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Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson discusses moral psychology in Crime and Punishment


On Tuesday, Nov. 27, Loyola welcomed Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson to campus. A speaker, author and professor of creative writing at John Brown University, Wilson unravels motive, consequence and the idea of notoriety in her lecture, “The Moral Psychology of Raskolnikov in ‘Crime and Punishment.’”

“Dark, long, and complex” are words that come to mind for audience members and for Wilson when it comes to Russian literature. Specifically in “Crime and Punishment,” Wilson notes that “Crime is not the climax, and punishment is not the conclusion” of the story. These truths of the work lead Wilson in her dissection of what constitutes crime and what constitutes a criminal.

Throughout the novel, the main character, Raskolnikov makes clear distinctions between “ordinary and extraordinary people.” According to Raskolnikov, this “cross-over” between ordinary and extraordinary that he conjures in his mind can be made through gaining notoriety and a kind of heroism for murder.

Taking a step away from Russian literature and focusing attention on the present day, Wilson asserts that the same moral justifications are made with people who commit mass shootings. A common thread that has been observed between perpetrators is their desire to gain social following and notoriety through their actions. In some cases, shooters claim that their actions were a service to society at large.

“If you take anything away from this lecture,”  it is that “we are capable of murder,” Wilson said. The author of “Crime and Punishment,” Fyodor Dostoevsky, “makes us complicit in his words.” While murder is morally repulsive, the worldwide praise of Dostoevsky’s work proves how equally compelling murder is at the same time.

Further relating the making of a murderer in the present day to its depiction in “Crime and Punishment,” Raskolnikov and murderers in the 21st-century share two main characteristics: alienation and faulty thinking. Wilson explains that when a person is isolated with their own thoughts and no outside resources, thought processes concerning murder as positive begin to develop in the human psyche.

“We are all myopic,” Wilson said, “We are limited in how we see the world.”

In her lecture, Wilson demonstrates how our limitations drive our moral justifications and psychological thought processes. Whether present in Russian literature or 2018, these themes of morality and justice are forever prominent.

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Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson discusses moral psychology in Crime and Punishment