What is the human nature like in Fedor Dostoevsky's "The legend of the Grand Inquisitor"?

Essay, 2012

6 Pages, Grade: A-


What is the human nature like according to Grand inquisitor’s analysis? Why does he have such opinion? What do you think about the human nature? Explain whether we can accept or reject his views.

The Grand Inquisitor is a significant part of the Brothers Karamazov’s novel and one of the well known passages in modern writing because of its concepts about human nature and freedom. The Grand Inquisitor thinks so low of human nature and he believes that men as whole are incapable creatures and he has doubt about human’s capability. He plays an important role in the Brother Karamazov’s novel, which has a whole chapter about him and his ideas about men. The Grand inquisitor misjudges human nature and their capability, but his ideas that human beings cannot tolerate freedom could be acceptable and satisfactory.

According to the Grand Inquisitor, human beings are feeble and are not capable of doing anything. He says, “I swear man is created weaker and baser than you thought him” (256), thereby considers human beings frailer than we imagine, While reading through Brother Karamazov’s of the Grand Inquisitor we can find adjectives like: feeble, ignorant, weak, depraved, nonentities, rebels …etc, which refers to Grand Inquisitor’s attitude about human nature, he argues that human beings are rebels and “rebels can’t be happy”.

The Grand Inquisitor disagrees with Christ’s giving men freedom because he says “for nothing ever been more insufferable for men and for human society than freedom” (252). In the Grand Inquisitor ‘s point of view, suffering is in freedom and he believes whoever offers men freedom, he gives them nothing more than pain and misery. He argues with Christ as to why he didn’t turn stones into bread because he considers mankind like sheep or other animals. When you feed them they become obedient and give their freedom. The Grand Inquisitor says, “Turn stone into bread and mankind will run after you like sheep, grateful and obedient, though eternally trembling lest you withdraw your hand and your loaves cease for them” (252). This shows human beings’ weakness and depravation against their desires and appetites as the Grand Inquisitor believes.

The Grand Inquisitor states that “no science will give men bread as long as they remain free, but in the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us: better that you enslave us, but feed us” (253). It means that, freedom is not necessary for hungry men because they need bread, not freedom, and soon they grant their freedom to a person who can feed them and rapidly they become obedient. The Grand Inquisitor implies and argues that “feed them first, and then asks virtue of them” (253). Now we can ask that how men can become virtuous while they are hungry they think just about how to find food and that is all.

In contrast, Jesus Christ argues that “… man lives not by bread alone”, and he promised people “heavenly bread”. However, the Grand Inquisitor says “they will also be convinced that they are forever incapable of being free, because they are feeble, depraved, nonentities and rebels” (253). Christ promises them heavenly bread, but people cannot tolerate that because they are eternally depraved, weak, and ignoble. The Grand Inquisitor claims that only those thousand and tens of thousands of strong men can follow Christ to achieve heavenly bread, but at the same time questions about millions of men who are weak and incapable of achieving the “heavenly bread”. We can therefore articulate that man lives for both heavenly bread an earthly bread and only strong men, according to Grand Inquisitor, can achieve heavenly bread.

The Grand Inquisitor ’s idea that freedom is not necessary for human beings because they cannot tolerate ultimate freedom and leads to chaos in society or state, could be acceptable. Plato, the great philosopher of his time, refers to freedom as “an agreeable anarchic form of society” (294). This quote shows that Plato has the same notion as the Grand Inquisitor about human being’s freedom, as Plato says it leads to chaos and disability in a state. Plato clarifies that ultimate freedom, which Christ give human beings, according the Grand Inquisitor, will leads a country to a long term disability, anarchy, and tyranny.

Through reading Grand Inquisitor’s chapter, we can see that human being as a whole is degraded by the Grand Inquisitor, so we come to conclusion that he should have some reason for having such an attitude. One of the main reasons that the Grand inquisitor thinks that human beings are feeble could relate to his own experience in life during which he encountered lots of suffering. He predicts that, people are unable to deal with problems and sufferings during his stay in the desert, which shaped his peculiar judgment about human nature.

The Grand Inquisitor, while being in the desert faces lots of suffering and hardship. According to Brothers Karamazov, the Grand Inquisitor ate roots in desert and raved to overcome his flesh, in order to make himself free and perfect. The Grand Inquisitor judges that he himself and a few people can live in the desert and bare all hardships and sufferings, but not human beings as a whole can do so. Before facing torment and pain in the desert he loved men, but after his eventful experience in the desert, he changes his mind and says that “there is no great moral blessedness in achieving perfection of the will only to become convinced and, at the same time, that millions of the rest of God’s creatures have been set up only for mockery” (261). However, the Grand Inquisitor comes to a clear conviction that only the great dread spirit can somehow organize the weak rebels, who are created for mockery according to him.


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What is the human nature like in Fedor Dostoevsky's "The legend of the Grand Inquisitor"?
American University of Central Asia
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Naseer Ahmad Habibi (Author), 2012, What is the human nature like in Fedor Dostoevsky's "The legend of the Grand Inquisitor"? , Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/192904


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