The most difficult decisions in life do not have a clear “right” option and a clear “wrong” option. Instead, the most difficult decisions involve determining the best option between two alternatives that both seem very “right” (Kidder 3). The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics enumerated the following approaches that individuals use when making difficult ethical decisions with options that seem equally correct: the utilitarian approach, the rights approach, the fairness or justice approach, the common good approach, and the virtue approach. While the film Minority Report depicts a utilitarian vision of society, its ultimate moral reflects the rights approach, which is my personal approach to ethical decision-making.
Minority Report is set in the distant future, a future plagued by crime and murder. A pilot program called precrime, however, promises to bring an end to the violence. The precrime division uses three “pre-cogs,” which are most like today’s psychics, to catch murderers before they have killed another human. Based on the information provided by the pre-cogs, those who will murder are detained and punished—even though they have committed no crimes. Having lost a child to murder, John Anderton, the film’s protagonist, leads the charge in hunting down those who have been targeted by the pre-cogs. Anderton even ignores the dissenting reports by a lone pre-cog, called minority reports, in order to catch those who were identified by the two others. Anderton only begins to question the efficacy of his division when two of the pre-cogs predict that he will murder an individual that he does not yet know. The film follows Anderton as he investigates his own minority report in order to track down the person who framed him for a murder that he knew he was not going to commit.
The ethical dilemma that is presented in the film Minority Report exemplifies a classic right vs. right problem. It is right to prevent murderers from killing innocent people, but it is also right to keep innocent people out of jail. At the beginning of the movie, Anderton and his colleagues approach the dilemma with a utilitarian outlook towards ethical decision-making. They seek to make decision that will do the most good—even if those decisions are accompanied by collateral damage. They ignored the minority reports when one of the pre-cogs disagreed because the benefit of ending murder altogether outweighed the risk of jailing the occasional innocent person. In an even larger sense, Anderton’s task force ignores the myriad issues involved with jailing people who are, in fact, innocent. They justify this, once again, by claiming to do more good than bad.
When the pre-cogs turn on Anderton, he begins to see the underlying flaw in the utilitarian approach to stopping murder before it has been committed. As he experiences the being pursued and the threat of punishment for a crime that he has not committed, Anderton likely begins to develop a more rights based approach to ethics. That leads the viewer to Minority Report’s ultimate moral. Sometimes, making the right decision does not necessarily involve choosing the path that will do the most good. While no one wants to see harm come to anyone else, people should not be asked to give up their basic human rights because someone else claims that it will bring them safety. Even for the best of reasons, imprisoning those who are objectively innocent is a violation of their rights as human beings. Likewise, taking the risk that the pre-cogs see the correct future—even when one of their own sees something different—is not acceptable. The fact that they may be right most of the time does not excuse the occasional time when they are wrong. When making an ethical decision, both society and each individual within society should always endeavor to make the choice that violates the fewest number of individuals’ rights. Through the events that occurred in Minority Report, even a hardline utilitarian like John Anderton learned to understand the value of human rights.
- Kidder, Rushworth. How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2003.
- Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. “,A Framework for Ethical Decision Making.” Santa Clara University, 1 Aug. 2015, www.scu.edu/ethics/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/a-framework-for-ethical-decision-making/
- Spielberg, Steven, Gerald R. Molen, Bonnie Curtis, Walter F. Parkes, Jan . Bont, Scott Frank, Jon Cohen, Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Max . Sydow, Lois Smith, Peter Stormare, Tim B. Nelson, Steve Harris, Kathryn Morris, and Philip K. Dick. Minority Report. , 2003.