The Most Precious Thing for Man From Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Notes from the Underground. As reproduced in Sources of the Western Tradition, vol. 2 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999), 265-268. The fact is, gentlemen, it seems that something that is dearer to almost every man that his [allegedly] greatest advantages must really exist, or (not to be illogical) there is one most advantageous advantage (the very one omitted [in scientific-economic calculations of human advantages] . . .) which is more important and more advantageous than all other advantages, for which, if necessary, a man is ready to act in opposition to all laws, that is, in opposition to reason, honor, peace, prosperity--in short, in opposition to all those wonderful and useful things if only he can attain that fundamental, most advantageous advantage that is dearer to him than all. . . .
Why, one may choose what is contrary to one's own interests, and sometimes positively ought (that is my idea). One's own free unfettered choice, one's own fancy, however wild it may be, one's own fancy worked up at times to frenzy--why that is that very "most advantageous advantage" which we have overlooked, which comes under no classification and through which all systems and theories are continually being sent to the devil. And how do these sages know that man must necessarily need a rationally advantageous choice? What man needs is an independent choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. . . .
[R]eason is only reason and can only satisfy man's rational faculty, while will is a manifestation of all life, that is, of all human life including reason as well as all impulses. And although our life, in this manifestation of it, is often worthless, yet it is life nevertheless and not simply extracting square roots. . . . [Y]our repeat to me that an enlightened and developed man, such, in short, as the future man will be, cannot knowingly desire anything disadvantageous to himself, and that this can be proved mathematically. I thoroughly agree, it really can--by mathematics. But . . . man may purposely, consciously, desire what is injurious to himself, what is stupid, very stupid--simply in order to have the right to desire for himself even what is very stupid and not to be bound by an obligation to desire only what is rational. . . . And [this] . . . may be more advantageous than any advantages even when it does obvious harm, and contradicts the soundest conclusions of our reason about our advantage--because in any case it preserves for us what is most precious and most important--that is, our personality, our individuality. Some, you see, maintain that this really is the most precious thing for man; desire can, of course, if it desires, be in agreement with reason. . . . But very often, and even most often, desire completely and stubbornly opposes reason, and . . . that, too, is useful and sometimes even praiseworthy. . . .
Gentlemen, I am tormented by questions, answer them for me. Now you, for instance, want to cure men of their old habits and reform them in accordance with science and common sense. But how do you know, not only that it is possible, but also that it is desirable, to reform them in that way? And what leads you to the conclusion that it is so necessary to reform man's desires? In short, how do you know that such a reformation will really be advantageous to man? And go to the heart of the matter, why are you so sure of your conviction that not to act against his real normal advantages guaranteed by the conclusions of reason and arithmetic is always advantageous for man and must be lawful for all mankind? . . .
And why are you so firmly, so triumphantly convinced that only the normal and the positive--in short, only prosperity--is to the advantage of man? Is not reason mistaken in about advantage? After all, perhaps man likes something besides prosperity? Perhaps he likes suffering just as much? Perhaps suffering is just as great an advantage to him as prosperity? Man is sometimes fearfully, passionately in love with suffering and that is a fact. There is no need to appeal to universal history to prove that; only ask yourself, if only you are a man and have lived at all. As far as my own personal opinion is concerned, to care only for prosperity seems to me somehow even ill-bred. Whether it's good or bad, it is sometimes very pleasant to smash things, too. After all, I do not really insist on suffering or on prosperity either. I insist on my caprice, and on its being guaranteed to me when necessary. Suffering would be out of place in vaudevilles, for instance; I know that. In the crystal palace it is even unthinkable; suffering means doubt, means negation, and what would be the good of a crystal palace if there could be any doubt about it? And yet I am sure man will never renounce real suffering, that is, destruction and chaos.