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Immanuel Kant and the Ethics of Leadership Essay

In chapter three of The Ethics of Leadership, Joanne B. Ciulla, introduces the moral philosophy of Prussian philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who developed a set of ethics to guide our decisions and help us judge whether certain actions are morally correct. Kant’s moral theory does not look at all into consequences and has a very strict view of morality which can sometimes conflict between duty and self-interest. Ciulla mentions the story of David and Bathsheba in the Bible and asserts, “Leaders are often tempted to lie because they believe they either won’t get caught, or they can cover up their lies.

” (Ciulla, 94) This assertion rings ever so true in light of the recent scandals involving the increase in U. S. politicians that have confessed to adultery. As marriage and family are often regarded as a basis of society, a story of adultery often shows the conflict between social pressure and individual struggle for happiness. Adultery is a very American topic. We have been redefining the parameters of its acceptability and taboo with each new generation since the Scarlet Letter.

Why is American society becoming so obsessed with these types of scandals and what does it say about the morality of our society? Perhaps society is not solely obsessed with the adultery itself; maybe society is more obsessed with its leaders “fall from grace”. Sexual affairs have been a part of U. S. politics since Thomas Jefferson. However, politicians’ affairs were generally kept outside the purview of the public eye. Over the years we have began to see a change.

Society is somehow fascinated with the whole idea of adultery and the entertainment industry celebrates it and portrays it mostly in a very romantic light. I am guilty of watching shows such as “The Good Wife”, a show about the wife and family of a politician involved in a sexual scandal or “Desperate Housewives” that romanticize and make adultery seem like the right thing to do if you need a little excitement in your life. Perhaps by watching TV shows like this, one is being conditioned to do what makes him or her happy or do whatever feels good or “right”.

Oftentimes, whatever feels “right” is described as whatever comes easily or naturally for an individual. Our society seems obsessed with finding “happiness” which the Kantian philosophy totally opposes. According to Kantian philosophy, every one of us is a moral agent. We give the moral law to ourselves by asking ourselves if we are doing the right thing only for sake of doing the right thing. One may never find happiness, feel comfortable making the “right”, or morally correct decision under the Kantian philosophy.

The morally valued thing in the universe is the rational human being that can give the law to himself or herself and our moral actions should be treating human beings as morally valuable. According to Kant, we should never treat a human being in such a way that we fail to respect the intrinsic human dignity of the human being. In essence, we should never treat anyone as a means to an end or treat a person against his or her dignity. Now let us return to the issue of the politician and his or her effectiveness as a leader. Is the morality of the message dependent upon the morality of the messenger?

Although the morality of the message is NOT dependent upon the morality of the messenger, I think that the message has a far greater impact coming from someone who practices or lives it on a daily basis. Perhaps Americans are so fascinated with politicians’ and their adulterous scandals given that they presented a false image of themselves. It would be refreshing to have a politician simply be honest and say, “I’m not currently living up to this ideal, but I do value it”. Granted that could cost a politician the election but that would be the right thing to do according to Kant.


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