When someone utters the name: Robin Hood and almost immediately people will conjure up images of the green-clad archer of Sherwood Forest, or the noble robber who steals from the rich to give to the poor, and in a deeper sense, a man who will stand up to injustice and tyranny during the period that historians classify as the Middle Ages. Robin Hood is looked at by many as a hero. When taking a look at this idea through a philosophical point of view, there are more things to consider. Should people actually regard him as a hero? If so, don’t we have some sort of a responsibility as a society to look upon people who steal no matter what the reason for their actions may be as nothing more than a thief who is blight on society? On the flip side, is it acceptable to consider him a hero because he is helping those who are deemed less fortunate in society and therefore making society better as a whole? Upon using the ideas of Mills, and Kant it is this authors opinion that indeed Robin Hood though his actions aren’t the most morally ideal, he is breaking laws that ultimately were made by rich men and done so to most of the time to protect themselves and their fortune. Philosophically speaking, what Robin Hood did was help the greater good of many at the expense of a few and as a result society as a whole improved.
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Before diving in and explaining this further one must look at the three philosophers and their ideas and compare them to the folk hero himself. John Stuart Mill’s idea of utilitarianism can be considered as the idea of greatest happiness. Like the folk hero Robin Hoods actions, it can be described as that that a person has a duty to always act so he/she can accomplish the most happiness for the greatest number of people. One of Mill’s major ideas to the concept of utilitarianism is that he argues for the group over the individual. When looking at Robin Hood, while he is stealing, he is doing so for the greater good of many as opposed to the individual (in most cases, Robin Hood steals from the Sheriff of Nottingham). But there is a difference between what Mills argues than that of say Jeremy Bentham. Bentham argues that all phases of happiness as indeed equal. Mills tends to argue that pleasures derived from thinking and that of moral fiber can be considered superior to those pleasures that are in the physical nature. Mills also argues that happiness can be considered of higher value than that of contentment. This can be considered one part where Mills might have a problem with what Robin Hood is doing. Mill’s idea of being morally correct and having that leading to happiness can lead some people to believe that he would not have approved at Robin Hoods actions.
Mill’s definition of the difference between happiness of a higher and lower nature coupled with the idea that those who have seen and been a part of both tend to favor one over the other. In other words, Mill’s tends to argue is that it is the simple pleasures of life that people tend to prefer when they have no experience with something such as art or a night out at a museum and are because of this, these people are not in a position to make any sort of distinction between the two. This is something that can apply to Robin Hood as the people that he steals from certainly have an idea about museums and art and those who he gives his stolen products to certainly prefer the simple pleasures in life such as being able to eat a full meal or have some place to sleep. While Mills is certainly distinguishing two groups of people, he is not forgetting about the people that can be considered poor in his writing. Therefore it can be argued that while morally he does not totally agree with Robin Hood’s way of being, when looking at this writing, he does talk about the happiness for the greater good and there are some people who prefer the simple pleasures in life. These people, who prefer the simple pleasures, are those who Robin Hood helps the most although he may not fit into Mills idea of moral ambiguity. It should be noted that, Mills certainly have advocated sending the poor to universities to get an education and he believed that education would then qualify them to have more influence in say government but lets not forget that at the time that Robin Hood supposedly lived, there was a rigid class system and it was like it was today where people have ways through government programs to make that happen so this idea of his argument does not really apply here and therefore one must go back to the simple writings of Mills of happiness for the greater group and the simple pleasures that the poor during this time period to apply the idea of Robin Hood and whether he is right or wrong. When taking all factors into consideration it is the argument of this author that he would have seen Robin Hood as someone who is doing good work.
When taking a gander at Immanuel Kant, he tends to argue that people occupy a special place in the idea of creation, and his definition of morality can best be defined as that there is a law of reason that create all of humans duties and obligations. In other words, there is a reason that people do the things that they do and sometimes the reasons can be really simple. He takes this one step further by arguing that anything important as any idea that declares a certain action to be necessary. A good example of this can be described as: if someone is thirsty, they must have something to drink to make that thirst go away. Well, when looking at the idea and actions of a Robin Hood, he quenches the thirst of those who are thirsty. He feeds those who are hungry. He takes care of those who are less fortunate and does so using Kant’s definition of morality because there is a reason that creates his duty and obligation (the definition above). It should be noted however, that he also talks about a categorical imperative which, on the other hand, denotes an absolute, unconditional requirement that asserts its authority in all circumstances. “It is best known in its first formulation:
“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” This last idea is where Kant might have a problem with the actions of Robin Hood. Certainly, stealing will never become universal law, but this begs to ask the question, is feeding someone who is deemed an outcast from society because they don’t believe in the laws made by someone who is ruthless and attempts to weed out those who don’t agree with him wrong? Let’s not forget that laws are made by man himself and usually those laws are made to benefit those who make them. They are not made with everyone in mind. This is why the idea of universal law can be certainly considered biased. They are made with the idea that they benefit those who are making them without thinking of how they affect the “little people” of society. This is who Robin Hood thinks about; those who are not taken into consideration when laws are made. This is why he can be considered “a man of the common people.”
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Kant was known for his major unhappiness with those moral philosophies that were considered popular during his time; because he believed that it would never pass the level of being hypothetical. An idea such as that a utilitarian says that killing someone is indeed wrong because it does not create the most good for the most number of people. But this idea doesn’t relate to someone who doesn’t care about the greater good of the group and is only concerned with maximizing the positive outcome for themselves such as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Because of this, Kant argues that the idea of hypothetical moral systems cannot influence people’s moral actions or be looked upon as moral judgments against different people.
While both Kant and Mills would not totally be on board, so to speak with the way that Robin Hood conducted his daily life, it would be safe to argue that a lot of their writings pertain to the idea of what Robin Hood represents. Robin Hood showed people that sometimes an otherwise wrong deed is at times a good thing. Or in simpler terms, sometimes stealing isn’t necessarily wrong, particularly when justified by worthy ideal such as the greater good of the group or when laws are made by man for the benefit of the few in society, an idea that is still very prevalent today all over the world. Some consider Robin Hood an outlaw, this author considers him someone who had the courage to stand up to those who could not stand up for themselves and often was banished by society. He is fighting what can be considered a class war during the Middle Ages and it certainly is an idea that almost a millennium later, we are still fighting as a society. Maybe some things will never change.
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