any proof that he is, and uses this belief to allow himself to do anything he wants with the justification that he is bettering society by doing so. He fails to recognize his own point that extraordinary men are usually only seen as so after they have accomplished their goals, and are deemed evil and wrong by those they are fighting against while they are doing so. He fails to realize that the goal of killing the old woman and taking her money is a selfish act. While he intended to give some money to the poor, his true reason for killing her is to make his own family more well off. He places a very low value on the old woman’s life, which he sacrifices simply for the promise of his own financial well being. Thus, while Raskolnikov’s theory is by no means incorrect, he is wrong in applying it to himself as he is in no power to sacrifice others for the benefit of humanity in any way.

  14. Susanna Merrill
    April 8th, 2009 | 9:16 pm

    As Raskolnikov himself recognizes when he reviews his theory, if he had been acting nobly in committing his crime, it would not have involved something so ignoble and disgusting as killing such a louse as Alyona the pawnbroker. I think it’s pretty easy to rule Raskolnikov out as a courageous advancer of world history, and he knows it.

    As far as the cause of our hero’s sickness, I’m not sure the extraordinary man theory is even so important, necessarily, as we have been making it out to be. Raskolnikov’s intellectual impetus for his crime may have been this theory, and he may now be intellectually concerned with the negative results of his experiment, but I would say that he is sick and miserable simply because he is guilty and scared, because he murdered someone and the police and his mother might find out.

    His unhappiness at actually having committed a crime is a compounding of the misery out of which the crime arose: happy, well-adjusted people do not dwell upon pointless murders as the only creative acts available to them. Something is very wrong with Raskolnikov, and it isn’t just that a morally suspect idea occurred to him in philosophically convincing garb. Something, and I imagine that Dostoyevsky would say that this something is a fault of modern culture, has separated him from humanity and from the instinctive goodness that should make the murder of an unarmed woman impossible, the goodness we see in Raskolnikov’s dream of the horse and his generosity towards Marmeladov’s family. This separation becomes formal and irreversible with the act of murder, but it had long existed.

  15. Lisa Eppich
    April 8th, 2009 | 10:30 pm

    Raskolnikov’s theory definitely has some truth to it, as it’s more or less irrefutable that there have been certain many “extraordinary” people throughout history. At first I completely disagreed with Kara/Tolstoy, though now I realize that yes, behind each person who stands up and changes history are usually many people who helped to get that person there, but this isn’t always the case, and I don’t think we can take away from the Martin Luther Kings and others who did stand up.

    However, I think Raskolnikov fails on the assumption that every extraordinary man takes action for the greater good. It’s a problem of subjectivity: what is “good” for some people is not good for others. This is what the underground man was getting at: there can never be one definable good, not only because every person has their own tastes, but because for some the very thought of being pigeon-holed into one kind of idea, even if it’s in their best interest, is not what they want, and therefore not within their idea of the “greater good”. For example, I would hope that all of us would say that MLK and other civil rights leaders did great things, yet there will always be a few people who think otherwise. Raskolnikov wants to be Napoleon, but was Napoleon really that good? By his definition, Hitler was also an extraordinary man, but was the Holocaust for anyone but Hitler’s “greater good?” Thus, while there are certain movements led by extraordinary men that most people can agree on being for the greater good of mankind, we can’t also forget that genocides are also created by Raskolnikov’s definition.
    This problem is compounded by the fact that Raskolnikov doesn’t even have anything in particular he wants to do, save perhaps get out of debt now that Alyena’s gone. Yes, he’s certainly shown that he’s capable of great kindness, which also shows that he’s really just a mentally ill person rather than just a amoral, twisted person, but he is hardly an extraordinary man himself. While it’s interesting that he pointed out this trend in history, he himself has not shown any kind of leadership capability nor does he have any idea of what his or any kind of “greater good” really is.

    Also, his essay almost seemed like a too-obvious clue to his guilt. He’s already suspected just because of his mannerisms, so throwing this essay into the mix certainly doesn’t help his cause, as the people around him aren’t as dumb as he thinks.

  16. Elise Hanks
    April 8th, 2009 | 11:07 pm

    I think something important in understanding the psychology and logic behind Rodya’s larger plan is revealed to the reading during the discourse between him and Porfiry. Porifiry suggests that perhaps Rodya’s theory of the Extraordinary Man allows for that man to create an environment for his future endeavors and genius.

