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Billy Budd

Billy Budd


by Herman Melville

Billy Budd Philosophical Viewpoints Quotes

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

Quote #4

With nothing of that literary taste which less heeds the thing conveyed than the vehicle, his bias was toward those books to which every serious mind of superior order occupying any active post of authority in the world naturally inclines: books treating of actual men and events no matter of what era – history, biography, and unconventional writers like Montaigne, who, free from cant and convention, honestly and in the spirit of common sense philosophize upon realities. (7.2)

Consider the enormous bias inherent in the narrator's claim: "those books to which every serious mind of superior order occupying any active post of authority in the world naturally inclines." Could an American author use a phrase like this today? Why not? What has changed since Melville's time that makes a line like this no longer acceptable? How does our current view of such lines affect how we read Melville?

Quote #5

"That is thoughtfully put," said Captain Vere, "I see your drift. Ay, there is mystery; but, to use the scriptural phase, it is a 'mystery of iniquity,' a matter for psychologic theologians to discuss." (21.22)

Compare this quote to the latter part of the quote above. How can Captain Vere be interested in those who philosophize upon realities, and yet not use philosophy to deal with the real nature of Billy's case? How does he draw the line between law and philosophy? Is his decision about Billy's fate a philosophically informed one?

Quote #6

When some days afterwards, in reference to the singularity just mentioned, the purser, a rather ruddy, rotund person more accurate as an accountant than profound as a philosopher, said at mess to the surgeon, "What testimony to the force lodged in the will power." (26.1)

Here, we get a bit of the purser's folk philosophy surrounding the fact that Billy's body did not twitch after he was hung. The surgeon undercuts it by appealing to scientific opinion. Philosophy often seems to be undercut by the findings of science. Does science ever get undercut by the findings of philosophy?

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