Dostoevsky on Social Conventions

‘I tell you what, my poet, I want to reveal to you a mystery of nature of which it seems to me you are not in the least aware. I’m certain that you’re calling me at this moment a sinner, perhaps even a scoundrel, a monster of vice and corruption. But I can tell you this. If it were only possible (which, however, from the laws of human nature never can be possible), if it were possible for every one of us to describe all his secret thoughts, without hesitating to disclose what he is afraid to tell and would not on any account tell other people, what he is afraid to tell his best friends, what, indeed, he is even at times afraid to confess to himself, the world would be filled with such a stench that we should all be suffocated. That’s why, I may observe in parenthesis, our social properties and conventions are so good. They have a profound value, I won’t say for morality, but simply for self-preservation, for comfort, which, of course, is even more, since morality is really that same comfort, that is, it’s invented simply for the sake of comfort.’ – Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Insulted and Injured (Translated by C. Garnett; Melbourne: William Heinemann, 1915), 234.

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