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.
Alyosha walks with Rakitin to meet the Father Superior, and they discuss the meaning of Zosima’s strange departure. Rakitin says that the Karamazov dynasty is coming to a violent end, for the Karamazovs are all “sensualists” who only love women and money. He says that Dmitri has indeed abandoned his fiancée for Grushenka, and that Ivan is now trying to steal Dmitri’s cast-off fiancée, with Dmitri’s consent, while Fyodor Pavlovich chases after Dmitri’s mistress. Rakitin says that Zosima understands that this drama can only end in bloodshed, and that he bowed to Dmitri so that, after the tragedy occurs, people will think Zosima had foreseen it. Rakitin goes on insulting the Karamazovs and Grushenka, even saying that Grushenka wishes to seduce Alyosha, until Alyosha asks whether Grushenka is not one of Rakitin’s relatives. Rakitin, angry and embarrassed, denies this claim.
Fyodor Pavlovich creates another scene before leaving the monastery. He angrily bursts in on the luncheon at the Father Superior’s and launches into a long, vulgar tirade about the idiocy and hypocrisy of monastic life. Fyodor finally leaves, and as Ivan unhappily loads him into a carriage, he shouts back at Alyosha to leave the monastery and come home at once. The carriage drives away, and Fyodor begins contemplating the cognac he will have when they return home.
Ivan’s argument with the monks in Chapters 5 and 6 provides an approach to the world’s problems that contrasts with the active love promoted by Zosima in the previous section. Unlike Zosima, who emphasizes the role of the individual conscience, Ivan proposes sweeping social changes designed to promote a specific outcome. While Zosima believes that every person should strive to do good, Ivan argues that civilization should erase the distinction between church and state in order to reduce criminality.
Ivan’s position differs from Zosima’s in three specific ways. First, Ivan is interested in abstract conceptions of society and large groups of people, while Zosima is interested in the experience of the individual. Zosima proposes a way of life that, if everyone were to follow it, would make a better world, and Ivan proposes a change in the order of the world that, if enacted, would possibly make a better life for individuals. This difference is understandable given Ivan’s and Zosima’s own characteristics. Zosima is capable of loving human beings on an individual level, while Ivan is only capable of loving humanity in the abstract. Second, Zosima conceives of religion as a positive force, but Ivan believes it is negative. Zosima’s approach to religion is to suggest ways that the individual can act to do good, while Ivan’s is to suggest ways that religion can prevent the individual from doing evil. Because Zosima believes people are naturally loving and positive, he emphasizes the good that people can do for one another. Because Ivan believes people are naturally suspicious and negative, he emphasizes the evil that people must be prevented from doing to one another.
The third difference between Zosima’s and Ivan’s arguments is their level of sincerity. Zosima wholeheartedly believes what he says, whereas Ivan argues from a detached, academic standpoint. Ivan does believe that powerful ecclesiastical courts would improve society. But he does not believe in God, making his desire for a religious society seem perplexingly out of line with his real beliefs. Nonetheless, Ivan thinks that religious courts would be most effective in controlling the masses, even if religion itself is false. The fact that Zosima is able to see Ivan’s religious doubt even as Ivan argues for increased religious authority shows Zosima’s penetrating understanding of human nature.
These chapters represent the conflict between faith and doubt as a struggle between simple love for humanity and complicated theorizing about humanity. Zosima and Ivan both argue convincingly for their ideas, but Zosima’s simple faith is more impressive than Ivan’s highly complex doubt. Dostoevsky’s treatment of philosophical concepts in this chapter is similar to his treatment of them in the rest of the novel. Dostoevsky frequently makes compelling abstract cases for two sides of an argument, and then, through the example of the characters’ behavior, indicates the superiority of love, faith, and goodness.
Zosima’s enigmatic action when he kneels before Dmitri is open to a variety of interpretations. Zosima is able to understand other people’s minds because his faith is logical and clearheaded. His kneeling before Dmitri indicates his understanding of something that no other character can see yet: that Dmitri, deep down, is a good man who will be forced to suffer before he can be redeemed. The narrative suggests that Zosima’s insight is vastly superior to the sly theorizing of Rakitin in Chapter 7—Zosima is able to predict Dmitri’s real future, whereas the rational Rakitin predicts that Dmitri will come to a violent end. In this way, Zosima’s bow fore-shadows Dmitri’s eventual fate. It also foreshadows a number of similarly enigmatic gestures made throughout the novel in moments of moral conflict, including Christ kissing the Grand Inquisitor and Alyosha kissing Ivan in Book V.
Ivan’s argument that the entire notion of morality is dependent on the idea that the soul is immortal has a direct bearing on Fyodor Pavlovich’s character. If, as Ivan proposes, the idea of good and evil is dependent upon the existence of God, then Fyodor Pavlovich’s gross sensuality is a perfectly logical way for him to behave, as he does not believe in God. All of Fyodor Pavlovich’s morally questionable actions are irrelevant if morality is only a tool for securing a comfortable afterlife. Ivan himself seems to understand that Fyodor Pavlovich lives the logical extension of Ivan’s own beliefs. This relationship between the two characters explains the simultaneous love and hatred Ivan feels toward his father. Ivan hates Fyodor Pavlovich because Ivan dislikes the idea that his argument about morality could justify such an abhorrent figure as Fyodor. But Ivan must tolerate Fyodor Pavlovich, because criticizing him would undermine his argument.