"The Witness"

Notes and questions about the film


1.      What role (if any) should emotion play in ethical thinking?

         a.      Does engaging strong emotions about a moral issue help or hinder our moral approach to it?

2.      Are there morally relevant differences between wearing fur and leather?

         a.      Fur was a main target of the movie, but few people wear it. No mention was made of leather, but virtually everybody wears it.

3.      Are there morally relevant differences between wearing fur and eating animals?

         a.      What are the rationales for eating animals? Taste? Nutrition? Is one a frivolous use of animals (fur), the other (meat) not? Is eating meat necessary?

4.      Are Eddie Lama's views about animal psychology justified?

         a.      Do animals know they are going to be killed? “Please don’t kill me and the kids.”

         b.      Are animals who are being harmed--and about to be killed--feeling the type of desperation and helplessness that Lama did when he was mugged and no one came to help him?

         c.      Can animals be afraid, prefer certain things, have likes/dislikes, try to communicate those likes/dislikes, choose things? (Yes)

5.      Lama argues that there are no morally relevant differences between pets (Fido) and animals used for food and fur (pigs and mink). (They are all "animals.") Is he correct?

         a.      Internal properties (e.g., psychological abilities) the same; relational properties are not the same.

         b.      Might those relational properties justify differences in treatment?

         c.      Are there special duties of care for pets (and those close to us)?

         d.      Is it morally relevant that these animals are created for different purposes? (But many eat dogs/cats...)

         e.      Are there morally relevant differences between domestic and wild animals? (E.g., cows versus bison)

         f.       “Animals” is a term that applies to an incredibly wide range of creatures: Insects are animals and not plants. Humans are animals. Fish are animals. Chimps are animals. Are there relevant differences between these animals that might justify different moral obligations to them?

6.      Lama is someone who acts on his beliefs and works for change. How does change come about in a society?

         a.      Power of example; start with yourself

         b.      Of what use is a belief about right/wrong unless you are willing to act on it?

         c.      Are some of us like those at the end of the film who see the cruelty/injustice and then just keep walking (and don't change or work for change)?

7.      Is there a problem if someone believes cruely raising and killing animals for food is wrong but then continues to eat meat?

         a.      Do they really believe it is wrong (but are too weak to act on their belief) or do they not really believe it is wrong?

8.      The secretary who works for Lama is not a vegetarian and she says Lama is respectful towards her

         a.      How wrong can one believe something is and still tolerate it in others?

         b.      If one tolerates others engaging in a practice, does that mean one doesn't really believe it is seriously wrong?