Module guide ma option: film-philosophy

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Module Convener: Dr Catherine Constable (points of contact: office 1.21, tel: 02476 150651 or email

This module explores the new and rapidly developing field of Film-Philosophy. The module aims to give those of you without a philosophical background the means to consider aspects of key philosophical works, such as Plato's Republic and Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. The module will examine the diverse ways in which these different philosophical writings have been taken up and applied to film, focusing on the work of key theorists including Thomas Wartenberg and Stanley Cavell. Film is allocated a variety of roles in philosophical writing - from acting as a good example of a particular philosophical argument to actively adapting and changing the philosophical system that it references. The module will enable us to consider a key question: ‘in what ways can film do philosophy?’

Module Aims

  • To explore influential primary philosophical texts in detail.

  • To engage with primary material from the field of film-philosophy.

  • To gain a meta-critical understanding of the variety of different ways in which philosophy and film may be inter-related, and the implications of the terms of that inter-relation for both participants.

  • To offer a detailed engagement with filmic texts, being sensitive to the ways in which they both conform to and depart from specific philosophical systems.

  • To develop a sensitivity to wider theoretical debates, such as the role of the image in theorising and the place of science fiction in philosophy.

Learning and Teaching Strategy and Methods

The teaching for this module is divided into 2-week sections: the first week will contain a lecture in which the philosophical system that we are exploring will be set out. The second week will look at theoretical writing which draws on that philosophy in relation to a particular film. We will be interested in unpacking the ways in which the theoretical writing sets up the relationship between the philosophical and filmic texts. We will consider the role that each theorist allocates to their chosen film in relation to general debates on the place of the image in theory and theorising.

Teaching Timetable



13.00-14.00 Lecture

11.00-12.00 Tutorials (week 7 onwards)

14.00-16.30 Film Screening

14.00-16.30 Seminar

There will be a tea break during the seminar.

The timetabling allows you to do the required weekly reading after the lecture on Weds, and prior to the seminar on Thurs.
Assessment and Feedback Strategy and Methods

Formative Assessment

An optional formative essay of 1,000 words due in Friday week 9 Spring term 6/3/15.

This essay takes the form of a summary of ONE philosopher/film-philosopher of your choice. You will receive detailed feedback in written form and will have the opportunity to discuss this further in individual tutorials.
Summative Assessment

One 5,000 word essay due in on Weds week 3 of the Summer Term 6/5/15.

You will develop your own essay topic with me during one-to-one tutorials held in weeks 7-10. See above timetable.

For further details about both forms of assessment see p. 7.


All required seminar reading will be distributed in photocopied form in the previous week’s seminar. A scanned copy of the reading for week one has been emailed to you.
Week one:

Lecture: An introduction to the module Film-Philosophy and an outline of some of Plato’s key arguments and concepts, including the world of the forms and moral virtue.

Screening: Woody Allen, Purple Rose of Cairo, 1985.

Reading: Selected extracts from Plato's Republic, including the myth of the cave (part 7) and theory of art (part 10).

Seminar: we will focus on Plato's views on art and illusion with a view to examining their relevance for thinking about film today. A discussion of how far the film within the film in Purple Rose of Cairo conforms to Plato’s shadow play on the wall of the cave.

Secondary Reading: Annas, J. An Introduction to Plato’s Republic. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981).

Cavarero, A. In Spite of Plato: A Feminist Rewriting of Ancient Philosophy. Trans. S. Anderlini-D’Onofrio and A. O’Healy. (Oxford: Polity Press, 1995).

Pappas, N. Routledge Guide to the Republic. (London and New York: Routledge, 2013).

Taylor, A. E. Plato: The Man and His Work. (London: Methuen, 1960).

Winkler, J. J. The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece. (London: Routledge, 1990).

Vernant, J-P. Mortals and Immortals: Collected Essays. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992). Chapter 9: ‘The Birth of Images’ is very interesting.

Pappas, N. ‘Magic and Art in Vertigo’ in K. Makkai’s Vertigo: Philosophers on Film. (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 18-34.

An introduction to key aspects of Plato’s work, including theory of knowledge, identity and moral philosophy occurs across Falzon, C. Philosophy Goes to the Movies: An Introduction to Philosophy. (London and New York: Routledge, 2002).

Week two:

Lecture: An introduction to Aristotle. A consideration of the ways in which Aristotelian ethics both departs from and builds on aspects of Plato’s work. Aristotle’s pioneering work on aesthetic classification and genre.

