The concepts developed throughout the film and the idea of PreCrime bring into focus the importance of doubt and the role that doubt can play in philosophy and film. Doubt is a theme of great importance throughout the film, and is also a theme that plays a prominent role in the philosophical world. Descartes is one of the most important and influential philosophers of the modern era and is often referred to as the “Father of Modern Philosophy” based on his work during the first half of the 17th century. In Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, the concept of doubt plays a significant role, specifically in his first meditation. Descartes states in his first meditation, “Even though the senses do sometimes deceive us when it is a question of very small and distant things, still there are many other matters concerning which one simply cannot doubt, even though they are derived from the very same senses” (Descartes,14). Doubt allows individuals to explore and question, making new discoveries of truth and certainty. Descartes, like some of the characters in the film, doubts the senses and whether they can actually be trusted. This doubt brings about opportunity for questioning and discovery to be made. In the film, the doubt which Danny Witwer has in regards to the validity and functionality of the PreCrime system leads him to investigation and discovery about the origins of the PreCrime system and the dark and concealed past of those who helped establish the system, including Lamar Burgess.
Descartes centers his first meditation around the concept of hyperbolic doubt and the idea that we must get rid of anything we can doubt when we are trying to establish certainty. This concept is essential in the film as the entire idea of PreCrime is based on the fact that there is in fact no doubt, and the future actions of criminals can be determined and prevented prior to the action actually occurring. The system of PreCrime and detaining criminals prior to actually committing a criminal act would not be plausible if doubt existed. For this reason, the absence and elimination of all doubt is essential to the nature and functionality of PreCrime. The need to eliminate doubt when trying to uncover the truth and certainty is exemplified in the film through the disagreement of the Precogs and the elimination of the report which is conflicting. The elimination of the minority reports from the Precog that disagrees expresses the importance of eliminating doubt in the PreCrime system. As Dr. Iris Hineman states in the film while discussing PreCrime with Anderton, “Obviously for PreCrime to function, there can’t be any suggestion of fallibility. After all, who wants a justice system that instills doubt? It may be reasonable, but it’s still doubt.” As Descartes conveys with the idea of hyperbolic doubt in his meditation, it is essential to get rid of doubt when searching for certainty and truth.
The desire to get rid of doubt in the quest for truth and certainty is conveyed in the film and is essential to the functionality of the PreCrime system as Hineman explains. If doubt exists in the justice system, the entire PreCrime system would fail as it would be injust to incarcerate or detain an individual who is yet to commit a crime if uncertainty remains regarding their intention to commit the criminal act in the future. The philosophical ideas of William James also come into play when examining doubt and the role it plays in the film Minority Report. James focused on the idea that truth is made through experience. James states in Pragmatism, “Truth is made, just as health, wealth, and strength are made, in the course of experience” (James, 98). This concept of truth being derived from experience provides little room for doubt as the experience can’t be contradicted. This concept however, opposes the functionality of PreCrime as the system is set up to take down the criminal before the experience even occurs, bringing into question doubt and the role it can play in the justice system. Doubt also leads into discussion on perspective and the impact it can have on the PreCrime system and the functionality of the Precogs. For William James, perspective was an important aspect of the discovery of truth and had a major impact as he explained how it is most effective to obtain as many different perspectives as possible while attempting to discover the truth. The Precogs each provide unique perspectives on the different crimes that are going to occur in the future as each provide their own version of the story. However, the Precogs do not always agree on the story, causing the formation of the minority reports. Because the Precogs do no always see the truth in the same way and instead have different perspectives on the same event, doubt exists as a result of the disagreement and this is what forced the need for minority reports and the elimination of the perspective that was in disagreement. Doubt plays a significant role as a philosophical theme in the film Minority Report as it is central to the nature and functionality of the PreCrime system in the film. The concept of doubt has played an important role in the quest for truth, certainty, and knowledge and is examined from a variety of perspectives that relate to the film by various philosophers studied this semester including Descartes and James.