Philosophy & Film: an annotated syllabus


In the last few decades, there has been an increase in interest in using film (and popular culture, more generally) to teach philosophy. In addition, there has been some effort to use film and popular culture in philosophical work, and there have been philosophically-minded film makers. Given my own obsessive consumption of popular culture and philosophy, a “Philosophy & Film” course was all but inevitable.

Overview of the course

The course began as a series of conversations with David Magill; at the time, we were both at Pitt-Johnstown, and we thought it would be great to team teach a course on this material. Although that course never came to fruition, the courses brought together as a composite in this syllabus eventually did.

The class has three major sections:

  1. Philosophy through film: how have film makers explored traditional questions in or highlighted problems from the history of philosophy? Topics in this section include: truth, knowledge, mindedness, and personal identity.
  2. Social thought through film: how film can illustrate, reinforce, and critique norms of femininity, masculinity, and race?
  3. Film as literary pursuit: how does a mass medium like film stand up to analysis using standard tools from literary analysis? Topics in this section include the nature of adaptation, satire, authorship, and the morality of cinematic representations.

Along the way, we wonder about what sorts of things are relevant to the interpretation of a film (e.g., the script, facts about production, interviews with filmmakers, deleted scenes, affiliated websites, and the like); that is, we consider intertextuality, paratextuality, metatextuality, and hypertextuality. We also cultivate an appreciation for the difference between enjoying a film and understanding why it might be a good (or bad) film.

A list of the films
  1. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
  2. Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
  3. Memento
  4. Rashomon
  5. Waking Life
  6. Chinatown
  7. Blade Runner
  8. Fast, Cheap and Out of Control
  9. Memento
  10. Blade Runner
  11. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
  12. Good Hair
  13. High Noon
  14. Fight Club
  15. Dolemite
  16. Do the Right Thing
  17. The Killers 1946
  18. The Killers 1964
  19. Dr. Strangelove
  20. Blazing Saddles
  21. Battle of Algiers
  22. The Wild Bunch
  23. Taxi Driver
  24. King of Comedy
  25. Freaks
  26. Inglorious Basterds
  27. Rope
  28. I [heart] Huckabees
  29. 8 1/2
  30. Cecil B. Demented
  31. The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
  32. Roger and Me
  33. Doubt
  34. Unthinkable

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