Movies, TV, and Morality

Cropped screenshot of Gary Cooper from the tra...

Cropped screenshot of Gary Cooper from the trailer for the film High Noon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


One way I have found to add pizzazz to the classroom experience is to show appropriate movies for analysis. It is easy to use movies to bring out the features of various ethical theories. One might, e.g., show Shane and compare it with High Noon to bring out the differences between consequentialism and a duty based deontological system. Or, build a thought experiment around a more recent film: Imagine it possible to develop a perfume that would bring about universal love when released on the world. Further imagine that to develop this perfume would require the murder of a dozen young women in order to extract their “essence”.  A dozen deaths to eliminate hatred among billions of people – the end of war and barbarism.  (Sound familiar? Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) Should we murder a dozen to save millions? Would a utilitarian ethic justify these murders? [Source]

Well, I am retired now and do not have a captive audience to try films, but if I did I would certainly use the three part post war episodes of Foyle’s War. You can find them on Knowledge Network where you can watch online and join the work of the Knowledge Network team by joining, contributing, and sharing! Watching Season 9/Episode 2, I initially thought I was watching a current USA news report of the Donald Trump campaign.

The moral questions raised in those episodes are interesting and fundamental. Those questions probe the nature of meta-ethics: is consequentialism the best approach to deciding what to do? Is there an absolute set of rules that should be followed? When theory and practice collide what to do? Does the end justify the means (always, sometimes, never) ? If truth is the first casualty in war is principle far behind?

7 thoughts on “Movies, TV, and Morality

  1. Shane and High Noon! Two of the best Western movies ever. High Noon has always reminded me of Kant and absolutism – the primary image is that church.


  2. Yes! I went through the film gauntlet at VIU with Ron Bonham (all 2 courses) where some damn good philosophizing of film was had. That’s where I saw High Noon for the first time as well as so many other classic westerns that I would never watch of my own free will!

    Some of my favourites:

    Memento (epistimology, personal identity, free will)
    Gattaca (genetic engineering, free will, ethics)
    The Truman Show (skepticism, free will, determinism)
    Minority Report (free will, determinism, future tech)
    Being John Malkovich (personal identity)
    Secretary (personal relationships/sexuality)


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