“Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to the passions and coarse pleasures, in order to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete bestiality, and it all comes from lying continually to others and to himself.”
Zosima makes this speech to Fyodor Pavlovich in Book II, Chapter 2. Many of Zosima’s comments in this section of the novel lay the groundwork for the development of the novel’s main ideas. Here, Zosima explores the important concept that the path to virtue is through honesty with oneself. A man who lies to himself, he says, is unable to perceive the truth around him. Because his surroundings make him suspicious, and because he cannot believe in anything—not God, not other people—he ceases to respect or to love mankind and thus falls into sin. This argument is not only a perceptive summary of Fyodor Pavlovich’s psychology, it also opens the door for many of the novel’s subsequent ideas about redemption. Later, the novel suggests that the path to redemption lies in honest self-knowledge, which can best be attained through suffering.