In making moral decisions, truth becomes relative and what one considers morally right in a given situation might be morally wrong when viewed from another perspective in another situation. In the film Right or Wrong (Making Moral Decisions), each character is faced with a moral dilemma in making moral decisions. After the guard sees Harry’s friends vandalize Kastner’s house, he is faced with moral dilemma of reporting Harry to police given the fact that he knows Harry’s father.
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He thinks on whether to cover Harry on basis of his father’s relationship, or report him to the police on basis of duty; as a guard, he has the responsibility of reporting such cases. The guard’s decision to report Harry to the authorities suggests deontological ethics where “ethics judges the morality of an action based on the action’s adherence to rules” (Salzmann 6). If I were the guard, I would report Harry to the police because my duties dictate that I do so.
Similarly, Harry’s mother has a decision to make; to hide or present Harry to the police officers; she chooses the latter. Before producing Harry to the police, she thinks whether to hide her beloved son, or produce the unbecoming son, who keeps gangs for friends. Her decision viz. to produce her son to the police officers suggests utilitarianism, where, “the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome” (Shaw 33).
Harry’s mother focuses on the outcome of her actions that, Harry would change his unbecoming behavior. If I were Harry’s mother, I would do exactly what she did. The important things should never be left at the mercy of the less important things. Hiding Harry would appear as an act of love, but the long-term outcome would be ushering Harry into hooliganism.
On the other side, Kastner’s opinion to bring Harry to trial due to his failure to divulge information about his friends suggests the ethical theory of consequentialism. In Kastner’s perspective, trying Harry would assist in curbing vandalism. According to Page, “the consequences of one’s conduct; are the true basis for any judgment about the morality of that conduct” (54).
Therefore, the consequences of Kastner’s actions validate the morality of his decision. It would have been ethical for Sergeant Kelly if he forced Harry to talk for his (Harry) own good. This suggests ethical altruism whereby, “individuals have a moral obligation to help, serve, or benefit others” (Rand 61). Sergeant Kelly is morally obliged to help Harry by pushing him to name his friends. This would ultimately benefit Harry for he did not participate in vandalizing Kastner’s building.
As the film closes, Barker asks Harry, “Is it right to hide a lawbreaker from justice?” (Right or Wrong? Making Moral Decisions). This question suggests the ethical theory of deontological ethics versus relativism. Deontological in the sense that, we should not hide criminals for the law requires otherwise, and relativism in the sense that, hiding one’s friends even though they are criminals serves the purpose of true friendship.
The issue of ‘true friendship’ is relative and it varies from one person to another. To Harry, it is morally right to hide his friends while to Barker, it is morally wrong to hide lawbreakers. If I were Harry, I would mention the names of my friends. The fact that I did not participate in the vandalism shows that I disapprove the behavior. I would use consequentialism theory to defend my stand. By mentioning my friends to the police implies they will be charged for their behavior thus forcing them to change. Therefore, the results/consequences of my decision will be morally upright and this underscores the ethical theory of consequentialism.
Right or Wrong? (Making Moral Decisions). Coronet Instructional Films, 1954. Web.
Page, James. Peace Education: Exploring Ethical and Philosophical Foundations. Charlotte: Information Age Publishing, 2008.
Rand, Ayn. Philosophy: Who Needs It. Signet: New York, 1984.
Salzmann, Todd. Deontology and Teleology: An Investigation of the Normative Debate in Roman Catholic Moral Theology. University Press, 1995.
Shaw, William. Contemporary Ethics: Taking Account of Utilitarianism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1999.