The Enigma of Irrational Decisions
Why do humans become involved in the confusing web of irrational decisions? Regardless of our perceived logical prowess, we inevitably fall to irrational behavior, whether wasting precious moments on social media, indulging in superfluous food when satiety eludes us, or persistently ignoring the call of deep sleep well past midnight. Such harmful activities are considered disgraceful from the perspective of a reasonable egoist. According to rational egoism, our activities should be conducted if they serve to maximize our self-interest, a principle advanced by intellectuals such as Shaver. However, this lofty norm eludes all, provoking reflection on the intrinsic value of striving for rationality. According to the profound perspective of Notes from Underground, our freedom of will is a mutable facet of our nature and a fundamental and necessary component. According to him, the fundamental core of humanity depends on this innate ability for free will. Without it, our existence would undergo a profound alteration, rendering us unrecognizable as human beings. The novella proposes a hypothetical scenario in which a comprehensive formula is uncovered to interpret the complexities of all human needs and caprices. In imagining such a mathematical formula, he imagines a future in which the secrets of human motives are revealed, where the “why” and “how” of our impulses are explained logically.
In this speculative scenario, Notes from Underground speculates that the disclosure of such a formula will result in a dramatic alteration in human experience. He believes that revealing the secrets of our desires in a mathematical formula will cause the very fabric of desire to unravel. The thought of comprehending and then forecasting our desires would quench the flame of desire. Knowing the outcome, having desires dictated by a predefined rule, would negate the whole basis of desire. Essentially, the novella predicts that the absence of ambiguity and choice will annihilate humanity’s nature. According to the novella’s claims, hypothetical life in a deterministic universe would cause a drastic change in the very fabric of our wants, potentially eradicating them. Delving into the deep realms of desire and free will, on the other hand, reveals a delicate interplay between these concepts. While the novella proposes a world devoid of desires in a deterministic framework, philosopher Harry Frankfurt makes an important distinction, arguing that having desires does not always imply having free will.
The distinction between first-order desires and second-order volitions introduced by Frankfurt sheds light on the complexities of human motivation. The former indicates the immediate want to act, whereas the latter represents the meta-level desire to carry out that activity. This nuanced distinction emphasizes that the presence of desires does not ensure autonomy; genuine autonomy is found in the ability to form and regulate those desires. Individuals frequently battle with desires beyond their conscious control, a circumstance that calls into question the basic notion of free will under deterministic settings. It raises important issues concerning the source and volition of our desires. Consider the tragic example of a drug addict; can it be claimed that they voluntarily chose the great need to consume drugs? This question delves into the complexities of desire, presenting circumstances in which humans neither consciously choose nor fully know the origins of their desires.
Free Will as the Essence of Decision-Making
To understand the narrator’s logic, consider the premise that the essence of free will is the power to make decisions. This fundamental premise is Notes from Underground‘s unwavering critique of rational egoism. The novella claims that the core of free will’s existence—and its imperative preservation—forms the main point of his argument in his firm rejection of rational egoism. The narrator expounds passionately on the difference between reason and volition, portraying reason as a noble but limited aspect of human nature. He claims that while reason is undeniably valuable, it only serves the logical aspect of humanity. In contrast, the novella will develop as a manifestation of the fullness of human life. This broad perspective encompasses reason and the countless impulses that make up the complicated tapestry of human existence.
Notes from Underground uses a gripping analogy to explain his point of view, contrasting the value of a life endowed with will with a mere exercise in extracting square roots. By describing reason as the extraction of square roots, he figuratively emphasizes the analytical and segmented nature of reasoning, which, while valuable, only captures a small portion of the varied human experience. According to the narrator, life is a vigorous and dynamic force not restricted by the rigid confines of logical deductions. The novella’s proclamation expresses an unwavering assertion of the wealth inherent in human life. He maintains that, even when life appears devoid of worth in some ways, it is an amalgamation of reason and numerous instincts. Furthermore, the narrator emphasizes a fundamental need for a holistic life experience that encompasses human skills rather than merely reasoning.
Notes from Underground advances his argument by claiming that the all-encompassing character of our free will includes both reason and impulses, constituting a thorough portrayal of the human experience. However, a close examination of his claims exposes an underlying paradox because he primarily uses the example of impulses to demonstrate the manifestation of free will. This option, however, undermines the fundamental core of his reasoning because instincts are intrinsically involuntary, outside the reach of conscious choice or control. By emphasizing impulses as a significant component of free will, the novella accidentally weakens his case because impulses, by definition, operate outside the realm of conscious decision-making. Because one cannot consciously choose or exert control over impulses, the legitimacy of utilizing them as proof of free will is called into question. This seeming contradiction calls for a closer look at the intricate interplay between conscious choice and involuntary impulses within the context of free will.
