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Film Westerns play an illustrative role in French's work because of their frequent use of the vengeance plot. As self-conscious morality plays, they seldom wander from an investigation of the social, psychological, political, and moral implications of revenge. French uses such classics as The Searchers and Winchester '73 to identify crucial philosophical elements of the concept of vengeance that are then examined in detail in later parts of the book.
In the course of his study of vengeance as a moral concept, French exposes important distinctions between types of moral theories (karmic and non-karmic) and between people who are morally handicapped and those who are morally challenged. He examines concepts relevant to vengeance such as honor, moral authority, and evil, and issues such as the rationality of revenge and proportionality in punishment.
French concludes that exiling vengeance to a dark corner of human action has robbed morality of one of its most potent and persuasive elements and that mere condemnation or ostracism are inadequate responses to heinous acts. The maintenance of the authority of morality often requires more hostile responses. His book challenges us to reconsider the value, indeed the virtue, of various responses to evil and may serve as a metaethical map of the conceptual geography of vengeance for those daring to explore what has generally been assumed in the literature of ethics to be forbidden territory.
Part One: Vengeance in Literature and Popular Culture
1. Some Literary Foundations: A Survey
2. The Western Vengeance Films
Part Two: Philosophical Analysis of Vengeance
3. The Concept
4. The Conditions
5. The Avenger: The Authority Condition
6. The Target: The Desert Condition
7. The Tailored Fit: The Proportionality Condition