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Video: Kant 2 : moral conflict
Duration: 00:24:00
Date: 24-05-1972

Dostoevsky and Deontology


In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov overhears a conversation in which two men discuss the question whether it would be morally right to kill the very same woman whom, by a strange coincidence, Raskolnikov is considering killing. The woman is an elderly pawnbroker who treats her sister and her customers badly. One of the men, a student like Raskolnikov, says he could kill her without remorse, because in that way he could bring an end to the harm that she does, and he could also do a great deal of good with her money, which he would take. What does moral philosophy have to say about the case? For a utilitarian, we get the answer by calculating whether the good that would be done by killing the old woman outweighs whatever harm would be done by depriving her of her life. Dostoevsky implies that that harm would not be much, when he has the student say that she “doesn’t know what she is living for and is going to die soon anyway.” Does that mean that a utilitarian would agree that it is right to kill the old woman? And what would Kant say about the case? The video begins with a reenactment of the conversation Raskolnikov overhears, after which A. Phillips Griffiths and Bernard Williams discuss the question, moderated by Oswald Hanfling. Follow this link for further analysis of their discussion by Christine M. Korsgaard: "Mill, Kant, Griffiths, and Williams on Raskolnikov's Crime." 

Christine M. Korsgaard 

Christine M. Korsgaard is Arthur Kingsley Porter Research Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University 


Related videos and essays [all links open in a new window]:

  • Utilitarianism: Bernard Williams’s 1986 Open University lecture. Accompanying essay by Sophie Grace Chappell
  • Knowledge: Martha Kneale and A. Phillips Griffiths discuss the nature of knowledge. Accompanying essay by Mona Simion
  • Moral Philosophy: A. J. P. Kenny and R. M. Hare discuss the value of moral philosophy. Accompanying essay by Michael Smith.
  • Free Will: Geoffrey Warnock and psychologist B. F. Skinner discuss free will and determinism. Accompanying essay by Daniel C. Dennett.

Debates and Discussions (page 2 of 14)