the power of interpreting laws be an evil, obscurity in them must be another, as the former is the consequence of the latter. This evil will be still greater, if the laws be written in a language unknown to the people; who, being ignorant of the consequences of their own actions, become necessarily dependent on a few, who are interpreters of the laws, which, instead of being public and general, are thus rendered private and particular. What must we think of mankind when we reflect, that such is the established custom of the greatest part of our polished and enlightened Europe? Crimes will be less frequent, in proportion as the code of laws is more universally read, and understood; for there is no doubt, but that the eloquence of the passions is greatly assisted by the ignorance and uncertainty of punishments.
Fyodor Dostoevsky in the novel Crime and Punishment uses this conflict to illustrate why the coldly rational thought that is the ideal of humanism represses our essential emotions and robs us of all that is human.
Using ideas developed in Notes from Underground and episodes of his life recorded in Memoirs of the House of the Dead, Dostoevsky puts forth in Crime in Punishment a stern defense of natural law and an irrefutable volume of evidence condemning Raskolnikov'...
Pleasure and pain are the only springs of action in beings endowed with sensibility. Even among the motives which incite men to acts of religion, the invisible Legislator has ordained rewards and punishments. From a partial distribution of these will arise that contradiction, so little observed, because so common; I mean, that of punishing by the laws the crimes which the laws have occasioned. If an equal punishment be ordained for two crimes that injure society in different degrees, there is nothing to deter men from committing the greater, as often as it is attended with greater advantage.
The use of dialogue as a formal device does not make a novel polyphonic in the Bakhtinian sense; genuine polyphony entails a sense of ambivalence, a situation where the different voices compete with one another and represent alternative viewpoints between which the reader cannot make a straightforward choice.) In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov is the main focalizer: his point of view is adopted by the thi...
Shall this crime, then, committed by one who has nothing to lose, go unpunished? No. There are certain species of smuggling, which so particularly affect the revenue, a part of government so essential, and managed with so much difficulty, that they deserve imprisonment, or even slavery; but yet of such a nature as to be proportioned to the crime. For example, it would be highly unjust that a smuggler of tobacco should suffer the same punishment with a robber or assassin; but it would be most conformable to the nature of the offence, that the produce of his labour should be applied to the use of the crown, which he intended to defraud.
But to return. If it be demonstrated, that the laws which imprison men in their own country are vain and unjust, it will be equally true of those which punish suicide, for that can only be punished after death, which is in the power of God alone; but it is no crime, with regard to man, because the punishment falls on an innocent family. If it be objected, that the consideration of such a punishment may prevent the crime; I answer, that he who can calmly renounce the pleasure of existence; who is so weary of life as to brave the idea of eternal misery, will never be influenced by the more distant and less powerful considerations of family and children.
is a real offence against the sovereign and the nation; but the punishment should not brand the offender with infamy, because this crime is not infamous in the public opinion. By inflicting infamous punishments, for crimes that are not reputed so, we destroy that idea where it may be useful. If the same punishment be decreed for killing a pheasant as for killing a man, or for forgery, all difference between those crimes will shortly vanish. It is thus that moral sentiments are destroyed in the heart of man; sentiments, the work of many ages and of much bloodshed; sentiments, that are so slowly, and with so much difficulty, produced, and for the establishment of which such sublime motives, and such an apparatus of ceremonies, were thought necessary.
is a crime, which seems not to admit of punishment, properly speaking; for it cannot be inflicted but on the innocent, or upon an insensible dead body. In the first case, it is unjust and tyrannical, for political liberty supposes all punishments entirely personal; in the second, it has the same effect, by way of example, as the scourging a statue. Mankind love life too well; the objects that surround them; the seducing phantom of pleasure and hope, that sweetest error of mortals, which makes men swallow such large draughts of evil, mingled with a very few drops of good, allure them too strongly, to apprehend that this crime will ever be common from its unavoidable impunity. The laws are obeyed through fear of punishment, but death destroys all sensibility. What motive, then, can restrain the desperate hand of suicide?
To every crime, which from its nature must frequently remain unpunished, the punishment is an incentive. Such is the nature of the human mind, that difficulties, if not insurmountable, nor too great for our natural indolence, embellish the object, and spur us on to the pursuit. They are so many barriers that confine the imagination to the object, and oblige us to consider it in every point of view. In this agitation, the mind naturally inclines and fixes itself to the most agreeable part, studiously avoiding every idea that might create disgust.
But, it must be observed, the time for inquiry and justification, should not increase in direct proportion to the atrociousness of crimes; for the probability of such crimes having been committed, is inversely as their atrociousness. Therefore the time for inquiring ought, in some cases, to be diminished, and that for justification increased, and This may appear to contradict what I have said above, namely, that equal punishments may be decreed for unequal crimes, by considering the time allowed the criminal, or the prison, as a punishment.
It will be necessary to distinguish fraud, attended with aggravating circumstances, from simple fraud, and that from perfect innocence. For the first, let there be ordained the same punishment as for forgery; for the second, a less punishment but with the loss of liberty; and if perfectly honest, let the bankrupt himself chuse the method of re-establishing himself, and of satisfying his creditors; or if he should appear not to have been strictly honest, let that be determined by his creditors: but these distinctions should be fixed by the laws, which alone are impartial, and not by the arbitrary and dangerous prudence of judges.