Ivan Karamazov is one of the brothers Karamazov in Dostoevsky’s novel. He’s a troubled guy who worries about his country and the nasty things happening to his countrymen. He pointed out this example to his brother Alyosha:
“…There was in those days a general of aristocratic connections, the owner of great estates, one of those men – somewhat exceptional, I believe, even then – who, retiring from the service into a life of leisure, are convinced that they’ve earned absolute power over the lives of their subjects…. One day a serf boy, a little child of eight, threw a stone in play and hurt the paw of the general’s favorite hound. ‘Why is my favorite dog lame?’ He is told that the boy threw a stone that hurt the dog’s paw. ‘So you did it.’ The general looked the child up and down. ‘Take him.’ He was taken – taken from his mother and kept shut up all night. Early that morning the general comes out on horseback, with the hounds, his dependents, dog boys, and huntsmen, all mounted around him in full hunting parade. The servants are summoned for their edification, and in front of them all stands the mother of the child. The child is brought from the lockup. It’s gloomy, cold, foggy autumn day, a capital day for hunting. The general orders the child to be undressed; the child is stripped naked. He shivers, numb with terror, not daring to cry….’Make him run,’ commands the general. ‘Run! Run!’ shout the dog boys. The boy runs…’At him!’ yells the general, and he sets the whole pack of hounds on the child. The hounds catch him, and tear him to pieces before his mother’s eyes!...I believe the general was afterwards declared incapable of administering his estates….”
And,…went on to say this:
“…I understand, of course, what an upheaval of the universe it will be, when everything that lives and has lived cries aloud: ‘Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed.’ When the mother embraces the fiend who threw her child to the dogs, and all three cry aloud with tears, ‘Thou are just, O Lord!’ then, of course, the crown of knowledge will be reached and all will be made clear. But what pulls me up here is that I can’t accept that harmony. And while I am on earth, I make haste to take my own measures. …While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself, and so I renounce the higher harmony altogether. …It’s not worth it, because those tears are unatoned for. They must be atoned for, or there can be no harmony. But how? How are you going to atone for them? Is it possible? By their being avenged? But what do I care for avenging them? What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price. I don’t want the mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to the dogs! She dare not forgive him! Let her forgive him for herself, if she will, let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her mother’s heart. But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to forgive; she dare not forgive the torturer, even if the child were to forgive him! And if this is so, if they dare not forgive, what becomes of harmony? Is there in the whole world a being who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? I don’t want harmony. From love for humanity I don’t want it. I would rather be left with the unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it’s beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return Him the ticket.”
“That’s rebellion,” murmured Alyosha, looking down.
“Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that,” said Ivan earnestly. “One can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me yourself, I challenge you – answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature – that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance – and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.”
“No, I wouldn’t consent,” said Alyosha softly.
“And can you admit the idea that men for whom you are building it would agree to accept their happiness on the foundation of the unexpiated blood of a little victim? And accepting it would remain happy for ever?”
“No, I can’t admit it…..”
His concern about Mother Russia has here to do with the supposition that there is a God out there who saves us from evil. To his grief, he finds that, despite the promises made by this supposition, children are still tortured. This fact tells him that the supposition, if we are to imagine there is no alternative, cannot make good on its promise. That is, it provides no way to save children from torture, or the rest of us from evil.
What then, he wants to know, are we to do about evils like the torturing of children?
His argument to this end is,
I. The supposition about a loving God leaves us as follows:
A) We can’t stop torturing children because we’re made that way.
B) God can’t stop torturing children because he set things up that way
C) Therefore, we cannot do anything to stop the torture of children except to refuse to condone it by participating. We can “turn in our entrance ticket,” as Ivan puts it.
The second part to Ivan’s argument introduces his poem, The Grand Inquisitor. His argument there is:
II. Despite there being no way for us to save tortured children, according to the Socratic picture of the “good God, bad world,” there’s the promise that Jesus will in the end make these things right. (The argument for this claim is :…)
A) In our Socratic world we do not have knowledge or values because we base our claims about reality on illusions and echoes.
B) We torture children because of this ignorance.
C) The solution to our ignorance is access to reality and morality instead of illusions.
D) We and the children are saved by a hero who brings us information about this reality and morality.
However, the question we must answer is not about who to praise or blame if the kids are protected, or not, but instead about what we must do to prevent the torture of children, and suffering in general. That is, it’s not about whether it will be the Grand Inquisitor or Jesus who’ll save us, but what we must do to save ourselves.
However, it is no use relying on what Jesus may do for us in this life, or in the next, or what his surrogates like the Grand Inquisitor or Father Zosima may accomplish, because the kids get tortured anyway. Jesus as a Socratic Hero is what’s called a smelly fish, something drug in front of us to distract us from pursuing our argument.
Therefore, appealing to Jesus the Socratic Hero is a futile gesture.
Ivan suffers from not being aware that there is a dispute between Socrates, the messenger who brought us this suggestion, and the Teacher of Righteousness over how we should understand knowledge and values. Where Socrates pushes the claim that knowledge and values are matters of logical argument, an account which implies, among other things, that knowledge and values are impossible, the Teacher argues that knowledge and values are matters of both rhetorical and logical argument, an account which makes these things about contesting points of view. If we allow Ivan this bit of information, he should be able to make significant changes in what he would recommend to us.
Ivan’s “Rebellion” is based on the belief that since there is no alternative to the view of reality that he has considered, where there seems to be no one who can stop the torturing of children, the only recourse for an honest person is to refuse to participate in it. At least one can then make the statement that one does not condone these tortures. However, we can tell him his belief was mistaken. In fact, there is an alternative to this picture of reality that makes it seem that no one is able to stop the torturing. The Teacher provides an alternative account of knowledge and values which involves one’s consideration of the arguments of others in the pursuit of one’s own knowledge and values. It is just Socrates account that makes such consideration irrational.
Imagine the general. We would like him to consider the mother’s pleas for the life of her son. The fact that he does not reflects something he believes about his situation. The Teacher argues that the general is committed to the idea that knowledge and values are matters of logical argument, and that this account is in the service of the Socratic project to make decisions a matter of the consideration of force. The general believes his own survival and comfort depends on intimidating his servants into obedience. The eight year old will serve, so he believes, as a lesson to his servants in the costs involved in any disobedience. The Teacher argues that the general’s survival and comfort would be better served if he based his decisions on knowledge and values as matters of both rhetorical and logical argument.
Furthermore, the account offered by the Teacher does not make it necessary to suppose that there is a reality anything like what the allegory of the cave describes. Therefore, there is no reason to worry that we cannot help but torture kids.
The prospect of there being a Socratic Hero initially seems to provide knowledge and values to us as cave dwellers in Socrates’ allegory. As a result, we see our problem, as cave dwellers, is that our lives are based on illusions, and then the allegory provides a solution in terms of someone who reveals what the reality is behind the illusion. This “solution,” however, is based on the mistaken idea that the problem is with the conclusion of an argument. Unfortunately, the problem with the Socratic position is not with the fact that it makes knowledge and values impossible, but with the argument that makes it so. The solution to our question about suffering is not to get sidetracked by focusing on the conclusions of Socrates’ proposal, i.e., the skepticism and nihilism, for example, but to reject the claim that knowledge and values are matters of logic.
Whereas Ivan originally thought the solution to child torture was suicide, we can educate him about the Teacher’s alternative to the Socratic picture of reality so he can then argue that the solution for such suffering is in providing a better argument to the generals of the world. The solution is to, so to speak, win over the hearts and minds of the torturers. They need to be won over to the Teacher’s alternative.