Socratic Seminar for Crime and Punishment

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Rebecca Feldbusch

EDUC 581

Dr. Helterbran

Socratic Seminar for Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part I, Chapter 6

Audience: 12th Grade AP Literature students

Purpose/values: crime and the criminal mind; chance or coincidence; morality

Pre Seminar:

In preparation for reading the novel, students will have already been given some background information on Dostoevsky and Russian life, particularly with regard to economic class and the emancipation of the serfs, a point mentioned in the novel with significance to the issue of class roles. As pre seminar I will ask them to reread the section of the bio that details his imprisonment and his changing political views (see below).

From: “Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky” by Andreas Teuber

In 1848 Dostoyevsky joined a group of young intellectuals, led by Mikhail Petrashevsky, which met to discuss literary and political issues. In the reactionary political climate of mid-nineteenth-century Russia, such groups were illegal, and in 1849 the members of the so-called Circle were arrested and charged with subversion. Dostoyevsky and several of his associates were imprisoned and sentenced to death. As they were facing the firing squad, an imperial messenger arrived with the announcement that the Czar had commuted the death sentences to hard labor in Siberia. This scene was to haunt the novelist the rest of his life. Dostoyevsky described his life as a prisoner in Zapiski iz myortvogo doma(1862; The House of the Dead), a novel demonstrating both an insight into the criminal mind and an understanding of the Russian lower classes. While in prison the writer underwent a profound spiritual and philosophical transformation. His intense study of the New Testament, the only book the prisoners were allowed to read, contributed to his rejection of his earlier liberal political views and led him to the conviction that redemption is possible only through suffering and faith, a belief which informed his later work.

Pre seminar activity: After sharing Kohlberg’s six stages of Moral Development with the class, students will work with a partner and consider the moral implications of the following scenario:

 Heinz Steals the Drug

In Europe, a woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to make. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $ 1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: "No, I discovered the drug and I'm going to make money from it." So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man's store to steal the drug-for his wife. Should the husband have done that? (Kohlberg, as quoted in Crain 118-136.)

Activity, cont.--Students will try to consider the decisions that would be made Heinz in each of the stages. We will discuss the moral dilemmas that can arise when people are faced with difficult situations as a segue to reading the chapter.

Here are some possible decisions for each stage:

Stage 1. Obedience and Punishment Orientation: Heinz should not steal the medicine for fear of being put into prison.

Stage 2. Individualism and Exchange: Heinz should steal the medicine because he will be much happier if his wife is healed.

Stage 3. Good Interpersonal Relationships: Heinz should steal the medicine because his wife expects him to do so.

Stage 4. Maintaining the Social Order: Heinz should not steal the medicine because stealing is against the law.

Stage 5. Social Contract and Individual Rights: Heinz should steal the medicine because everyone has a right to live, regardless of what the law says.

Stage 6: Universal Principles: Heinz should steal the medicine because human life is a more fundamental value than property rights.

Opening Questions:

What might be a good title for this chapter?

In a word or phrase what is this chapter about?

Core Questions:

Based on the conversation that Raskolnikov overhears in the tavern, how would the young men conversing define the word crime?

What sentence(s) in the text demonstrate(s) that Raskolnikov has or does not have morals?

Find sentences or words that describe Raskolnikov’s emotional state throughout the chapter. How do you explain his emotions?

What part does chance or coincidence play in Raskolnikov’s murder plans?

Closing Questions:

How is the problem of crime, as shown in the novel so far, similar and different to the crime problem in our society?

Do you think that actual criminals have the same thoughts and thought processes that Raskolnikov has in the chapter?

Post Seminar Activity:

Looking at Kohlberg’s stages of Moral Development, write a defense of Raskolnikov’s actions in the chapter, including which stage of Moral Development he fits in. Why does he thinks it is a justification for what he plans on doing?

Students will probably do this the next day in class.


Crain, W. C. Theories of Development. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1985. Print.

**This text was used for Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development and for the scenario where Heinz steals the drug which my students will use as a pre seminar to think about Raskolnikov's moral development.

“Moral Reasoning.” WikEd. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, n.d. Web. 30 June 2011.

**This site gave a detailed list of the Stages of Moral Development and how the Heinz scenario fell on this list.

Shmoop Editorial Team. "Crime and Punishment Analysis." Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 30 Jun 2011.

**This site helped me think about my focus for the text. I did not get any specific questions, but the site gave me some insight on what others are thinking about the text.

Socratic Seminar. Northwest Association for Biomedical Research, n.d. Web. 29 June 2011.

**This site helped me to come up with some different types of questions for my seminar.

Teuber, Andreas. “Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky.” Brandeis University, n.d. Web. 27 June 2011.

**This site has a biography of Fyodor Dostoevsky which I have used in the pre seminar.

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