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