Discussion Summary: Kant

Discussion Summary

Q1: Kant believes in universal rule, (a maxim) so if you act a certain way, you’re action show that you therefore believe everyone should act in a certain way. Let’s say someone who’s homeless and starving steals fruit everyday from a rich persons backyard. What would Kant say the maxim is? And can it be universalized?

Kant explains this idea of maxim in Early Modern Texts, page 3 section four. He gives an example of this by writing about a man who wishes for death but stays alive because he believes his actions should be based in duty. Kant explains that for this man his maxim is to preserve oneself. I asked a question in my discussion section about a poor man who steals from the rich. We discussed if this man is just a thief and some people thought his maxim was just stealing. Some people believe it’s fine that he stole because his maxim is actually stealing out of desperation not stealing period, we discussed the difference between the two, some people believing Kant would think this would be okay while others wildly opposed. I personally thought Kant wouldn’t agree because you cannot universalize this maxim therefore making it unfair.

Q2: This idea of a universal law means that all people should act the same way (ethically good) but do you think that social factors, economic factors, religious factors, etc play into people ethics, and if so is that okay? Do you think it’s okay to a person who grew up without parents or leaders to help guide their ethics to be less “morally good” then someone who did, or do you think all people should strive to be at the same level of morality?

This was a difficult one for us, as we believed that our opinions differ from what Kant might think. We talked about how Kant believes in having a universal good, and doesn’t come from a religious basis with his philosophy so we assume he wouldn’t believe in looking at morality through a religious lens. This made us feel conflicted because without religion and just generally people’s circumstances in life being different we lose what’s special about the world individuality, but on the other hand we really like Kant’s idea of a universal good. Kant says “…I ought never to act in such a way that I couldn’t also will that the maxim on which I act should be a universal law.” (Early Modern Texts, Kant, 4) which is ideally a nice idea to most of us talking about it but just seemed to us to be unrealistic way to live and act.

Philosophy in the World – Poverty Reduction Conference

Description of Experience


The experience was very heartwarming and enjoyable. It was very inspiring seeing all these young students buy in to the poverty reduction in BC. Seeing the young people of our generation involve themselves in causes bigger than themselves, proposes a bright future for not only British Columbia but Canada as a whole. The experience allowed students to sit in groups in the conference room, having speakers come to the front of the room speaking on behalf of their group, or club they were a part of. There were people from different cultures all sharing their own experiences and advocating for poverty.




I did not expect this to be as hands on as it was. It was very open for discussion and every student was respectful and willing to give their opinion. In regards to what I expected, I was expecting us to listen to a few keynote speakers boring us with facts we already knew. Instead we were allowed to exercise our free speech and fresh minds, by answering certain questions and collaborating with other students in forming mind maps to portray our knowledge.


Connection to Academics


  • Define philosophy

In Philosophy, poverty is a very general topic. It is often seen in many different perspectives, arguing with it from spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical aspects. As Mill describes it through the Greatest Happiness Principle, he suggests that everybody strives for happiness. Since poverty comes in many different ways, Mill assumes a position of advocacy for the greater population of low income individuals. In his texts, he is known to argue more from a emotional point of view searching for happiness for the greatest amount of people. Philosophy in a sense, plays its part in poverty as searching for fairness as Emmanuel Kant would and his Kantian Ethics, which suggests the fairness of maxims across all humans through his focus on the categorical imperatives. Creating a more fair and just environment where everyone is seen as equal despite wealth, race, or gender, is exactly what the poverty reduction conference strives for.


  • Consultation fit with that definition


In regards to the philosophy found in poverty, as I had mentioned above the values of many philosophers can be shared to create a less povertized world. It certainly fits perfectly, as seen through Mill and Kant’s ideologies, that persevere to create the fairest and happiest society.


Discuss Civic Aspects of the Experience


Totally. In answer to the question of group discussions as positive or not, yes it indeed was. Being able to break out of a comfort zone as an individual, and seeing others do so as well creates a positive environment open for discussion and awareness to the poverty around us. The ethics and philosophy of this event, was blind to any aggressive discussion or discrimination. All individuals, regardless of where they came from and what they came from, equally shared the same hurt for the increasing poverty in Vancouver. I personally think that the success of this event, should be made more aware to individuals on campus that I am sure share the same mindset. Because in more ways than none, poverty is an issue that affects all of us, and it sees no boundaries.

