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Were The Actions Of Moll Flanders Naturally Justifiable Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2999 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The question of moral truth is always open to discussion. However, according to John Locke’s theory of Natural Law, some socially immoral actions are deemed justifiable. A change in perspective on morality from an 18th century social/religious viewpoint to a natural outlook is required. In Daniel Defoe’s novel, Moll Flanders, Moll is enlisted in an immoral social caste. In this research, you will see Moll’s socially immoral actions justified, by order of Natural Law and unavoidable situations. Through the examination of Moll’s larceny, bigamy, prostitution, and insincere repentance, a connection with natural law, justifies Moll’s socially immoral actions. Not to call a criminal a saint, but to validate Moll’s crimes in light of specific inalienable reason.


When discussing Moll Flanders, some readers sympathize with Moll. Likewise, they feel a sincere connection to a whore, bigamist, and thief. It’s only natural to feel this way. This novel is popular today because of Moll’s natural law perspective on morality. Without formal description, anyone can recognize and relate to the concepts of natural law. This is the reason you feel connected with Moll. Natural Law reigns true to us all. Nevertheless, social and religious laws take precedent in the 18th century and even today. Let’s take a look at Moll’s socially immoral behavior, through the concepts of Natural Law. This project will link Moll’s moral perspective to John Locke’s theory of Natural Law and justify, by natural law, her larceny, bigamy, prostitution, and insincere repentance.

Literary Review

Richards’s analysis of The Proper Basis for Society by John Locke is used to give a appropriately referenced format to the idea of natural law. Richards breaks John Locke’s theories down, case by case. John Locke, in no way, created natural law; however, he was the first to properly format and submit it into theory. This article also allows the reader to view natural law concepts during 18th century culture (Richards).

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John Z. Zhang’s article was used specifically for the three part layout of natural law concepts. An appropriate explanation of Locke’s theories on natural law and the state of nature are given to the summary of three ideas. Self-preservation, leaving enough for others, and not attaining more than needed are given as the concepts of Moll’s personal acceptance to larceny. Moll’s theft of a necklace from a child is warranted under Locke’s concept. In her reflection of the theft, Moll, optimistically, validates her actions under natural law. Moll’s uses natural law theories throughout the novel to alleviate internal condemnation of her social misconduct (Zhang).

In this critique, Daniel Defoe’s novel, Moll Flanders, is evaluated in accordance with 18thcentury marriage law and natural law. Ganz proposes the supposition of natural human reasoning being respected over cultural law that is inappropriate to human life (Ganz).

At the end of the commentary, Moll’s repentance is linked to Defoe’s moral perspective. The validity of Moll’s repentance is viewed as a Christian style device for controlling her fear of punishment for her crimes (Zimmerman).


Morals have been more than just a topic of debate throughout the world; they have defined entire cultures and the subcultures within them. Unexamined interpretations, of right and wrong, provide groundwork to societal judgment and persecution. Legal murders are committed in wars over right/wrong controversy. Society forms laws, religions, and caste systems around these suggested morals. Failure to accept and live by these morals allows punishment to be justified in the social realm. Daniel Defoe’s novel Moll Flanders has been banned by the index of the Catholic Church and many other organizations, in lieu of Moll’s theoretically immoral actions. Perceptively, I submit that banning an excellent source of higher education is unethical. However, both decisions could be right and social morality isn’t a terrible thing at all. An understanding that everyone has the right to a socially respected, experience inspired, individual perspective of morality is required before judgment is passed. This project will link Moll’s moral perspective to John Locke’s theory of Natural Law and justify, by natural law, her larceny, bigamy, prostitution, and insincere repentance.

Before the bitter analysis, let’s gain a little relevant interest in the theory of Natural Law. It’s a common assumption that the U.S.A. was established on Christian principles. However, the study of history tells a different story. In 1776, Thomas Jefferson was chosen to write the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress. Jefferson retired to a hotel to complete the task. The Declaration turned out to be more than strikingly similar to John Locke’s philosophical works. The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (Richards 5).” This mirrors Locke’s writing with the exception of exchanging the pursuit of happiness with property (Richards). Property was interpreted to be anything tangible. In light of this disposition, Locke’s theories on Natural Law and Natural Rights formed the support structure for the new American Government.

The quote above from the Declaration of Independence gives an abstract of Locke’s natural law theory. Locke’s social theories were very popular during Daniel Defoe’s period. Therefore, Defoe, knowingly or not, created Moll Flanders’s character to portray a natural law perspective on morality.

