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Dostoevsky and Education through Punishment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 June 2018


In an important 1984 paper, “The Moral Education Theory of Punishment,” Jean Hampton argues that the practice of inflicting painful criminal punishments is justified only if punishment is morally educative. Hampton's suggestion forms the point of departure for this article on Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. I show that Dostoevsky agrees with Hampton that punishment should aim at moral reform; however, Dostoevsky presents no evidence that self-punishment or legal punishment reliably cultivates respect for law, legal authority, oneself, or others as moral agents. Instead, Dostoevsky's post-Siberian writings are highly critical of Russian criminal justice, and emphasize that moral education comes through dialogue, reflection, and criticism. This highly individualized treatment may be experienced as painful, but it does not have to result from, and it may even be impeded by, legal “hard treatment.”

Research Article
Copyright © University of Notre Dame 2018 

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1 For the growing literature on punishment, overpunishment, and disproportionate punishment, see Shuster, Arthur, Punishment and the History of Political Philosophy: From Classical Republicanism to the Crisis of Modern Criminal Justice (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016)Google Scholar; Brooks, Thom, Punishment (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012), 1385, esp. 51–63Google Scholar; Alexander, Michelle, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Era of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010)Google Scholar; and the essays, including my own, in Rethinking Punishment in the Era of Mass Incarceration, ed. Surprenant, Chris W. (New York: Routledge, 2017)Google Scholar.

2 Hampton, Jean, “The Moral Education Theory of Punishment,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 13, no. 3 (1984): 212Google Scholar.

3 As Kant remarks, “it is impossible to will to be punished.” See Kant, Immanuel, The Metaphysics of Morals, in Kant: Political Writings, trans. Reiss, H. S. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 158Google Scholar.

4 See Hampton, Jean, “An Expressive Theory of Retribution,” in Retributivism and Its Critics, ed. Cragg, Wesley (Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag, 1992), 125Google Scholar and Dagger, Richard, “Jean Hampton's Theory of Punishment: A Critical Appreciation,” APA Newsletter on Philosophy and Law 10, no. 2 (2011): 611Google Scholar.

5 Hampton, Jean, “Correcting Harms versus Righting Wrongs: The Goal of Retribution,” UCLA Law Review 39 (1992): 16591702Google Scholar.

6 Some questions must necessarily be left open. For example, some forms of punishment may simply not be educative, and others may not be suited to specific educative aims. Corporal punishment, for example, may not be cultivating. “Humbling” penalties may also prove to be a better alternative than the intentional infliction of physical discomfort, whether through incarceration or through some other approach. See Fingarette, Herbert, “Punishment and Suffering,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association 51 (1997): 499525Google Scholar.

7 Schur, Anna, Wages of Evil: Dostoevsky and Punishment (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2012), 13Google Scholar. For a defense of sentimentality that explains the use of an author such as Dostoevsky in a philosophical argument, see Solomon, Robert, A Passion for Justice: Emotions and the Origins of the Social Contract (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1995), 32–34, 236–38Google Scholar. For an ultimately critical account of the concreteness of restorative justice, see Acorn, Annalise, Compulsory Compassion: A Critique of Restorative Justice (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2004)Google Scholar.

8 Hampton, “Moral Education Theory,” 234. Compare Anna Schur, Wages of Evil, 13.

9 Quoted in Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, The House of the Dead, trans. McDuff, David (London: Penguin Books, 1985), 7Google Scholar. Dostoevsky explains that the offender's “anguished, convulsive display of his personality” and his “instinctive longing for his own self” are thwarted by incarceration. These displays are said to resemble the convulsive cries of a man buried alive in a coffin, that is, Dostoevsky's own cries. See Dostoevsky, , Notes from a Dead House, trans. Pevear, Richard and Volokhonsky, Larissa (New York: Vintage Classics, 2016), 80Google Scholar.

10 Hampton, “Moral Education Theory,” 209, 234.

11 Dostoevsky, Fyodor, Crime and Punishment, trans. Pevear, Richard and Volokhonsky, Larissa (New York: Vintage Classics, 1993), 551Google Scholar.

