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Kant’s Categorical Imperative in “Gone Baby Gone”


According to Kant’s First Formulation, one should act as if those actions were a universal law of nature. This means that the moral choice should point toward a complete necessity and signify a rational decision that is not impacted by any subjective outlooks of the individual (White 42). Patrick, the leading character of the movie, finds himself in a situation where he has to make the right decision. Moreover, this decision would affect not only his own life but the lives of the people who surround him. The problem, in this case, lies in the fact that Patrick’s decision to bring the kidnapped girl back home to her addicted mother seems right to him, but on a bigger scale, it might not be the option he should stick to. Nonetheless, the decisive factor is Patrick’s moral obligation to the girl’s mother, and he has to do what he promised. In the end, he pays the price for his action, but Patrick’s moral obligation to the mother is the universal law of nature for him. In other words, bringing the girl back home became the perfect duty for Patrick.

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The second premise is the Formula of Humanity. According to Kant, an unrestricted will is the basis of all rational deeds. But if any given individual sees it as an idiosyncratic position, he or she automatically denies the option of autonomy on the whole (Satkunanandan 238). For Patrick, his free will is the unique basis of moral action. It would challenge the First Formulation to claim that Patrick was not right for what he had done. On the contrary, he tried to cope with his moral duty by seeking help and acceptance in other people. If we connect the First Formulation to the Second Formulation, we will see that Patrick’s moral obligation, his perfect duty, turns into an imperfect duty. This happens due to the doubts that are eating him up inside. In this case, bringing the girl back home is Patrick’s end goal and the girl is the means to stand by his promise. Taking into account the final decision of the main character, it can be stated that Patrick’s choice did not contradict the perfect duty from the First Formulation.


The Third Formulation derives from the first two and implies that an individual should only act relying on reasonable conditions. The difference is in the fact that the third premise also counts on the subjectivity, which is inherent in humans. Therefore, when Patrick had to make the decision, he had to consider both objective and subjective conditions. The Third Formulation also exposes the dissimilarities inherent to autonomy and heteronomy (Timmermann 52). As we could have seen it from the movie, Patrick needed autonomy to make the decision. His actions at the end of the movie fully comply with the Third Formulation as he not only follows the conduct he set himself to but also demands it. I believe that Patrick’s conduct may be considered a universal law governing others in similar circumstances for the reason that he stayed within his principles, wanted others to assume his position, and conducted himself respectively. This does not give us the answer on whether Patrick’s decision was right or wrong, but it is consistent with Kant’s Categorical Imperative.

Works Cited

Satkunanandan, S. “The Extraordinary Categorical Imperative.” Political Theory 39.2 (2011): 234-60. Web.

Timmermann, Jens. “Kantian Dilemmas? Moral Conflict in Kant’s Ethical Theory.” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 95.1 (2013): 36-64. Web.

White, Mark D. Kantian Ethics and Economics: Autonomy, Dignity, and Character. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2011.

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