Dostoevskij and Schelling’s Philosophy of Freedom

Tatyana Buzina, Yale University

This paper will analyze Schelling’s treatise Of Human Freedom in comparison with Dostoevskij’s views of freedom as expressed in his novel The Devils. There is no direct proof that Dostoevskij read Schelling, although there is also no proof that he did not. I will proceed with my comparison since I believe that, first of all, it can exist as a typological study, and, second of all, Schelling was so influential in Russia (see S. Pratt, Russian Metaphysical Romanticism) that Dostoevskij was bound to get at least a whiff of his ideas even if he did not study Schelling’s texts proper.

Four staples of Schelling’s system are starkly similar to Dostoevskij’s worldview. These four tenets are the following: Man is determined by his own choice made out of his own free will. The ultimate goal of human striving is deification. Deification is becoming one with God, it should be achieved through prayer and contemplation (J. Pelikan Christian Tradition). However, when man chooses evil over good, he is motivated by his desire to become God not with God, but outside of God. In Dostoevskij’s terms, man wants to become man-god, and this is the cause of all the evil in the world.

Schelling envisions two kinds of will: the self-will, blind, passionate and unreasonable, and the will proper, enlightened by reason. It is the first kind of will that strives to become outside of God what it could only be with God and it is, therefore, that will that leads to all human misfortune and all the evil in the world. Man is determined through the choice made in accordance with his own free will. Man’s choice for Schelling is a single and final act that determines his future. Schelling’s stance might be compared to the Christian doctrine of predestination. The similarity lies in the fact that both in Lutheranism and in Schelling’s teaching, man’s destiny is foreordained. The crucial difference, however, is in the agent that foreordains the destiny: it is God in any form of Christian predestination and man himself in Schelling’s philosophy. Man is fated, but this fate comes from his own volition.

For Dostoevskij, man’s existence in the world is conceived in Schellingian terms: firstly, a man is determined by his own decision. Secondly, even though Dostoevskij’s character is faced with a string of choices, there is a point after which choice is no longer possible, and man’s future life is thoroughly determined by his previous actions (Stavrogin). This parallels Schelling’s sole moment of choice. Thirdly, Dostoevskij is very concerned with the distinction between “volja” and “svoboda”—in English we can roughly translate these terms as ‘liberty/will’ and ‘freedom’—which correspond to Schelling’s self-will and will. And fourthly, in their exercise of the self-will Dostoevskij’s characters are motivated by the same desire that consumed Schelling’s man: craving for deification. The Devils presents its readers with multiple examples of striving for deification. Kirillov seeks to be deified through the ultimate exercise of self-will, i.e., through suicide. Šatov seeks deification through deifying the people as a collective entity. Marija Timofeevna strives to present herself as the second Virgin Mary at the side of the new antichrist unbound by God’s will. Verxovenskij envisions himself as the new Peter, the apostle of the antichrist who is destined to build a new church. This paper seeks to explore these cases in detail linking Dostoevskij’s characters’ philosophy with the philosophy of Romanticism through the parallel reading of Dostoevskij and Schelling.