Gone Baby Gone: Maxims and Virtues To much of the watchers’ dismay, Patrick ultimately decides to take away Amanda from the Doyles to give her back to her mother Helene. Patrick later observes Helene being irresponsible and negligent with caring for Amanda, and rethinks having given her back to Helene. Certainly, when the well-being of so many people are involved in his decision, it becomes difficult to determine what may have been the best course of action to take. In fact, depending on which lense of ethical theory one views his decision, Patrick might have committed either wrong or right. In some, it might even be unclear. A Kantianistic approach, in particular, might commend Patrick’s decision, as he had done so in alignment with its most fundamental maxim; while a Virtue Ethicist would complicate it even more, placing into great consideration Patrick’s intrinsic moral character from which to determine the rightness of his action. As Kantianism evaluates good solely through intention, it would have praised Patrick for having rightly done so. And since Kantianism evaluates so much the intention, action, and the good will—all of which words synonymous with each other—we first determine that maxim that Patrick had acted upon. By calling the authorities and intending for Amanda to come back to her rightful mother, we simplify the relevant maxim to one that would require that no one steal children from their rightful parents. Now the categorical imperative entails two tests. The first test from which Kantianism evaluates the rightness of action requires that the moral agent ask himself if the maxim that he had acted on would contradict itself if applied universally. The maxim from which Patrick had acted on, then, when applied universally, seems to not contradict itself. That is, if children were able to be stolen or taken by anybody from their rightful parents,
the entire enterprise of having children would be destroyed, at least in the culturally relevant sense of having children. So too would the idea of parenting. Therefore, an opposing maxim that would allow children to be stolen, or even traded, would be illogical and impossible. The second test requires that the agent will that the maxim be universalized. Certainly, neither Patrick nor anyone else should will that children be freely traded off from one owner to another. In fact, everyone should will that children remain in their rightful parents’ possessions. Otherwise, the world would be too much of a complicated place.
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- Fall '08