Notes from the Underground
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Notes from the Underground Fate and Free Will Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Chapter.Paragraph). We used Constance Garnett's translation.
The impossible means the stone wall! What stone wall? Why, of course, the laws of nature, the deductions of natural science, mathematics. As soon as they prove to you, for instance, that you are descended from a monkey, then it is no use scowling, accept it for a fact. […] then you have just to accept it, there is no help for it, for twice two is a law of mathematics. Just try refuting it.
"Upon my word, they will shout at you, it is no use protesting: it is a case of twice two makes four! Nature does not ask your permission, she has nothing to do with your wishes, and whether you like her laws or dislike them, you are bound to accept her as she is, and consequently all her conclusions. A wall, you see, is a wall ... and so on, and so on." (1.3.4-5)
Notes presents an interesting take on the classic fate vs. free will debate. Fate is not a question of God, nor divine will, nor some sort of grand cosmic plan – it is simply the fact that nature follows rational laws.
Merciful Heavens! but what do I care for the laws of nature and arithmetic, when, for some reason I dislike those laws and the fact that twice two makes four? Of course I cannot break through the wall by battering my head against it if I really have not the strength to knock it down, but I am not going to be reconciled to it simply because it is a stone wall and I have not the strength. (1.3.6)
This is odd; proving free will lies only in the attempt, not the success, at breaking down the stone wall. Is this really enough to constitute freedom?
The fact is, gentlemen, it seems there must really exist something that is dearer to almost every man than his greatest advantages, or (not to be illogical) there is a most advantageous advantage (the very one omitted of which we spoke just now) which is more important and more advantageous than all other advantages, for the sake of which a man if necessary is ready to act in opposition to all laws; that is, in opposition to reason, honour, peace, prosperity – in fact, in opposition to all those excellent and useful things if only he can attain that fundamental, most advantageous advantage which is dearer to him than all. (1.7.1)
The Underground Man is himself an example of what happens to a man who values free will above reasoning. It follows then, that Notes argues against the radical valuing of freedom – after all, what reader would want to live like the Underground Man, even in the name of individuality?