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Billy Budd

Billy Budd


by Herman Melville

Billy Budd Morality and Ethics Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)

Quote #4

Of this the maritime chief of police the ship's corporals, so called, were the immediate subordinates, and compliant ones; and this, as is to be noted in some business departments ashore, almost to a degree inconsistent with moral volition. (8.7)

In order to be a moral creature, you need to have some sort of volition. Is it possible, then, for "doing one's duty" to be a moral action? Separately, can Billy be a moral creature if he lacks as much volition as a normal man?

Quote #5

And the insight but intensified his passion, which assuming various secret forms within him, at times assumed that of cynic disdain, disdain of innocence – to be nothing more than innocent. Yet in an aesthetic way he saw the charm of it, the courageous free-and-easy temper of it, and fain would have shared it, but he despaired of it. (12.3)

We here get some of the narrator's speculations as to why Claggart dislikes Billy so much. It's not too hard to understand why he should have spite for Billy's innocence when he himself has to struggle with good and evil within him. Can you equate innocence with moral good? Is an informed morality better than a naive one?

Quote #6

For though consciences are unlike as foreheads, every intelligence, not excluding the scriptural devils who 'believe and tremble,' has one. But Claggart's conscience being but the lawyer to his will, made ogres of trifles. (13.4)

What does it mean for one's conscience to be "but the lawyer to his will"? How does one separate one's conscience from one's will? Are the two things actually distinct? If so, are they opposed or can they be made to work together?

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