chapter  1
25 Pages

Situating the Project

The above case sounds like a standard philosophical thought experiment designed to tease out our ‘intuitions’ about what we think that we ought to do in certain kinds of circumstances. But it is also the description of the choice faced by Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotton), the central character in The Third Man. At the end of that fi lm, Holly faces his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) and must choose: ‘loyalty’ to his best friend, or action in accord with what some would call ‘abstract justice.’ The power of Carol Reed’s fi lm is crystallized in the tension of that fi nal scene as Martins and Lime look at one another, in full recognition of what is at stake. Martins, of course, chooses-rightly, to my mind-‘abstract justice.’ The power of the fi lm, however, derives from its recognition that, even if Martins does in fact make the right choice, there were signifi cant considerations in support of his letting Harry get away. And those considerations seem clearly to derive from the fact that Lime was Holly’s friend. Great art brings into sharp focus a, or perhaps, the crux of the ethical life: when ‘personal’ and ‘impersonal’ considerations confl ict, how ought we to weigh these considerations and to respond?