Intellectual Virtues in Rear Window: A New Look at L.B. Jefferies’s Look


  • Patrick Gilchrist


Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is a pillar of American cinematic history. Few would doubt that much. More questionable, though, is the moral character of the film’s famed protagonist, L.B. Jefferies, who draws sincere pleasure from peeking into the private lives of his neighbors. The moral blameworthiness of Jefferies’s objectifying voyeurism has long been intimated by many scholars who have written about the film. I take these intimations as a starting point, translating and explaining the morally blameworthy dimensions of Jefferies’s intrusive looks in terms of Aristotelian philosophy. Following this, however, I appeal to the work of twenty-first-century responsibilist virtue epistemology to draw out the intellectual praiseworthiness of Jefferies’s obsessive gaze (a conclusion respective of but unconcerned with these actions’ immorality). Because shots from the protagonist’s point-of-view comprise so much of the film’s visual storytelling, I argue that the film’s primary narrative opposition is not between good and evil or secrets and discovery as one might assume; instead, the narrative opposition, I argue, is present in spectatorial judgement—the concurrent sense of moral blameworthiness and intellectual praiseworthiness that one is prone to feel when seeing through the eyes of L.B. Jefferies.


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