Chapter 4 Writing the Russian Socrates: Dostoevsky, Skovoroda, and the World of The Brothers Karamazov

In: Socrates in Russia
Brian Armstrong
Search for other papers by Brian Armstrong in
Current site
Google Scholar

Purchase instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):



Where should we look to find Socrates in Russia? Presumably, we should start with the philosophy and philosophical literature of Russia, which could reasonably lead us to look at Socratic elements of Dostoevsky’s novels. However, such an approach risks overlooking how being in Russia—or being Russian—would change Socrates. Socrates, in order to be a Socrates for Russia, would not look and act just like the Socrates of classical Athens; rather, he would be Russian, and he would participate actively in Russian worldviews, just as the historical Socrates participated actively in classical Greek ones.

I argue that a Russian Socrates comes to fruition in the figure of Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov. Further, I turn to the work of the Ukrainian philosopher Grigory Skovoroda, who is often considered the “father” of Russian philosophy and who issued the original call for a Russian Socrates, in order to both present a reading of the figure of Socrates at work in the novel and explicate what Zosima provides that makes him a Russian Socrates rather that a generic Socratic figure.

I do not claim that Dostoevsky knew of Skovoroda: there is no record of any connection. Instead, I seek to demonstrate that Skovoroda’s philosophy provides a means through which we can better articulate the worldview of Zosima, a worldview that in turn permeates the entire novel. If the argument has merit, then it would mean that Zosima could be viewed as a Russian Socrates of the sort for which Skovoroda hoped.

  • Collapse
  • Expand


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 102 64 3
Full Text Views 19 3 0
PDF Views & Downloads 20 2 0