12 Dhami, Mandeep K., Mantle, Greg, and Fox, Darrell, “Restorative Justice in Prisons,” Contemporary Justice Review 12, no. 4 (2009): 433–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Daly, Kathleen and Immarigeon, Russ, “The Past, Present and Future of Restorative Justice: Some Critical Reflections,” Contemporary Justice Review 1, no. 1 (1998): 21 – 45Google Scholar; Umbreit, Mark S. and Lewis, Ted, Dialogue-Driven Victim Offender Mediation Training Manual: A Composite Collection of Training Resource Materials (Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking, University of Minnesota, 2015)Google Scholar.

13 Dostoevsky, Fyodor, Dostoevsky's Occasional Writings, trans. Magarshack, David (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1963), 305nGoogle Scholar.

14 Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 420–21. For criticisms of state power in Russia's 1845 criminal code, see Conlon, Brian, “Dostoevsky v. the Judicial Reforms of 1864: How and Why One of Nineteenth-Century Russia's Greatest Writers Criticized the Nation's Most Successful Reform,” Russian Law Review 2, no. 4 (2014): 11Google Scholar.

15 For restorative justice and community, see Acorn, Compulsory Compassion, 86. Dostoevsky's ideal of moral brotherhood is developed in The Brothers Karamazov, discussed below, and the pain of its loss is the theme of Crime and Punishment.

16 de Tocqueville, Alexis and de Beaumont, Gustave, On the Penitentiary System in the United States, and Its Application to France: With an Appendix on Penal Colonies, and Also Statistical Notes, trans. Lieber, Francis (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Blanchard, 1833), 292Google Scholar.

17 See Dostoevsky, Notes from a Dead House, 15–16; and Dostoevsky, , The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Pevear, Richard and Volokhonsky, Larissa (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002), 6466Google Scholar. The point is reinforced by contemporary criminal justice theory, which holds that greater severity in punishment (mandatory sentences, long sentences, mass incarceration) do not improve deterrence. See Tonry, Michael, “Learning from the Limitations of Deterrence Research,” Crime and Justice 37, no. 1 (2008): 279311CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Quoted and discussed (alongside student crimes, Pierre-François Lacenaire's crime and trial, Dostoevsky's own trial and mock execution, his experience of penal servitude in Siberia, and the contemporary question of Russian nihilism) in Frank, Joseph, Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865–1871 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 6366, 87Google Scholar. Dmitri undergoes the same learning process after his arrest: “I've found out more in this one cursed night than I'd have learned in twenty years of living” (Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 486). Tragically, some transgressions that kick moral reflection into gear end the possibility of moral regeneration. Thus, Dostoevsky writes in his notes that his character Stavrogin's violation of a young girl, described in the epilogue of The Demons, is “the most terrible sin, for which there is not, and cannot be, any forgiveness” (quoted in Frank, Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 22).

19 Dostoevsky, Notes from a Dead House, 49–50; Frank, Dostoevsky, 64.

20 Dostoevsky, Notes from a Dead House, 187.

21 Dostoevsky, Fyodor, The Idiot, trans. Pevear, Richard and Volokhonsky, Larissa (New York: Vintage Classics, 2003), 338–39Google Scholar.

22 Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish, trans. Sheridan, Allan (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 125, 170, 184Google Scholar.

23 Hampton, “Moral Education Theory,” 213.

24 Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 176, 185.

25 Schur, Wages of Evil, 120–22 and Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 142–54, 255–58; 518, 419; 258–67, 273–74.

26 “The beginning of Inquiry is Disease: all Science, if we consider well, as it must have originated in the feeling of something being wrong, so it is and continues to be but Division, Dismemberment, and partial healing of the wrong” (Carlyle, Thomas, “Characteristics,” in A Carlyle Reader: Selections from the Writings of Thomas Carlyle [Acton, MA: Copley, 1999], 37Google Scholar).

27 Frank, Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 86.

28 Johae, Antony, “Towards an Iconography of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment,” in Dostoevsky and the Christian Tradition, ed. Pattison, George and Thompson, Diane Oenning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 177–78Google Scholar.

