Essay Research: Kant and Hume

For further research for my essay on the ethics of photographing suffering I looked at philosophers such as Kant and Hume’s theoretical thoughts on ethics, and related it to Ferrato and Hine’s books and images.

Immanuel Kant’s thesis on ethics is that the motive of an action was far more important than the action itself and its consequences. He thought that in order to know whether or not someone was acting morally you had to know what their intention was. “ (Warburton, 2012) with Kant’s theory on ethics it wouldn’t be enough to just look at Ferrato’s and Hine’s photographs in their books to know whether what we are seeing is ethical or not but would need to know why they took them. Kant also thought that “it was clear that a moral action was one performed out of a sense of duty, rather than simply out of inclination or feeling or the possibility of some kind of gain for the person performing it. “ (Warburton, 2012) this is where the ethicalness on Ferrato and Hine’s books could be questioned, as both would have gained from publishing their work and selling the books. Through wanting to show an audience the sufferings of the people they photographed they have gained money as they would have to sell them to get anything out of it themselves.

In contrast to Kant’s views on ethics, David Hume argues that rather than reason being the main role when we make ethical decisions, it is feelings “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” (Hume, 1994) For Hume, reason only plays a small role in how we make ethical decision, it is only through emotion that we can tell the difference between good and evil. When thinking of both Hine and Ferrato’s work with this ethical thesis in mind, it appears that the subject of the images is morally wrong, but by the act of having the emotional capacity to photograph them and show others to raise awareness could be argued to mean that the books are ethically correct.


Singer, P. (ed.) (1994) Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Warburton, N. (2012) Philosophy: The basics. 5th edn. London: Taylor & Francis.


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