Crime and Punishment — Essay On A Transcendent Morality
These days, I’ve been wondering about the idea of a transcendent morality.
Nietzsche foresaw that humans would have to become gods themselves in order to escape the imminent nihilism that would befall mankind.
Dostoevsky portrays in Crime and Punishment that if the philosophy of “God does not exist, so everything is permitted” is followed to its logical conclusion, there shall only be anguish and torment.
In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov creates a rational argument which gives him the justification of killing an old, money hoarding, exploiting, and overall dislikable woman in order to save his sister and mother from unfortunate circumstances.
Raskolnikov is a product of his times — faith in traditional religion was diminishing and a progressive intellectual like Raskolnikov doubted and even rejected the belief of a transcendent morality. He considered himself a superior and intelligent being who was simply down on his luck.
If he could get away with murder without anyone knowing, why couldn’t he do so? If you got caught, you would suffer the consequences. But if you weren’t a fool, you could create a plan that would allow you to escape with the money and live like you deserve to. You had earned the money you gained with your intellect.
A bitter and resentful intellectual could definitely go down such a cynical plan. Individuals were treated as if they were of value and were sovereign, quasi divine-beings only because of the idea of a transcendent Being who endowed them with such statuses.
Remove that idea and you simply have ordinary people — people who could be calculated in terms of value.
Since there is nothing special or divine about each individual, you could argue that we have many of them now, and many more of them coming in the future.
You could argue that maybe there are a little too many.
You could argue that maybe there were many who were overstaying their welcome and impeding the youth from progressing in life and getting what they deserve.
This is the exact rational argument that Raskolnikov followed. He placed himself as a higher status being who could give more in society, and justified his murder and theft. He even made it so that in his head, he was a hero and was doing society a favor.
Now if each individual got to grant him/herself this power of transcending the moral code, who is to say there won’t be more Raskolnikovs across the world?
Who would want to live in a society where your right to life is judged based on another person’s perspective of your worth? What would be your argument if someone chose to solely see your worth in terms of what you offer to society?
Raskolnikov learns that he is not the superior being he had imagined himself to be once he commits this irreversible crime.
He learns that the image he had of his future pre-murder compared post-murder was not the same at all. He lived in fear and terror every day after that incident. He started losing grip of his sanity because he was tormented by guilt and dread. He was suspicious of everyone and could not act as cold-blooded as he had imagined himself to be. He could not bear the weight of the transgression and decided to confess.
I used to believe that believing in a transcendent morality was due to the moral weakness of an individual to create and follow his own system of morality.
(Basically Nietzsche’s idea of the Ubermensch, where one transcends mankind to become a god who is able to create and live by his own moral code)
Perhaps a few individuals can do it. But what do we do about the people who decide to use the idea of the Ubermensch to create a moral system that only satisfies their own selfish needs? Since the idea of the Ubermensch can be taken in a morally sound way vs. morally corrupt way, who is to say which is “good”?
Because the idea of “good” used to be what a transcendent morality provided for us. Now that “good” is to be defined by our own terms, what stops an individual from living with the axiom that “good” means anything that benefits himself and the people he cares about, and to hell with all the rest?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on anything that I’ve written above. It definitely needs more editing, and more scrutinizing.
But I thought it would be fun just to allow my mind to wander and ramble about topics that I’m trying to have an opinion on.
I think I’ll do more of these because I read an interesting perspective on what an essay should be in this blog post:
The word essay originated from the French word: essayer, meaning: to try.
So, the act of writing here doesn’t have to come from an adamant desire to cement some eternal meaning (insert the latest title of some personal development blog). By writing, the writer is testing their thoughts. By overcoming the resistance to write, they are one step closer to understanding, but by no means can they fully arrive at it.
I think I’ve been having trouble writing because I think I need to have a coherent and structured idea that is well thought out before I share it with everyone else.
I am far from a structured and logical thinker. I think I do better when my mind is given freedom to explore freely. This leaves readers and listeners in confusion at times, but perhaps this is where it can be a team effort.
I will do my best to put in a lot of effort to articulate the ideas passing through my head, and you can do your best to read and call me out on any flaws in my arguments/philosophy so that we can refine the dialogue.
Perhaps we might be able to find some diamonds in the rough. Writing has always been a 1:1 dialogue between the writer and the reader. But technology has allowed us to communicate in real-time, so now writers and readers are connected like never before.
So I’d love to hear what you have to say about anything I write and start a conversation.
Until then, I will keep writing essays, or in other words, keep trying.