Study Guide

The Brothers Karamazov Judgment and Justice

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

Judgment and Justice

"What has just been said is also true, that if, indeed, the judgment of the Church came, and in its full force – that is, if the whole of society turned into the Church alone – then not only would the judgment of the Church influence the reformation of the criminal as it can never influence it now, but perhaps crimes themselves would indeed diminish at an incredible rate." (2.5.26)

Zosima suggests that without the moral guidance provided by religion, criminals have no incentive to give up a life of crime.

"They hope to make a just order for themselves, but, having rejected Christ, they will end by drenching the earth with blood, for blood calls to blood, and he who draws the sword will perish by the sword." (6.3.g)

Zosima cites Matthew 26:52 to explain why it will be impossible to create a just society on earth without religious influence. Without religion, man has no morals and no notion of universal love, without which he has no incentive to stop killing his fellow man.

"Remember especially that you cannot be the judge of anyone. For there can be no judge of a criminal on earth until the judge knows that he, too, is a criminal, exactly the same as the one who stands before him." (6.3.h)

The other problem with the judicial system, according to Zosima, is that it falsely assumes that the judge is somehow a better human being than the criminal. Zosima stresses again a fundamental equality between all human beings that goes beyond even the democratic notion of equality, which still establishes a hierarchy between criminals and non-criminals. Put another way, it's possible to exclude somebody from a secular democratic society if he breaks the laws of that society. Zosima's notion of Christian community is so broad that nobody can be excluded, no matter what law they may break, because everybody is an equal before God.

So that indeed the thought may well enter one's head, as it entered mine, for example, as soon as I took a look at them: "What can such people possibly grasp of such a case?" (12.1.5)

The narrator expresses his skepticism that the unimpressive bunch who make up Dmitri's jury can come to a valid conclusion about his innocence or guilt. The jury ends up confirming the narrator's low expectations by mistakenly convicting Dmitri.

"[...] what is most important is that a great number of our Russian, our national, criminal cases bear witness precisely to something universal, to some general malaise that has taken root among us, and with which, as with universal evil, it is already difficult to contend. [...] For now we are either horrified or pretend that we are horrified, while, on the contrary, relishing the spectacle, like lovers of strong eccentric sensations that stir our cynical and lazy idleness [like Karamazovs], or, finally, like little children waving the frightening ghosts away." (12.6.1)

The prosecutor Kirillovich views the sensational appeal of the Karamazov trial as an indication that the murder speaks to some deep disorder at the core of Russian society.

"Let us lay aside psychology, gentlemen, let us lay aside medicine, let us lay aside even logic itself, let us turn just to the facts, simply to the facts alone, and let us see what the facts will tell us [...]." (12.8.3)

Kirillovich is just interpreting the facts – or so he claims. Of course, he is totally wrong: his ambition and desire to successfully prosecute a famous case leads him to misread the evidence as proof of Dmitri's guilt.

What swayed them above all was the totality of facts. (12.9.2)

The novel is again ironic about the word "fact." There's no such thing as a fact, just interpretations of facts. If you're motivated by ambition (like the prosecutor) or influenced by psychological, medical, or philosophical theories (like Rakitin or the Moscow doctor), you're liable to misread the facts. Only a religious person like Alyosha believes rightly in Dmitri's innocence from the get-go.

"Here, above all, the triumphant novelist can be brought up short and demolished by details, those very details in which reality is always rich, and which are always neglected by such unfortunate and unwilling authors, as if they were utterly insignificant and unnecessary trifles, if indeed they even occur to them. Oh, they cannot be bothered with that at the moment, their mind creates only the grandiose whole – and then someone dares suggest such a trifle to them!" (12.9.3)

Kirillovich prides himself on his attention to detail, and thus his realism; unlike novelists, he only deals in facts. The irony is that everything in his speech is fiction, since he has read every detail through the biased lens of his desire to prosecute Dmitri.

"[...] the overwhelming totality of the facts is against the defendant, and at the same time there is not one fact that will stand up to criticism, if it is considered separately, on its own!" (12.10.1)

Fetyukovich effectively challenges Kirillovich on the point of fact. He notes here that the "facts" on which Kirillovich bases his prosecution are actually just the products of fantasy on the part of the prosecutor and the witnesses. Fetyukovich does a particularly effective job pointing out that nobody ever saw or counted the 3,000 roubles everyone claims Dmitri spent on his first trip to Mokroye – which, if you were reading the novel carefully, should be no surprise to you.

"There are souls that in their narrowness blame the whole world. But overwhelm such a soul with mercy, give it love, and it will curse what it has done, for there are so many germs of good in it [...] the Russian courts exist not only for punishment but also for the salvation of the ruined man!" (12.13.5)

Fetyukovich echoes Zosima's theory of criminal justice presented in Quote #1 about the importance of moral salvation for the criminal. His logical and accurate representation of the events leading up to Fyodor's murder grounds Zosima's religious teachings, so to speak, in real life.

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