Philosophy and Film


E-term, 2012


Dr. Bill Myers, HC 222, 226-4868,

Online syllabus:

Classroom: HC 007


Course Description and Objectives:

On the most general level, this course is an introduction to philosophy, utilizing both film and traditional texts. We will be making connections between the visual and imaginative features of film, and the traditional ideas of the history of philosophy.  One of the intended outcomes of this course (in addition to the simple introduction to philosophy) is that we will become more media and visually literate. This kind of course and the thinking that it fosters requires us to say much more than "I like that" or "I don't like that." We are taking works of film and plumbing their depths to a greater degree than most of us have done. There is the added bonus that visual representations often make the normally and sometimes abstract problems of philosophy more real. That is, the narrative structure of the movies embodies the problems into real stories. Hopefully, we will then see that philosophy is not simply abstract mind-games, but it deals with real life problems.



Meditations on First Philosophy, by Rene Descartes

The Republic, by Plato

Utilitarianism, by John Stuart Mill

Foundations for the Metaphysics of Morals, by Immanuel Kant

A handout or two.



      Response papers: 30%

      Final paper: 40%

      Argument summaries: 10%

      Participation and attendance: 20%



The syllabus notes four chances for you to turn in a short paper. You will be required to submit a short paper on two of these occasions, any two of your choosing. The papers will serve as a basis for class discussion. They should be about 3 pages long, word-processed and double-spaced, 12 point, Times New Roman. The focus of your paper should be on relating the philosophical readings with the issues raised in the movies. A tight, focused paper is preferred.



Your long paper should be 8-10 pages in length. In this paper, you are to explore in depth either one of our movies and the relevant philosophical issues raised in it or you may explore some issue that is raised in two or more of the movies. I will provide some further guidelines once the semester begins. See my web page for a handout on writing philosophy papers.



For each class period where we have a reading assignment, you are to bring with you to class a short summary of what you take to be the author's main point or argument. These need to be only about a page long. If there are two readings for the class, you should do a slightly shorter summary of each.



I will take attendance at each class period. This is the kind of course that requires attendance at all of the meetings. Absences will affect this part of your grade, and if you miss more than 3 meetings, you will fail the class. It is also important that we start class on time. Habitual tardiness is irresponsible, rude, and disruptive. To discourage it, the student's final course grade will be reduced by one point for each instance of tardiness beyond the first two instances. No excuses will be accepted. You have two—use them judiciously.



Three rules for the sake of courtesy: First, eating is not allowed in HC classrooms. Don’t bring food to class. Second, turn off your cell phone when you come to class. If I hear your cell phone ring, vibrate, or otherwise make its presence known, you will be immediately dismissed from class and counted absent for that day. Third, no electronic devices of any kind are to be used during class. This includes laptop computers.



All work at Birmingham-Southern College is done under the Honor Code. If you have any doubts or questions about the application of the code to this class, please ask me.






Tues, 1/3          What is philosophy?


Wed, 1/4         What is a person? Descartes (10:00)

Readings: Descartes' Meditation 1-3, pp. 13-35

                        Afternoon viewing (1:00): Blade Runner


Thurs, 1/5        Discussion (10:00)

                        Afternoon (1:00): Why be just and moral?

Reading: Plato's Republic, Book I, pp. 1-31


Friday, 1/6       Short paper day—first chance. Turn it in at my office or email it by 2:00.


Mon, 1/9          Afternoon viewing (1:00): Goodfellas


Tues, 1/10        Discussion (1:00).

Reading: Plato's Republic, Book II, pp. 32-59


Wed, 1/11       Morality: What makes right actions right? (10:00) (Short paper day—2nd chance.)

Readings: Utilitarianism, by John Stuart Mill, Chapters One and Two (pp. 1-26); “The Categorical Imperative,” by Immanuel Kant (pp. 7-17 and top 25-37).

                        Afternoon viewing (1:00): Do the Right Thing


Thurs, 1/12      Discussion (1:00).


Fri, 1/13           Short paper day—third chance. Turn it in at my office by 2:00—slide it under my door or email it to me.


Tues, 1/17        (10:00) Issue: Existentialism

Reading: "Existentialism is a Humanism" (Moodle) by Jean Paul Sartre

Afternoon viewing (1:00): Crimes and Misdemeanors


Wed, 1/18       (10:00) Discussion

                        Afternoon viewing (1:00): Being There


Thurs, 1/19      Discussion (1:00).


Fri, 1/21           Short paper day—fourth chance. Turn it in at my office by 2:00—slide it under my door.


Fri, 1/27           Long papers due in my office by 2:00.


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