    On page 264 (during their first conversation of hypothetical situations) Porifiry states:
    “what is some man, or youth, imagines himself a Lycurgus or Muhammad- a future one, to be sure- and goes and starts removing all obstacles to that end… We’re faced a long campaign, and for this campaign we need money… and so he starts providing himself for the campaign…”

    Although I had not previously considered the triple homicide to be such an act, it makes sense. Rodya wants this murder to bring him “over the line” so that he can be done with it and move on to more grandiose plans. I think this aspect of the Extraordinary Man is important to pay attention to because it allows people to create their own greatness. It is not so much that one is “born an Extraordinary Man” but becomes true that one can MAKE himself an extraordinary man, in a sense.

    We all seem to more or less agree that as humans involved in a social contract who respect human rights, the idea of another person having agency over another’s life even if for the greater good is immoral. However, could it be said that BECAUSE Rodya considers himself an Extraordinary Man, he is?

    True, he goes mad with guilt. He turns himself in and doesn’t get away with murder. However, does this actually matter in the theory of the Extraordinary Man? I don’t think it does. What matters beyond a man’s consciousness? If Rodya truly believes his intentions, plans, his WORD is so valuable, right and wrong and success and failure don’t matter. Human identity only exists as so far as it is realized or created by the individual. If Rodya does not regret the sacrifice of others for his word, for his greater good, then THAT is what makes him an Extraordinary Man, not the ability not to feel guilt or to evade capture or to wish the woman weren’t dead.

  17. Stewart Moore
    April 8th, 2009 | 11:57 pm

    I’m not so sure the ability to commit a crime, murder someone, and feel nothing afterwards should be defined as extraordinary. Numbness generally isn’t a charateristic posed by our heros. But I do agree to an extent with the theory. If we all went out and killed some people, most of us would probably need some therapy, jail, or someway to cope with our actions lest we go mad. However some people are probably able to sit down and eat a nice warm dinner that very night, or simply not think about it. This doesn’t make them worthy of praise though. I think it’s possible to kill you’re conscious.

    As mentioned in class, leaders consciously sign the death certificates of thousands, often time out of a belief that their ideas or goals are more valuable than human lives or will better humanity in the future. Does this make them extraordinary. I don’t really think so. I think since they are so far removed from those who die, they are able to put the event out of mind and go drink some coffee. It is their job to make such decisions, and they realized before becoming a leader. Rodya doesn’t have a purpose in killing, well at least no ‘greater good’, and his crime was face to face. I think it’s probably harder for most people to kill someone while looking at them rather than signing a piece of paper.

    Perhaps the root of Rodya’s ‘sickness’ is that he does not want to acknowledge his ‘inferiority’ or ‘normality’, but I’m not convinced he is truly ‘sick’ or that he is not, as he puts it, ‘extraordinary’. After all with the closing of section four, he appears to allow Nikolay to take his responsibility for the murder (although the book isn’t finished).

  18. Natalie Komrovsky
    April 9th, 2009 | 1:13 am

    Raskolnikov’s theory of the “extraordinary man” is interesting. He claims that some men are extraordinary, and separate from ordinary men. They are able to transcend the law and commit murder if it serves a greater good. Raskolnikov believed that he was one of these extraordinary men, and that the universe was pushing him in the direction of the murder. Eventually he committed it, but proved to not be the extraordinary man he thought he was.

    Sophie brought up an interesting point, that Raskolnikov is extraordinary because he was able to commit the murder, even if he went insane afterwards. Sickness always accompanies murder, so just because he’s crazy, doesn’t mean he isn’t extraordinary. The problem I have with categorizing Raskolnikov as extraordinary is that he really only halfway did what his defined “extraordinary men” do. He committed the murder. Fine. But that murder didn’t necessarily benefit humankind in any way. He didn’t help humanity progress. He did nothing with her money or the pawned items. I think the fact that his sickness impeded his ability to completely carry out his plan means that he is just ordinary.

    On another note, this doesn’t necessarily mean that his theory doesn’t hold water. I do believe that there are times when it is necessary to transcend the law for the good of others. I don’t think I could be one of those people, but I’m certainly glad that they exist.

