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Notes from the Underground

Notes from the Underground


by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Notes from the Underground Theme of Fate and Free Will

Notes from the Underground presents a fascinating twist on the classic fate vs. free will argument. Fate in this case has nothing to do with divine will. If man is "fated" in any way, it is only because he is beholden to the laws of nature, like science or mathematics. 2+2=4, and this holds true whether we like it or not. How can there be free will if the world has such laws? The Underground Man argues that the only way to preserve free will is to beat one's head against the stone wall that is mathematical certainty. You may not be able to make 2+2=5, but you have to try if you want to be free. Additionally, he offers a terrifying vision of what might happen if we were to figure out all the laws of nature. If man always acts according to reason and the laws of nature, then we could predict everything man would ever think or do. The Underground Man argues that man will act against reason in order to prove his free will. He is willing to suffer, destroy, and abandon reason all for the sake of his own freedom.

Questions About Fate and Free Will

  1. What examples of "the stone wall" as discussed in Part I do we see in Part II? How does the Underground Man react to the metaphorical stone wall? Does he really beat his head against it, as he claims in Part I?
  2. What is the interrelationship between consciousness, suffering, and free will in Notes from the Underground?
  3. How does the notion of the Crystal Palace threaten the Underground Man's free will?
  4. If the Underground Man can't break through the stone wall by beating his head against it, and if he knows and freely admits this, what is the point of beating his head against it anyway?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The Underground Man does not have free will; he only thinks he does.

The Underground Man's inability to do anything except find fault is the best evidence that he lacks free will.

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