Saturday, September 7, 2019

"The Ethical and the Political in the Dilemma of Winch's Vere"

The last paper in the collection is by Lynette Reid. Melville's Billy Budd presents a tragic dilemma in which it can seem both that Billy Budd is essentially innocent and that he must be executed (because of the letter of the law and the danger of anything less than strict discipline in time of war). Vere, the captain of his ship, decides that he is to be hanged.

Reid's paper builds on work by Peter Winch, and is written as a response to Lilian Alweiss, who argues that Vere faces, not a moral dilemma, but a clash between a moral and a political duty. Reid explains that:
Winch gives Vere's choice as an example of a contradiction between the inner and the outer as such a contradiction may arise in the complexity of lives lived with the kinds of social concepts that create the possibility of "wearing two hats". Winch very briefly contrasts how he thinks about this kind of contradiction with how the contractarian approach would encompass it, with reference to Hobbes as a philosopher who, he says, attempts to collapse the distinction between the inner and the outer (meaning here, private conscience and political duty) (p. 271)     
Reid argues persuasively that Vere's dilemma is moral or at least normative in way that means Alweiss does not deprive Winch's argument of its force.

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