Philosophy of the World – “Darkest Hour”

At the beginning of the course I defined philosophy as a subject that concerns it self with answering difficult questions that are not answerable. After taking the course I still have the same view but I now know why they are not answerable. My view still remains because Philosophy does attempt to answer questions that are difficult to answer and part of this reason they are not answerable is because it is hard for us to take one side. You either kill one person or kill three. Many of the topics we faced in class like wether it is alright to kill one person or 4 people, and wether it is morally okay to kill an animal; These are all heavy topics, and coming up with one standard answer is what makes philosophy… philosophy. To me Philosophy raises awareness about the questions we do not want to answer but it also allows us to be more aware of the implications of our decisions. 

For instance, I will use the example of a trolley problem and Kant’s theory of using people as mere means. You are in control of peoples lives. Either you kill one man or you kill 4. Either way you are killing someone. Now most of us will hopefully never have to be in this situation but if we were, we most likely will not choose to push the fat man over the bridge. However, this is the best thing to do. In the eyes of a utilitarian you try and bring the best to the most amount of people. Unfortunately, if we did choose to push the fat man, killing him we would look like terrible people. So philosophy allows us to realize that life is not straight forward and we ca not make decisions based solely off of one method, wether that be Kantianism or Utilitarianism, most of the time life includes various methods. 

However I chose my philosophical example because it challenges my definition. The “Darkest Hour” is a film about Winston Churchill and his time as Prime Minister during the Second World War. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the various decisions Winston faced and made, which were questioned by many. One of the main focal points of the movie is how Winston planned the rescue of Britain’s troops from the shores of France, using thousands of civilian boats. Through out the movie the decisions churchill makes are rather utilitarian – focusing on the greater good. In one particular instance Churchill has to choose between sending 4000 troops (meaning they will all most likely die) distracting the Nazi troops away from Dunkirk giving the remaining British troops a chance to retreat saving over 300,000 members, or the troops from Dunkirk retreat while the Nazi troops get closer and closer threatening the island of Britain, but saving the lives of those 4000 men. In this case, Churchill chooses to use the 4000 men as mere means to save the other men. At first many of his colleagues can not believe the decision he is making yet at the same time he is doing the right thing. He does understand though the implication of what he has done and struggles personally with it. Through out the movie each decision that is made is done to consider the greater good, and is always a controversial decision. I used this example to demonstrate that in extreme cases using one philosophical method/theory can work, but what remains is that we still have a difficult time taking one side- Churchill shows this in the film when he is split between his personal struggles and what is best for the country. 

I am thankful in my life that I do not have to make decision about choosing between the lives of people. Instead I am faced with the decision on what to do in the future. This is something I find extremely difficult. There are various things one can do in life but they do not always bring happiness to you. Focusing on what brings you happiness and on what will bring you what you want in life do not always add up. The choices I have to make are hard and I’m never quite sure which one to make. It’s almost more difficult to make decisions about your self than it is about others. This comes back to choosing one philosophical theory, or choosing a balance between several, I don’t think you can be happy going only one direction.

Philosophy In The World

In the famous folktale of Robin Hood, he demonstrates great leadership to the group of out-laws. These out-laws were casted out of the city and were forced to stay in the forest to ensure their safety. Wealthy travelers who found themselves in the bad company of these out-laws often had their riches stolen from them. Robin Hood despised those who were filthy rich and did no work to achieve their earnings; he only ever allowed his men to harm those who fit this description. He was especially kind to the poor. The stolen goods from the wealthy were divided up equally and distributed to the poor. Due to his constant help the common folk saw Robin Hood as their friend. This folktale holds many philosophical ideas, especially concerning the actions of Robin Hood.

Philosophy is the study of human concepts such as morality, individuality, and society.It is the analysis of life and its underlying meaning. Philosophy also places an emphasis on understanding decision making and the ethics behind them. Kant’s philosophical ideas talk about the importance of helping oneself as well as others in order to thrive as a society. He uses perfect and imperfect duties as an example of this. Perfect duties are obligations that must be followed as to uphold the harmony of society and imperfect duties as actions that must be done from the reflection of oneself onto society. He states that an individual must sustain and expand the ultimate capacity of a community by treating others as rational and autonomous beings. Kant also covers the morality of actions and how maxims hold the most importance in decision making. Maxims must be considered morally right in order for the action to also be morally right. The results that occur, no matter if they are good or bad, have no correlation with the motive; a good motive may yield a bad result, but the action can still be considered morally right.