An appropriate explanation of Locke’s theories on natural law and the state of nature are given to the summary of three basic concepts. These concepts are self-preservation, leaving enough for others, and not attaining more than needed (Zhang). Throughout the novel Moll uses these three concepts to internally justify her actions.

Lets examine Moll’s larceny. Moll’s second theft of a necklace from a child can be understood as morally acceptable, when judged by natural law. Twice Moll reminds herself that she has done no harm to the child. She also states that the necklace may have belonged to the child’s mother being that it was too big. In other words, the child didn’t need the necklace to survive. Moll views her larceny as justified on the basis of her right to property, based on necessity, and the idea of the child having more than needed to survive. All three concepts of natural law are met in this setting (Zhang). Everyone has the right to eat, breath, and live in this world regardless of social or financial status. Moll’s situation presented few choices in the 18th century. If the only choice is larceny to sustain the right to life, then let it be morally correct. In contrast, 18th century morality viewed larceny for any reason as a crime punishable by execution or transportation to the new world. These laws were transcribed by those who had never fought or stole, for their right to live. Their lack of experience concealed the actuality of what was naturally correct; that being the absolute right to eat, breath, and live. To execute someone, for a crime of sustainability, is cruel and unnatural.

Moll’s use of sexual favors for personal gain, or prostitution, can be viewed as a natural act. Sexual intercourse in its many forms is instinctual. Marriage only makes sex proper by social, religious standards that have been handed down through the generations. Moll gains property for sustainability, likewise, the man gains natural pleasure. Human life would cease to exist without sex. The sex drive in every man and woman, regardless of social status, is 100% natural. Everyone has the right to do as they please with their body. It is as simple as two individuals with mutual consent, driven to commit a natural act. Once again Moll meets the three basic requirements of natural law.

For the time period, prostitution was common and legal. Both the attractive, poor and the rich could prosper from it. The only disgrace of being a prostitute was the social class to which the seller was enlisted. Meanwhile, the prosperous buyer remained high upon the social hierarchy. A double standard for engaging in a biological activity. Judge if you will a biological functioning state in which everyone can relate.

Thus far, Moll is no more evil or corrupt than I or you. When viewed with new knowledge and perspective, her theft and prostitution cannot be judged. The right to life through natural law gives anyone the right to be morally correct. It’s odd when larceny and prostitution can be morally justified,

through the proper perspective. Perspective, by the way, is based on individual experience and education. Although, without experience and education, individual perspective isn’t flawed. Natural law is instinctual. A child knows the basic rights of life. When the correct path is unknown, think about what is natural and you will find a good perspective on morality.

In modern time, as well as in the 18th century, marriage is defined as a legal union between two people. Two people joined, in finances, by socially created laws. In the 21sr century, a women can divorce and live prosperously. However, in Moll Flanders lifetime, socially correct women were utterly dependent upon men for support. Moll’s four failed marriages do not testify to her corruption; but detail her natural law type perspective of morals. By law, Moll was eligible to remarry after the death of her first husband. That is a natural situation. Nevertheless, Moll was allegedly immoral and could have been punished for remarrying after Draper’s desertion. Moll is very aware of this 18th century social crime. “Thus I say, I was limitted from marriage, what Offer soever be made me (Defoe 53).” Until 1857, the Church of England banned divorce. Making the dissolution of marriages punishable (Ganz 8). It’s only natural to correct a mistake.

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Disputes over Defoe’s portrayal of Moll, in her decision to remarry after her second marriage, contrast. Some scholars believe Defoe is critical of Moll’s remarriage based on a personal opposition to divorce. Others, such as Maximillian E. Novak, view Draper’s desertion as a “de facto divorce”. “He suggests that Defoe agrees with the idea articulated by natural law philosophers that desertion dissolves a marriage contract and justifies a deserted spouse’s remarriage (Ganz 2)”. Moll disregards legal constraint for her remarriage and pursues a more natural and rational state of affairs. Individual moral perspective is in the natural mind of the beholder. According to natural law, spousal desertion is grounds for divorce and moral remarriage. Moll moves forward in order to survive (Novak 104).

Whether or not, Moll could have survived as a poor widow in the 18th century without utilizing the morally questionable resources of larceny, prostitution, and con marriages, is unknown. Then again, she did have a few unflattering options. Such as staying with her first husbands family or remaining with her half brother. In mind of the inalienable right to live, life is only given once. Naturally, the seemingly most desirable living condition will be chosen over the dull standard, if at all possible.

