Dostoevsky’s views on punishment are usually examined through the prism of his Christian commitments. For some, this means an orientation toward mercy; for others, an affirmation of suffering as a path to redemption. Anna Schur incorporates sources from philosophy, criminology, psychology, and history to argue that Dostoevsky’s thinking about punishment was shaped not only by his Christian ethics but also by the debates on penal theory and practice unfolding during his lifetime.
As Dostoevsky attempts to balance the various ethical and cultural imperatives, he displays ambivalence both about punishment and about mercy. This ambivalence, Schur argues, is further complicated by what Dostoevsky sees as the unfathomable quality of the self, which hinders every attempt to match crimes with punishments. The one certainty he holds is that a proper response to wrongdoing must include a concern for the wrongdoer’s moral improvement.