Dostoevsky on reason versus desire

Notes from the Underground, F Dostoevsky, Oxford Classics, 1999.

I, for instance, quite naturally want to live in order to satisfy the whole of my for living and not just in order to satisfy my rational capacity, which is about one-twentieth of my capacity for living. What does reason know? Reason knows only what it has managed to find out (the rest, perhaps, it will never discover; that’s no comfort, but why not say it?), whereas
human nature acts as a whole, by everything that is in it, consciously and unconsciously; and even if it lies, it still lives. I suspect, gentlemen, that you’re looking at me with pity, you will tell me again that an enlightened and educated person, in short, the sort of person man will be in the future, cannot
knowingly desire something disadvantageous to himself, and that’s mathematics. I’m in complete agreement, it really is mathematics. But I repeat to you for the hundredth time, there is only one instance, just one, when man may deliberately, consciously desire something injurious, foolish, even extremely foolish, namely: in order to have the right to desire even something very foolish, and not to be bound by an obligation to desire only what is intelligent. You see, this very foolish thing is your caprice, and in actual fact, gentlemen, it can be more advantageous to us all than anything else on earth, especially on certain occasions. But in particular it can be more advantageous than any other advantage in a situation where it leads us to obvious harm and contradicts the soundest conclusions of our reason on the subject of advantages—because in any case it preserves the thing that is most important and
precious to us, which is our personality and our individuality. Some people assert that this is the most precious thing of all to man. Desire may, of course, if it wants, coincide with reason, especially if it is not misused but used in moderation; that’s useful and at times even laudable. But very often, perhaps more often than not, desire completely and obstinately disagrees with reason and. . .and. .. and do you know that this too is useful and sometimes even very laudable? 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s