Ashland University Professor Publishes New Book

Ashland University Professor Publishes New Book

2/24/14 ASHLAND, Ohio – Dr. Russell Weaver, professor of English at Ashland University, has had his book, titled “The Moral World of Billy Budd,” published by Peter Lang. Weaver will give a public presentation on the book on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at 3 p.m. in the Ronk Lecture Hall in the Schar College of Education.

Weaver said he sees the novel, “The Moral World of Billy Budd,” not as inviting people to choose between two views of the main character, Captain Vere, but rather to challenge everyone to experience the difficulty of making decisions in the world.

“I show how the text almost programmatically complicates each judgment of the characters. The dichotomies that present Vere’s character I argue are used not to invite our choosing between their poles but to invite reflection on the nature of moral judgment itself,” Weaver said. “However, the text also assumes that the reader must decide between the alternatives even though any decision will be shadowed by the larger dilemma of operating in a theater beyond our grasp.”

Weaver said he actually worked on “Billy Budd” by accident.

“Bill Vaughan, professor of philosophy, suggested I write a book on ethics and literature using an essay by his teacher, Peter Winch, as my starting point. This essay used Billy Budd to illustrate his philosophical concepts. I had to come to terms with the novel in order to deal with Winch's essay,” he said. “I decided not to focus either on ethics and literature or on Winch, although there is a substantial discussion of Winch's essay in my book. What I was left with was Billy Buddwhich I found to be a great example of how texts resist reduction to theses.”

Weaver said he looks at everything he works on, be it a critical essay or a primary text, as closely as he can, trying never to assume what anything means but laying out the argument or the meaning of these texts as fully as he can.

“My goal is, as far as is practical, not to use anything outside the texts as determining their meaning,” he said. “When dealing with literary texts, I want to understand what the character is feeling consciously and subconsciously as thoroughly as I can. This, of course, means that I will be speculating to a certain degree, but in my view, since the meaning of texts is not empirically specifiable nor provable, it is not a drawback to propose meanings by simply describing what is going on in these rather than arguing for this meaning in the traditional way.”

Weaver said that, however, once he has laid out the meaning, he will make an argument  regarding the relations between the meaning as it exists in the literary texts and the way this meaning is presented in the critical texts.

“Finally, I use what I call the text's view as the final hypothesis regarding the text. The text's view is a hypothetical account of the primary values in a text,” he said. “I always try to ask what are the relations between the values presented in a given passage and the overall values the text seems to be sponsoring.”

Weaver said in “Billy Budd,” he asks whether Vere's hanging Billy is good or bad. “This seems as though I am violating the way I am proposing to view the text's dichotomies, but it is precisely through asking this question that one comes to understand the way in which the text complicates the argument,” he said.

“The Moral World of Billy Budd” is available at the Ashland University Campus Store and online at

Ashland University, which has been ranked in the top 200 colleges and universities in U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities category, is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University ( values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###


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