Virtue: the Underground Rebel speaks
Dostoevsky’s Underground Man assaults the Socratic notion that virtue is knowledge. Rational persons who know the good life and their real self-interest would never do wrong willingly. The Underground Man takes an empirical and experimental stance. Listen to what people say and then watch what they do. Reason often does not guide our wills. I am with the Underground Man in that.
The Underground Man rebels against science and utilitarianism where all life is calculated and calibrated. I appreciate his sentiment. I love science, but many times cannot live with what it tells me. Such is the case when science invades ethics and morality. Tell me I cannot do something or cannot have something and you can predict what my next transgression will be, or at least where I will apply my energy. Like the Underground Man, I say this with a healthy dose of cynicism and irony, but we are talking about an empirical and experimental method, one I am using to probe my own breast.
“You transgress because even though you say you know, you really do not know,” you say. “Then tell me exactly what you think knowledge is, for your notion eludes me, and please, do not turn a common sense observation into some deep epistemological quest, for you ‘know’ that is not what I am talking about,” I reply.
Let us return to the case of chasing a woman I know I should not have. This woman takes on all forms and lives in many bodies. She is not a specific she, but a kind of archetype. It is not just desire, self-gratification, or the want of her love that makes me do it. The rebel inside of me creates this desire. I want to transgress because the rebel must be heard and seen. The rebel will not go away and cannot be banished or killed. I can only imprison the rebel temporarily, for he is cunning and knows how to escape from all chains and scale all prison walls. Reason is no match for him.
The rebel is anti-spirituality, the antithesis of love, reverence, and trust. Yet he is an attractive sort. The kind you fall in love with against your will, the kind you know will lead to your ruination. He is a heartbreaker, but you do not care.
At times, it seems all I can do is ride the whirlwind. The whirlwind does not lead to love. The whirlwind will deposit me where I do not know.
The scent of a new transgression wafts upon the morning breeze. I must have her for a little while today, and I most assuredly will. Then the rebel can rest.