Essay: Ethics and Moral Theory

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Ethics - Moral Theory


Life is Beautiful and Dishonesty:

The movie Life is Beautiful (1998) portrays the life of Guido Orefice, a Jewish tourist traveling in Italy just before the outbreak of World War II. Under Fascist rule, Italian Jews were rounded up and dispatched to Nazi extermination camps as part of Hitler's "Final Solution" to Europe's "Jewish problem." To keep his five-year-old son Giosue from being frightened by the ordeal, Guido tells him that their purpose for traveling by train to Germany is to compete in a contest to win a shiny new tank because the child greatly admired military vehicles. The film suggests that Guido's deception was justified by its purpose and raises the larger ethical issue of engaging in deception for beneficent rather than selfish reasons.

Objective Analysis of the Ethical Issue Presented by the Movie:

Different ethical theories offer conflicting views on the morality of lying in order to achieve a worthwhile purpose. For example, utilitarian concepts would support the use of deception exclusively for the benefit of the deceived individual whereas deontological theorists might oppose the violation of the general moral rule prohibiting lying; similarly, the virtue ethics perspective might support the deception if motivated by the underlying motivation that has a moral value. In general, lying is unethical only because deception is much more likely to be motivated by immoral purposes than for beneficent goals. Nevertheless, just as in the case of other ethical principles, the rules intended to preserve those worthwhile principles are not necessarily equipped to address every imaginable situation in which the issues are capable of arising. The interest of public safety requires that the flow of vehicular traffic be regulated by light signals and road signs in conjunction with which enforcement by authorities is appropriate to ensure compliance.

However, exceptions from the ordinary circumstances those rules of the road sometimes justify violating those rules. Emergency vehicles may not obey traffic rules for the purpose of achieving the greater purpose of responding to fires and other emergencies and private citizens may also have to violate those established rules to rush someone to the hospital. The fact that exceptions from ordinary situations may justify isolated violations of otherwise sound ethical rules does not undermine the value of those rules; in fact, in certain instances, adhering to formal rules may cause harm instead of preventing harm, which is the purpose of establishing formal rules like traffic laws in the first place.

Practically all ethical perspectives, as well as ordinary common sense, view purposeful deception for personal gain as unjustified immoral conduct. Utilitarianism might justify even selfish deception if the beneficiaries far outnumbered those being deceived, but would ultimately not support such a practice because the individual being deceived is being used for the purposes of others. However, where the sole purpose of the deception is for the benefit of the individual being deceived without any selfish benefit to the perpetrator of the deception, utilitarian analysis would support Guido's decision.

Possibly the only utilitarian criticism of Guido's decision might pertain to a situation where Guido is more concerned with sparing himself from the trauma of dealing with a hysterical child, in which case the same deception for that purpose would violate the utilitarian principle against using others as the means of achieving or furthering one's own selfish goals. However, there is no such indication in the film and Guido was clearly motivated by… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Ethics and Moral Theory.  (2008, July 19).  Retrieved November 22, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Ethics and Moral Theory."  19 July 2008.  Web.  22 November 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Ethics and Moral Theory."  July 19, 2008.  Accessed November 22, 2019.