Moll’s desire to have more wealth than required for survival is immoral by natural law. Moll is justified in her fight for survival. Although, she may have, as we all have at times, gotten a little closer to the dark, unnatural side of morality. There are times, in the novel, when acts of survival cross over into mercenary acts. Moll’s overall standards could easily be misconstrued to be mercenary values. As mentioned before, the boundary is walked very closely at times. Yet, Defoe placed Moll in this position to expose a social problem. In that, mercenary values have replaced sexual, moral, and spiritual values (McMaster 338).

In the end, or in the prison, Moll repents for her wicked life. Penitence is a psychological means to accomplish a psychological end. Moll was caught in the act of larceny. Never before this point, in the novel, is the idea of repentance or remorse mentioned. Moll never had guilty feelings about her actions, previous to her capture. Simply because, she could justify them, by order of natural law. The only remorse came when she was imprisoned. That tells us two things. One, her actions were personally virtuous and based on her survival. Two, she only felt the guilt when society’s ultimate judgment, in the form of execution, was realized.

While Moll was in Newgate Prison, her individual morality slowly deteriorated. “I was, I may well say, I know not how; my senses, my reason, nay, my conscience, were all asleep; (Defoe).” Moll was in great mental consternation, in view of the fact that her natural, instinctual way of life had been condemned and locked away by society. She says, in reference to her guilty sentence, “I sunk down when they brought me news of it, and after I came to myself again, I thought I should have died with the weight of it (Defoe).” Still yet, Moll doesn’t feel remorse for her actions; only the weight of society’s judgment. Moll states, “all my repentance appeared to me to be only the effect of my fear of death, not a sincere regret for the wicked life that I had lived (Defoe 218)”. Moll, in her moral confusion, sought forgiveness for actions that were personally honest. Everett Zimmerman links Defoe to Moll in this same theory. “Like Moll, he presumably accepts a Christian view of repentance and redemption, but one suspects that his theology is at least in part a device for controlling his fears (Zimmerman 369).” Releasing the fear of death, will drive anyone to fight for survival, suppressing the threat at all cost. Therefore, Moll’s repentance is completely insincere and naturally so. “Then I repented heartily of all my life past, but that repentance yielded me no satisfaction, no peace (Defoe 215).” A heart filled religious repentance yields no peace. Moll will only find piece, upon returning to her moral perspective.

“All that hellish, hardened state and temper of soul, which I have said so much of before, is but a deprivation of thought; he that is restored to his power of thinking, is restored to himself (Defoe).” Here we see, Moll returns to her true nature. Society has confused and blinded Moll, by continuous condemnation of her natural perspective. Being locked in a hellish prison away from all things natural, has degenerated Moll’s moral perspective. However, she has been restored in her mind, in part by the sighting of her Lancashire Husband. Remember, perception is based on experience and education. We can only live according to what we know. This gives definition to the commonly used phrase, out of their mind. The reconciliation with her Lancashire husband allows Moll to instinctually, remember her natural right to life.

So her repentance was unnatural or insincere, in relation to remorse for social crimes. Conversely, the repentance was true, in that, Moll was repenting for giving up on her natural right to life. “Lord! what will become of me? I shall certainly die! I shall be cast, to be sure, and there is nothing beyond that but death (Defoe)!” Moll uses true penitence to sustain her life. Moll states, “We shall all choose anything rather than death, especially when ’tis attended with an uncomfortable prospect beyond it, which was my case (Defoe).” Overall, Moll chose to elude death by repenting for her sins. The priest, believing her true repentance, attains a reprieve for Moll, sustaining her life. As to her continued claim of penitence, Moll sticks with her guns. She knows what works, where it works, and when to use it.


Is Moll a whore and thief or a woman trying to survive? Overall, this research has shown that morality can change, dependent upon perspective. By social morality, Moll is a whore and a thief; however, Moll is of ordinary morality when viewed through a natural law perspective. Being that perspective is based upon personal experience, a natural law perspective is a view relevant to all who have ever lived or will live. Moll, with her larceny, bigamy, prostitution, and insincere repentance, is no more a criminal than the 18th century society. Moll’s situation, as a women in the 18th century, dictated very few options for desirable survival. It is necessary to reflect once more upon the following statement: In mind of the inalienable right to live, life is only given once. No one can honestly disprove this statement. Moll is justified for her socially immoral actions, pertaining to survival. However, at times, Moll crossed the line from actions of survival into mercenary actions. The justification for the right to life is understood easily; on the other hand, mercenary actions are not. Mercenary actions can only be slightly justified, through the theory of man’s desire to live pleasurably. That being said, our connection with Moll is revealed and our perspectives on morality have been widened by a new perception of long-standing knowledge. Moll’s actions are justified by natural law.


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