The Limitations of “Capacity to Reason”
Furthermore, Notes from Underground‘s “capacity to reason” concept looks overly restrictive. While he recognizes reason as a component of free will, he may unwittingly minimize its breadth. Rational decision-making comprises logical deductions and the intricate interaction of emotions, values, and subjective perspectives. This broader view calls into question the novella’s conflict between reason and the entirety of human instincts. Critically, the novella’s argument runs into a paradox when he claims that acting on an irrational foundation entails reasoning. He tacitly accepts the function of reason in irrational choices by acknowledging the necessity for justification. This acknowledgment blurs the distinction between rational and irrational behavior, implying that even obviously illogical activities entail some reasoning, although one that deviates from expected norms.
The narrator not only claims that logic is merely one of many aspects of our talents, but he also claims that life would be meaningless if forced by nature’s harsh constraints. He paints a vivid picture of the existential repercussions if the complexities of human action could be reduced to deterministic mathematics. The narrator paints a fictional scenario in which every element of his behavior is scrutinized and explained through the prism of scientific calculation. The possibility of having his every gesture scrutinized and linked to predefined causes, such as making a long nose at someone, creates significant existential issues. The narrator’s anxiety arises from his perception of freedom being eroded in the face of such deterministic analysis. He is troubled by the disconcerting thought that even his seemingly random behaviors can be examined and predicted with clinical precision.
The Significance of Adding a Degree to the Argument
Including a degree adds another layer to the argument, implying that intellectual strength and academic achievements would be insufficient to protect one’s individuality in a society dominated by calculable determinism. The notion of being able to anticipate one’s entire existence for the next thirty years underscores the unsettling implications of a life devoid of unpredictability and spontaneity. According to the narrator, the richness of human experience lies in the undiscovered frontiers of free will, choices, and the unpredictable aspect of existence. The narrator’s thought explores the significant implications of a deterministic universe. He indicates that life would lose its essential purpose and vibrancy if every facet of human conduct could be methodically foreseen and justified. The whole nature of being human, defined by the spontaneity of choices and the unpredictability of behaviors, would be lost. The concept of “nothing left for us to do” emphasizes the existential hole resulting from the abolition of genuine autonomy.
Notes from Underground is adamant that a deterministic universe will rip apart the basic fabric of human existence, reducing life to a predictable series of outcomes calculated by a complex formula. In his harsh view, the power to predict the future becomes insidious, depriving life of its fundamental significance because every action inexorably leads to the same predetermined outcome. A closer look reveals, however, that determinism does not always mean absolute certainty in predicting the direction of our life. While determinism holds that preceding events and natural laws causally determine occurrences, the sheer complexity of human existence introduces many factors that defy perfect computation. The narrator underscores the inherent limitations in attempting to embody the entirety of human life within a single, all-encompassing formula by drawing a parallel with the weather, which is subject to deterministic mathematics but remains unpredictable.
The Herculean Effort of Calculating an Entire Life
Calculating an entire life is shown as a Herculean effort plagued with difficulties. Even if such a calculation were theoretically conceivable, the narrator claims it would be a never-ending task requiring many variables. This acknowledgment calls into question the feasibility and practicability of quantifying the plethora of components contributing to the richness of human experience. Furthermore, Notes from Underground admits to a significant flaw in his argument: the elusive nature of the precise causes of human acts. While our behaviors may seem opaque to our conscious awareness, this does not rule out the presence of underlying causes. This acknowledgment adds another degree of complication to the deterministic worldview, raising concerns about the accessibility and comprehension of the numerous influences impacting our conduct.
Notes from Underground argues against the usefulness of a calculated life, claiming that such certainty would render living meaningless. This assumption, however, ignores a more nuanced view of uncertainty. Many people take comfort in predictability, and knowing what lies ahead may soothe their concerns and anxieties. The narrator’s omission to address this point weakens his case since it ignores people’s emotions and attitudes toward uncertainty. The novella advances a novel argument, claiming that even if determinism were unquestionably true, humanity, motivated by a great aversion to being reduced to mindless automatons, would revolt against such a fate. Individuals would actively engage in foolish and even destructive acts to assert their supposed freedom of will, denying the fundamental core of a deterministic existence.
