There are many moral lessons that can be found in the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” by Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. Some of these moral lessons include simplicity, humility, kindness, cheerfulness, amicability, loyalty, industry, patience, forthrightness, generosity, compassion, contentment, honesty, virtuous, and benevolence. Two morals lessons that are standing out are compassion and contentment – two virtues of Beauty. Throughout the story, Beauty distinguishes herself from many of the characters by her compassion. Without compassion, Beauty would have married any one of her suitors that are willing to marry her even after her father loses all his riches. It is also this virtue that makes her willing to sacrifice her life for her father so that he is spared from the Beast’s anger. Most of all, it is compassion that makes her love and accept Beast for who he is and makes her to accept his marriage proposal. The virtue of contentment also is emphasized throughout the story. Beauty, in contrast to her sisters, is very simple, does not want worldly things, so that she content to ask for a rose as present from her father. She even is willing to spend the rest of her life in a remote palace after seeing Beast’s fully-stacked library (de Beaumont 2014). However, although compassion as a moral lesson succeeds, contentment as a general moral conduct has no place in modern life because it encourages stagnancy that could lead to decline of society.
According to the criteria for moral rules, compassion as moral lesson succeeds because it meets all of them. Incorporating compassion in all facets of activities is one manifestation of civilized society. Compassion is feature of humanitarianism, which is the basic foundation of liberalism. The emergence of liberal society was possible because of adoption of moral system that is fundamentally characterized by compassion (Sznaider 118). As time advances, society discovered that continued existence is only possible if progress goes beyond individual members and shared by society as a whole. Thus, compassion as moral lesson succeeds because it is both humanitarian and practical concept. According to the utilitarian theory, “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Mills 1863). Compassion creates happiness and also utility because it creates a sense of altruism, but also because of the atmosphere of peace that can impact the quality of life.
An example of utility of compassion is when a loose association of neighborhood friends set up a soup kitchen to provide hot meals to all beggars and other vagrants in the area during times of crisis, such as periods of economic downturns. Such compassionate actions do not only manifest humanitarian sensibilities and give feeling of satisfaction on the organizers, but also save the neighborhood from petty crimes and other forms of disturbances that can scare people living there. Without jobs and source of income, some people will naturally turn to looting, theft and other crimes. Soup kitchens and temporary dormitories can provide temporary basic needs for these people until the economy grows better or until they have jobs. Compassion, thus, uplifts society and make it better in the long run.
Openly advocating for the general adoption of compassion is a manifestation of wisdom, insight and understanding of modern civilization. Modern theorists, for example, see compassion as balancing force against globalization, which often tends to marginalize weak societies. Alan Wolfe, famous author, stated “Against the penetration of the market into the realm of civil society, as has occurred in the United States, should be balanced by the capacity of the people to treat one another out of compassion and generosity” (cited Sznaider 133). Compassion is already accepted as contemporary virtue necessary to keep humanity in fast-changing world undergoing radical transformation because of free trade and globalization. There is no doubt that any reasonable and unbiased person if informed of all facts about compassion will be persuaded to adopt it as moral conduct.
On the other hand, contentment or happiness as a moral conduct is likely to fail the criteria of moral conduct. According to Kant, happiness is defined “as the state of a rational being in the world in the whole of whose existence everything goes according to his wish and will” (cited Hughes 62). It can be said that Beauty’s constant state of happiness and contentment maybe attributed to her lack of ambition and has no other goals in life other than reading books and keeping her father, and later on Beast, company.
It is difficult to argue for a general adoption of contentment let alone argue for its advocacy openly. People have different goals in life – some low and some high. To argue a man who has nothing in life, has no job and his sustenance only coming from his parents support to just be contented and happy is not only ridiculous, but is a disservice to him because it might mislead him to think that his condition is ideal. Individuals should determine for themselves when they should feel contented and happy. Persuading other people to be simply contented and happy without any qualifications manifests lack of understanding of the dynamics of individualism, narrow-mindedness and foolishness. Contentment cannot be sound basis for moral conduct because everyone cannot be contented and happy at the same time.
The individualistic nature of contentment may conflict with the relevant moral rights of others. For example, if a person does not clean his yard and is just content to watch tall grasses growing on it even if it makes his yard unsightly may stir the disapproval of his neighbors who keep their yards clean and immaculate believing that ‘cleanliness is next to godliness.’ In the light of all these weaknesses of contentment as a moral conduct, it can be said that an unbiased individual when informed of all relevant facts will find it difficult to approve of it as a moral conduct.
De Beaumont, Marie Le Prince. Beauty and the Beast. Project Gutenberg. 2014. Web. 17 April 2015. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/7074/7074-h/7074-h.htm
Hughes, Julie Lund. The Role of Happiness in Kant’s Ethics. Aporia, vol. 14, no. 1. 2004. Web. 15 April 2015. http://aporia.byu.edu/pdfs/hughes-the_role_of_happiness_in_kants_ethics.pdf
Mills, John. Utilitarianism. 1863. Web. 16 April 2015. http://www.utilitarianism.com/mill2.htm
Sznaider, Natan. The Sociology of Compassion: A Study in the Sociology of Morals. Cultural Values, vol. 2, no. 1, 1998. pp. 117-139. Web.16 April 2015. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.466.7172&rep=rep1&type=pdf