Individuality and Personhood in Dostoevsky

Individuality and Personhood in Dostoevsky

Format: Course.

Interval: June 24-27, 2019 (4 days, 3 hours/day).

Level: Intermediate.

Disciplines: Philosophy, Literature, Theology.

Course description

It is often said that Aristotle is the champion of individuals who, contrary to his teacher, Plato, descended from the world of abstract ideas to the essences that belong to sublunary things. Aristotle, however, remains a scientist, and his interest in individuals is determined by his desire to understand them as members of their species. In other words, he wants to understand what is that which makes them the kind of things that they are. This scientific approach never changes, regardless of whether he studies the life of plants and animals, the souls of various species, or the characters of tragedies.

Aristotle, then, claims that one can know others as members of their species. Is it possible, though, to know another human being as a person? The opening of Dostoevsky’s The Karamazov Brothers stays under this inquiry: “Why would I, the reader, spend my time studying the history of his life?” Dostoevsky speaks of Alyosha, his book’s “hero”: a hero who has nothing remarkable about him, the author claims. Most of all, he is “of indeterminate character, whose mission is undefined.” The lack of determinations is the first sign that Alyosha is not truly an individual character in an Aristotelian sense. If he were, he would be understood according to the type to which he belongs. Dostoevsky claims, however, that he belongs to no type: he is of indeterminate character. This also means that one cannot have a typological knowledge of Alyosha: no one can say what he is, that is, define him according to a type. In the novel, though, we discover that one can know Alyosha as a person. In this course, we will attempt to understand what we mean when we say that we know a person and how this is differentiated from knowing an individual.

This course, then, engages the notions of individuality and personhood by analyzing Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. We begin with an account of the historical development of the notion of soul and its connection with understanding the nature of a human being. We will then look at how “individuality” and “personhood” were developed in Christian thinking, and we will end by applying this to Dostoevsky’s novel.

To such end, we will discuss different theories regarding what it is to be a human being. The course is an excursion into metaphysics, as it was understood by the ancients: the science of what is real. At the same time, it is also a course in the history of philosophy, for we will sketch how the use of psyche changed from Homer to modern thinkers. In the process of analyzing psyche, we will tackle other problems. We will discuss the good life for a human being, the problem of akrasia (the modern “weakness of will”), and the ways in which human beings connect to one another.

Day 1:

Plato’s and Aristotle’s accounts of psyche.

Day 2:

Who is the other person? Friendship: Aristotle and Dostoevsky

Day 3:

Theandricity and Theosis. Christianity and Dostoevsky

Day 4

Individuality and Personhood and Zosima’s responsibility before all.

The course will be delivered either in Romanian or in English, depending on the audience of the course.

Course instructors

Octavian Gabor

Dr. Octavian Gabor Research Fellow Dr. Octavian Gabor is Professor of philosophy at Methodist College. He has a PhD in Philosophy from Purdue University, and

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