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Billy Budd

Billy Budd

by Herman Melville

Duty Quotes

How we cite our quotes:

Quote #7

[Captain Vere:] "For the compassion, how can I otherwise but share it? But, mindful of paramount obligations, I strive against scruples that may tend to enervate decision." (21.27)

Before the drumhead court, Captain Vere tells the men to put their moral obligations aside. Question: Don't moral scruples always seem to declare themselves when there are "paramount obligations"? What makes these obligations paramount to Captain Vere?

Quote #8

[Captain Vere:] "We fight at command. If our judgment approve the war, that is but coincidence. So in other particulars. So now." (21.28)

When a man as enlightened as Captain Vere is doing nothing but fighting at command, you begin to think about whose judgment actually is supporting the war. Also, let's say that his moral sense does support the war in which he is fighting. Does that make his participation in the war moral or is it still "but coincidence"? How could you untangle his sense of moral duty from his sense of military duty?

Quote #9

The face he beheld, for the moment one expressive of the agony of the strong, was to that officer, though a man of fifty, a startling revelation. That the condemned one suffered less than he who mainly had effected the condemnation was apparently indicated by the former's exclamation in the scene soon perforce to be touched upon. (22.4)

What role does agency play in feelings of guilt? Is Billy more peaceful because the situation is out of his control anyway? Is Vere in pain because he feels responsible? If he was just doing his duty, did he really have agency? If he was just doing his duty, why should he feel responsible?

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