Discernment of Good and Evil in Dostoevsky’s Novels: The Madman and the Saint


  • Christoph Schneider The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge (UK)




This article discusses madness and saintliness in Dostoevsky’s novels and investigates how the madman and the saint discern between good and evil. I first explore the metaphysical, spiritual, and moral universe of Dostoevsky’s characters by drawing on William Desmond’s philosophy of the between. Second, I argue that the madman’s misconstrual of reality can be grasped as an idolatrous, divisive, and parodic imitation of the good (Raskolnikov, Stavrogin, Kirillov). Third, I reflect on disembodied discernment. In some cases, due to the weakness of the moral agent, the good cannot be properly embodied in space and time, even if a person exhibits ethically sound discernment (Prince Myshkin). Fourth, I look at examples of holy discernment and examine how, through love, the genuinely good person is able to transform idolatry into a universal and cosmic sacramentalism (Elder Zosima, Alyosha).


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How to Cite

Schneider, Christoph. 2020. “Discernment of Good and Evil in Dostoevsky’s Novels: The Madman and the Saint”. European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 12 (4):117-37. https://doi.org/10.24204/ejpr.v12i4.3519.



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