Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment: Raskolnikov's Mathematical Evaluati

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Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment: Raskolnikov's Mathematical Evaluation of Moral Dilemma Presented To Him Exemplifies The Empirical View of Utilitarianism

"One death, and a thousand lives in exchange--it's simple arithmetic."
-Raskolnikov

Raskolnikov's mathematical evaluation of the moral dilemma presented to him in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment exemplifies the empirical view of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism attempts to distinguish between right and wrong by measuring a decision based on its calculated worth. Raskolnikov appears to employ the fundamentals of utilitarianism by pitting the negative consequences of murdering his old landlady against the positive benefits that her money would bestow onto society. However, a true follower of utilitarianism would be outraged at Raskolnikov's claim that murdering the old woman can be considered morally right. Raskolnikov arbitrarily leaves out some necessary considerations in his moral "equation" that do not adhere to utilitarianism. A utilitarian would argue that Raskolnikov has not reached an acceptable solution because he has not accurately solved the problem. On the other hand, a non-utilitarian would reject even the notion of deliberating about the act of murder in such a mathematical manner. He might contend that Raskolnikov's reasoning, and the entire theory of utilitarianism, cannot be used to judge morality because it rejects individual rights and contains no moral absolutes.

A utilitarian bases his belief upon two principles: the theory of right actions and the theory of value. These two principles work together and serve as criteria for whether or not a utilitarian can deem an action morally right. First, the theory of right action argues that the morally right decision is the one whose consequences are at least as good as any other available option . For example, upon receiving the assignment for this paper, I could have chosen to ignore the assignment and spend my time on something more enjoyable, or I could have worked diligently on my paper, actually turning it in. Employing the utilitarian principle, I would have to weigh each option and then decide which one has consequences at least as good as or better than any of the other options possible. But, what standard do I use to gauge the consequences in order to choose the best alternative?

The theory of right action does not stand alone as the only condition for ethical evaluations. To measure the given alternatives, I would have to apply the theory of value. The theory of value bases itself on the premise that pleasure is the only thing valuable in itself and as an end. Mill clearly states, "that all desirable things are desirable either for pleasure inherent in themselves or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain ." In my moral dilemma, I had to take each alternative and calculate the total amount of pleasure that each would produce, minus the total amount of pain each alternative would induce. So while not doing the paper might give me the most amount of immediate pleasure, the pain that I would incur upon receiving an F in my class would greatly reduce the amount of net pleasure. On the other hand, I might experience some pain (due to boredom, frustration, etc.) from writing the paper. However, this amount of pain would be outweighed by the pleasure of receiving an A on it, thus in turn raising my GPA, making my parents happy, graduating with honors, securing a six-figure salary job, marrying the perfect man, and having 2.5 kids.

Therefore, utilitarianism not concerned with just the short-term consequences of the decision nor with the sole effects on the agent himself. A utilitarian must consider the long-term effects and the amount of pleasure or pain that others will experience as a result of his decision. The agent cannot just consider his personal level of pleasure or pain. In fact, there may be cases where the utilitarian's right...
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