  19. Matthew Lazarus
    April 9th, 2009 | 8:11 am

    Razkolnikov has really Donne it this time. Of course an island is nice to go for vacation, but it seems as though he might be taking this idea a little too far. Let’s keep in in the borders of the motherland, why don’t we. The extraordinary theory (has has certainly been mentioned above) is quite flawed, but in another sense it is really ign’ant. Objectivity is a sick sick man, and Razkolnikov his biggest fan. Razkolnikov is convinced that doing “bad” (gasp!) can (wait for it…) translate into one day goodness, and then what? Everyone lifts him up and says we’re sorry we ever doubted you? That seems a little bit dreamy, a little bit I don’t know selfish? It’s an argument that can never really be defeated however, since Razkolnivore I’m sorry Razkolnikov evidently lives inside his own head most of the time. Elise’s quoted passage on the idea of “the campaign” emphasizes just how self-cented Razkolnikov is, while at the same time being completely disillusioned towards his very deeply rooted ideals on right and wrong and society, and so he well he yeah he goes a little bit over the edge, into the underground from time to time. As for if he will eventually attain that level of absolvement and centrifical humanity, that remains to be seen.

  20. Kaylen Baker
    April 9th, 2009 | 9:14 am

    Raskolnikov can hardly be counted even remotely as an “extraordinary man,” because he is lacking the most fundamental requirement: the extraordinary man has “his own right to…step over certain obstacles, and then only in the even that the fulfillment of his idea…calls for it.” We have not witnessed once that Raskolnikov had better moral intentions, new ideas, or any sort of redeeming, necessary need to kill Alonya. He does mention an orphanage, but that’s just a justification to get money for himself so he doesn’t have to work, can keep being lazy, and stop feeling guilty about making his mother and sister do the real work.

    However, theory-wise, I admit he has a fairly strong argument going. I can’t help seeing most extraordinary men as wackos and tyrants; just once in a while they get lucky. Napoleon was deemed an extraordinary man, but I don’t think he actually had to offer much to the world besides a new dictatorial face in French government – Louis and Maria had already been beheaded, and it was actually the MASSES who had caused the revolution, Napoleon simply took advantage.

    Newton is also deemed an extraordinary man, and I agree this time, because he had “the talent of speaking a new word in their environment.” He actually improved knowledge, not just re-arranged borders.

    But if you believe all great men of history are extraordinary, go back to luck. Raskolnikov says, “The first category [ordinary men] is always master of the present; the second – master of the future.”

    While I read this I thought about Dr. Seuss. I’m sure literary folk would call him extraordinary; they all love him for Go Dog Go and One Fish Whatever… But did you know that Dr. Seuss made many horribly racial political cartoons during WWII to fuel his career? Look at this one, where he’s debasing Asian-Americans, humiliatingly portraying them as brainless, happy drones. Oh, but that’s okay, isn’t it? It’s okay to “remove those ten or a hundred people, in order to make his discoveries [in this case, his children’s books] known to all mankind.” And that’s what happened – most Asians were deported to live in ghettos as our enemy the Nazis did with Jews. Hmmmm, lucky, then, that most people don’t know Dr. Seuss’s other work, huh.

    Basically, we don’t know what will happen to any of us, but no one has the right to predict what could be better for humanity if it involves hurting and killing to get there. Dr. Seuss could have inadvertently helped an Asian American deportee die from disease, when she could have grown up to discover a medicinal miracle cure that could have saved people, with the risk that Dr. Seuss wasn’t as successful.

  21. Kaylen Baker
    April 9th, 2009 | 9:14 am
  22. Adam Levine
    April 9th, 2009 | 9:34 am

    Many posts have already excellently touched upon the problematic or debatable issues within Raskolnikov’s philosophy of “ordinary” and “extraordinary” men. I would like to consider the prompt from a different lens: how does justification and “punishment” affect the theory under close scrutiny?

    I wrote my senior thesis on capital punishment in British murder mysteries, and one of the ethical questions that continually resurfaced was the central controversy of such retribution: is it morally acceptable to kill someone who has killed someone? Do two wrongs make a right? Tom Sorell, author of a book entitled, “Moral Theory and Capital Punishment,” writes, “The claim that people can be deterred from doing a thing by such and such a measure is the claim that such and such a measure can take away or weaken the motivation people have for doing the thing…” (34). I think this statement is crucial to understanding criminal psychology because it focuses on “motivation” and consequence. If murders went unpunished, the range of motivations behind them would be much larger, since the consequence is null. However, if the consequence is death by torture, the motivations behind crimes committed would more likely have to be equivalent in some way to the punishment, or else the action would be counterproductive.

