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Understanding Kant and Mill through Casablanca

For your Unit 3 assignment, you will write a paper based on the theme of Good and Evil, and the ethical theories of Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill.

You will choose to view either the movie Casablanca, the movie High Noon, or a different movie that has been approved by your instructor, and will interpret the movie and relate one or two of the movie's characters to the philosophies of Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill.

You will relate your character selections to the following:
• Immanuel Kant: Categorical Imperative and the concept of duty.
• John Stuart Mill: Utilitarianism and the concept of the "greatest good for the greatest number."

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant lived from 1723 to 1804. The most important ethical concept you should consider as you think about how one should live the Good Life is his ethical theory called the Categorical Imperative. It is categorical because it applies to all human beings and it is imperative because there are no exceptions.

He insisted ethics should be based on a person's rational and universal duty both to one's self and to others. Meaning: Because we are rational beings, we have a rational duty to perform as we live our lives. And for Kant, the highest claim is the ethical claim of a rational duty. His theory is often called "Deontological" and that simply means it is based on our sense of duty and not on just the results.

But duty to what? Could our duty change? Should we have a first duty to our country, to an ideal, or even to God? And in the case of conflicting duties, which should come first?

As you consider your movie selection, select those characters or scenarios you consider to represent Kant's moral philosophy of duty and the Categorical Imperative.

John Stuart Mill

The second philosopher is John Stuart Mill, who lived from 1806 to 1873. His theory of how we should live the Good Life differs from Kant in that Mill was more concerned with the results or the consequences of our actions. Thus, his theory is often called Consequential Ethics or more commonly referred to as Utilitarianism. He felt the foundation for ethical and moral action should be based on the greatest good or happiness for the greatest number of people.

It is as simple as that or it is as complex as that. Meaning: How do we go about measuring something like "happiness" and by what standard? Interestingly, he and Jeremy Bentham devised a formula known as the Hedonistic Calculus by which we could apply objective standards to measuring happiness.

Accordingly, we should treat others and make laws toward that end. The maximum amount of good or happiness can be obtained by the greatest number of people. In your movie selection, describe those characters or scenarios you understand to be representative of Mill's philosophy of Utilitarianism and the greatest good for the greatest number.

As you write your paper, consider the following:
• What characters or scenarios support the claims of Kant or Mill?
• What are Deontological and Consequentialist ethical theories?
• How do your character selections or scenarios exemplify Good or Evil?

Solution Preview

In writing this essay, it is best to select a character that shows a range of perspectives on the theories involved. You then want to show how the selected character demonstrates particular aspects of the theories. For example, you can show how the theories are similar and how are they different. Ultimately, you will want to use this to demonstrate their respective positions regarding good and evil. In Casablanca a great character to use that exemplifies both Kant's categorical imperative and Mill's utilitarianism is Rick.

Casablanca is a film where many individual stories are interrelated into a larger narrative of war and resistance. As such, Casablanca is a film that shows the tensions between individual and collective pursuits that is present in Kant's categorical imperative and Mill's utilitarianism. This is one idea that you could develop further in your essay. At the beginning of the film Rick is presented as a cynical person who is not interested in helping people. For example when Renault suggests to Rick that he does not interfere with Ugarte's arrest, Rick says "I stick my neck out for nobody." The major plot line of the movie begins to develop when Laszlo (a major character in the underground resistance) and Ilsa enter the scene. In order for Laszlo to escape from the Nazis he must obtain the letters from Rick. Rick ...

Solution Summary

This solution addresses the question of how Kant's categorical imperative and Mill's utilitarianism can be expressed through the film Casablanca.

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