The folktale of Robin Hood demonstrates many philosophical ideas, especially those of Kant. Kant believes that the greatest amount of happiness that can be produced for oneself as well as others is most important in one’s life. By helping the common people, Robin Hood is able to help a larger quantity of people. Though stealing in general is deemed an immoral action, he is able to benefit society through a small sacrifice. The rich are not affected by the thefts of Robin Hood as they are still able to live comfortably even after being robbed. However, with these small quantities of riches, the poor are able to prosper and survive further more. Though Robin Hood’s actions are not the most appropriate, his motives are still righteous in themselves. As mentioned earlier, Kant states that the moral goodness of an act is dependent on the maxim of it; actions and the results that occur are separate from one another. Theft is morally wrong however, Robin Hood’s desire to help those that are less fortunate is morally right. Despite his authoritative position amongst the out-laws, he never takes advantage of this role and instead took care in sharing the goods equally, ensuring that everyone was able to receive what they needed. As an outlaw himself, Robin Hood perhaps sympathizes with the common people and holds a stronger determination to help them. He practices his imperfect duties through this reflection of himself and is able to provide the needs for others that he would need himself. Kant states that helping on another is what enables society to thrive. Through this continuous support, Robin Hood and the common people are able to help each other grow and prosper within their community.

As an individual, I believe that one should try to reach their fullest potential in life. Through constantly improving oneself and treating others as one should want to be treated, society has the ability to grow and strengthen. Personally, I always try to make the morally correct decisions based on my own beliefs and what will benefit not only me, but others as well. Whether it be making a small donation or participating in fundraisers, or even small gestures like helping out a friend, I believe that any gesture out of kindness and the true desire of wanting to help others will make a difference even if it may be small. By acting this way and staying true to oneself throughout life, I believe that it enables an individual to discover more of what they want from life and what they should provide to others. The collective effort of individuals helping one another as they reflect their own needs onto society will aid their realization of what they believe to be is the underlying meaning of life.

Philosophical concepts exist everywhere in our everyday lives. They are evident in stories, movies, games, and more. People also make philosophical decisions all the time. It is a big part of our society in defining what is morally right and wrong and in an individual’s life, it aids one in acquiring the knowledge to discover the meaning of life. Philosophical ideas within things we interact with, teach us lessons that we can use to enhance our experiences as humans. Through this, we are able to thrive off each other and grow as a community.

Option A: Why is the One Ring evil? Philosophical analysis of Good and Evil

The Lord of the Rings, written by J.R.R Tolkien is the most influential fantasy novel of 20th century. One of the central theme of the book is the struggle between the good versus evil; of the war between the ‘free people’ of the Middle-earth against the dark lord Sauron. While the book does describe the military battle between the armies of the good and the armies of the evil, struggle is better shown through how various characters interact with the One Ring. In the book, it is not the wise wizards, the immortal elves, nor the valiant warriors that resist the evil of the Ring. The ones who show the most resilience to the Ring are the Hobbits; simple folks from peaceful, rural society of Shire. This begs the question why is the One Ring considered evil and what is the goodness in those Hobbits that allow them to better resist the Ring?


Before considering the struggle between good and evil presented in Tolkien’s work with philosophical view point, let me first explain what I think philosophy is. To me, philosophy is the process of finding answers to the questions. I do not mean the questions that can be answered by researching the relevant facts or performing experiments to gather data. I mean the questions that cannot yet be answered definitively: What is good? What is bad? Are there absolute truths or only relative truths? What is a soul? What does it mean to know? What is the purpose of life? How does the world work? The questions explored in philosophy need not remained unanswerable forever; indeed, many branches of philosophy have been moved from philosophy proper to give birth to branches of science such as physics. The Doctor of Philosophy in physics uses scientific methods to support hypothesis to answer questions regarding laws governing the physical world. However, the hypothesis in the philosophy proper cannot be supported by gathering and analyzing empirical data. In philosophy, one’s conclusions must be defended using logic and sound arguments to withstand the opposing views. In my opinion, by exploring currently unanswerable questions, philosophy allows mankind to expand our mind and explore the unknown.


