Spontaneity and Moral Certainty in Benjamin Constant’s Adolphe

Is it possible to do harm out of an excess of morality? In his novel Adolphe, Benjamin Constant suggests that it is all too easy for moral individuals to do harm in a modern,pluralist society like post-revolutionary France. Better known as a politician and writer of essays, Constant resorted to literature to convey his fear that the freedom to determine one’s own morality would lead to a dangerous ethical impasse. Adolphe’s disastrous actions result not so much from a defect in character as from a principled effort to satisfy all potential demands of morality, those deriving from absolute principles and those pertaining to the foreseeable consequences of one’s actions.

Conroy, Melanie
Volume 2011-12 Spring-Summer; 40.(3-4): 222-238