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Raskolnikov, as we have seen, deliberately sets up a jovial atmosphere at the beginning of the conversation with Porfiry Petrovich. But he is unable to control the tone of the rest of the meeting, because he has met his match. He has a specific purpose in coming, but Porfiry has another purpose in keeping him there.
To begin with, Raskolnikov is upset to find Zametov in the room. Have Zametov and Porfiry been discussing Raskolnikov's incriminating behavior in the tavern? It's reasonable for us-and Raskolnikov to assume so. Although Porfiry is a small, stout fellow who doesn't seem very commanding, his eyes reveal his power. It doesn't take long for Raskolnikov to decide "He knows." The truth is, he probably does.
Raskolnikov continues his act, behaving as he thinks he ought to, in order to keep himself from being suspected. But every once in a while, Porfiry throws him for a loop. For example, he's known all along that Raskolnikov left pledges at the pawnbroker's, and he is careful to say that Raskolnikov is the last one to inquire about them.
For a moment, Raskolnikov's self-control cracks; he curses himself and lets his anger show. Once more, what Raskolnikov is thinking is plainly spelled out. He is disturbed to realize how much Porfiry knows. And he has reason to be.
The subject of the afternoon is crime. The first theory discussed-one that Razumikhin dismisses as nonsense-is the socialist's view. Crime, they say, is a protest against social injustices. If the economic system were fair, this theory says, there would be no crime.
Porfiry complains that Razumikhin's not giving a fair account of the idea, but Razumikhin is adamant. According to him, a theory that does not consider human nature as a cause of crime is nonsense. Porfiry insists, though, that environment does have a lot to do with crime.
Because so much modern theory about crime adopts Porfiry's view, we tend to accept his idea. As a result, Porfiry seems even more logical and thoughtful to us. You may consider Razumikhin's opinion that evil people cause crime old-fashioned, but remember that it's the view Dostoevsky supports.
But it's Raskolnikov's views that Porfiry wants. He says that he's read an article that Raskolnikov has written, called "Concerning Crime." Taken by surprise, Raskolnikov admits that he hadn't known it was in print. But he's even more amazed that Porfiry knows who wrote it, because it wasn't signed. Clearly, Raskolnikov's fear of the investigator's persistence is justified.
It comes as no surprise to us that Raskolnikov's concern in the article is the psychological condition of the criminal and the illness that accompanies crime. We already know that he's fascinated by this idea. He's given a lot of thought to how a criminal will act when a crime is committed. He's told us that already.
But Porfiry has other things on his mind. Isn't it true, he asks, that the article claimed that some men have the right to commit crimes? Does Raskolnikov really believe that the law should not apply to certain "extraordinary" people?
Without denying the overall idea, Raskolnikov insists that he expressed it a little differently. There are several elements of his theory:
1. An extraordinary man does have the right, within himself, to "overstep" the law if his ideas require it. Raskolnikov explains that many of these "ideas" may help humanity, and he uses the example of the scientists Newton and Kepler. If people had stood in the way of their disseminating their ideas, they would have had the right to "remove" these stumbling blocks.
2. Men who make new laws are always transgressors. To make a new law, you must break an old one. Raskolnikov insists there is nothing new in this idea, and he is essentially right. The examples he gives are Lycurgus, Solon, Mahomet, and Napoleon.
3. There are two categories of people, ordinary and extraordinary. The extraordinary ones are those who have the right to overstep the law, based on the greatness of the idea they wish to expound. However, Raskolnikov hastens to add that not many extraordinary people get away with their actions.
While the merit of Raskolnikov's ideas about extraordinary people is not debated by the group, you should try to come to terms with his ideas yourself. Are they insane? Immoral? Realistic?