29 Quoted in Frank, Joseph, Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 607CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

30 Quoted in Frank, Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 40.

31 Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 170, 462, 464. The mysterious stranger of The Brothers Karamazov similarly plans to kill Zosima in order “to revenge myself … for everything.” See Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 312. My thanks to the anonymous reviewer who encouraged me to focus on the parallel between Raskolnikov's plight and that of the mysterious stranger.

32 Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 86, 90–91.

33 Ibid., 191–92, 197–98 (emphasis added).

34 Ibid., 227, 275. He feels the same inability to identify his emotions in his relation to Sonya. See ibid., 408–9.

35 Ibid., 273–75.

36 The theme of the companion who is perceived as an accuser, but in fact is accepted as a “friend,” is also in Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 310.

37 Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 325 (emphasis added).

38 Ibid., 163.

39 Ibid., 103–4.

40 For the argument that citizens may not be responsive to increased legal threats, see Tonry, “Learning from the Limitations of Deterrence Research.”

41 Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 461.

42 Dostoevsky, Fyodor, Notes from Underground, trans. Pevear, Richard and Volokhonsky, Larissa (New York: Vintage Classics, 1994), 35Google Scholar; Crime and Punishment, 162–63, 191. The manner is imitated by Porfiry Petrovich (his “senselessly empty phrases,” punctuated by “enigmatic little words,” at 337).

43 Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 110.

44 Ibid., 115.

45 Ibid., 229.

46 Ibid., 165.

47 Dostoevsky, Notes from a Dead House, 185.

48 See Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 347–49 for the torture of interrogation, and The Brothers Karamazov, 467 for its criticism (“Unlearn this official method of interrogation”). See also Dostoevsky, , The Demons, trans. Pevear, Richard and Volokhonsky, Larissa (New York: Vintage Classics, 1994) 693, 697Google Scholar, and (on life in prison versus a death sentence) Dostoevsky, The Idiot, 59–66, 61.

49 Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 158 and 557n20.

50 Ibid., 170, 188.

51 Hampton, “Moral Education Theory,” 213.

52 Ibid., 216.

53 Michael Tonry distinguishes between cases where legal threats are not communicated well and where legal threats are not implemented. Some messages are also demoralizing, e.g., capital punishment may have a brutalization effect. See Tonry, “Learning from the Limitations of Deterrence Research,” 283, 286.

54 See Rosenshield, Gary, Western Law, Russian Justice: Dostoevsky, the Jury Trial, and the Law (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005)Google Scholar and Conlon, “Dostoevsky v. the Judicial Reforms.”

55 This theme is developed at greatest length in book 12 of The Brothers Karamazov.

56 Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 536–37.

57 Other examples of incorrect or disproportionate punishment and self-punishment include the drawn-out criminal trial of the minor bureaucrat Gorshkov in Poor Folk, and the painter Nikolai's self-punishment in Crime and Punishment. See Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, Poor Folk and Other Stories, trans. Duff, David (New York: Penguin Books, 1988), 105–6Google Scholar.

58 Compare Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 537 with 79.

59 See ibid., 4–9, 68–69, 75, 78–79.

60 See Conlon, “Dostoevsky v. the Judicial Reforms,” 12, 19; Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 354, 420–21, and The Brothers Karamazov, 467.

61 See Dostoevsky, The Idiot, 337–38; The Brothers Karamazov, 656–756; and Conlon, “Dostoevsky v. the Judicial Reforms,” 32.

62 Nadieszda Kizenko, “Confession in Modern Russian Culture,” National Council for Eurasian and East European Research (2007): 1–23.

63 Acorn, Compulsory Compassion, 5.

64 Conlon, “Dostoevsky v. the Judicial Reforms,” 12, 19; Kizenko, “Confession in Modern Russian Culture,” 12.

65 Kizenko, “Confession in Modern Russian Culture,” 6, 7, 14, 18.

66 For the place of confession and juridical avowal in the construction of identity, see Foucault, Michel, Wrong-Doing, Truth-Telling: The Function of Avowal in Justice, trans. Sawyer, S. W. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 1719Google Scholar; Foucault, , The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège de France 1981–1982, trans. Burchell, G. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 59CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

67 Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 520.

