Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ethical Behavior

In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean deliberated over the priority of moral principle versus personal security; his duty to others, the uniqueness of his situation, the examples of others who were ethically excellent, and the need to sonsult and rely on his conscience:

"Monsieur Madeleine [Jean Valjean] did not hesitate to sacrifice the first consideration to the second--his personal security to his moral principles. He had, it seems, concluded, after the manner of saints and sages, that his first duty was not to himself. But no situation like the present had ever before arisen. Never had the two principles governing the life of this unfortunate man ["to conceal his true identity and sanctify his life, and to escape from men and find his way back to God"] been brought so sharply into conflict..."

"It was his most melancholy destiny that he could achieve sanctity in the eyes of God only by returning to degradation in the eyes of men..."

"Whether he turned right or left the end was a sepulchre, the death of one thing or the other, happiness or virtue."

Hugo, Victor (Norman Denny, trans.), Les Miserables. (1976). New York: Penguin Books. 209, 214, 221.

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