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Philosophy 102: Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry
Fyodor Dostoevsky, "The Problem of Evil"

Abstract: The death of an innocent child is seen to be an inescapable objection to God's goodness.

  1. Why does Ivan think that children are innocent and adults are not? Why does he think we can love children when they are close, but we can only love our neighbor abstractly?

  2. Does the General deserve to be shot for turning his hounds upon the child? Explain an answer from a religious point of view.

  3. What does Ivan mean when he says, "I hasten to give back my entrance ticket."

  4. List five or six possible explanations which are sometimes taken to account for the death of an innocent child in a universe created by God.

  5. What does Alyosha mean when he says to Ivan, "That is rebellion"?


1.  Why does Ivan think that children are innocent and adults are not? Why does he think we can love children when they are close, but we can only love our neighbor abstractly?
  1. Innocence, for Ivan, has to do with the intention of an act rather than the outcome of an act. The child is innocent because the child did not intend to hurt the hound. An adult can intentionally do harm and so cannot be experientially innocent.

  2. We can love our neighbor abstractly in the sense that all people have the same nature, but once we come to know the foibles of our neighbor, we lose sight of human nature. People in general share no disagreeable qualities; specific persons have specific disagreeable qualities which can distract us from loving them. Children have not yet developed the adult idiosyncrasies such as mistrust, greed, and cruelty. Dostoevsky seems to see naivety as innocence, and the consciousness of adults as awareness of right and wrong.

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2.  Does the General deserve to be shot for turning his hounds upon the child? Explain an answer from a religious point of view.
  1. "You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:38:45)

  2. "If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman's husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." Exodus 21:22-25.

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3.  What does Ivan mean when he says, "I hasten to give back my entrance ticket."
  1. Ivan says he accepts God simply. He apparently believes in a classical Euclidian creation: there is an underlying order and meaning to life with an eternal harmony with regularity and law.

  2. It's the world, itself, created by God that he cannot accept.

  3. Ivan doesn't accept the world, and he states he will take his own life. He reveals the feeling, "Stop the world, I want to get off."

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4. List five or six possible explanations which are sometimes taken to account for the death of an innocent child in a universe created by God.
  1. The problem is described by Ivan in the example of the child torn apart by the hounds. How can we account for the suffering of an innocent child?

  2. The following accounts are suggested in the reading although some are merely hints.

    1. Eternal harmony: Suffering and evil will vanish like a mirage at the end of the world. Just as seeing the individual colors of the rainbow does not indicate to us that all colors taken together produce white, so likewise seeing the individual events of live does not indicate to us that all events taken together produce the whole picture of the universe.

    2. Consciousness: "Good" and "evil" are polar concepts— without sin we cannot have known good and evil. (In Christianity, the eating of the apple represents the origin of consciousness.) Without the possibility to do harm, people could not be conscious of what is good—people would not be people, but something else.

    3. Trust Alone: The suffering of the innocent child is simply beyond human understanding. I.e., it's absurd.

    4. Freedom: Given paradise, people preferred freedom. Its our freedom which makes us people and not things. Evil is the price paid for free choice. How do you know what a murderer is until you are one? (Refutation: How do you know what a chairs is until you are one?)

    5. Future Harmony: Evil events will produce something better in the future for others (e.g., a "necessary evil" or the ends justify the means.) My suffering will produce a better world for my children and others in history. The world is getting better and better— we are overcoming evil before the final redemption at the end of the world.

    6. Paying for father's crimes: We all share responsibility for what has happened in the past. "The sins of the father are visited upon the sons." (Source of the quotation results from a violation of the second Commandment: worship not a graven image. "For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation." Cf., Deuteronomy 5:8-10 and Exodus 20:5.)

    7. Saving the world from a future evil: The child would have grown up to sin (perhaps be a mass murderer). By his death by the hounds, the world is saved from his future evil deeds.

    8. Suffering is necessary for the price of truth: No truth can be won without overcoming evil is some form.

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5. What does Alyosha mean when he says to Ivan, "That is rebellion"?
  1. Alyosha is suggesting that Ivan has forgotten that there is a God who could forgive the guilt resulting from the death of the child.

  2. For Ivan no just God would permit a crime like the suffering of an innocent child. Ivan believes God is just, but he rejects the world God has created.

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