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Ethics in Les Miserables

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Business Ethics – Les Miserables Analysis

When faced with concepts like crime and punishment, there is a majority of people who would claim that the law must be obeyed under all circumstances, without any exception. It would actually be quite difficult to find someone who openly stated beliefs that criminals should sometimes get away with crime instead of being brought to justice. The character of Javert in Les Miserables is a classic example of an absolutist who believes in the supreme power of the justice system.

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This character proves that absolutism can actually cause underlying issues and moral dilemmas. This is one of the first ethical theories that is addressed in Les Miserables. Rule-based theory, also called deontological theory, says that the moral thing to do in any given situation is to follow the rules, to obey the law, and to do your duty. Deontological theories tend to downplay the relevance of consequences. This means that if there is a rule not to lie, it is immoral to lie, even if lying will help a lot of people.

Javert believes that laws are to be obeyed under all circumstances. Criminals are to be brought to justice, and they can never be redeemed. Javert is the perfect lawman: he does his duty and is not corrupt in anyway.

However, he cannot resolve the conflict within himself as the story progresses and he begins to understand that second chances do matter, people can change, and there is such a thing as redemption. Javert’s resolve to not believe this is so great, that instead of truly coming to terms with it, he decides to end his own life instead. If the law does not represent the ultimate and supreme truth, then he has no purpose and no understanding. It could be argued that Javert was a coward for taking “the easy way out”. Some might say that he should have faced the consequences of his action, namely, letting Valjean escape when he had the opportunity to capture him. Perhaps it is true that Javert should have either followed what he somehow knew in his heart was the right thing to do, or follow the law.

While I definitely believe that a life should never be taken by the form of suicide, the action in the story represented just how deeply troubled Javert was to his deontilogical ways, and I think, in terms of a fictional story, it was an appropriate ending to his life, because it fit the mind-set of his character. An absolutist who devotes his life to believing that redemption is impossible and the law must always prevail, and then discovers that this is not always the case, would probably not see any other options as viable.

Lying to help people, with arguably positive consequences, occurs by a character who would seem rather unlikely to lie, a Bishop. The act of generosity and kindness portrayed by the Bishop lying to the police in order to save Valjean, especially after the sins Valjean had already committed against the Bishop and the church, changes Valjean’s attitude. He decides to live his life as a redeemed man. The Bishop, who represents Christ and the Church, is acting generously and nobly, it is questionable as to whether or not he is actually acting ethically. He lies to the police, but in the process he saves Valjean’s life, which acts as the catalyst for all of the good, and even great, decisions Valjean makes throughout the rest of his life. While Valjean occasionally uses utilitarian reasoning in his approach to ethics, he is more representative of a third approach to ethics, a virtue-based approach.

If a deontological approach to ethics first asks “what does the law say?” and a utilitarian approach first asks “how can I do the most good?” a virtue-based approach asks “what does this action say about the kind of person I am, and what are the implications of this action for becoming the person I want to become?” Virtue ethics admits that people change over time, whether that means they become better or worse people depending on what they do. Virtue ethics keeps us from judging people too quickly. Throughout the entire story, Valjean struggles between what is right and what I wrong, and how to figure out the best course of action. In terms of ethics, the entire story proves that ethics is messy and complicated. There is power in understanding that ethics is complicated. It allows people to show compassion to others due to knowledge that comes from past experience. Valjean, for example, can sympathize with Fantine who has gone so far as to sell herself in to prostitution in order to have enough money for her daughter.

His heart aches for the prisoner who was caught stealing and was believed to him. He loves Marius for seeing all of the wonderful things there were to love about Cosette. Valjean is even about to respect the authority of Javert and offer himself over to the law. There are many dimensions in every ethical dilemma. If we look at ethics mainly concerned about what is the right or wrong thing to do in any given situation, we miss the point. Ethics is about being and becoming a good person. Ethics is about how both the successes and mistakes one makes can be learned from. Rules are important, but so is attention to consequence. Ideally, these two aspects of life will work together to help each of us live a good life.

Cite this Ethics in Les Miserables

Ethics in Les Miserables. (2016, Nov 06). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/ethics-in-les-miserables/

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