Introduction: Overview of the Scene
An ethical dilemma presented in the final scene of the movie Gone Baby Gone is extremely controversial, and there is no right answer to it. In the plot, a detective, Patrick Kenzie, was hired by a single mother and a drug addict, Helene, to find her lost daughter, Amanda. The woman could not be called a good mother because she did not spend much time with the girl and often neglected her interests and needs. Soon after the girl disappeared, she was declared dead. However, Patrick persisted and ultimately found the Amanda at Doyle’s house − she was happy and alive. It turned out that the kidnapping was planned by Amanda’s uncle. He gave the girl to Jack Doyle, the police chief, and his wife merely because he wished the best for her and knew that she would not be happy with Helene. The detective responded to the ethical dilemma without considering the kidnappers’ underlying motivations and their good intentions. He called the police, and the girl returned to her mother.
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In Kant’s view, human consciousness has two primary aspects: the sensual and the rational one. While sensuous impulses are the major definers of animals’ behavior, in humans, the rational aspect dominates and becomes the core of morality (Deligiorgi). It means that rationalization is an instrument of ethical judgment, and since sensuous instincts are anti-rational to a large extent, they can be regarded as barriers to moral behavior. Thus, to be reasonable or rational means to be moral, and it is a duty of every individual. Overall, reasoning determines a person’s responses and attitudes towards oneself, others, and society as a whole (“Kant’s Ethics”).
The First Maxim
It appears that Patrick’s decision in the final scene of the movie was very rational so that the emotional aspect is wholly excluded from it. It seems he mainly relied on conventional ideas about morality, as well as legal and social perceptions of justice. It is possible to say that he acted following Kant’s first maxim. Based on this perspective, kidnapping will always be regarded as an adverse event, and every person will be expected to report a crime to the police. From this point of view, Patrick’s decision to return Amanda to her mother may be considered the only right thing to do because the majority of the people will likely respond to the situation in the same way as their behavior will be motivated by the universal legal rules.
The Second Maxim
Any act of willing is a form of means-end reasoning (“Kant’s Moral Philosophy”). According to the second maxim, ethical behavior implies that others and oneself are not treated as a means to an end. However, Patrick did not consider the interests and intentions of the people involved in the case. He did not think what impact his decision will have on their lives. Thus, it is possible to presume that his behavior was not consistent with the second premise because he treated others not as ends in themselves but as a means to maintain the social order.
The Third Maxim
According to Kant, human willingness is core to morality (“Kant’s Moral Philosophy”). It can be reflected in his third maxim suggesting that a person acts morally when she behaves as if his or her actions will establish a universal law governing others in the same situation. Patrick’s decision was supported only by his respect for social norms. Neither did he consider the specific circumstances, nor applied his willingness to solve the problem without relying on the law. Therefore, Patrick’s conduct can be regarded merely as legally appropriate. Nevertheless, although his behavior included some ethical elements, it cannot be regarded as absolutely moral.
Both the dilemma described in the movie and Patrick’s response to it is controversial. By Kant’s philosophy, Patrick’s conduct was rational and reasonable. Nevertheless, although his decision was made out of respect for duty, the third maxim suggests that an individual’s will should be placed above all legal and social conventions. Therefore, if human willingness dictates moral requirements, Patrick’s decision cannot be regarded as the absolutely right one.
Deligiorgi, Katerina. Kant and the Culture of Enlightenment. Web.
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“Kant’s Ethics.” Wake Forest University, Web.
“Kant’s Moral Philosophy.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2016, Web.