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Andrei I. Volkov

Dostoevsky Did Say It: A Response to David E. Cortesi (2011)

According to David E. Cortesi, Fyodor Dostoevsky never used the phrase "If God does not exist, everything is permitted" in his classic novel The Brothers Karamazov (1880). However, the phrase appears word for word in Part 4, Book 11, Chapter 4 of the novel. Various translations into English do differ in minor details, and it is not surprising that the original wording has been lost in double translations, as when Jean-Paul Sartre's translation from Russian to French is in turn translated from French to English. But contra Cortesi, the phrase is not just a paraphrase of what Dostoevsky's character Ivan Karamazov says, though the common omission of mention of a future life at least deserves an ellipsis. A more important question is whether either Dostoevsky himself or the Ivan Karamazov character unequivocally endorsed the sentiment that the phrase captures, and here there is abundant evidence from the text that they did not.