Comparing Spinoza’s Ethics and Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground

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Comparing Spinoza’s Ethics and Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground

Perhaps my choice of the subject may come across as a little eccentric, to say the least. To appear quaint and whimsical, however, is not my intention, so I figured as an introduction, I would explain my choice. From so far as I can tell, philosophy, or the search for truth, has all too often been equated with certainty. This quality of certainty has been especially magnified in the rationalist branch of philosophy. Starting with Descartes’ vision of a philosophy with a mathematical certainty, rationalists claimed to have grasped a rather large portion of reality, including the world, God, consciousness, and whatever falls in-between. As empiricists argued, most of this "knowledge" was in effect assumed, a habit, as it had no representation in the real world. The rationalists’ notorious abstractness and their disregard for the seeming discrepancy between their proofs and the real world have been the main reasons for the fearsome opposition and caricature they faced: even Voltaire, though influenced to a great extent by Leibniz’s philosophy, ridicules it in his masterpiece Candide in the form of ludicrously optimistic Pangloss. . Kant, especially, has put a rather impressive dent in the hull of rationalist philosophy, branding it dogmatic metaphysics. As he pointed out, rationalist philosophy ignores the sensory component of human perception when embarking on its ill-fated quest to find a metaphysics with absolute knowledge. I find this criticism the most powerful, as it points out the discrepancy between the real world and the abstract world of rationalists.

Spinoza’s system stands on the cutting edge of rationalist thought, attempting to establish the certain, necessary and universal truths of reality and nature by reducing Descartes’ philosophy to a set of axioms and definitions, like one would do with a geometry proof. Dostoyevsky stands on the opposite side of the spectrum, exposing the shortcomings of reason with frightful realism. He, in my opinion, makes incredibly insightful points about this discrepancy between how things "should" be and how they are.

When comparing the manifestos of these two thinkers, Spinoza’s Ethics and Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground, one can easily see the difference in language. Spinoza’s language is strictly mathematical. He is not concerned with engaging the reader. His primary concern is with presenting his idea with clarity and consistency. Dostoyevsky’s language differs due to the difference of his intention.
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