Screening: Howard Hawks, Rio Bravo,1959.

Reading: Selected extracts from Nicomachean Ethics with a particular emphasis on the exploration of courage and friendship in books 3, 8, and 9.

Seminar: An analysis of Aristotle’s approach to ethics and his definition of the good. An understanding of the route to moral virtue through practice – the repeated performance of good actions – and of the ethical as the middle way. An discussion of his views of the moral virtues of courage and friendship in relation to Rio Bravo.

Secondary Reading: Broadie, S. and Rowe, C. Aristotle Nichomachean Ethics: Translation, Introduction and Commentary. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

Urmson, J. O. Aristotle’s Ethics. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1998).

Week three:

Lecture: An outline of Thomas Wartenberg’s approach to Film-Philosophy.

Screening: Carol Reed, The Third Man, 1949.

Reading: Thomas Wartenberg, chapter entitled ‘Moral Intelligence and the Limits of Loyalty: The Third Man’ in Thinking on Screen: Film as Philosophy, pp. 94-116.

Seminar: An examination of the ethical dilemmas presented in The Third Man. A discussion of the ways in which Wartenberg approaches The Third Man and the ways in which it both exemplifies and expands Aristotelian ethics.

Secondary Reading: Wartenberg, T. and Curran, A. (Eds) Philosophy of Film: Introductory Texts and Readings. (Malden, Mass: Blackwell, 2005).

For an Aristotelian approach to genre see Carroll, N. The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart. (London: Routledge, 1990).

Week four:

Lecture: An introduction to Descartes and the beginning of ‘the modern’.

Screening: David Fincher, Fight Club, 1999.

Reading: Selected extracts from Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, particularly the first and second meditations.

Seminar: A discussion of the methodology of radical doubt. A consideration of the way in which Descartes writes philosophy.

Secondary Reading: Bauer, N. ‘Cogito Ergo Film: Plato, Descartes and Fight Club’ in R. Read and J. Goodenough (Eds.) Film as Philosophy: Essays on Cinema After Wittgenstein and Cavell. (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) pp. 39-56.

Carrio, J. Between Two Worlds: A Reading of Descartes’ Meditations. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).

Hatfield, G. Descartes and the Meditations. (London and New York: Routledge, 2003).

An introduction to key aspects of Descartes’s work, including theory of knowledge and personal identity occurs across Falzon, C. Philosophy Goes to the Movies: An Introduction to Philosophy. (London and New York: Routledge, 2002).

For an interlinking of Descartes and melodrama see Cavell, S. ‘Naughty Orators: Negation of Voice in Gaslight’ in Contesting Tears (University of Chicago Press: Chicago: 1996), pp. 47-80.

Wartenberg, T. (Ed). Fight Club (Philosophers on Film), (London and New York: Routledge 2013).

Week five:

Lecture: Philosophy and the Science Fiction film

Screening: Paul Verhoeven, Total Recall, 1990.

Reading: Mary Litch, ‘Skepticism: Total Recall and The Matrix’, the first chapter from Philosophy Through Film (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 7-36. (Please note this chapter is altered in the second edition as Litch substitutes Vanilla Sky for Total Recall).

Seminar: An exploration of the ways in which Total Recall can be considered to be an adaptation of Descartes’ Meditations and the advantages of adopting this view.

Secondary Reading: Cornea, C. Science Fiction Cinema: Between Fantasy and Reality. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007).

Dick, P. K. ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’, in Second Variety (London: Gollancz, 1989).

The Journal Science Fiction Film and Television is also a useful resource.
Week six: Reading week
Week seven:

Lecture: An introduction to Wittgenstein, his relation to Aristotle and the importance of ‘pictures’ in his model of theorising.

Screening: Frank Capra, It Happened One Night, 1934.

Reading: Selected extracts from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, focussing on the acquisition of language, interpretation and ‘pictures’, and an extract from Cavell’s chapter ‘Knowledge as Transgression: It Happened One Night’ in Pursuits of Happiness, pp. 71-110.

Seminar: A discussion of Wittgenstein’s views of language and language acquisition. A consideration of the way in which he writes philosophy and sets up the process of interpretation. An analysis of Cavell’s reading of the epistemological issues in It Happened One Night.

Secondary Reading: Bambrough, R. ‘How to Read Wittgenstein’ in G. Vesey (Ed) Understanding Wittgenstein. (London: Macmillan, 1974) pp. 117-133.

