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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

What will Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov do in a pandemic?

In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in Saint Petersburg, decides to murder a pawnbroker and steal her money. He rationalizes that the pawnbroker deserves to die because she is cruel and unscrupulous, and that she would die of natural causes sooner or later because she is already quite old. He is convinced that the money that he steals will enable  him to help those, who, unlike the pawnbroker, are moral and honest, and, therefore, in the eyes of god, deserve the money.

Is it right to kill one cruel and unscrupulous person to give better chances to several moral and honest people? Whose interests have a primacy—that of one individual or that of many?—that of one million or that of 100 million? Such questions are appearing in my mind because of the havoc that the pandemic has caused in the lives of millions of people in several nations. Lives can be destroyed by all sorts of reasons: psychological problems, starvation, all kinds of preexisting health conditions, accidents, crime, scarcity of essential commodities, and much else. Which problem should we address first?

What will Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov do in a pandemic? Which people will he try to save; which will he sacrifice?

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