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Immanuel Kant’s Morality and the Film “Sleepers”

Sleepers is a criminal drama film, based on Lorenzo Carcaterra’s novel. The film tells the story of four childhood friends who were put into complex and abusive conditions that influenced all their further life. The question what is right and what is wrong is constantly raised as the story goes. Characters have to make their hard choices basing on the principles of their morality or despite them. The actions of Father Robert “Bobby” Carillo, one of the key characters, are to be discussed from the point of view of Kantian moral ethics.

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Father Robert, the local priest, is considered boys’ friend, as he takes an essential part in their lives, guiding and supporting them as they grow. “Father Bobby cared for us in a significant way, and as much as we were capable of loving an outsider, we loved him for that care” (Carcaterra 64).

However, boys make a stupid mistake that turns into a situation when they almost kill a man. All of them are sentenced to spend up to eighteen months in Home for Boys, literally a prison for teenagers. During all this time, they are abused and raped by the sadistic wardens and witness much of illegal and humiliating actions towards other prisoners.

Fourteen years later, two of the boys accidently meet one of the wardens in the bar and kill him. Father Bobby is asked to provide an alibi for the boys and lies on the stand confirming their innocence as he is being told about all the actions the wardens committed in the Home for Boys.

Was Fathers Bobby’s action right from the point of view of Kantian philosophy? The first formulation of the Categorical Imperative states, “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Kant and Ellington 30). According to Johnson it means:

“First, formulate a maxim that enshrines your reason for acting as you propose. Second, recast that maxim as a universal law of nature governing all rational agents, and so as holding that all must, by natural law, act as you yourself propose to act in these circumstances. Third, consider whether your maxim is even conceivable in a world governed by this law of nature” (Johnson par. 29).

If guided by this statement, Father Bobby’s actions can be considered as right. The boys killed the warden, but the warden deserved it from the point of universal justice (third premise) as he committed horrible things to those who were under his total control. On Father Bobby’s place, almost everyone would act as he did, not only from personal reasons, but also concerning that the boys were not the first and the last warden’s victims.

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The second premise “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means” (Kant and Ellington 36) is quite questionable in case of Father Bobby, as he treated the dead warden as an instrument not to obtain something directly for himself, but for the boys who killed them.

He would probably get no moral satisfaction for his action, but the boys will get their revenge for warden’s crimes. Of course, there might be another, legal way, before the murder took place, but the current circumstances are as they are, and Father Bobby makes his decision grounding on his moral principles and considering principles of religion. Still there is a biblical principle “an eye for an eye” in the Old Testament.

The principles of Kantian moral ethics are completely applicable to the actions of Father Bobby, providing a ground for, discussion, and though the actions from this point of view might be considered as somewhat questionable, in general, they are right.

Works Cited

Carcaterra, Lorenzo. Sleepers. New York, NY: Random House, 2010. Print.

Johnson, Robert. 2008. “Kant’s moral philosophy.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2008.

Kant, Immanuel, and James Wesley Ellington. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals: With on a Supposed Right to Lie Because of Philanthropic Concerns. Hackett Publishing, 1993. Print.

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