How can I compare the book Notes from the Underground by Dostoyevsky and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume. I need to articulate the similarities between Rational and...

How can I compare the book Notes from the Underground by Dostoyevsky and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume. I need to articulate the similarities between Rational and Reasoning. It needs to be 4 pages.

Expert Answers
Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I can definitely put you on your way to understanding the comparisons between Notes from the Underground by Dostoyevsky and An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume; however, the details of the argument and the four pages your professor requires must be supplied by you.

That said, we need to begin with the differences between "rationale" and "reasoning."  (In your question, I believe it was a misspelling to use the word "rational" in that "rational" is an adjective while "rationale" is a noun.  This would allow for a better juxtaposition of "Rationale vs. Reasoning.")  Here are the important nuances of the definitions: whereas rationale is a statement of reasons, reasoning is the PROCESS of reaching a conclusion.  Now let's take the two separate works of literature and explain their pertinent parts before attempting a comparison.

Probably the most important thing to understand about Hume's An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding is the argument about knowledge being divided in only two ways: "the relation of ideas" and "matters of fact." 

Propositions of this kind are discoverable by the mere operation of thought, without dependence on what is anywhere existent in the universe.

In other words, simply thinking about ideas can create the ideas themselves.  You might not have to experience anything to gain this kind of knowledge.  "Matters of fact" differ a bit in that experience is required.  In other words, there is a relationship between cause and effect.  This is the only way it becomes a matter "of fact." 

This knowledge ... arises entirely from experience, when we find that any particular objects are constantly conjoined with each other.

You have probably noted that I switched the order of the two books you are asking about.  This was purposeful.  Why?  Because Notes from the Underground is a PERFECT example of the philosophy of Hume!

Notes from the Underground exemplifies Hume due to the book's division into two perfect parts.  The first part involves the man in the underground giving a huge speech and, in fact, a monologue that explains his philosophy of life.  This is an example of Hume's "relation of ideas"! 

Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms. It's by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth! I talk nonsense, therefore I'm human.

Further, in the second part of Notes from the Underground, the man recounts the exact adventures that he has had during his lifetime.  This is precisely the underground man's experience and, therefore, is a perfect example of "matters of fact" written about by Hume! Note the emotion in this part of the underground man's experience:

I hated them horribly, though perhaps I was worse than any of them. They repaid me in the same way, and did not conceal their aversion for me. But by then I did not desire their affection: on the contrary, I continually longed for their humiliation.

If you take the two parts of the book together, they give a perfect portrait of this underground man.  Further, it makes quite a strong statement against social progress in regard to rational thought.

Now to attempt the comparison with the words "rationale" and "reasoning."  Because the former is a list and the latter is a process, this nicely corresponds with Hume's two ideas of "relation of ideas" and then "matters of fact" AS WELL AS Dostoyevsky's first part of the book being the underground man's "relation of ideas" while the second part of the book is the underground man relating his "matters of fact."  The two books fit nicely together as a puzzle piece.  Further, your professor has hit the nail on the head by using the words "rationale" and "reasoning" to begin the comparison.

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