Study Guide

Notes from the Underground Philosophical Viewpoints: Existentialism

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

Philosophical Viewpoints: Existentialism

Notes from the Underground is generally seen as a forerunner to existentialism, so the text presents many of the philosophy's main tenets, if in a less developed way. Let's start with absurdity: the Underground Man's logic is twisted and convoluted, often contradictory. He concludes that the universe is without reason. There's also a strong current of radical, existentialist freedom and responsibility: the Underground Man suggests that man has the freedom to fight against everything, even 2+2=4, but he also admits that he is to blame for everything in his life. Because he is always alone, the Underground Man acts as a great forerunner to the existentialist notion that every man is in constant isolation from his fellow human beings. Last is the claim that there are no primary causes of the things we do, hinting at the later existentialist belief that man always creates his own meaning through action.

Questions About Philosophical Viewpoints: Existentialism

  1. Look at what the Underground Man says of fault and responsibility: "I was always the most to blame in everything. And what is most humiliating of all, to blame for no fault of my own but, so to say, through the laws of nature." If fault lies with the laws of nature, how can he be to blame?
  2. One of the tenets of existentialism is that every person is radically free but also radically responsible for everything he does. Where do you find hints of this argument in Notes from the Underground?
  3. Is the Underground Man's argument governed more by reason, or by existential absurdity?

Chew on This

The Underground Man fails to recognize the Existential solution to his "inertia" dilemma: there may not be good reasons or justifications for the things we do, but we all must act anyway.

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