Genova, J. Wittgenstein: A Way of Seeing. (New York and London: Routledge, 1995).

Gasking D. A. T. and Jackson A. C. ‘Wittgenstein as a Teacher’ in K. T. Fann (Ed) Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Man and His Philosophy. (Sussex: Harvester Press, 1978), pp. 49-55.

Hacker, p. M. S. and Baker, G. P. Wittgenstein: Understanding and Meaning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).

McGinn, M. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations. (London and New York: Routledge, 1997).

Pears, D. Wittgenstein. (London: Fontana, 1985).

Week eight:

Lecture: An introduction to Cavell’s take up of Wittgenstein as a model of interpretation and philosophising. An introduction to Nietzsche’s concept of the eternal return.

Screening: Leo McCarey, The Awful Truth, 1937.

Reading: S. Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness: Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. (Cambridge, Mass and London: Harvard University Press, 1981), pp.

Seminar: A discussion of the way in which Cavell analyses interpretation. An analysis of Cavell’s reading of The Awful Truth and the way in which the film itself articulates the processes of turning and returning.

Secondary Reading: Cavell, S. and Klevan, A. ‘What Becomes of Thinking on Film? Stanley Cavell in conversation with Andrew Klevan’ in R. Read and J. Goodenough (Eds.) Film as Philosophy: Essays on Cinema After Wittgenstein and Cavell. (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), pp. 167-209.

Constable, C. ‘Seeing Lucy’s Perspective: Returning to Cavell, Wittgenstein and The Awful Truth’, New Review of Film and Television Studies, August 2011.

Week nine:

Formative essay is due in on Friday 6/3/15.

Lecture: An introduction to Jean Baudrillard’s work on postmodernism and science fiction.

Screening: David Cronenberg, Crash, 1996.

Reading: ‘The Precession of Simulacra’, ‘Crash’ and ‘Simulacra and Science Fiction’ from Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulations.

Seminar: A discussion of Cronenberg’s Crash and its status as an adaptation. An examination of the ways in which Baudrillard reads and responds to Ballard’s Crash, comparing and contrasting his response with Cronenberg’s film.

Secondary Reading: Constable, C. ‘Theory as Style: Adapting Crash via Baudrillard and Cronenberg’, in H. Cavel and G. Tuck New Takes in Film-Philosophy. (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), pp. 135-153.
Week ten:

Lecture: Adapting Philosophy/Philosophy as adaptation.

Screening: Larry and Andy Wachowski, The Matrix, 1999.

Reading: Michele Le Doeuff, ‘Preface: The Shameful Face of Philosophy’, The Philosophical Imaginary. Trans C. Gordon. (London: Athlone Press, 1989) pp. 1-20.

Seminar: A discussion of the ways in which The Matrix can be variously interpreted according to the different theoretical models that we have explored across the term. This final week will involve focusing on Michele le Doeuff's work on the role of the image in philosophy, enabling you to reformulate the question: ‘how might films do philosophy?’ and to ask: ‘how does thinking about film impact on the ways in which we conceptualise philosophy itself?’

Secondary Reading: Irwin, W. ‘Computers, Caves and Oracles: Neo and Socrates’ in W. Irwin (Ed.) The Matrix and Philosophy. (Chicago and La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 2002), pp.5-15.

Erion, G. D. and Smith, B. ‘Skepticism, Morality and The Matrix’ in W. Irwin (Ed.) The Matrix and Philosophy. (Chicago and La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 2002), pp. 16-27.

For a key debate on whether The Matrix engages properly with Baudrillard see essays by Felluga and Gordon in G. Yeffeth (Ed.) Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in the Matrix. (Chichester: Summersdale Publishers Ltd, 2003).
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics: Oxford World Classics Series Trans.D. Ross, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)

Baudrillard, J. Cool Memories IV (New York: Verso, 2003).

Baudrillard, J. Simulacra and Simulation, S. F. Glaser (trans.) (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994).

Baudrillard, J. Simulations, P. Foss, P. Patton and P. Beitchman (trans) (Columbia University, New York: Semiotext(e) Inc., 1983).

S. Cavell, Contesting Tears (University of Chicago Press: Chicago: 1996)

S. Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press: 1981)

Clover, J. The Matrix: BFI Modern Classics (London: British Film Institute, 2004).

Constable, C. ‘Baudrillardian revolutions: repetition and radical intervention in the Matrix Trilogy’, in Gillis, S. (ed.) The Matrix Trilogy: Cyberpunk Reloaded (London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2005). pp.151-61.