The view that the philosophy is about exploring difficult questions is shared by many philosophers throughout the history. Plato, through his depiction of Socrates in Euthyphro, explored the unanswered question of “What is piety? That is an enquiry which I shall never be weary of pursuing as far as in me lies” (Plato, Euthyphro, p.16). The Socrates/Plato wanted to explore what it is about pious act that makes them pious. This question remained unsolved at the end of the work, yet through Socrates, Plato claims that he will never be weary of pursuing such questions; the questions that are worth exploring even without being able to come up with an answer. Another Greek philosopher, Epicurus, emphasized the importance of prudence in his teaching. Epicurus taught that to live happiest life, one need to maximize pleasure and minimize pain through philosophy (Epicurus, Letters, p.1). One important essence of this happy life is to explore the unknown. Only those who are prudent enough to look for answers can triumph over the primal fear of unknown. Those who decide to believe in popular myths rather than philosophically approaching difficult questions continue to suffer fear of not knowing and cannot achieve the pleasurable life (Epicurus, Doctrines, p.2). In modern times, philosophers such as Mill and Kant explored the question of morality. In the introduction to Mill’s Utilitarianism, Mill acknowledged that the question he was about to explore has been discussed since the dawn of philosophy for more than two thousand years without a universally agreed answer (Mill, Utilitarianism, P.1). Even though he knows the question at hand have been failed to be answered for a long time, he nonetheless does his best to present his hypothesis and provide arguments and counter-counterarguments to support his stance.


While Tolkien himself explicitly stated that there are no allegories or hidden meanings behind his work (Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, p.xvii), it is but natural for readers to find meaning in author’s work even when there are no such hidden messages from the author. And, as someone who is studying morality in philosophy class, it is but natural for me to find application of Mill and Kant’s idea of morality to the evilness of the One Ring. In Tolkien’s work, the One Ring is evil because it contains the power of Sauron. And Sauron is evil because he served Morgoth. And Morgoth, in turn, is evil because he rebelled against the creator. But, as Socrates did in Plato’s work, let us not be satisfied with the mythical answer and rather try and assess what it is about the Ring itself that makes it evil. Through his character Gandalf, Tolkien explains that the One Ring contains the power to “rule over the others” (Tolkien, p.68), giving its possessor the ability to bend the will of the others to serve him. Applying Mill’s utilitarian approach, from the past examples of tyrants and dictators, we know that forcibly ruling over others against their will result in great pain and unhappiness. According to the Greatest Happiness Principal, something that causes more pain and unhappiness than pleasure and happiness is evil (Mill, p.2). The evilness of the One Ring can also be assessed using Kantian approach. The One Ring’s main purpose is to gives the power to turn others into mere means to achieve its owner’s goal. According to Kant, any action that treats another human being as a mere means is evil (Kant, Metaphysics, p.8). Using Epicurean teaching, we can infer why Hobbits show greater resilience to such evil. While the Hobbits do not live the ideal Epicurean life, as they love feasting on excessive amount of food, they are also simple people who does not understand nor desire great ambitions. When the Ring tempted Samwise Gamgee with the power to restore burnt and barren world back into green fields, Sam was able to reject the temptation because what he truly wished in his heart was a small garden he could tend with his hands. This is in accordance with one of Epicurus’ main teachings; be free of vain desires for grandness (Epicurus, Letters, p.3). By being accustomed to living a “good”, simple life that is free from vain desires, Hobbits were able to resist the evil of using others as means to server their own goal.


The paper looked at an example of philosophy that could be found in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Asking questions like ‘was that villain actually evil?’ or ‘were the protagonists actually justified in their actions?’ is a good example of philosophical activities we do in everyday life outside of the philosophy class. I am doing philosophy when I am in shower or in bed, asking absurd questions like “what if we are living in matrix?”, “are there really aliens out there?”, or “what happens after we die”. Whenever I pass a moral judgement on someone’s action or try to decide whether buying that material good can bring happiness in my life, I am doing philosophy. According to my view of philosophy, whenever I explore questions whose answers cannot be found in textbook or laboratory, I am engaged in philosophical activity.




Tolkien, J.R.R., The Lord of the Rings. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994. Print.

The Philosophy of Owning a Dog

The philosophical activity that I have chosen for this assignment is being a dog owner. This is a very consistent part of my life which I have never analyzed in a philosophical way, but with some deeper thought, it is something that contributes to my definition of philosophy. I am the owner of a beautiful golden retriever who I love more than most things in this world. Despite this being a pleasurable “activity,” it comes with a lot of responsibility and at times is not very enjoyable. It requires a lot of patience, time, and energy. I have to walk my dog twice daily, I have to feed her special food because of her allergies, and I have to spend time giving her adequate affection. Along with this, my dog does not always behave and does not reciprocate the effort I put into taking care of her, as most well functioning human relationships do. Regardless of this, I love her and take pride in caring for her and treating her well. 

