Moral Relativism Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Raskolnikov is a young, intelligent, but emotionally unstable young man who has had to quit school for lack of money and a depressive crisis. He seems to be mad at the world for the injustice which prevails in it. During this difficult and sad time, a very dangerous idea starts moving around his mind. There is this old lady pawnbroker, a bad woman who cheats on the desperate people who approach her. She has money she doesn't use for the benefit of his fellow humans. On the other hand, Raskolnikov is sure that he could be a great man and achieve things that would benefit the humankind... if only he had the means to jumpstart his career to glory and fame. From these two thoughts, Raskolnikov begins a road towards rationalizing his potential crime. He poses good questions (how come people who kill a lot of persons are called heroes and achieve fame and governments erect statues to honor them, but poor bastards who kill someone for money to eat are put in prison?) and finds bad answers: some extraordinary people are above the common laws and moral rules that guide the rest of humans. These extraordinary characters can not be subject to those vulgar rules, lest they could not achieve the great things destiny has them in store. So, we get to the crime: Raskolnikov deserves that money to reach greatness, and anyway the woman he will kill is harmful to society. So he goes and kill not only the pawnbroker, but also her good, half-witted sister.
What follows is the truly fascinating story of the aftermath of the crime, with a very clever, wise and interesting police detective playing cat and mouse with Raskolnikov, at the same time his life is crumbling down in guilt, paranoia, and inoportune events happening around him, to his family and friends. The story ends and begins within only a few days. Raskolnikov's mother and sister arrive in Saint Petersburg looking for him. His sister is about to marry an older, egotistic man whom Raskolnikov reads from day one as a future bad husband for his sensible, wise and beautiful sister. Meanwhile, Raskolnikov gets involved in the tragic end of the Marmeladov family. Marmeladov is a drunkard whom Raskolnikov befriends ina low-budget bar, where they have a conversation on morals that will be central to the philosophical background of the story. He dies and leaves her family broke. His wife is very near death from tuberculosis, and the eldest girl has been forced to become a prostitute, in spite of being an angelical and saintly girl.
So events unfold and the logical end arrives. The plot is great and it moves faster and faster, with tension reaching exasperating heights. The book is filled with unforgettable characters: the dark, troubled but in the end good Raskolnikov, a good guy with bad ideas; his mother and sister; the sinister Petrovich, who wants to be adored by the sister; the police detective, a great guy; Sonia, the saintly prostitute; and Svidrigailov, former boss and harasser of Raskolnikov's sister, a man so degenerate, perverse and evil.
Other reviewers are right that Raskolnikov's philosophy is a twisted and evil one, but some go so far as to say that this philosophy is espoused by Dostoevsky himself. I am convinced this is not the case. The novel clearly shows that moral relativism can only conduce to crime, tragedy, death, guilt and... punishment. In the best case, after the crime is committed, there is the hope of redemption through repent and love, as well as by the Christian values and faith. I think there is no doubt that, by every possible standard, this is one of the best pieces of literature ever penned. It has everything a masterpiece must have: a plot that hooks you up right from the start, deep, well-rounded characters. a dark moral and everything tightly knitted together by a master of the craft. Come stay a few days in this hotttest of summers in Petersburg.