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 decision may cause the agent only pain.
However, in accordance to the greatest good for the greatest number philosophy
of utilitarianism, the decision that is morally right produces the greatest
amount of net pleasure for everyone involved.
Raskolnikov seems to be employing utilitarianism when he justifies the
murder of his landlady. According to Raskolnikov, he has two available options:
murdering the old woman and giving away her money to benefit society or letting
her live and watching the money waste away in a monastery when she dies of
natural causes. Apparently, Raskolnikov has formulated an equation in which the
old woman\'s death has a greater positive differential between the pleasure and
pain than not murdering her. He states that the pleasure the old woman\'s money
would bring to the poor would outweigh the pain inflicted