Living a Lie

Psych is a show that follows the adventures of Shawn Spencer, the son of a former cop, who has keen observation and deduction skills that he uses to help the Santa Barbara police department solve crimes. Since he was a young boy, his father would meticulously test him to sharpen his detective skills. Although Shawn’s detective skills are almost unbeatable, they are unmatched against his devotion to having fun, until he learned to combine the two.

Originally Shawn would call in tips to the police hotline when he solved one of their cases by watching the daily news on TV, but one of his tips leads him to being brought in to the police department. The show begins with Shawn being interrogated, because one of his tips was so accurate that the detectives thought he had insider knowledge, making him a suspect. To clear his name, Shawn decides to tell the detectives that he is a psychic. Because of his extraordinary detective/psychic skills, Shawn becomes a ‘psychic consultant’ for the police department and opens a private psychic detective agency with his PIC Gus.

Over the course of the show, Shawn and Gus solve every case they are given, always in their uniquely eccentric crime fighting style. They investigate crimes in their unorthodox fashion, which usually involves the use of secret identities, funny nicknames, supernatural theories, and often, breaking-and-entering. Once they find a lead to their case, they go back to the police department where Shawn has a psychic revelation leading the detectives to the culprit.

While this new life combines Shawn’s keen detective skills with his passion for having fun, it leads him into a life committed to lies. Throughout the series, there are several moments when Shawn’s secret is almost discovered. The only people who know the truth are Shawn’s family and Gus, which means every day he is lying to the police department (his employers), his clients, and his friends. By living this lie to help solve crimes, are Shawn’s actions justified ethically?

According to the theory of deontology, Shawn’s actions would be perceived as wrong, because in simple terms, he is lying. Shawn’s actions would also be perceived as unethical by the virtue ethicist approach, because he is acting dishonestly with his friends and co-workers. However, the consequentialist approach to ethics allows Shawn’s actions to be viewed as morally right. If Shawn decided to tell the truth about his abilities, he would be fired as a consultant from the police force and he would upset his friends. By lying to everyone, Shawn is able to aid the police in fighting crime and help people solve their, often unusual, problems. Therefore, according to the consequentialist theory, Shawn’s decision to lie about who he is results in better consequences for the society’s welfare than if he had told the truth.

Even though Psych is a comedy TV series, its storyline poses some interesting ethical dilemmas according to what is right and wrong based on Shawn’s lie. Do you think Shawn’s decision to lie about who he is can be justified on an ethical level? Do you think it would be hard to base your entire life on a lie in order to solve crimes? What about the actions of those who knew his secret (Shawn’s family and Gus) and did not tell? Were they acting ethically?


Featured Image from USA Psych


4 thoughts on “Living a Lie”

  1. I like the idea of holding Gus and Shawn’s dad accountable for not sharing his secret and I think it is a nice way of showing how interconnected decisions can be. I know from watching the show that there a few times throughout the series where Gus and Shawn’s dad consider revealing Shawn as a liar. What keeps them from doing so? Their choice implies that they are taking a consequentialist approach to consider Shawn’s actions. Shawn uses the excitement of their adventures and the idea of helping people to convince Gus to bail on his pharmaceuticals job and join his psychic charade. It seems as though Gus might have been swayed to keep silent because he wants to be part of Shawn’s adventures and later keeps the secret because he sees the good Shawn is doing for the city of Santa Barbara. Can ethical reasoning change over time?


  2. I believe it would be very hard to live a life based on lies. I do not believe that Shawn’s family or Gus is acting ethically either. They are withholding a secret from the city of Santa Barbara. What if Shawn made decisions that did not better society? What if he made a decision that resulted in the harm of citizens? Would Shawn’s family and Gus tell his secret then?


  3. It seems to me that Shawn is taking the role of government in society. Is his judgment always right? This is where the problem lies. If he acts upon his judgment and it does not result in a benefit for society, then he is acting unethically.


  4. I completely agree with your conclusion of consequential ethics. Shawn is much more focused on the greater good and overall outcomes with little regard to the consequences of his own actions. He puts his job before his own moral compass, and this later affects his personal life greatly when he forms a relationship with his co-worker Juliet. She becomes furious once she discovers his secret and threatens to oust him to the department head. However, at the last second she decides to keep Shawn’s secret in confidence and becomes apart of the lie. She also partakes in consequential ethics even though she will not bar the weight of the costs.


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