One of my most favorite things in life, beside chocolate truffles, the sea and kittens is anime. Another one of my most favorite things is philosophy. I love it especially when the two coincide.
...So we are studying the pretty awesome Immanuel Kant in Ethics class and the required reading is: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (of course).
It’s some pretty intense stuff, but thank God for the preface by Christine Korsgaard whom I will be quoting heavily in this little examination.
Now, very simply and without getting into a lot of Kant’s formulas for deciding ethical behavior I will outline what Kant says in the first section of Groundwork, then apply it to our favorite anime Bleach. After, I will pose some questions that might arise- and let’s see if we can come up with some answers.
Of course, if anybody needs me to better explain what Kant means by ‘this or that’ or provide in depth source citations, I would be happy to!
Kant is concerned with finding out what constitutes ethical behavior and obligation.
Kant believes that “the good will is the only thing that has a value which is completely independent of its relation to other things, which it therefore has in all circumstances and which cannot be undercut by external conditions.”
This means that as opposed to things like ‘wealth’ and ‘happiness’, good will is the only thing that does not have a conditional value- good will is not dependent on who is happy or who is wealthy and what type of person they are and what effects they accomplish. Good will is something that humans will always value positively no matter what the consequences of the action happen to be.
Kant says there are 3 types of motivation: immediate inclination(doing something for the sake of doing it, or because you enjoy it), further end( doing something because you will get some other gain out of it, monetary or healthwise or something like that) and lastly, duty (doing something because you think it's the right thing to do).
Kant chooses to examine the agent that acts out of duty because he feels there is something especially moral about the person who “might have other motives which in the absence of duty, would lead him to avoid the action.” The person who acts out of duty feels that their purpose is to help people, not because they enjoy the work or reap any other benefits, but because the person feels that choosing to help people is what is required of him; “He thinks that the needs of others make a claim on him”.
What all this has to do with Bleach:
I don’t think anybody could make a reasonable argument against the claim that according to Kant, “Ichigo and his friends are moral agents that always act out of duty”.
I think it is fair to say that Ichigo and his friends don’t get a rush out of risking their lives to save each other but act because they feel it is their duty to protect one another- for whatever reason(Ichigo might have a special obligation to Rukia because she granted him the power to save himself and his family- he owes her his life).
According to Kant, Ichigo and his friends are the best type of people, because they act out of duty and always have a good will.
Although the Hueco Mundo arc has yet to play out, all of the attempts before at carrying out the good will that Ichigo and his friends so fervently believe in have all been successful. Rukia thought it was her duty to give Ichigo her powers and help him save his family. Ichigo thought it was his duty to rescue Rukia from death in the Soul Society(There were lots of little episodes in between, about Chad and Ichigo, Urahara and Rukia, Ganju and Rukia- the list goes on and on, but all of them focused around good will and some form of obligation).
However, I cannot help but cringe at how quickly the characters from Bleach jump into action. They are always so compelled to help each other that they act impulsively and are usually always ill prepared for their missions. Especially in 271, after Ichigo got his ass kicked by Uliquorra he said, “Who says I’m just going to give up?” It’s stubborn little retorts that make me roll my eyes. I wonder at Ichigo’s bravado. Wouldn’t it just be better(smarter!) to stay down, admit defeat and regroup later? Makes me think that sometimes, Ichigo doesn't know what the hell he is fighting for.
That brings me to my first question:
Does the way you carry out your duty make a difference on how good your action is?
If you take longer to ‘do the right thing’, because you are making provisions that you don’t end up hurt or killed- does that take away from the good will of the action because you thought of your own safety first, before you went on your rescue mission? Do your motives change then?
My second question is this:
Ichigo believes that ‘the needs of others make a claim on him’, and he is always ready to carry out his duty but what kind of obligation does he have towards a person that does not ask for or want his help?
During all of the rescue missions and little side episodes, everybody always refuses the help that they are being offered. All of the characters rush to protect on another, but no one is happy to be protected. Rukia told him outright that she didn’t want him to go to soul society. She told him that she wasn’t going to thank him for rescuing her- she was ready to die. Orihime was surprised that they came to rescue her at Hueco Mundo and Ishida ran away, like, 3 times during that idiotic bounto arc. The list goes on and on and on. Everybody is in a rush to protect, but they don’t know why. They feel it’s the right thing to do. But nobody they are trying to protect ‘wants’ their help anyway- so why bother?
In effect, you are going against what the person would want- do you have a right to override their judgement and say, they aren’t valuing themselves properly, I’m going to stand in and save them, for them- that ‘They’d thank me if they knew any better?’
My last question is this:
What if your good will and feelings of obligations towards duty don’t match up with other agents?
It happened with Byakuya and Ichigo. They were both trying to act nobly and had their best intentions at heart, but because of character loyalty, we ended up viewing Byakuya as the bad guy in the soul society arc. He might have been acting even more nobly than Ichigo because he actually made two conflicting promises, where Ichigo had made none.
We also saw this with Yamamoto, Ukitake and Shunsui. Yamamoto was so ready to uphold his duty that he was ready to kill his favorite students.
I think to a very large extent, this is the type of crisis we are going to face if we ever learn more about Tousen, Gin and Aizen. They probably have the best intentions, going forward to try and overthrow the king of Soul Society, becoming God and re-writing the rules so that everybody can prosper, they might be the good guys since they are thinking of everybody’s Greater Good. Remember- according to Kant, good will is the only thing that matters. It is not a valid thing to say that, in this case, the ends do not justify the means. According to Kant, it doesn’t matter what the consequences of your good actions are as long as they were to carry out the good will. Aizen could sacrifice as many souls as he wishes in order to carry out his good will and Kant would be O.K with that. Who is right here and how do we decide?
So what gives, people?
What do you think about conflicting good wills? Is their a better way to define good will and the actions you should take to carry it out?
What do you think about helping people that do not ask for your help? Does anybody have a right to ‘save’ anybody? And of course, would a little preparation on Ichigo’s part hurt the motivation behind his good actions?
So lets hear it, Bleach Fans. All opinions welcome, I’m no MarySue- I want to know what YOU think.