The Image Bank

Captain Vere

Billy Budd

Captain Vere

Captain Vere must pass judgment on Billy Budd, the hero of Melville’s eponymous book, after Budd strikes a blow which kills the much loathed Claggart. Vere knows Budd to be innocent and good, and knows Claggart to be deserving of the blow, but his duty as lawmaker and captain compels him to sentence Billy Budd to death. Is this a case where acting with integrity leads one to commit great moral wrongs?

Suggested reading

  • Peter Winch. ‘The Universalizability of Moral Judgements’ (Ethics and Action)
  • Sue Mendus. ‘Innocent before God: Politics, Morality and the Case of Billy Budd’ (Political Philosophy, O’Hear, ed. CUP)
  • Sue Mendus. Politics and Morality. Chapter 5
  • Christopher Gowans. ‘”The Angel Must Hang!”: Inescapable Moral Wrong-doing in Melville’s Billy Budd” (Innocence Lost).
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