1st Edition

Ethics Goes to the Movies An Introduction to Moral Philosophy

By Christopher Falzon Copyright 2019
    316 Pages
    by Routledge

    316 Pages
    by Routledge

    Movies hold a mirror up to us, portraying the complexities of human reality through their characters and stories. And they vividly illustrate moral theories that address questions about how we are to live and what sort of people we ought to be. In this book, Christopher Falzon uses movies to provide a rich survey of moral positions as they have emerged through history. These include the ethics of the ancient world, medieval ethics, Enlightenment and Kantian ethics, existentialist ethics and the ethics of the other. Each theory is explained in detail, using a number of examples from the book’s wide selection of movies. The discussion draws on a range of recent and not-so-recent films, from Hollywood blockbusters to art-house cinema.

    Key Features:

    • In addition to covering thinkers one would expect in an introduction to ethics (e.g., Plato, Aristotle, Kant), the book discusses less canonical figures in detail as well (e.g., Marcuse, Foucault, Habermas).
    • Similarly, the book examines both major ethical theories (e.g., Kantianism, utilitarianism, virtue ethics) and theories too often glossed over in introductory texts (e.g. Stoicism, Epicureanism, Habermas's discourse ethics and Nietzschean ethics).
    • A wide range of movies are discussed, from Hollywood blockbusters and classics like The Dark Knight, Casablanca and Dirty Harry to lesser known films, like Force Majeure and Under the Skin.
    • Atthe end of each chapter a focus on two feature films is included, with a plot summary and interpretations of several key scenes with a time marker indicating when in the film the scenes occur.
    • A Filmography includes all movies discussed in the book and a Glossary covers key philosophical terms and figures; both with corresponding page numbers.



    Introduction – Rear Window Ethics

    What is ethics?

    Film as experimental

    Exploring ethics through film


    Chapter 1. Excess and obsession – Ancient ethics

    Why be moral

    Plato’s moral theory

    Aristotle and virtue ethics



    Feature films: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Under the Skin


    Chapter 2. Sin and self-denial: Religious ethics

    Divine command


    Aquinas and natural law

    The problem of evil

    Feature films: Crimes and Misdemeanors, and The Addiction


    Chapter 3. Pleasure, happiness and rights: Enlightenment ethics

    Hobbes and the social contract

    Enlightenment and happiness



    The libertine and scientific morality

    Feature films: Dirty Harry, and The Dark Knight


    Chapter 4. Personhood and autonomy: Kantian ethics

    Duty and desire




    Habermas and discourse ethics

    Feature films: High Noon, and No Country for Old Men


    Chapter 5. Slaves, supermen and authentic selves: Existentialist ethics



    Twentieth-century existentialism: Sartre et al.

    The social situation: de Beauvoir

    Feature films: Rope, and Fight Club


    Chapter 6. Encounters with aliens: Ethics and the other

    The critique of ‘traditional’ ethics

    The ethics of care

    Levinas and the ethics of the other

    Foucault, ethics and power

    Experiments in living

    Feature films: Casablanca, and Force Majeure







    Christopher Falzon is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Newcastle, Australia. He is the author of Foucault and Social Dialogue (1998) and Philosophy Goes to the Movies (3rd edition, 2014), and the co-editor of Foucault and Philosophy (2010) and A Blackwell Companion to Foucault (2013).


    'Christopher Falzon has written another exemplary book, which makes an important contribution to introducing students and the general public to the basic areas of ethical theory. His vast knowledge of films, from the silent era to the present day, provides an accessible way to engage the reader and clarify moral dilemmas.'

    –Timothy J. Madigan, St John Fisher College, USA


    "Teaching ethics will never be the same after Ethics Goes to the Movies. This ingenious volume uses a wide range of fiction films to introduce students to all the major ethical theories. Organized historically, the book shows that films from Casablanca to Get Out are concerned with the same issues that animate the ethical theories of philosophers from Plato to Foucault. The detailed analysis of a few films after each sections will be particularly helpful to teachers and students. A remarkable achievement!"

    -Thomas E. Wartenberg, Mount Holyoke College

    "Chris Falzon’s Ethics Goes to the Movies manages to achieve something many books aspire to but few are able to realise: a genuine introduction to philosophy that is also a wonderful introduction to film. Spanning Greek ethics, Medieval to Enlightenment thinkers, and key ethical approaches in modern philosophy, as well as a wealth of detailed film examples, Ethics Goes to the Movies offers the ideal guide to studying philosophy through film. Highly recommended."

    --Robert Sinnerbrink, Macquarie University