Dark Knight Ethical Dilemmas

The Dark Knight presented a range of ethical and moral dilemmas via its stand-out antagonist the Joker (Heath Ledger). While some critics have argued the morality of the film was simplistic, it was in fact a little different than they believe with the Joker being less an irrational nihilist and more a hyper-rational pessimist. Herein, the ethical dilemmas presented by the Joker will be explored.

The Joker’s Views on Morality

Many viewers tend to be confused as to what the Joker is actually trying to prove throughout the film. They tend to believe that the Joker is arguing that morality does not exist, essentially that the Joker is a nihilist. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant as the Joker’s true point is that even if there is an objective morality people will never live up to it, that they cannot even live up to the own moral codes they believe themselves to follow. As such, when the Joker is creating ethical dilemmas his situations are designed to encourage people to break their own codes rather than to argue that the codes themself are wrong from a theoretical standpoint.

The Joker’s Ferry Experiment

Dark Knight Ferry Scene

The Joker’s ferry experiment is set up as follows:

1. There are two boats with passengers, one with civilians and the other with prison officers and prisoners.

2. Both ships suddenly find out their ship is full of explosives.

3. Each ship has the detonator to the other, and are told that if anyone attempts to escape or that if by 12:00 AM one ship has not been blown up they will both be blown up.

What the joker is trying to prove here is that either the guards escorting the prisoners or the civilians are both willing to drop the legal code of their society when it becomes too difficult to follow. If the civilians choose to blow up the ship with the prisoners, they are passing extra judgement on them outside of the legal system and thus becoming criminals themselves. if the prison officers allow the the civilians to be blown up, they are neglecting their duty as officers of the law and are thus criminals as well. What the Joker is trying to prove is that deep down the prisoners, civilians and officers are all really criminals when it becomes too hard to follow the legal system.

Rachel and Harvey

In this scenario, the Joker takes both Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes hostage before telling the police and batman that they are both about to be blown up. In this scenario the joker is trying to get batman to break his moral code of not killing anyone by essentially creating a situation where he must choose between one life or the other. This is another example of the Joker trying to prove that when following a moral code becomes difficult, people abandon it. He is also attempting to illustrate that people tend to prefer one person over another to live. However, this particular example does not work too well as the Joker is ultimately the one responcible for the death and the police officers as well as batman are just doing the best they can with a bad situation.

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