Being a dog owner is philosophical to me in the sense that it requires one to be selfless and care for a different species. It has taught me a lot about myself and what it means to truly devote yourself to another being, which to me is quite a philosophical lesson. In my opinion, the act of caring for a dog resonates with the Kantian perspective of ethics, because I believe the maxim behind taking care of a dog should be a good one. The Categorical Imperative of universalizability approves this action as being morally ethical, because not all animals can be treated poorly. Along with this, whether someone is acting according to duty or not in taking care of a dog, their action is still considered morally right according to Kant. Therefore one may take of care of their dog because they love it and are intrinsically motivated to, or they could be taking care of it because, for example, their grandmother is ill and needs someone to care for her dog that you do not really want to. 

Many people view animals lives as not being as significant as human lives. It is scientifically proven that animals have smaller brains and do not have the same understanding of the world, but this should not give humans the right to exploit or neglect them. This resonates with the opinion of Peter Singer who believes that animals should not be disregarded because of their smaller brains (Singer, 49). Singer believes that it should not “depend on what they are like or what abilities they possess,” and that every animal should be seen as equal (49). In the same sense just as different “races” should be considered equal in every way, so should animals (49). I very much agree with Singers opinion, because I have a deep love of animals and believe that my dog is of equal status, although a lot of people in the world do not share the same views. 

My definition of philosophy is evident in my example of being a dog owner. I identify my view of philosophy with Kant’s idea of having good will behind my maxim for caring for a dog, as well as Singers perspective on animal ethics. By owning a dog I have further understood what it means to live philosophically according to my opinions, and I have embraced selflessness and caring in my daily life. Being a dog owner is only an example of this definition of philosophy in my life, as it is also prevalent in my family life, my relationships with friends, and my passion for volunteering.

Works Cited

Shafer-Landau, Russ. “The Kantian Perspective: Fairness and Justice.” The Fundamentals of Ethics. Oxford University Press, 2012. pp. 154-167.

Singer, Peter. “Equality For Animals?” Practical Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 2011. pp. 49.

Philosophy in the World Assignment

Groundhog Day is a 1993 comedy classic that chronicles an egotistical weatherman whom, after covering an annual Groundhog Day event, gets stuck in a time loop where he repeats the same day over and over again. The protagonist, Phil Connors, with this new-found experience, transitions from hedonism to nihilism to suicide and eventually to a utilitarian, saving the lives of those in the city and taking actions that benefit the community as a whole.


The definition of philosophy is often simplified into the somewhat cliché phrase of ‘thinking about thinking’ (https://www.philosophybasics.com/general_whatis.html). In a strict sense, a dictionary meaning of philosophy looks at the study of knowledge (https://www.philosophybasics.com/general_whatis.html). To me personally however, and from what I’ve learnt in this course, philosophy is simply a reflection of the base levels of human experience. It takes universal aspects of humanity, whether that be death or morals, and rigorously analyses them, building and testing hypothesis for what the optimal approaches are. For example, Mill’s work, Utilitarianism provides a framework for evaluating the morality of actions through his greatest happiness principle (Mill 2). It looks at what the usual consequences of an action are and judges the morality of an action based on the consequence that would produce the greatest amount of happiness, measured in terms of pleasure and reduction of pain (Mill 2). However, per my definition, these perspectives are in the end, hypothesis and approaches that are up for debate as well as for counterarguments. For example, Kant also provides a framework for evaluating the morality of actions through his categorical imperatives (Kant 6). However, contrastingly, Kant evaluates from the intent or will behind the action rather than the consequence (Kant 1). Also, rather than approaching morality from the perspective of maximizing happiness, he instead looks at whether the intentions behind an action are universal; this is the first formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative (Kant 6). It is the open-ended nature of philosophical perspectives that ultimately reflect its oxymoronic nature. They are universal aspects of humanity that have contrastive views and opinions.


Groundhog Day is an effective philosophical piece as it investigates how an individual would respond to a change in the base level of human experience. In removing death, consequence and the relentless forward moving nature of time, the protagonist is exposed to a novel experience of humanity and we are able to see how he responds and develops to this. In doing so, Groundhog Day provides commentary as to how an individual should approach life. Under the definition provided above, it is, in a sense, an experiment of various philosophical hypothesis.


