Alyosha follows Zosima back to his cell, where Ivan and the monks are debating Ivan’s article about ecclesiastical courts. Miusov, who considers himself a political intellectual, continually tries to join the argument, but the other men, caught up in their own discussion, generally ignore him. Miusov, already aggravated by Fyodor Pavlovich’s taunting, becomes almost unbearably irritated.
Ivan explains that he does not believe in the separation of the church and state. He believes that the church should subsume the state, so that religious authorities administer laws, and ecclesiastical courts handle the judicial process. Miusov tries to interject that this situation would be “sheer Ultramontanism,” meaning that Ivan’s proposal would create a situation in which the pope would have absolute power. The word Ultramontanism refers to the fact that Rome, the seat of the papacy of the Catholic Church, is literally “beyond the mountains” from Russia and the Orthodox Church. The other men ignore Miusov. Ivan insists that if the only courts were ecclesiastical courts, the very notion of crime would slowly change. People would be much less likely to commit crimes in the first place, he argues, because they would know that in doing so, they would be acting not merely against a government or a state, but against God.
Zosima, to the surprise of some of the others in the room, agrees with Ivan’s analysis. He argues, however, that the only real power capable of punishing crime is conscience. He says that because the church knows that each individual’s moral sense is the real authority, the church chooses not to become involved in the state’s administration of justice. The men become so embroiled in their debate that they forget about Dmitri’s lateness, and when he suddenly bursts in through the door, they are slightly surprised to see him.
Dmitri asks for Zosima’s blessing and says that he is late because his father’s messenger gave him the wrong time. Not wishing to interrupt the debate, Dmitri finds a chair and sits quietly. Ivan goes on to say that, in his view, the entire notion of morality depends on the idea of the immortality of the soul. If people did not believe in an afterlife, he says, there would be no reason for them to worry about behaving morally. They could simply act to satisfy their desires. This idea scandalizes Miusov and troubles Dmitri. Zosima gently notes that Ivan himself is beset with doubt and advocates positions he does not entirely believe, merely to toy with his own despair.
As the debate enters a lull, Fyodor Pavlovich begins to criticize and insult Dmitri. He accuses his son of dealing falsely with his fiancée, Katerina, and deserting her after falling in love with another woman, Grushenka. As the others look on in embarrassment, Dmitri gives an angry reply that helps explain the conflict between -Dmitri and his father: Dmitri says that Fyodor Pavlovich is jealous because Fyodor Pavlovich also lusts after Grushenka and has made a fool of himself trying to win her heart. Dmitri says that Fyodor Pavlovich has even tried to convince Grushenka to collaborate with him to send Dmitri to prison. The men go on shouting at one another, until suddenly Zosima stands up. He walks over to Dmitri and kneels before him. Then, wordlessly, he leaves the room. The others are baffled by this gesture. As they prepare to have lunch with the Father Superior, Fyodor Pavlovich leaves in a huff.
When Zosima leaves the room after kneeling before Dmitri, Alyosha follows close behind him. When Alyosha catches up, Zosima tells him that he wants Alyosha to leave the monastery, rejoin the world, and even find a wife. Alyosha is upset, but Zosima, smiling, tells Alyosha that his path lies outside the monastery. Zosima says that he has great faith in Alyosha, and then sends him away.