Egoism in Film: An Ethical Perspective

Egoism in Film

In this paper, the film of House of Cards by Netflix, specifically chapter 1 of the season, will be the central focus of discussing the ethical dilemma of justifying good and bad actions, as a result of a desire for power. In particular, the moral theory of egoism is through the character of Francis, a congressman, who is using blackmail, seduction, and ambition to gain the secretary of state position. The motive of the actions is largely due to a betrayal by the president-elect who chooses to appoint another person for the job promised to Francis, a move that he does not approve though outwardly accepts. In this respect, the paper entails a discussion of the ethical dilemma as a result of egoistic desires of an obsession with power in the society. The argument is that, through Francis, the actions leading to achieving power result in an ethical dilemma of the justifiability of wrong means to achieve self-interests through egoism theory.

            Firstly, Francis displays egoistic behavior through the objective of achieving the state secretary position. The proponents of ethical egoism argue that an individual needs the “cooperation of others to achieve their self-interests such as friendship” hence by breaking the promises to the person, it will break the unity of purpose (Rachels 193). Therefore, it is critical in this approach to give weight to the needs of others to achieve the desires of self. In the Film House of Cards, Francis brings out this perspective of the ethical dilemma to justify the plots to attain the position promised by the president-elect, which is now elusive (Green). For instance, Francis asks the chief of staff attached to his office and the secretary to act “without allegiance to anyone else” while referring to the president-elect’s betrayal (Green). The same reaction is evident in Francis’s wife Claire after breaking the news that he did not get the position because that position could have helped her attain her self-interest of expanding her Clean Water Initiative (CWI) firm after a donation by SanCorp Corporation, a natural gas provider (Green). Based on the insights it is evident that the motivation for cooperation and allegiance to the presidency by Congressman Francis, as well as the wife Claire, is to gain their desires which they consider as rewards of their support to the administration. However, breaking the promise leads to not only annoyance by the parties losing but also resistance to cooperation and motives of revenge despite the morality of the means, to achieve the initial objectives. In this regard, the move constitutes egoistic character as the dominant trait in Francis’s action and those who owe allegiance to him to maintain their self-interests such as the wife’s desire for a donation to her company, and job security for the employees in the congressman’s office.

            Secondly, Francis helps Russo through Stamper by manipulation of the chief of the police with the objective of Russo’s promise to return the favor for Francis’s desires. In the episode, Russo gets himself caught in an ethical dilemma by choosing allegiance to Francis whether he agrees with Francis purpose or not. In Russo’s words, the individual is ready to be Loyal to Francis by stating “anything, name it Frank” (Green). In the scenario, the help by Francis comes with a price which is for the fellow congressman Russo to support his ambition to ascend to higher ranks at the capitol. The move is, therefore, an illustration of egoism theory since the greater good of those helped is not the priority duty but that of the individual that is helping others (Rachels 193). In comparison to other standard moral ethics theories, Egoism proponents contradict the beneficiaries of the good acts or consequences of an action by an individual, by placing it on the doer rather than those who enjoy the outcome of those efforts such in the feminist ethics (Fieser and Stumpf 274; Rachels 194). In respect to the film, the ethical dilemma is evident in the justification of manipulation of the chief of police Hull into releasing Russo but with an objective of buying the loyalty of the congressman.

            Critics of this theory, especially the proponents of utilitarianism will see the character of Francis differently than egoists. In particular, the latter approach justifies the means towards achieving an objective by judging the nature of the consequences (Ladd 467). In this case, if they bring the “greater good then the means are justified despite being morally wrong” (Ladd 467). Therefore, for the character of Francis, the actions of manipulation, corruption, and revenge starting with Kern, who is the individual competing for his positions are justified. The rationale is that the person is not the only one benefiting from the appointment but many others too such as the wife’s company which is a non-profit organization (NGO) helping the society have clean water (Green). Despite the donation, the direct beneficiaries are the society. Also, the rules of a promise bind an individual’s actions such as the one by the president-elect to Francis for the secretary of state position. However, by breaking it, the new president’s actions become morally wrong and justify the actions of the offended person in achieving the same objective. Besides, at the church service, it is evident that the betrayal of the president in the appointment has dissenting opinions where the “minister consoles the losers to concede defeat,” senator Holburn consoling Francis, while Holburn’s wife consoles care for Francis not getting the job (Green). Moreover, at CWI, some employees risk losing their jobs as the donation expected seems elusive. In this respect, the actions of Francis despite using morally wrong approaches to retain the position, they do not only benefit him but also many other beneficiaries such as the employees and citizens of the country under the wife’s NGO.

However, the approach by the utilitarianism proponents fails due to the wrongful justification of the actions by Francis against the most significant beneficiaries. Firstly, despite the position of Francis, the connection with the donating company exists hence can use the position they hold to influence the achievement of the objective. The process is evident in the words of Francis when answering the Stamper the question of a “retribution” approach that “no…it is something more than that” (Green). The statement indicates strong conviction for self-interest and most of the efforts are motivated by the desire to overturn Kern’s appointment to the position. For example, Francis says they need “someone they can control completely” if they are to remove Kern from the secretary of state position which to him as rightfully his (Green). In this regard, egoism takes center stage in the ethical dilemma of chapter 1 of season 1 in the House of Cards film.

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