Geography. Anthropology. Recreation
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AbstractThis work is an evaluation, through the criterion of utilitarian ethics, of the resolution of an intense moral dilemma in Victor Hugo’s 1862 masterpiece, Les Misérables. The dilemma is faced by the main protagonist Jean Valjean. Valjean, a former convict, has redeemed his life and has become mayor of a French city under an assumed name. Years later, he learns that someone else has been erroneously arrested as him, and Valjean is faced with the choice of letting this man be convicted and sent to a horrible punishment in the galleys, or revealing his identity and facing reimprisonment himself in order to save him. In doing the latter, he acts according to the demands of deontological ethics, for which the author of the novel explicitly commends him. Nevertheless, this work avers that in making the latter choice, Valjean, in terms of utilitarian ethics, acts immorally. It affirms this by showing, through the writings of Jeremy Bentham, that in morally evaluating an action in utilitarian ethical terms, the happiness and unhappiness caused to everyone affected by his act must be quantified and balanced against each other. Due to the effect that the loss of their benevolent mayor has on other characters, the saving of one individual cannot be seen to be productive of the greatest good. This work then examines possible objections to this evaluation and through writers on ethics and Bentham himself, shows that these objections do not invalidate the central argument of the work.