Tokyo 2112. Suppose you’re told to live in a society where criminal actions can be prevented in advance. In that place, people are treated as criminals even before doing the real action. In the 22 episodes of Psycho-Pass (season 1), the situations the main protagonists of the series, Shinya Kōgami and Akane Tsunemori, have to face will force the spectator to face demanding topics such as determinism and justice. What are the implications of a machine that judges people in advance? These very philosophical questions are only some of the question we touch in this article.
Psycho-Pass: an intimate path through the concept of Society and Justice
Do you want more about Psycho-Pass? Let’s see all our articles about!
The whole series takes place in a futuristic Tokyo of 2112. Japan has chosen for the economical isolationism in a society involved more and more in the technology developments. The apex of the progress manifests itself in the Sibyl System: an high tech system that act as justice. The judgements are made in advance by scanning people’s mind. From the series it is clear that the response in not based on a simply mind reader: the Sibyl takes into account the probability for the individual to become a criminal. The system is based on the so-called “cymatic scan” which considers the actual attitude, real time stress and past experiences. All these parameters are analysed and the outcome is a pure number: the crime coefficient. Whenever it exceeds a threshold, that person requires medical treatments or in the worst case it’s eventually killed.
Social pressures, experience and personal attitude determine the future actions of the person but are they the only causes?
If you answer yes, then you believe in determinism.
The social environment has a great impact on our future decision such as the experience we have made during your life. Both things determine your state of mindset and stress state. Scientifically, they enable and turn on different genes responsible of our actions. However, if you admits these (experience and external pressures) as the only triggers, then your actions can be forwarded. On that basis, it’s plausible for a judging system like the Sibyl to exists and working without making mistakes. According to this deterministic view, people are mere puppets since their future (action, work) is predictable. In Psycho-Pass, the Sibyl System is not infallible; few subjects substract themselves from the logic of the Sibyl: the Criminally Asymptomatics.
The Sibyl System is flawed: Shogo Makishima.
Makishima (left) and Nietzsche (right)
The cymatic scan is not able to judge “fairly” all the people. Shogo Makishima represents one of these exceptions: his crime coefficient remains extremely low even committing the most awful actions. In that overchecked society, people’s free development is massively restrained: also art with its power to spread ideas it’s a danger to the public security. As we see from episode 4 its impact is high on people getting in touch with. Particularyl, the Sibyl cannot take the risk someone vehiculates potentially criminals messages.
The crimes and the murders are the instruments that Makishima use to affirm human will. In fact, Makishima embraces the Nietzsche’s view of “Superman” (Übermensch). The one who separates from the crowd and affirms its own being (will of power). The “superman” goes beyond the social statements. This explicates why Makishima feels alone among people do not question the established values. The Sibyl System cannot evaluate Makishima: the “superman” refuses the prescribed habits and his action are not determined only by the past or the present since he tends toward the future, the “superman”.
Shogo Makishima (left) & Shinya Kogami (right)
Inspectors and Enforcers.
The presence of citizens that cannot be spotted by the Sibyl System is the reason why the public safety department requires special forces like the Enforcers and their Inspectors. It’s a liked 1984-shaped world to realize its imperfection: the human nature is necessary to counteract the criminally asymptomatics. It’s relevant that the role of the foxes is taken by “latent criminals” (the Enforcers) because they’ve developed tendecies that are similar to their prey. Since Enforcers and “normal” criminal are no different in front of Sibyl’s judgment, Insperctors are necessary. Akane Tsunemori takes the role of responsible for the actions of Kogami. Keeping this reasoning on, Inspectors act as judges in the name of the Sibyl System. In a complete (pre)determined world, the judging system may not rely on the human units such as Unit One. Governed by its rationality, the Sibyl System is aware of its imperfection: to become more perfect it needs greatest mind and the ones who avoids the scanning algoritm to become part of the system in order to achieve a higher awareness. It’s the scientific application of inductive instruments (acquiring new data, i.e. the criminally asymptomatics) to extract the deductive principles founding the judging theory of the cymatic scan.
