So I was reading about Kant's categorical imperative as defined by the universal law approach and the "mere means approach." The former as defined by: "act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.”

My question is regarding Kant's categorical imperative, is film making ethical? In a way films are all lies, and lies are one of the worst things you can do according to Kant as it would result in the breakdown of society (very idealistic I know). But, at the same time, society also values entertainment. Since a director or filmmaker is providing value to the ends (the individual watching the movie), then would it be considered ethical considering the following case:

Case: The Blair Witch Project, filmmakers purposefully deceived the public into thinking the footage was found, and that the events actually took place with newspaper clippings, police interviews, .etc.

  • 1
    To be precise, lying is contradicious because it depends on the trusting of others in your word. Universalizing your maxim leads to a situation where this trust is lost, therefore it lays open the inherent contradictious nature of lying. That's his reasoning. In film-making, the film-maker normally does not claim to tell the truth (and recepients do not trust in it usually) and therefore there would be no contradiction. BWP was a borderline-case, admittedly.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Feb 23, 2016 at 22:23
  • You believed Blair Witch was real?
    – user4894
    Feb 24, 2016 at 3:20
  • Not every lie is unethical. If you were hiding a jew or an homosexual in your home, and nazis asked if you were hiding someone, then tell the truth would be unethical.
    – Rodrigo
    Feb 24, 2016 at 20:28

3 Answers 3


After the edit, here's the Updated Answer:

Film making itself isn't unethical, there's a clear distinction between what's a truth(fact)/lie from what's ficticious.

A lie is defined by A false statement deliberately presented as being true (Dictionary Entry)

A film or a book, or in other words, a story is An account or recital of an event or a series of events, either true or fictitious (Dictionary Entry)

Every story has to define it's scope/universe. It could be a complete new universe (such as Star Wars) or a spin-off from reality (such as How to Get Away with Murder). Neither events are true, but also neither are passed on as true. Both are ficticious. It doesn't matter what the story is, as long as it doesn't try to pass it on as a fact.

Since ficticious stories don't try to pass as facts, or truths, they cannot be lies. Due to that, film making, writing and other forms of storytelling cannot be unethical in that aspect

However, this case is an exception. While I've personally not seen the movie in question, I've made a quick research on it, and found out similarities with 'Paranormal Activity', which I am much more at ease discussing. Interestingly enough I tried to look up a bit of information regarding Paranormal Activity's marketing campaing and I found an article that draws paralels between 'Blair witch' and 'Paranormal Activity'.

According to the article (emphasis mine):

Most obviously, Blair Witch was one of the first films to exploit the viral power of the Web to stir up word-of-mouth. What made the campaign brilliant, however, is the way that it took full advantage of the murky/underground/conspiracy-theory side of the Internet to imply that the movie was “real.”

That's the key. If we assume that "implying", or rather, not flatout lying, but intentionally misdirect people into believing in something that is a lie. According to the 'lie' dictionary page,

To present false information with the intention of deceiving.

That pretty much sums up the whole ordeal.

Conclusions to be taken

Fictional Works are not true. Fictional Works do not try to pass on as true. Since lying is considered unethical, and Fictional Works do not lie (as they don't attempt to be passed on as truths), then Fictional Works cannot be unethical for not being true (Note that they could be unethical for other motives).

The Blair Witch Project as a work of fiction is therefore not unethical for not being true.

The same cannot be said about it's marketing campaign. Due to being a work of fiction, 'The Blair Witch Project' is not true (while it may be based on some truths, it isn't 100% real). As such, it would be unethical to try to pass it on as something that is true. Since apparantly the Marketing Team who campaigned this movie did attempt to pass the movie as being akin to a Documentary, rather than a work of fiction, then they were attempting to intentionally deceive the target audience, and as such, (assuming lying is unethical) the campaign was unethical

  • i've updated my question for clarity
    – Alex
    Feb 23, 2016 at 3:26
  • I'll update the answer tomorrow morning as I cannot do so right now
    – Oak
    Feb 23, 2016 at 3:31
  • Ended up editing now, as I managed to get the time to do so.. now
    – Oak
    Feb 23, 2016 at 4:33
  • Interesting to also take out of it that Kant said that deception is just as a bad as lying as it isnt presenting the whole truth. So while I accept your answer, the real question is said "deception" unethical
    – Alex
    Feb 23, 2016 at 14:12
  • Precisely. As I said, it boils down to if deception is considered to be lying or not
    – Oak
    Feb 23, 2016 at 16:26

From a personal perspective, I have come to realize that films are a great mode of communication, but there are downsides. The first is that actors will sometimes get too engrossed in a role and be unable to separate that from their own reality. In the worst cases, suicide can occur. The other is that violent and/or lewd content may cause some viewers to sub-consciously think it is acceptable. And last but not least, the film maker may have an agenda and gear the film towards pushing that.


This sounds, on the face of it, similar to Platos critique of poetry in the Republic where he critiqued poetry, as mere imitativeness - a kind of mimicry of reality, and not reality itself; for; and what goes for poetry, goes for the other arts by analogy, as a Plato makes explicit by drawing the analogy to painting:

The painter ... is he not the creator of appearances?


we are agreed the imitator has no knowledge worth mentioning of what he imitates


Imitation is only a kind of sport, or play

Hence his imagined polis (city):

rejects imitative poetry; which certainly ought not to be recieved

Plato mentions also the theatre (tragedy) - and thus by extension to film; and this reading is quite commonly confirmed by secondary sources; however, reading further, Plato does actually allow poetry, but only of a certain kind:

And we are ready to admit that Homer is the greatest of poets, and the first amongst tragedy-writers; but we must remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises of famous men are the only poetry allowed in our state.

For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, not law or reason of mankind, which by common consent have ever been deemed best, but pleasure or pain will be the rulers in our state.

And he rejects:

the imitative poet who aims at being popular is not by nature made, nor is his art intended to please or affect the principle in the soul, but he will prefer the passionate or fitful temper, which is easily imitated

So concluding, it turns out that Plato does not exile all poets, or all poetry; or by extension all art, and artists; he does not exile the muse, but merely bad art; which does not mean bad as in just bad - badly constructed, sung, painted or filmed; but also to their ethical purpose; however to examine what this means exactly, would mean further examining the nature of art and it's relationship to reality i.e. art criticism, or perhaps the philosophy of art.

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