Ethical Issues in the 2002 Steven Spielberg Movie Minority Report

Technology is progressing every day. We have come so far in the past ten years. Imagine life in 2054, and what life will be like. That is what Philip K. Dick did in 1956 when he wrote the short story Minority Report, which was later produced as a movie. In the movie Minority Report, a team of officers led by John Anderson (Tom Cruise), work together in the precime division. They collect information given by precogs to find murder suspects and victims before the crime actually happens. Precogs are three humans that were born with a brain disease.

This brain disease affected others but these three are the only ones who survived. The disease caused some mutation and that mutation allowed them to see into the future by dreaming. The information they get from the precogs is gone through by Anderson, looking for clues that will tell them where the crime is going to take place. The location of the crime is the only element not given by the precogs. When the location is determined, Anderson and the precrime team rush to the location to stop the crime from happening and arrest the criminal for the “future crime”.

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The movie opens with a victim and suspect name, and the date and time of the crime. The first suspect is Howard, and the victim is his wife Sarah. Apparently Sarah has been having an affair and Howard finds out. Anderson goes through all of the images of the crime and decides that he knows where the crime is going to take place. The team rushes there and stops the crime seconds before the scheduled time of the murder. They stop the crime and arrest the suspect. This act of arresting people before the crime is committed seems to be a serious ethical issue.

Yes the crime is seen through the images of the precogs, but the title of the movie is Minority Report. A minority report is when one of the precogs’ visions is different from the other two. Usually the one produced by the female precog. When this happens the minority report is then saved and stored deep in the system, but not shown to the officers as they are trying to find the location of the crime. If the minority report shows the suspect changing his mind at the last minute, but not shown to the officers, how do they know the suspect is really even a suspect.

The prediction of crimes could very well save many lives, and benefit society as a whole, but at what cost are we willing to ensure safety. The utilitarian believes that we “ought to maximize the happiness and minimize the unhappiness of as many people (or sentient beings) as possible”. Is it worth violating the personhood of someone to possibly save a life? What if the suspect was going to change his mind at the last minute and walk away, should he still be held accountable for what he thought about doing? When you do this you violate the personhood of an individual.

If you do this often it devalues human life. This issue is the center of this movie. After the criminal is arrested, and in custody; the crime reappears on the screen from the precogs as it would when a crime first happens. This is explained to be an “echo image”, an image produced from the precogs thinking of the same crime that was just prevented. They delete these files from the system because they are viewed as copies of the original files. As the movie is starting, while Anderson is going through the files he is watched by an agent from the United States Department of justice.

The system is being evaluated because the county is about to vote on expanding the precrime division or not. The agent, Danny Witler (Collin Farrell), believes that there is a flaw in the system but it hasn’t been found yet. The day after Anderson arrests the husband for the future crime of murder, Witler gets a guided tour and explanation of the precrime division and the precogs. Here is where we learn that these precogs are real people, with some sort of mutation that allows them to see into the future.

The precogs do not get to experience regular human contact and are treated as a means to an end. The precogs are not treated as persons they are only used as tools. The female precog’s mother at one point, wanted her daughter back and when she tried to get her back, Precrime director Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow), puts together a plan to kill her. He hires a man dressed in all black to meet the mother, under the false pretense that she was going to get her daughter back, and kill her. Of course the precogs see this act and the crime is prevented and the man is arrested.

This gave Burgess the opportunity to kill her himself. He told the mother to meet him in the same location that the crime was going to happen, he dressed the same way and killed her. When the images came up of the murder, the files were deleted. They were seen as a copied file of the original crime that had already been prevented. When Burgess is successful with his crime, it proves that there is a flaw in the system. The people in power have the ability to take advantage of the system and have people arrested for a crime that in the end they did not commit.

It is proven again when the precogs produce images of Anderson killing a man. Anderson of course doesn’t believe that he will kill a man so he spends most of the movie trying to piece together why the precog would predict the murder, and starts digging to find the flaw in the system. The personhood of almost every main character is violated in this movie. The officers are working hard and believing in a system that is said to be flawless, only to later find out that the creators of the precrime system have withheld information.

The officers are used as tools to capture criminals, even when some of them could very well be innocent. The precogs are persons with no rights. They are held in almost complete seclusion, taken from their family, and used to see into the future. The mother of the precog, wanting her daughter back is killed because if she were to get her daughter back the precrime division would close. The visions only come complete if all three precogs are together. In the end of the movie things are corrected, people are released from custody and the precrime division is shut down.

Even though utilitarian may believe “that under specific circumstances it could be right to torture or infringe on someone’s personhood to save many lives”, this movie supports the Kantian theory by showing that “no amount of good consequences would justify the abuse of anyone”.


  1. Paul Williams, “Short Stories”, http://www. philipkdick. com/works_stories. html, 2010 (accessed October 1, 2011).
  2. Nina Rosenstand, The Moral of the Story: An introduction to Ethics (The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc,2009), pg. 243-248.
  3. Rosenstand, “The Moral of The Story”, pg. 291

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Ethical Issues in the 2002 Steven Spielberg Movie Minority Report. (2019, May 02). Retrieved from