    Raskolnikov believes himself to be one of the “extraordinary” men who have the “right” to transgress the law at their judgment, but after reviewing these ideas of justice and retribution, it appears that his argument is simply an excuse or a rationalization to commit murder. Why must we state as a “rule” that “rules” can be broken by some people? Raskolnikov says to his companions, “…if such a one needs, for the sake of his idea, to step even over a dead body, over blood, then within himself, in his conscience, he can, in my opinion, allow himself to step over blood – depending, however, on the idea and its scale – make note of that” (261). While this declaration makes sense, and certainly limits the freedoms and flexibilities of the “extraordinary” individuals, it also reveals the interpretive and “motivational” aspect of a crime. It seems to me that this idea does not need to be written in blood and sealed, since people who truly believe this philosophy will do it anyways, and those that might not kill will not have the justification to feel inclined to kill. While I agree with certain parts of his argument, clearly the emphasis to set the principle in stone is a need for reinforcement that would only lead to more motivations, less strict punishments, and thereby a wider range of “allowable” or “acceptable” motives for murder.

  23. Hannah Wilson
    April 9th, 2009 | 9:48 am

    The search for a cure to Raskolnikov’s sickness most certainly has to be separated from his search for a justification, that benefit of the extraordinary man. Raskolnikov’s theory seems to base itself on the perpetrator realizing that what he is doing is wrong and doing it despite all of the moral problems in order to push society forward. Raskolnikov falls far short of this extraordinary man by assuming that if the murder helped him, that it would immediately benefit the entire world.

    Perhaps what makes Raskolnikov an extraordinary man is not his ability to commit the crime, but his inability to. By expressing moral sickness, he is obviously internally affected by his actions. Through the murder he has discovered that he does in fact have some intrinsic morality that he cannot deny.

    While others around him attempt to help him heal, they do not know the cause of his suffering, rendering everything they do superficial. I do not think that there is any real cure to Raskolnikov’s illness. Sure, there are ways that he can bury it, through love, through religion and human interaction, however these will never absolve him of the crime. It will always be a spot on his consciousness.

    The extraordinary man would be able to live this spot, even thrive under it, however Raskolnikov could never even function as a normal human being. It is because of this sickness that he is able to truly realize what morals he holds dear. This is far more than we see any of the other characters doing. Perhaps we never see them in as much depth as Raskolinov, no matter, what we do see mostly stays in line with ordinary society. Raskolnikov tests his morals and realizes that maybe humans aren’t able to do what he thought.

  24. Jennifer Ridder
    April 9th, 2009 | 9:52 am

    Does Raskolnikov really think that he is an “extraordinary man”? How arrogant! To compare himself to the likes of Napoleon and Newton, to think that his sad life in St. Petersburg is equitable to their achievements, good or bad seems outrageous. Perhaps the theory exists under the pretense of great power and responsibility. But this power must be induced by the greater power of the masses. People must respect and trust one, even if it is a tyrant with base of followers, but it is a greater audience that allows for the “extraordinary man”. It is not something developed on a whim of self-confidence. However, these people do exists. As Raskolnikov points out we must have both the ordinary people and the extraordinary people, those who can and even have a “moral obligation” to overstep the bounds of society. If people did not bear the responsibility of breaking the rules of society, where would history be? Indeed, it is necessary to act immoral for the sake of the greater. However, those who do must have trust in the people and must also bear a tremendous burden. It is an uneasy responsibility of those permitted by society to bear it.
    But then how can one posit himself as an extraordinary man, given Dostoevsky’s definition? If the extraordinary man is to be the man of the future, then it seems ridiculous for him to try to experiment with his extraordinary attributes. Extraordinary men commit crimes for a cause, so the masses put them on a pedestal a generation later. What is the cause for which Raskolnikov committed his crime? He only wants to free a couple of poor people from the wrath of a pawnbroker. Raskolnikov understand that this is only a preliminary step to committing crimes for greater causes, but the fact is that Raskolnikov does not have a great cause, a fact that keeps him ordinary. It is because he lacks that essential characteristic of the extraordinary man that he is ironically and satirically described as extraordinary when he is in fact sick, delirious, or acting otherwise abnormally.

