The Story of Billy Budd

Topics: Law, Natural law, Morality Pages: 4 (1211 words) Published: February 25, 2014


The story of Billy Budd focuses on the distinction between laws of nature and laws of society. Billy Budd is a seaman for the British Royal Navy that is forced off his current ship, to a new ship and new crew. Billy’s primary quality is his extraordinary innocence. One of his main weaknesses is his lack of ability to comprehend evil and become blind due to his kindness. This along with his speech impediment ultimately leads to Billy’s demise. Due to his good looks and natural charisma, he becomes popular with the crew. Unfortunately, one crew member, the Master-at-arms, John Claggart, doesn’t grow too fond of him, for unexplained reasons. Shortly after being on the ship Claggart falsely accuses Billy Budd of revolting against the ship. Claggart addresses his concerns with the ships Captain, Edward Vere. After hearing the story from Claggart, Captain Vere summons both Billy and Claggart to the cabin to set the story straight. Billy is found in an unsuitable environment because of Claggart’s constant speaking and accusations, leaving Billy unable to respond due to his impediment. Billy accidently kills the master-at-arms with a single blow. He is then charged, tried, and hanged by Captain Vere for the capital offense of hitting a superior. The issue that’s present in this situation is that Captain Vere doesn’t think that Billy is guilty. The reasoning presented by Captain Vere in the Billy Budd case is positivist in character because the Captain knows that Billy is innocent, but has an obligation to follow the law society set in place.

Vere makes his arguments based on five elements which have a positivist’s legal system’s character. “First, it’s a uniform, not nature, that defines obligation. Second, law is neither nature nor conscience. Third, the law is embodied in a readily identifiable source which governs transactions and occurences of the sort under consideration. Fourth, the will behind the law is clearly not that of the judges....


Cited: Dyzenhaus, David. Law and morality: readings in legal philosophy. 3rd ed. Toronto [etc.: University of Toronto Press, 2008. Print.
Melville, Herman. Billy Budd. Raleigh, N.C.: Alex Catalogue, 199. Print.
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