The Philosophy of National Treasure

This semester in my Environmental Ethics class we have discussed the objectivists, relativists, utilitarian, and deontology theories of philosophy. Most of the people in the class can come up with examples that challenge these theories almost instantly after learning them, but I take a little longer to understand these concepts.

Our professor told us that he wrote his graduate thesis about deontology and utilitarianism and how you cant consider both when making a moral decision. Deontology considers the motives and reasons for choosing to make a decision. Utilitarianism considers the consequences and only the consequences that benefits the majority of the people.

Nicolas Cage’s character has to choose first if he should steal the Declaration of Independence, but then had to decide what the punishment for his actions should be.

In the movie National Treasure Nicolas Cage and Justin Bartha follow a set of riddles and clues to find a treasure that has been hidden for centuries. During which, they must steal the Declaration of Independence. Now consider this act, to most this seems immoral act-after all it is wrong to steal- but in the movie they are stealing it for the “right” reasons. Since their intentions were good and moral, they were trying to protect the Constitution and keep it out of the hands of the “bad” guys. From a deontology, this would be a moral act because the intentions were good.

From a utilitarian point of view, the consequences are suppose to bring happiness to the most number of people. SPOILER ALERT! In the end of the movie they find the treasure, return the Constitution, and donate the treasure to a number of museums all around the world. This brings the most amount of happiness because the world gets to see history in ways they never could before. The Gates family got recognition for finding the treasure after being made a mockery of for decades. This happiness would out weigh the sadness the FBI had while trying to hunt them down…if you could call that sadness. But either way the consequences ended up in a positive way–has to its a movie ending–but hypothetically the ending to this treasure hunt brings the most pleasure and happiness to everyone.

I havent studied philosophy for that long, but doesnt this mean that this example makes both utilitarianism and deontology work. If anyone has any philosophy reasons why this doesnt work, feel free to post! Thanks for reading everyone!

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