The Declaration of Independence states, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. ” But, what does equal mean in the eyes of morality? Going back to Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham, the study of moral theory is an attempt to provide systematic answers to questions about what to do and how to be (Foundations I notes). However, in order to answer the question of what to do, one must first answer the question of whose morality matters.
In this essay, I explore theories of moral status in order to understand and describe what factors influence the lower-moral status of Drake, a character within the television show Downton Abbey. In doing so, I will identify enduing themes between the show and a JAMA article, “The association between income and life expectancy in the United States, 2001-2014. ” First, a description of moral status. Moral status is a concept employed to specify which entities deserve moral consideration in determining which sort of action to take.
To have moral standing in any given moral consideration, is to have moral rights which translates into “afforded protections. ” The extent to which an entity has moral rights is determined that entity’s moral status. In other words, to have a lower-moral status is to “have fewer or weaker rights” and to have full moral status is to have full moral rights (Beauchamp, 2009, 64). Currently, there is no single agreed upon theory used to determine whether an entity has moral status. So, in order to understand the factors that influence how characters’ view Drake’s moral status, I will briefly explain five common theories of moral status.
While the theory of human properties only grants moral status to the species homo sapiens, cognitive theories ground moral status in neurological functioning. According to this theory, entities which have properties such as “self-consciousness, the capacity to communicate with others and rationality” have moral status (Beauchamp, 2009, 72). The third theory, moral agency, defines moral status in terms of an entity’s “capacity to act as a moral agent. [This includes,] the capacity to make judgements about the rightness and wrongness of actions and have motives that can be judged morally” (Beauchamp, 2009, 74).
The theory of sentience on the other hand, solidifies moral status in an entity’s capacity to experience emotions. The last theory, grounds moral status in relationships built between entities. By understanding these five theories, one can gain a deeper understanding of the factors that influence how characters’ in Downton Abbey view Drake’s moral status. In the television show, Drake is a tenant farmer who has fallen seriously ill due to dropsy of the heart. Although Drake has a family, Isobel Crawley is the only character (besides Drake’s wife) that views Drake as having full-moral status.
The characters who viewed Drake as having a lower-moral status are, Dr. Clarkson, the Countess and the Earl. As depicted in the show, Isobel was not hesitant to discuss with Dr. Clarkson treatment options available for Drake. One treatment in particular was a relatively new procedure. Although Isobel saw the procedure as lifesaving, Dr. Clarkson saw the procedure as unreasonable. As for the Earl’s and the Countess’ view of Drake’s medical treatment, the Earl believed that what mattered was Dr. Clarkson’s professional opinion.
For the Countess, what mattered was the influence that Isobel had in wanting to save Drake’s life. This point was made clear in the scene where Dr. Clarkson was performing the procedure and the Countess states, “my dear woman, do not let them bully you. They’ll not disturb the peace of your husband’s last hours, not if I can help it. ” While there are two dominating factors that led to others viewing Drake as having a lower-moral status, none of the theories discussed earlier in the essay were employed. In the show, Drake’s sociopolitical and socioeconomic status determined his lower-moral status.
Dr. Clarkson made this point clear by telling Isobel, “we would be setting an impossible precedent when every villager could demand the latest treatment for each new cut and graze. ” However, in contrast to the other characters, Isobel believed that Drake’s life mattered. For her, Drake’s social status as a farmer did not mean that he should receive inferior medical care. This point relates directly to a theme also found within the JAMA article, i. e. , that there is a correlation between life expectancy and economic status. More specifically, that “life expectancy increases continuously with income” (Chetty, 2016, 1762).
In the show, those whose income was high were willing to let Drake die (except for Isobel). A second theme, was the correlation between social cohesion and income inequality. While Isobel showed social cohesion (as did Dr. Clarkson after he agreed to do the procedure), the Countess and the Earl failed to think about Drake’s well-being. In this essay, I explored theories of moral status to understand and describe what factors influenced how characters in Downton Abbey viewed the farmer Drake as having lower-moral status. In doing so, I identified two themes between the show and the JAMA article.