Constable, C. Adapting Philosophy: Jean Baudrillard and The Matrix Trilogy (Manchester: Manchester University Press: 2009)

Descartes, R. Meditations on First Philosophy. Trans and Ed. J. Cottingham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

Falzon, C. Philosophy Goes to the Movies: An Introduction to Philosophy (London: Routledge, 2002).

Falzon, C. ‘Philosophy and The Matrix’, in Diocaretz, M. and Herbrechter, S. (eds) The Matrix in Theory (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2006), pp. 97-112.

Grau, C. (ed.) Philosophers Explore The Matrix (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Kenny, A. A Brief History of Western Philosophy. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998).

le Doeuff, M. ‘Preface: the shameful face of philosophy’, in le Doeuff, M. The Philosophical Imaginary, trans. C. Gordon (London: Athlone Press, 1989).

Litch, M. Philosophy Through Film (New York and London: Routledge, 2002).

Livingstone, P. ‘Theses on cinema as philosophy’ in Wartenberg, T. and Smith, M (eds) Thinking through Cinema: Film as Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), pp. 11-18.

Marinoff, L. ‘The Matrix and Plato’s cave: why the sequels failed’, in Irwin, W. (ed.) More Matrix and Philosophy: Revolutions and Reloaded Decoded (Chicago and La Salle: Open Court, 2005), pp. 3-11.

Mulhall, S. On Film (London: Routledge, 2002).

Mulhall, S. On Film (2nd ed.) (London and New York: Routledge, 2008).

Plato, The Republic, (ed. and trans.) D. Lee (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd, 1987).

Wartenberg, T. ‘Philosophy screened: experiencing The Matrix’, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 27 (2003), pp. 139-52.

Wartenberg, Thinking on Screen: Film as Philosophy (London and New York: Routledge, 2007).

Wittgenstein, L. Philosophical Investigations, third edition, trans. G. E. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing: 2001).

For an online link for lectures on the history of philosophy recommended by Jose see

And the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is always useful. See

Formative Essay

You are strongly encouraged to produce a 1,000-word formative essay. You should aim to provide an outline of some of key concepts and arguments of ONE major philosopher or film-philosopher from the module (e.g. Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Wittgenstein, Cavell, or Baudrillard). Make sure that you summarise the key features of the chosen theoretical system in your own words. Try to limit the use of quotations and always provide a clear gloss for the chosen quotes.

Formative essay deadline: Friday week 9 Spring term 6/3/15.

(If you particularly wish to write on Baudrillard or Le Doeuff, then you may hand in the essay on Friday of week 10 13/3/15).

Submission: Submit essays with a coversheet via the office in the usual way.
Feedback: you will receive written feedback on your essay with a general indication of classification (pass/merit/distinction). You will also have a tutorial to discuss further any issues arising.

Summative Essay

The module is assessed by a 5,000 word essay, which due in on Weds week 3 of the Summer Term 6/5/15.

You will be encouraged to develop your own essay topic with me during one-to-one tutorials held in weeks 7-10.

A variety of forms of essays are possible:

  1. You may want to take one specific philosophical system – this may be one that we have studied together, or if you have a background in philosophy, this might be a major theorist that we have not studied, such as Kant. Your essay would comprise a detailed engagement with primary work by your chosen theorist and a demonstration of its usefulness for reading one specific film text. You would be expected to reflect on the model of inter-linking philosophy and film that you were adopting in order to facilitate the process of reading the film.

  2. You might want to explore a particular approach to Film-Philosophy in detail – this would involve looking at some primary philosophical sources but they would be secondary to the overall approach. You would need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the approach as a methodology and to demonstrate your points through detailed textual analysis of one film.

  3. You might want to explore the variety of forms of Film-Philosophy covered by the module (and beyond) offering a survey of the different ways of linking philosophy and film. Such a survey would need to be critical – you would need to evaluate the effectiveness of different approaches. You would also need to demonstrate the usefulness of each approach as a method of reading films by offering different analyses of a single film or readings of up to three different films.

The Summative essay must demonstrate

  • A detailed engagement with primary sources either classical philosophical texts or key texts in film-philosophy.

  • An understanding of the particular theoretical approach to the interlinking of philosophical and filmic texts that you are adopting/adapting in your own work.

  • A detailed engagement with one or two films, being sensitive to the ways in which they both conform to and depart from specific philosophical systems.

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