In a hypothetical scenario in which man is reduced to the status of a piano key, a deterministic creature ruled by natural science and mathematics, Notes from Underground contends that this recognition alone would not lead to reasonability. Instead, he imagines dogged defiance, a willful indulgence in heinous crimes motivated by sheer ingratitude. The implication is that even if it is demonstrated definitively that deterministic forces drive individuals, their intrinsic desire for autonomy and agency will manifest in willful acts of rebellion, breaking the preset order. Furthermore, the novella depicts the lengths humans would go to prove their liberty in the face of determinism. He proposes that when faced with the danger of being reduced to just piano keys, people may turn to intentional devastation and mayhem. This excessive reaction defies the deterministic narrative, a frantic attempt to exert control and free choice even in the face of a seemingly predestined fate.
The Unique Ability to Curse
The narrator expands on the point to underline humans’ unique ability to curse—a privilege and primary differentiation from other species. Once unleashed on the world, this curse becomes a symbolic act of resistance, a manifestation of human agency in the face of deterministic forces that strive to rule their behavior. According to Notes from Underground, cursing becomes a powerful tool via which individuals can seek to confirm their humanity and dispute the concept that they are reduced to simple instruments devoid of free will. The narrator’s claim that when confronted with evidence that they are merely piano keys in a deterministic world, people will actively engage in aberrant behavior out of ingratitude throws a paradox into his argument. The paradox is that deciding to act perversely, purportedly to assert one’s freedom of will, is not a genuine exercise of free choice. In reality, the narrator’s characterization of such activities suggests that they are programmed responses to the proof of determinism. This intrinsic contradiction inadvertently supports the deterministic viewpoint, as the narrator claims that individuals could not have chosen otherwise, given the circumstances.
Furthermore, the narrator’s confusion of rationality with determinism adds another layer of complication. Notes from Underground oversimplifies the intricate nature of rational decision-making by implying that functioning involves adherence to a precise set of rules. In actuality, rationality allows for the evaluation of conflicting interests and priorities. Individuals may make reasonable decisions based on their unique perspectives and priorities, casting doubt on the idea that rationality is inherently deterministic. Despite his endeavor to reject determinism, the novella unintentionally confirms the deterministic argument. His image of people engaging in aberrant behavior in response to deterministic proof implies that their actions are predicted by the proof they are attempting to rebel against. This paradoxical scenario exposes the narrator’s limits in asserting the superiority of free will.
Determinism or Free Will?
The ultimate question arises: Can determinism or free will be established conclusively? The narrator’s speech emphasizes the underlying uncertainty surrounding this philosophical quandary. Both determinism and free will exist as abstract concepts, making it difficult to prove or deny their existence definitively. This paradox inspires reflection on the nature of free will—whether its presence would be a benefit or a misfortune. Throughout the tale, Notes from Underground passionately advocates for free choice as humanity’s most important gift. However, a deeper examination of his early ideas reveals a nuanced worldview that contradicts his strong support for free will. The underground man articulates a different story in his earlier ideas, illuminating his skepticism and cynicism regarding the nature of consciousness and action.
In studying the “direct, legitimate fruit of consciousness,” the underground man reveals a depressing viewpoint—conscious stagnation. He contends that, far from being a source of dynamic movement, consciousness frequently leads to passive passivity, manifested by a resigned sitting with hands folded. This representation calls into question the common adoration of consciousness as a motivator for purposeful and decided behavior. The underground man criticizes what he considers “direct” people and men of action, claiming that their activity derives from perceived ignorance and constraint. In their narrow-mindedness, he claims, these people readily embrace immediate and secondary reasons as if they were primary, finding solace in the idea of flawless grounds for their acts. According to Notes from Underground, the main reason for such action is to achieve a sense of mental ease—relief from doubt and uncertainty.
The Complex Process of Taking Action
Furthermore, Notes from Underground digs into the complex process of taking action, emphasizing the importance of having a completely relaxed mind with no sign of uncertainty. Nonetheless, he faces the arduous task of putting his mind at ease. This introspective quandary inspires a thorough rethinking of the grounds upon which his actions are built. The novella expresses the difficulty of determining primary causes and foundations, emphasizing the inherent complexities and uncertainties underpinning human reasoning. The underground man displays a cascading effect where every primary cause begets another, leading to an infinite cycle as he participates in self-reflection. He claims it is the core of consciousness and reflection: each inquiry begets questions, and each cause begets another far more primary. The unending regress he depicts undermines the concept of simple, core thought and complicates the process of calming the mind.