We see initially, the protagonist, Phil, respond to the situation of repeating the same day with complete hedonism; stealing money, manipulating women to have sex with him and binging on food and cigarettes. However, this approach soon proves unsustainable, as Phil grows increasingly nihilistic and suicidal, walking in front of buses and electrocuting himself in vain as he inevitably wakes up the next morning on the same day, repeating the cycle. The film invites a philosophical analysis of why this selfish approach does not bring the protagonist happiness. One perspective is that Phil was looking only to vain, baseless desires such as greed and sex, which are insatiable by nature and do not bring true, long term happiness. This perspective would be in line with Epicurean beliefs which propone that although the ultimate aim in life should be to maximize pleasure (Cicero 1); that these pleasures should come only from necessary desires (Cicero 4). Necessary desires are those that bring pain if not fulfilled, such as friendship, food and rest (Epicurus 3). Another perspective that the film invites is that Phil does not find happiness because it is incongruent with his moral sensibilities. He is using everyone as mere means to an end, being his own pleasure, rather than treating people as ends in themselves. This perspective is in line with the second formulation of the categorical imperative of Kant, whom propones to never use people as a mere means to an end, but only as ends in of themselves (Kant 9). It is only after Phil is continuously rejected by Rita, Phil’s love interest, after spending countless days understanding what she does and doesn’t like to try and manipulate her for sex, that Phil spirals into depression. The film conveys that Phil is upset because he begins to realize that using people is not only morally apprehensible but also that he is unable to find happiness as result of this.


The turning point of the film centers around the character change in Phil, whom begins to find joy again in his unique situation by helping others in the community rather than selfishly focusing on himself. Phil uses his ability to exactly predict events to feed the homeless and save the lives of those in precarious positions throughout the day. Phil is portrayed as an individual whom is happier and loved by those in his community. He is also successful now in courting his love interest, Rita. Philosophically, the film presents a perspective similar to that of Mill’s greatest happiness principle. Ultimately the film conveys that, given the situations and the tools at our disposal, one should aim to maximize the happiness of those around us (Mill 2). This is similar to Mill’s perspective in that it takes a utilitarian approach to the way in which we should approach life. However, it diverts in that Mill takes this from a moral standpoint whereas the film approaches the utilitarian approach from an individual’s happiness. That is, rather than maximizing the pleasure of those around us because one should be morally obligated to do so, the film portrays that one should do so because it will make the individual himself, happiest.


In summation, Groundhog Day is a philosophical work because it takes a unique, fantasy situation in order to explore human behaviour and what will bring one happiness. Whilst it has similarities to the philosophical pieces studied in this course, it also provides contrasting, unique perspectives to the optimal ways to approach life. This ultimately, is what philosophy means to me. It presents unique perspectives toward how one should approach various aspects of life that are universal in nature.


One way in which I engage in philosophical activity outside of class is when choosing what career to pursue. Following my own definition of philosophy, I take a universal aspect to modern humanity in choosing a career and I worked through multiple potential optimal approaches in doing so. These included: what career would make the most money; which would provide the greatest work and life balance and what would be most aligned with my interest.  I would then analyse, what in my personal opinion would be most important and based my field of study for my career off of this. Like philosophy in general however, I do not expect for this to be concrete. I expect for my perspectives on what I value to change over time through my own personal experiences as well as through interacting with people with contrasting perspectives. What I hope in the end, is that my perspective on this issue will contain enough nuance and context that it will be in of itself, a unique hypothesis as to how to choose a career. In doing so, this would, in essence, capture my definition of philosophy.



Philosophy in the World: The Philosophy of Rick and Morty

Philosophy is everywhere in this world, especially within our current media. In some cases, these philosophical elements are deeply hidden and require extensive searching or extrapolation to identify them. However, in other cases, such as with the animated television show Rick and Morty, these philosophical elements are brazenly apparent. That isn’t to say that the primary purpose of Rick and Morty is to provide philosophical commentary; it’s main purpose is clearly to be an effective form of entertainment and a brief escape from reality. However, when watching the show with an analytical and philosophical lens, the philosophical elements and commentary that it provides stand out and become apparent.

The show follows the adventures of a Rick: a man who is quite possible the most intelligent being in the universe and is capable of creating anything he can conceive (including a portal gun that provides him access to any of the infinite alternate dimensions that exist in the show’s reality). Joining him on his adventures is his grandson Morty, who unlike Rick is exceedingly average and provides an entertaining contrast to Rick’s intelligence. Most episodes of the series are completely independent of each other, and therefore many of the episodes provide different philosophical elements and commentary on a variety of topics.

