Study Guide

A Clockwork Orange Morality and Ethics

By Anthony Burgess

Morality and Ethics

Part 2, Chapter 2
Dr. Brodsky and Dr. Branom

"The heresy of an age of reason," or some such slovos. "I see what is right and approve, but I do what is wrong. No, no, my boy, you must leave it all to us. But be cheerful about it. It will soon be all over. In less than a fortnight now you'll be a free man." Then he patted me on the pletcho. (2.2.24)

The doctor thinks Alex's system of morality is all out of whack: he sees what is right, but he still chooses to behave badly. To the doctor, consistency in thought and action (as in, what should one do given one's circumstances) is the most important factor in morality.

Part 2, Chapter 3
Prison Chaplain

"It may not be nice to be good, little 6655321. It may be horrible to be good. And when I say that to you I realize how self-contradictory that sounds. I know I shall have many sleepless nights about this. What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some ways better than a man who has the good imposed upon him? Deep and hard questions…" (2.3.13)

The prison chaplain suggests to Alex that he might not enjoy being forced to be "good." That is to say, he might get more enjoyment out of having a moral choice. Then the chaplain zooms out and ponders what God intends for all of us. Does He want us only to do good? Or has He intended that we choose as we please and live with our decisions?

"Very hard ethical questions are involved," he went on. "You are to be made into a good boy, 6655321. Never again will you have the desire to commit acts of violence or to offend in any way whatsoever against the State's Peace. I hope you take all that in. I hope you are absolutely clear in your own mind about that." (2.3.11)

The prison chaplain cautions Alex that by enrolling in the treatment program, his desire to do evil will be abolished altogether. Indeed, he will be forced to do good and to not offend. He will no longer have a moral choice. Does he really want this? The chaplain acknowledges how hard an ethical question this is.

"You are passing now to a region where you will be beyond the reach of the power of prayer. A terrible terrible thing to consider. And yet, in a sense, in choosing to be deprive of the ability to make an ethical choice, you have in a sense really chosen the good. So I shall like to think. So, God help us all…" (2.3.13)

The chaplain laments that Alex has reached a point at which he can no longer make an ethical choice between good and evil. This makes him essentially non-human, and God can't possibly affect that.

Part 2, Chapter 6

And what, brothers, I had to escape into sleep from then was the horrible and wrong feeling that it was better to get the hit than give it. If that veck had stayed I might even have like presented the other cheek. (2.6.39)

Isn't it interesting that Alex believes that it is "horrible and wrong" to do the Christian thing by turning the other cheek? What does this say about his system of morality? Is it warped?

Alex

"But, sir, sirs, I see that it's wrong. It's wrong because it's against like society, it's wrong because every veck on earth has the right to live and be happy without being beaten and tolchocked and knifed. I've learned a lot, oh really I have." (2.6.22-23)

Alex pretends to have access to a moral system in order to avoid not being able to enjoy classical music ever again. This suggests to us that Alex has really possessed systems of morality and ethics from the get-go.

Part 2, Chapter 7
Dr. Brodsky and Dr. Branom

Dr. Brodsky said to the audience: "Our subject is, you see, impelled towards the good by, paradoxically, being impelled towards evil. The intention to act violently is accompanied by strong feelings of physical distress. To counter these the subject has to switch to a diametrically opposed attitude. Any questions?" (2.7.12)

Can we speak of morality when a person, by being impelled towards the good, actually ends up being inclined towards evil? If you're skirting your intentions due to physical distress, are you acting in accordance with your morality or simply out of physical compulsion?

"Choice," rumbled a rich deep goloss. I viddied it belonged to the prison charlie. "He has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, fear of physical pain, drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice."

"These are subtleties," like smiled Dr. Brodsky. "We are not concerned with motive, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime--" (2.7.13-14)

The Government is not concerned with the higher, philosophical questions of ethics and choice.

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