Notes from Underground distinguishes between individuals classified as persons of action and those classified as having acute consciousness. Confidence is a distinguishing feature of the former, arising from a belief in the strength of their reasons for taking decisive action. These individuals go confidently through the arena of action, seemingly unaffected by the concerns arising from thinking about consequences or entertaining probable counterfactual possibilities. Their convictions are simple, allowing them to go on without the burden of constant questioning. In stark contrast, the narrator, who takes on the character of a person of acute consciousness, is perpetually undecided. His heightened awareness becomes a double-edged sword, preventing him from making a firm decision. As a result of the narrator’s acute reflection, the persistent probing of intentions becomes a crippling force. This never-ending inquiry is contained in the realization that every cause begets another cause, producing an infinite chain with no uncaused cause. The illusive search for a root cause becomes a recurring motif, stopping the acutely aware guy from taking decisive action.
The paradox emerges, however, when one doubts the value of freedom if it is inextricably related to or, worse, causes inaction. While the narrator’s contemplation demonstrates his keen awareness, it paradoxically becomes an obstacle to decisive action. The constant search for an illusive root cause obstructs the exercise of free will, calling the traditional celebration of freedom as an unquestionable virtue into question. The paradox emerges, however, when one doubts the value of freedom if it is inextricably related to or, worse, causes inaction. While the narrator’s contemplation demonstrates his keen awareness, it paradoxically becomes an obstacle to decisive action. The constant search for an illusive root cause obstructs the exercise of free will, calling the traditional celebration of freedom as an unquestionable virtue into question.
Questioning the Basic Concept of Free Will
Notes from Underground‘s story is replete with inconsistencies and contradictions, and one significant paradox is his separation between the man of acute consciousness and the direct person of action. The narrator’s attempt to draw a clear line between these two archetypes muddles his argument’s consistency. The statement that the average person confuses primary and secondary causes and acts based on these causes, particularly, calls into question the basic concept of free will. If the narrator describes the immediate person of action as having an “infallible foundation” for their acts, it indicates determinism in their decision-making process. Their fixed mind on a specific path of action implies a lack of alternate choices, which is a core component of free will. In short, if the direct person of action acts with unshakeable conviction based on what the narrator refers to as the leading causes, their actions are restricted by a deterministic framework. The inference is that individuals lack the intrinsic potential to act differently, directly challenging the concept of free will as the ability to choose between numerous choices.
Another element of intricacy is added by the narrator’s underlying assumption, perhaps tacit, that he has greater free will than the direct person of action. It is also possible that the man of keen consciousness, engrossed in continual reflection, will be unable to break away from the limitations of introspection. The implication is that while the narrator is acutely aware of various alternatives, this keen awareness may paradoxically limit his ability to act decisively. Human behavior frequently includes activities that appear to be against our best interests. Unfortunately for Notes from Underground, this inclination does not inherently show the existence of free choice. The frequent times we act against our interests result from a lack of willpower—a noticeable vulnerability to succumbing to temptations, whether for sweets, distractions, or the attraction of short-term dopamine rushes. This lack of willpower highlights a vital part of the underground man’s argument that he may have overlooked. It implies that our behaviors are not always motivated by a capacity for free choice but rather by an intrinsic struggle against our urges.
Reevaluating the underground man’s speech reveals that he may have misplaced his attention. Instead of demonstrating a biological tendency to act sensibly, the evidence suggests a proclivity to act against our interests. The human struggle with willpower raises concerns about the possibility of making consistent, rational choices in the face of varied temptations and urges. Even if unintentionally, Notes from Underground shows a different element of human behavior—one driven more by primal desires than rational concerns. While the underground man does not prove the presence or benefits of free will, he emphasizes a compelling proposition: In a deterministic environment, individuals may act against their best interests to display their individuality. This perplexing revelation calls into question beliefs about self-interest and reasonable behavior. It implies that, even in a deterministic context, the yearning for individuality may drive people to make decisions that challenge popular wisdom about what is objectively best for them.
- Dostoyevsky, F. (2022). Notes from the Underground. DigiCat.
- Frankfurt, H. (2018). Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person. In Agency And Responsiblity (pp. 77-91). Routledge.
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- Shaver, R. (2002). Egoism.
- Steyerl, H. (2011). In free fall: A thought experiment on vertical perspective. The wretched of the screen, 24.