"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Dostoevsky and the Problem of Punishment

If it is granted unto me to live long enough, and to write another book in theology proper (my next two will both be in psychotherapy), I would like to give some sustained thought to the problem of punishment in the Christian tradition, which seems to me to pose nearly insuperable problems in several areas. Until and unless I get around to doing that, I'll have to content myself with reading the works of others, including a new book released just this month: Wages of Evil: Dostoevsky and Punishment by Anna Schur  (Northwestern University Press, 2022), 256pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Dostoevsky’s views on punishment are usually examined through the prism of his Christian commitments. For some, this means an orientation toward mercy; for others, an affirmation of suffering as a path to redemption. Anna Schur incorporates sources from philosophy, criminology, psychology, and history to argue that Dostoevsky’s thinking about punishment was shaped not only by his Christian ethics but also by the debates on penal theory and practice unfolding during his lifetime.

As Dostoevsky attempts to balance the various ethical and cultural imperatives, he displays ambivalence both about punishment and about mercy. This ambivalence, Schur argues, is further complicated by what Dostoevsky sees as the unfathomable quality of the self, which hinders every attempt to match crimes with punishments. The one certainty he holds is that a proper response to wrongdoing must include a concern for the wrongdoer’s moral improvement.

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