What Philosophy Means to Me

Before diving in and analyzing the philosophical elements present within Rick and Morty, I am first going to explain what I personally believe philosophy is. Put simply, I believe philosophy is the analysis of meta-issues that are present within our everyday lives. Question such as “why are we on this Earth?”, “how should we act?”, and “do we truly have free will?” all constitute as philosophical thoughts under this definition and the analysis of them is therefore considered philosophical thought.

The works and thoughts of famous philosophers throughout history, including the ones studied in this course, all adhere to this definition. One specific example would be Immanuel Kant. Kant attempts to answer the broad question of “how should we properly act in our life?”, and he does so by providing two tests that analyze actions and then determine whether they are morally permissible. He refers to these tests as his “categorical imperatives”. The first categorical imperatives states that “An act is morally acceptable if, and only if, its maxim is universalizable” (Kant, The Kantian Perspective: Fairness and Justice, 157).” The second categorical imperative test states that we should “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means but always at the same time as an end” (O’Neill, Kantian Approaches to some Famine Problems, 259). When attempting to answer the meta-question of “how should we properly act?”, Kant ultimately came up with these tests as his way of explaining which actions are moral and which ones are not.

Again, based off my given definition of philosophy, I occasionally and sporadically engage in philosophical thought when looking back at previous occurrences in my lifetime or when analyzing certain events. When given some time to myself for mental relaxation, I tend to look at big-picture issues that have a presence in my daily life and then point out some of the philosophical elements that are present within them. For example, I have previously taken time to think about success as a concept and why certain individuals are more driven to it than others, or why some individuals are satisfied with life’s basic pleasures while others constantly require more materialistic desires to achieve the same level of happiness.

Philosophical Elements in Rick and Morty

As was previously mentioned, almost all the episodes of Rick and Morty are completely independent of each other, and many of them therefore provide a completely different commentary on varying philosophical questions. As such, I will be analyzing the philosophical commentary that is specifically present with season 2 episode 5, titled “Get Schwifty”. In this episode, Earth is visited by an intergalactic species of giant floating heads who are visiting humanity for a very specific purpose: to have them as part of their intergalactic game show, wherein a planet must have their best singer perform their most entertaining song.  Earth is one of the many planets participating, and the incentive for winning this game show is survival: those planets that get eliminated from the game show quite literally get eliminated.

The underlying philosophical commentary in this episode is addressing the meta-question of “what is Religion?” More specifically, the episode is questioning why humanity has always held religion in such high regard and where we as a species have actually acquired our interpretations of religion. When the floating heads visit Earth, they repeat the phrase “Show me what you got”. Rick is familiar with this species and knows that they want humanity to put forth their best singer to provide the most entertaining song that humanity has to offer. The alien heads attempt to make it clear to the rest of humanity that this is their purpose as well, but the majority of the population does not comprehend the true purpose of the alien’s visit and instead attempts to draw out religious meaning from their statement. A large portion of humanity sees these aliens as gods and they begin to worship them, completely abandoning their previously held religious beliefs. The underlying philosophical commentary here lies within the hasty abandonment of previous religious beliefs. The fact that people around the world abandon their previously held beliefs when faced with direct proof of what they believe to be a higher power begs the question of to what extend people truly believe in their religion.

Slightly later on in the episode those people who see the alien heads as deities begin to think that they are displeased with humanity as a whole. They then start performing various (seemingly random) acts of faith and sacrifice in an attempt to please these supposed gods. Meanwhile, Rick is attempting to save Earth by adhering to the true desires of these aliens by participating in their reality game show. Rick and Morty together provide the heads with a great performance, and the heads then openly express their content with this action. However, the people providing absurd sacrifices to these heads interpret that the heads were content as a direct result of their sacrifices and worship, so they therefore continue to perform these acts of worship. This provides the audience with yet another underlying philosophical critique of religious beliefs, this time by questioning if all religious worship is pointless and by raising the possibility that religious beliefs held by humanity only formed because of unrelated coincidence.

This was only an analysis of the philosophical narratives and questions that are present within this specific episode of Rick and Morty. As was previously mentioned, nearly all the episodes in the series are fully independent of each other, and many of them provide completely different philosophical thoughts within them that are also worthy of further analysis. Despite the philosophy present within it, it is important to note that what Rick and Morty does best is what is primarily intended for; and that is to be a wildly entertaining and hilarious show.

Discussion Summary – Kant

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree with Kant’s anti-paternalistic views? Or do you think that, when helping others, a paternalistic approach would ultimately be more beneficial and, therefore, justifiably moral?
  2. Do you find the Categorical Imperative (particularly the first one) to be a good method when determining the morality of actions, or are there obvious exceptions?