68 Ibid., 71.

69 Ibid., 518.

70 Johae, “Towards an Iconography of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment,” 181. It is important to note that utilitarian theory is just what Raskolnikov rejects in Luzhin's views. See Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 148–53.

71 Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 412–13, 415, 416, 418. Ironically, Razumikhin rejects the liberals’ sociological theory of crime, but he (and others, including Sonya and Rodion's mother) are eager to find mitigating factors in Raskolnikov's living conditions (190–91, 231, 268).

72 Ibid., 543.

73 Ibid., 543.

74 Ibid., 551.

75 Raskolnikov resists Nikolai's anguished but perhaps too easy conclusion: The sin is mine. See ibid., 351.

76 See the two letters cited in Dostoevsky, Notes from a Dead House, viii–ix.

77 Schur, Wages of Evil, 89.

78 Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 750, 753.

79 For parallel “duels” between Zosimov and the young landowner, and Dunya and Svidrigailov, see Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 298–300, 303 (the psychic path) and Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 490–97.

80 Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground, xvi. For a modern-day parallel, see Umbreit and Lewis, Dialogue-Driven Victim Offender Mediation Training Manual, 20.

81 The technique and its effects are described at Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 334–37, 343, 349.

82 Ibid., 339.

83 Ibid., 250, 344–47.

84 Ibid., 339.

85 See, in comparison, Schur, Wages of Evil, 14–15, 99–103. For Schur, Dostoevsky understands criminality through the lens of an essentially Russian concept of self. Dostoevsky therefore thinks of moral transformation as a “mystical event” produced by a “volatile, spontaneous self that the author valorizes as a distinctively Russian feature” of human psychology (Wages of Evil, 14–15, 116, 125, 128). This view intersects with Jean Hampton's view of crime as the product of a “prior defiant act” of a defiant individual (Hampton, , “Mens Rea,” in The Intrinsic Worth of Persons: Contractarianism in Moral and Political Philosophy, ed. Farnham, Daniel [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007], 98100Google Scholar). As Schur recognizes, Razumikhin subscribes to the living self/soul theory in the novel (Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 256), and The Brothers Karamazov shows that Russians are beset by the contradictions of a “broad, Karamazovian nature” (699). While it is not possible to address the particularity of Russian character here, it is correct to say that each offender is embedded in a family, a nation, and (for Dostoevsky) a universal brotherhood of humans whose conception may be importantly Russian.

86 Foucault, Michel, “The Subject and Power,” in Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984, vol. 3, Power, trans. Hurley, Robert et al. (New York: Free Press, 2000), 326–48Google Scholar.

87 Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 104.

88 Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 65.

89 For Alyosha's change in a “moment,” see Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 362. For forgiveness in a moment, see ibid., 412. For paradise in a moment, see ibid., 308.

90 Gorianchikov, the noble who narrates Notes from the Dead House, says that “I blessed my fate for having sent me this solitude, without which neither that judgment of myself nor that strict review of my past life could have been” (Dostoevsky, Notes from a Dead House, 280; Schur, Wages of Evil, 98). Tocqueville and Beaumont observed of the early American use of solitary confinement that this form of punishment “does not reform; it kills” (On the Penitentiary System, 5).

91 Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 349.

92 Ibid., 517.

93 Hampton, “Moral Education Theory,” 237.

94 In contrast, more than ten percent of offenders in the United States are homeless before entry to jail; two in five prison and jail inmates lack a high school equivalency; and almost a third of state and a quarter of federal prisoners committed their offense while under the influence of drugs. See “NRRC Facts and Trends,” Justice Center: The Council of State Governments (2016),

95 Dagger, “Jean Hampton's Theory,” 7.

96 Murphy, Jeffrie, “Jean Hampton on Immorality, Self-Hatred, and Self-Forgiveness,” Philosophical Studies 89, no. 2 (1998): 215–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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