Was the Final Action Moral or Immoral?
There is a wide-spread belief that we all possess an innate comprehension of right and wrong, which stems from our deeper inner self. However, when the reality is concerned, no clear division line between good and bad is observed, and the nature of human acts, if viewed within the framework of their incentives and desires, is confusingly complex. To handle such complexity, the notion of deontology was suggested as the theory about the individuals morality, which deals with the problems of the divergence between the formal and legal perception of correct and the moral one. Immanuel Kants philosophy on the other side endeavors to distinguish those drives of human nature as well as the objective criteria that will enable anyone in any situation, regardless of their life experience or beliefs, to find the guidelines for the right actions ("Kant, Immanuel: Metaphysics").
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It is reasonable to apply the philosophy to a real situation to comprehend Kants theory of categorical imperative. Barry Levinsons crime drama Sleepers is the appropriate choice for this purpose as it combines both the assumed real basis of the story and the entangled moral dilemma. In fact, morality takes different faces and explanations in various places ("Kantian Ethics"). The events take place in New York City's Hell's Kitchen, where the appropriateness of human behavior differs from the conventionally accepted standards. Here, it is believed that neighbors must never be offended, and home violence and Sundays mess do not contradict each other. This background proves the necessity to use Kants imperative since we can observe a discrepancy between what is commonly accepted as normal and what one feels is appropriate. As a matter of fact, in terms of the accepted line of actions, it can be interpreted as moral for that particular group of people, as morality is the manner of behavior accepted by the society or some other group (Gert).
In the Hell's Kitchen, religion fails to be a reference point, and for the viewer only his or her reason should remain as such. The films character Father Bobby seems to be the only univocally virtuous person. He is the agent of the final and the principal moral question of the whole movie. It is impossible to evaluate his decision impartially, as there is an impact of the boys tragedy and the blunt cruelty of the guards, which can not but influence our assertion. Thus, This type of situation is the one described by Kant, and it is expedient to clarify the case demonstrated in Sleepers putting the boundaries on pure emotions and being led by pure reason.
First, Kant states that moral virtue is not affected by any circumstances. Additionally, the first maxim implies that the principles of other maxims should be used without regard to particular situations, and there are no good reasons to shun them. Only an action performed for 'a good will' is the right one, no matter what the consequences are (Bustos 241-254). Father Bobbys abuse of his authority to force others to take his words as granted, not considering what kind of justification is at stake, is corrupt as the circumstances cannot make anything immoral right. The long-term instance is that breaking a vow in order to achieve some personal outcome results in devaluation of the whole concept (Gelfert).
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Treat a person as an end can be interpreted in accordance with Kants philosophy as viewing people as having the life of their own, where they all deserve justice and equality. Consequently, no one is to act towards others with the degree of kindness based on personal evaluation of human goodness (Denis 414-416). Therefore, there is no excuse for acting toward another person in a degrading manner, justifying it by the claims that the person is anyway wicked, and deserves such treatment, or that every human being deserves justice (Thiroux & Krasemann). The case of the film Sleepers, justice must not be replaced by the reciprocal remuneration (Denis, Lara). This notion has a direct relation to the custodial supervisor. According to Kants postulates, the uniform fairness should not be targeted by humans. Likewise, it is not in the position of a human being to take such a responsibility in his or her hands as father Bobby did. The boys became the reason of a mans death, who might have had children and wife, so the question arises what if the latter would have considered that the judicial punishment is not a suitable one? The majority would consider it wrong saying that the boys are just children and did not intend to cause harm. Nevertheless, such arguments are mere partial and subjective feelings, similarly to those instructing us to approve of the type of revenge the boys performed.
The third maxim directs a human to perceive his or her action as a model for a universal law. The analysis of this concept does not reveal anything new and unique. The strength of Kants particular interpretation comes from making the circumstances less personal and subsequently less subjective (Dierksmeier 597-609). The question then is what is the duty of the priest: never to tell lies or oaths, or to deliver the will of God and serve people as to show the love of God? In this case, duty is inextricably involved with Bobbys personal affections, as he treats the boys as his sons, and this act should not be established as the universal law governing others in similar circumstances.
To conclude, following Kants theory, the actions of Father Bobby contradict the virtue as they are affected by the circumstances and his subjective feelings, and they would break the whole system of the society if used universally. As a matter of fact, the application of Kants maxims allowed to the influence of personality personality when providing the correct assessment of giving false evidence even for the justified ends. Evidently, by replacing human authority with the authority of reason, one is able to always see the verge between the right and wrong, and remain committed to the ethics and virtue.