The real nature of the Sybil System
Who will watch the watchmen? Society & Sibyl System.
The society the Sibyl System wants to build is intimately influenced by Plato’s philosophy. It’s a society divided in three classes: the workers (ordinary people, the concupiscibles), the warriors (Enforcers and Inspector, the iracibles) and the rulers (Sibyl System, the rational side). Beloging to one class or another depends to individual skills. As we see, Plato’s view of society is very similar to that adopted to the Sibyl System: a static society where everything is based upon predefined functions. We’ve just said that Inspectors are the direct instruments of the Sibyl: when the crime coefficient of an Inspector rises up, the “guard is no longer able to guard itself” and become an Enforcer. That is the answer to the question “Who will guard the guards themselves?”
The Justice of the Sibyl System.
The fundamental concept is that the best (the philosopers, i.e. the Sibyl System) are the rulers. Because they’re an elite of sapients, their outcome is for sure (under Plato’s and Sibyl’s perspective) the best possible for society.
Justice is having and doing what is one’s own.
Justice is therefore harmony amongs the parts that constitute the State.
The reply of Kant: Akane Tsunemori.
The action of Akane Tsunemori personify the philosophy of Kant. She immediatly recognizes the limits of the Dominator: in the first episode she has saved the life to a woman whose crime coefficient enabled the “Lethal” configuration: however, her mind situation was due to the current situation she has gone thorugh. Akane is guided by a shy personality which embraces a sheer rationality. She is aware of the important concept of punishment of the damage. This concept lead to the following question.
Is it right to judge and take action before the criminal action is made?
Psycho-Pass covers also this fundamental topic: the elite of brains constituting the Sibyl System takes action before the real action has been made. It’s the punishment of the a mind-state, it’s a ban of the ideas. The danger of this reasoning is risen up by Karl Popper (from The open society and its enemies): since the causal chain idea-effect is difficult to be established, he proposes the punishment of the damage. Otherwise, allowing the punishment of the ideas would expose the society to the will of the rulers or to that they consider as right. The behaviour of the Inspector Tsunemori follow Kant’s philosophy: Justice is a categorical imperative. We know that Categorical Imperative are intrinsically valid and they must be obeyed in all situations and circumstances, if our behavior is to observe the moral law. This strong belief is the deep reason Akane can mantain his Psycho-Pass bright. Following that perspective “Justice must be obeyed because it’s Justice” even though the Justice is the one of the Sibyl.
Akane Tsunemori decides to live according to Justice.
Psycho-Pass: the anime of giant philosophers’ clash.
The anime has the merit to rise an incredible amount of ethical and social issues. The same topics that lead different philophies to clash and face each other. On that side, the message is clear and the audience is left to its own considerations. Despite the speculative side reaches very high peaks, the development of the characters leaves the sense of incompleteness. In my opinion, at the level of characters background and weave of the plot something more could have been done. That’s why I consider this work slightly underneath others such as Code Geass and Steins Gate. The graphic and sound compartment are appreciable but not outstanding such as in Full Metal Alchemisth Brotherhood. The hidden potential of the philosophy contained in Psycho-Pass is not exploited in all its potential. This fact may tend to estrange the audience from character’s interior feelings. The story is too often a sequence of police investigations cause-effect related which may at the expense of emotional involvement.
The importance and, at the same time, the burden Psycho-Pass has to bear it’s included in the Pascal’s citation (Justice, might)
It is right that what is just should be obeyed; it is necessary that what is strongest should be obeyed. Justice without might is helpless; might without justice is tyrannical. Justice without might is gainsaid, because there are always offenders; might without justice is condemned. We must then combine justice and might, and for this end make what is just strong, or what is strong just.
Justice is subject to dispute; might is easily recognised and is not disputed. So we cannot give might to justice, because might has gainsaid justice, and has declared that it is she herself who is just. And thus being unable to make what is just strong, we have made what is strong just.
– Shinya Kogami and Shogo Makishima (citing Blaise Pascal)