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The Brothers Karamazov

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Summary

Book V: Pro and Contra, Chapters 6–7

Summary Book V: Pro and Contra, Chapters 6–7

Ivan’s influence on Smerdyakov presents the philosophical difficulty in determining guilt for a crime. Ivan’s repeated insistence that people are not responsible for one another suggests that he is morally and psychologically free of guilt for Smerdyakov’s actions, no matter how much influence he may have exerted. On the one hand, if Ivan really believes everything he says about the absence of good and evil and the meaninglessness of responsibility, then he should have no cause to feel guilty about Fyodor Pavlovich’s death. On the other hand, if he does not really believe in his own argument, then the complicity he exhibits here will force him to confront the fact that he is partially to blame for the murder of his hated father. Dostoevsky does not show us the outcome of this philosophical question in these chapters, but Zosima has insisted that all people are responsible for the sins of all other people, and Ivan has insisted just the opposite.