At a time when daily atrocities are committed against innocent populations by self-proclaimed religious supremacists, Kantian ethics seem more and more idealistic and out of touch with present day reality. Indeed, is Kant still topical when, as an agnostic thinker, he continued to regard the God ‘hypothesis’, be it in a conceptual form, as essential to the moral balance of his rational agent? Is introducing God as a major component of an ethical theory the guarantee of ‘good’ actions to ensue? In the light of contemporary events, it seems that Kant could have probably dispensed with his three postulates with the exception of his insistence that each person is free and responsible for his actions, a Kantian legacy lying at the core of Western conceptions of modern democratic government.
But what do our IB students think of moral dilemmas never faced by the ‘Sage of Koningsberg’? What, for instance, of the elderly and terminally ill patients abandoned to their fate by the New Orleans health authorities in the wake of hurricane Katrina, back in 2005? Should the fittest always take precedence over the weakest members of a community? Although Kant strongly claimed that every human life is, in human terms, ‘sacred’, that is, worthy of our unconditional respect and potential assistance, many contemporary dilemmas are more and more resolved from a purely Utilitarian perspective. Should I help a family of Middle East refugees if I believe that as part of a ‘migrant wave’, they may constitute a future threat to my inner values and way of life?
Is it the dawn of a curious morality showing no consideration for the ‘Other’ (whoever he or she may be), a morality no longer assessed by universal principles, so dear to Kant, but judged exclusively in terms of the agent’s motivation and intention. Are we witnessing the early effects of a new selfish morality as once celebrated by Ayn Rand in The Virtue of Selfishness and recently portrayed in popular TV series like The Hunger Games or Game of Thrones? Has personal interest and greed become the only source of personal morality in a world presented as a lethal ‘game’ driven by the eternal struggle for survival?