In one of Jan Patocka’s last writings (1976), an essay on the philosophy of religion in Masaryk, Patocka remarks that the lessons from the life of the Elder Zosima in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov may provide essential clues for responding to the contemporary crisis of Christianity. What is striking about Patocka’s pronouncement is his consideration that this central episode in Dostoyevsky’s novel promises a renewed consideration of religion (Christianity) and our relation to “being” more radical than Heidegger’s quest for the meaning of “being” and his critique of its metaphysical tradition. Patocka’s own understanding of the Elder Zosima’s wisdom remains, however, undeveloped in this essay. Much as with Alyosha in the presence of the Elder Zosima’s stories, Patocka remains silent in the presence of his own suggestion. What did Patocka understand as Elder’s Zosima’s philosophical secret? How does this implicit wisdom relate to the secret of Christianity discussed by Patocka in his Heretical Essays? In this lecture, I shall critically explore the possible meanings of Patocka’s insight by way of an interpretation of The Brothers Karamazov centered on the problem of evil and marked by Patocka’s own reflections on the philosophical meaning of Christianity as the truth of Monotheism.
Nicolas de Warren is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Leuven, Belgium and IWM guest (September 2012).