For the first question, I chose to discuss Kant’s idea that, when helping others, we must focus on acting in such a way as to preserve the autonomy of those in the vulnerable state of needing to be assisted. Kant is assertive is pointing out that “happiness secured by purely paternalistic means, or at the cost (for example) of manipulating others’ desires, will not count as beneficent in the Kantian picture” (Kantian Approaches to Some Famine Problems, p.264-265). However, this particularly stood out to me as a concept to be discussed because, in a case where there is great struggle and desperate need for help, would it truly matter to those in need whether their autonomy in the situation is being preserved or not? Wouldn’t solving the problem, even if by imposing the means to on them, be of more importance in this case rather than making sure their autonomy is preserved? In this sense, then, we could even come to justify a paternalistic approach – if solving the problem is the concept of utmost importance, then in several cases it would come to be the most objective, solution-yielding approach to helping those in need.

When discussing with my group in class, we came to the conclusion that, despite agreeing with Kant’s anti-paternalistic views on a moral level – it is indeed desirable to preserve the autonomy and ways of those in need -, it is simply far too unrealistic when applied into a real-life context. When we take cases such as the genocide in Rwanda, where the civil war was generating unimaginable violence and hundreds of children and innocent civilians were being brutally murdered on a daily basis, the interference of the UN peacekeeping troops was certainly pivotal in helping cease the attacks – the population of Rwanda did not have the means to do so. They certainly, however, took a paternalistic (and, therefore, anti-Kantian) approach to the situation – but sparing the lives of thousands of future victims of brutality certainly outweighs Kant’s morality principles in this case. Approaching the problem from a paternalistic perspective was, in this sense, the right thing to be done – the moral thing. Ultimately, we came to argue that, considering the vulnerable state of many groups in need in today’s society, making sure that the problem is dealt with is far more important than ensuring that the autonomy of those involved is preserved, particularly if they do not have the means to deal with it alone.

Moving on to the second question, I chose to discuss the idea behind the first Categorical Imperative – the concept that one must be able to universalize a maxim. Kant is quick to point out that we must “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law” (The Ethical Life: Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems, p.94), when determining whether an act is moral or not (something highly esteemed by Kant), but are there clear exceptions to this rule? Are there situations in which a person is indeed acting out of purely good will, and yet their action could not be universalized?

When discussing this question, my group and I came across a series of mundane situations in which a subject was doing something we did not find to be immoral, and yet they could not be universalized. We began to discuss the issue of abortion – if every single person chose to have one, mankind would certainly fail to evolve; at some point, there would be no human beings left. However, if the person who is choosing to have an abortion is doing so because they know they would not be able to have the resources or capability to raise a child under reasonable conditions, then they are most definitely acting out of good will – something that Kant believes is the root of all morality. We came to the conclusion that, despite working in most cases, Kant’s Categorical Imperative can be easily contradicted, particularly when looking at more complex situations such as that of abortion. We noted that there are far too many nuances and issues to be taken into consideration when looking at what is to be considered moral or not – it cannot simply come down to “is it universalizable or not?”. Of course, there are cases where this is greatly applicable – we cannot, for instance, all deceive each other, so we can see why lying is considered immoral. However, when looking at the overall scenario of issues, there are clear cases in which Kant’s ideas are, in essence, far too simplistic and cannot be generalized.

Discussion Summary on Kant

Question: When making categorical imperatives or any universal laws that many philosophers like to make, there will always be exceptions.  How small does this exception have to be to become irrelevant?

-Kant’s CI’s assume some things, for example the suicide maxim assumes that most people want to avoid pain, which is reasonable. So, there will be some people who don’t think avoiding pain is good, but that is so unusual it is not worth using as a contradiction to his CI. What is?

Group: People who stray from the norm can’t be considered as an exception, because them deriving pleasure from contradictory means is still pleasure, so it can be considered the same thing. There also isn’t a reasonable way to measure this “exception” so you can’t really find a number value that can be defined as irrelevant. In cases when the good of the people is in mind and there are contradictory views to it they are the exception but should not be considered because they are not the goal.

Question: Should you do the morally right thing because it is morally right if you know negative results will ensure?

-Kant says yes.

Group: Answers varied on this one. Some people said yes, because it is better for society to uphold this idea. Because find exceptions is a slippery slope and will lead to worse consequences. Others said no. They believed absolutes are too powerful for this reason. There will always be exceptions and ignoring them can be more immoral than abiding by the rule.