[The holidays are upon us, and any day now, Frank Capra's 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life” will make its traditional holiday season appearance on network television. It is one of the great ethics movies of all time, perhaps the ethics movie of all time, and last year I prepared a guide through its complex ethics thicket. The post was divided into three separate posts, and I have intended for some time to combine them. Since today I am too sick to think, write or type, but not too sick to cut and paste, it seemed a propitious time for the task, so you can have the pleasure, if one can call it that, of watching the film like I do: having ethics arguments the whole way through.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving; my family did, at least up until our hotel was forcibly vacated in the middle of the night by a fire alarm. And now, here is your guide. Additions are welcome and encouraged.]
1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”
The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. Nevertheless, the framing of the tale advances the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.
We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. He’s going to get it, too, or at least the heavenly authorities will make the effort. They are assigning an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to the job. He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there—then again, George says he’s “not a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service!
2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck Continue reading