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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 #1

"And good-bye to you too, old Rights-of-Man!" (1.12)

FYI: The Rights-of-Man was a pamphlet by Thomas Paine that claimed that political revolution is permissible if a government is not respecting the natural rights of its citizens. What role does this political viewpoint play in the story? How might it be related to the mutinous climate of 1797? Does the philosophy seem to condone or condemn what happens to Billy aboard the Bellipotent?

Quote #2

As to his enforced enlistment, that he seemed to take pretty much as he was wont to take any vicissitude of weather. Like the animals, though no philosopher, he was, without knowing it, practically a fatalist. (1.16)

Here is one the narrator's many naturalistic descriptions of Billy Budd. What does it mean to be "practically a fatalist"? How is this different than holding the philosophical position of fatalism? Would you rather hold a fatalist position naively or philosophically?

Quote #3

Well, should we set aside the more than disputable point whether for various reasons it was possible to anchor the fleet, then plausibly enough the Benthamites of war may urge the above. But the might-have-been is but boggy ground to build on. (4.5)

Jeremy Bentham is the father of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a practical moral philosophy, which states that the greatest good can be determined by that which promotes good for the greatest number. Does Captain Vere seem to use a utilitarian philosophy when he is deciding what to do with Billy? If you can't use the might-have-been, then what other ground is there to build on?

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