Truth or Bias

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Taking place “on the hottest day of the year,” Twelve Angry Men (1957) opens as the judge is giving directions to the jury for the trial of a young Hispanic man. He has been charged with 1st degree murder, which requires the death penalty if he is found guilty. The movie centers on the jurors’ deliberations on the guilt of the defendant, whose life is uncertain. The verdict needs to be unanimous (12-0) as to whether the defendant is found guilty or not guilty.

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The movie plays out very well as an interesting and tense “murder mystery” (which really never gets “solved”), but the important thing for us are the personal dynamics in the jury room. Please don’t get turned off that is in black and white, I’ve had many students show an increased appreciation for black and white films after watching this.

Content Issues: The two primary concepts we are looking for in the movie are 1) the significance of “what is it?” and “is it so?” questions that are part of both determining whether assertions are indeed “facts” and how the jurors should then act; and 2) the personal and social attitudes (“biases”) that frustrated the search for truth and their ability to render a fair verdict. The “fact” and “is it so” process is discussed in the introductory material for this unit under The Moral Decision-Making Process.

Both the process of assessing assertions of fact made in the trial and by each other in the jury room, and acknowledging biases and overcoming them become the two most important factors as the movie progresses.


· Your essay should analyze the relationship between the fact questions of the case and the presence of biases in the film. For the jury to render a responsible verdict, the facts must get straight, or at least possible false assertions must be proved false. And the jury members’ biases have to be overcome – almost every juror has one or another type of bias.

· This is to be a formal essay, meaning it should reflect your original take on the movie, not just a vanilla description of the movie. Since I know how the movie goes (after about 50 times viewing it), you should give only minimal plot details besides what is in your introduction and what is involved in your points you are making.

· Paper mechanics are important in writing a meaningful paper:

o You should have a distinctive thesis statement, supporting material and your conclusion. You might recognize this structure from English 101 as “claim + reason + support.” It is not a topic statement, like “this paper is about angry jurors and how they realized the truth.”

o If you need a suggestion for an angle on the paper: argue which was more important in coming to the correct verdict: going faithfully through the relevant what is it/is it so questions, or is it overcoming biases?

o You should also have an original title that reflects your thesis – for example, no “12 Angry Men Paper” or “Fact and Bias Paper.” More like “The defendant should’ve been executed” (though that is not the area of the paper).

o The title and opening paragraph which includes your thesis are very important – I can usually tell how good your paper is going to be based on those.

· In your analysis, you have to give three instances of where the jurors go through the “what is it” and “is it so” process to determine as best as possible they know and what they don’t know re: what is going on in the commission of the murder – you should use material from the Melchin reading to help you with this process.

· No matter what option you are arguing, you should also give examples from each of the first four biases on the Critical Thinking reading for this assignment: Obsession, Egoism, Groupism and Commonsensism, and describe why using material from the Critical Thinking reading. Make sure you understand what Dunne means by each. See the pointers in the Unit.

· Your paper should be 2 pages. single spaced.

Following Pages: Help with identifying the characters to help you make clear which juror you are talking about in your paper.

Cast of Characters:



12 2

11 3

10 4

9 5

8 6



In the diagram on the right, they are listed by their jury number and their position at the jury table, arranged clockwise with the jury foreman (#1) at the “12:00” position:

1. Foreman (Assistant Coach)

PDVD_0012. “Bookworm” – looking guy (questioned the angle of the knife wound) – (voice of Piglet in the old Disney “Winnie the Pooh” cartoons)

PDVD_0023. Runs Messenger Service (“excitable” guy; had problems with “kids” these days)

PDVD_0034. Stockbroker (went through details about the knife; “never sweats”)

PDVD_0045. Man who grew up in slum, knew how to use switchblade


6. Painter (“I’m just a working man”)

7. Marmalade salesman (Yankees fan; against “do-gooders”)


PDVD_0078. Architect (voted not guilty on first vote; says name is Davis at end)

PDVD_0089. Elderly man (says name is McCardle at end)


10. Garage Owner (most prejudiced guy)


12. Advertising Executive



· Argument of your paper, and how well you supported it including thesis……………. 30
statement and distinctive title).

· Importance and 3 examples of asking fact/act/is it so questions in the jurors………. 35
examination of what they needed to render a verdict

· Identify/explain 4 biases from Critical Thinking reading that got in the way…………. 35
of asking these questions and how each affected the particular juror
exhibiting that bias

Total…………………………………………………….. 100

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