Giving Sense to Generosity-Ethics: A Philosophical Reading of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot

Philosophia 36 (4):575-591 (2008)
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This paper presents a philosophical reading of The Idiot , which perceives its main protagonist, Prince Myshkin, as a literary hero who chooses the path of generosity. The paper exposes Dostoevsky’s generosity-ethics against the background of Christian ethics, virtue ethics, and the Nietzschean notion of generosity; it further analyzes the problematic aspects of Myshkin’s version of generosity-ethics, and discusses several possible explanations of its catastrophic outcomes in the novel. The paper consists of three parts. The first part presents the rich and profound sense that Dostoevsky gives to generosity-ethics in the novel, while showing the good it may bring to one’s life. The second part exposes the dangers and the limits of generosity-ethics, because of which the Prince may be referred to as an idiot . The third and final part reevaluates generosity-ethics, discusses its relation to reason, and puts forth another version of generosity-ethics that may overcome most of the flaws in Myshkin’s generosity. Offering such a philosophical reading of this great literary work of art, the paper also says some things about the relation between philosophy and literature, and aims at a fruitful dialogue between the two



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