Tuesday, June 14

Crime and Punishment + Free Will vs Determinism

Nearly every character in 'Crime & Punishment' has a brush with coincidence or free will, and the novel itself is rife with coincidence.  Do things happen 'just because,' or is there an element of predestination?  What exactly are determinism and free will? 

In the book, the murder itself is defined by a coincidence.  Some people tend to spot “coincidence” in everyday chance events and derive causation from them (think: superstition).  By placing coincidences throughout the text, Dostoevsky increases the dramatic pressure and helps the reader identify with Raskolnikov’s mental state. 

So let's go back to free will and determinism...  The free will vs determinism debate revolves around the extent to which our behavior is the result of forces over which we have no control or whether people are able to decide for themselves whether to act or behave in a certain way.

If you believe in determinism, you might say that all behavior has a cause and is thus predictable.  Or that free will is an illusion, and our behavior is governed by forces over which we have no control.   External (or environmental) determinists see the cause of behavior as being outside the individual, such as parental influence, media, or school.  Internal (or biological) determinists believe that genetics, hormones, neurology, and personality traits cause certain behaviors to occur.  If any of this sounds familiar, think about the Nature vs Nurture debate!

Strong determinists, such as behavior theorist B.F. Skinner, would say that the person who commits a crime has no real choice.  He is propelled in this direction by environmental circumstances and a personal history, which makes breaking the law natural and inevitable.  Likewise, having been rewarded for following rules in the past, the law-abiding individual continues to do so in the future.  For a determinist, concepts like “free will” and “motivation” are dismissed as illusions that disguise the real causes of human behavior.

On the other hand, free will is the idea that we are able to have some choice in how we act and assumes that we are free to choose our behavior.  For example, people can make a free choice as to whether to commit a crime or not (unless they are a child or they are insane).  This does not mean that behavior is random, but we are free from the causal influences of past events.

Psychologists who take the free will view suggest that determinism removes freedom and dignity, and devalues human behavior.  In “Fear of Freedom," Sigmund Freud argued that all of us have the potential to control our own lives, but that many of us are too afraid to do so.  As a result, we give up our freedom and allow our lives to be governed by circumstance, other people, political ideology, or irrational feelings.

What kind of implications does this debate have?  A person arrested for a violent attack for example might plead that they were not responsible for their behavior – it was due to their upbringing, a bang on the head they received earlier in life, recent relationship stresses, or a psychiatric problem. In other words, their behavior was determined.  Mental illnesses also appear to undermine the concept of freewill.  For example, individuals with OCD lose control of their thoughts and actions and people with depression lose control over their emotions.

So where do you fall in this philosophical debate?  Deterministic?  Free will?  Or somewhere in between?

Our spine read for this unit is Crime & Punishment

Snag the entire unit in the Advanced High School Literature bundle!

Includes six unit studies covering a variety of topics presented in more mature literature selections.
  • Each unit has introductory text, which will give the student basic background information about the topic at hand.
  • There are photographs and illustrations, and we have also included primary documents when available.
  • After this text, there are featured videos, which augment the background information and help make the topic more accessible for more visual students.
  • You will also find a short list of reading books, including a featured novel that the unit builds upon.
  • There are vocabulary words, places, and people to identify.
  • Reading comprehension, critical thinking questions, and writing assignments are included.
  • We add fun with hands-on activities and extra videos to watch that will bring the era to life.
Our family has used unit studies as curriculum for many years, and we hope that your family will enjoy these, too!
Units include:
· Oliver Twist & the Industrial Revolution
· Things Fall Apart & the Colonization of Africa
· The Chosen & the Zionist Movement
· Five People You Meet in Heaven & Human Impact
· The Things they Carried & the Vietnam War
· Crime and Punishment & Free Will vs Determinism

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