  25. Catherine Ahearn
    April 9th, 2009 | 10:19 am

    As of yet, the line connecting cause and effect in the novel is not a straight one, nor is it even visible (at least not to me). Until we hear of Raskolnikov’s theory of the ordinary/extraordinary man, the reader knows nothing substantial, nothing linearly fluid, about Raskolnikov aside from the murder itself, which was committed with huge faith in chance and fate. The doctor notes that the cure relies heavily upon identifying the cause and goes on to suggest that Raskolnikov was personally at fault for a good portion of what caused his illness. This is a claim that Raskolnikov himself even supports.
    This small exchange is extremely important to keep in mind when Raskolnikov and Porfiry Petrovich. The extraordinary man is, in summary, an individual who is believed to have a greater authority to maneuver the life around him than others. With this I believe there are two very important facts to consider; the first being that the author of such an article, coincidentally Raskolnikov, must regard himself to be above the “ordinary man” in order to make such an observation; the second is that an inherent flaw exists within this ideology, and that is that there is no way of decidedly determining who is extraordinary and who is merely ordinary- an ordinary man, in thinking he was extraordinary, may make mislead decisions.
    It is in this inherent flaw that I believe this conversation lends itself best as a clue. The ordinary man is bound to make the fatal mistake of assuming he is something more. The extraordinary man can act in an identical manner, but is saved from retribution by powers completely out of his own hands, and that he is probably unaware of. This minimizes the amount of agency people have over the results of their actions. Cause and effect are muddled, too much is left to chance. On page 257, Razumikhin brings up PP’s tendency to create “mirages” for his friends solely out of jest. In talking about how he tricked them Razumikhin says, “he even had a new suit made!,” which is met with PP’s response, “I had the suit made before. It was because of the suit that it had occurred to me to pull your leg.” This misunderstanding of cause and effect, although subtle and of no obvious import, is a comment on how Raskolnikov came to murder the old woman. Raskolnikov’s theory does not hold up to scrutiny because had he been an extraordinary man, has the status of the extraordinary man really existed, his motives, his actions and his reactions would have supported such a status and they do not. The article and Raskolnikov’s murder are two parts of one larger commentary on human action; one of theory and one of practice.

    Also, just because I thought it was funny that A Roseanne episode was named after this book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXjYiVTF7Ic&feature=PlayList&p=F7C922C97BBEC9D7&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=36

  26. Gabriel G Suarez
    April 9th, 2009 | 10:40 am

    There are two kinds of men, Raskolnikov believes: the ordinary, and the extraordinary. Laws and conventions are instituted to help maintain the progress we’ve achieved; but further progress requires an occasional breach of societal norms and mores. Extraordinary men have a natural, pre-political right, and indeed, duty, to bring about this change. So goes the theory.

    There’s so much wrong with this. For one, what are we talking about when we throw around the word “progress”? Unfortunately, this word is so undefined and amorphous that it can mean anything. Raskolnikov thought that the death of the old woman would be “progress” because better things could be done with the money. Well, as we all saw, he didn’t do better things.

    Men like Idi Amin and Kim Il-Sung surely thought they were extraordinary. So too, must Hitler and Stalin thought. The theory of the extraordinary man is difficult to disprove outright, because the logic is pretty good. But we have seen enough exceptions–many more exceptions that not–to know that “extraordinary men” cannot be left unhinged. For one, who is extraordinary? Raskolnikov? Really? He’s a former student living in poverty. Does that mean I’ll be extraordinary soon, too?! Second, can’t great things be done within established mores? But most importantly, what is “progress”? This might be rough to stomach for us, but why is suffering such a terrible thing? And I cannot name a single “progressive movement” in history that didn’t do a lot of harm as well as a lot of good.

    Raskolnikov’s idea of the “extraordinary man” is a little too close to the “Underground Man” to be taken seriously. That theory will only lead us to a society of insufferable, condescending and pretentious petty thieves, with the occasional mass murderer. I’m not saying that every rule is great and speak when spoken to, but let’s not permit impoverished students to tell us what’s best for society. After all, not even he could tolerate what he did. There are absolutes–you don’t kill, I don’t care how extraordinary you think you are.

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