Culture & Art

Ethical Philosophy in “Inglourious Basterds”

His philosophical reflections mainly registered the underestimation of actions moved by emotion and impulse, giving place for logic and rationality instead.

Perhaps part of Kant’s philosophy could be attributed to René Descartes, a philosopher who lived much before the Illuminism and published in 1637 The Speech of Method, a philosophical essay based on the seek for the scientific truth through reflection and rationality. His method would later be adopted by Kant, who defends the existence of a universal moral Law, which guide humankind through the use of pure logic.

This brief philosophical introduction is proof that ethical matters have since long considered to be linked to processing and analyzing situations through logical means. It could be used to explain a number of actions taken by characters of Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”, which, in a certain way, make an association with Kant’s metaphysics of morals.

The motion picture – which by now is already widely known – narrates the journey of a group of American soldiers who fight against Nazism. Their goal is to eliminate as many allies of the Hitler Dictatorship as they can, and the sequence presents scenes that seriously contradict the entire ethical philosophy built by Kant.

Homicide, driven by hatred, to those who hunt and kill Jews and communists turns out to be the outcome of an anguish motivated not by good sense or reason, but by anger, lack of control and lack of mercy – objects linked to emotions and without any relation with logic and the vision of “good will” described by Kant. What we see is series of actions motivated by a need of revenge, which is guided by a distorted vision of what could be considered to be “fair”.

Creating an organization with the finality of provoking in the group of oppressors (Nazis) the same effect suffered by its victims does not make Americans any better than Hitler followers – quite the other way around, actually: it puts them in the same level as their opponents. Still according to Kant’s philosophy, this line of thought could only lead to a massive regression of humanity in their evolutionary trajectory. All human actions would be delivered without any questioning, slowly climbing the road to chaos and immorality. It is essential that we think, ponder and reflect upon actions without any judgments before actually realizing them, and it is important to consider the consequences they might decode – that is the only way to land in an ethically and morally coherent decision.

In a way, the film illustrates the perils of emotionally-driven actions, as shown by the character of Shoshana, the Jewish woman who had her family murdered by Nazis and who sought revenge by planning the death of dozens of Nazi allies. Even though in some scenes the direction chosen by Tarantino seems historically inaccurate (as inevitably seen in Hitler’s murder), it brilliantly illustrates the importance of good sense, good will and rational and impartial thinking in the execution of human actions: emotion, hatred, and vengeance have only brought more negativity to the rebels of the story, inserting them in an enormous emotional abysm.

Though this way of thinking we get the lesson that, as explained by Kant, people must base their actions in a pure rationality, free of obstacles and historical, personal or psychological empiricisms. This can be applied to our own current reality, as many people seem to think mass assassination and destruction of minorities is the solution against terrorism and war. I invite these people to think of Kant and Tarantino. Only so the desired morality can be reached.

About The Author

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Susana Boatto

Susana Boatto has acquired a degree in Portuguese and German studies in her homecountry of Brazil. She has worked in linguistic fields, namely publishing and translation, and aspires to get a Master's degree in Cultural Studies in Germany - where she currently lives. Amongst her interests are history, languages and diversity, and she is a firm advocate for human rights.