Thomas E. Wartenberg (Mount Holyoke College)

January 24, 2024, 3:00pm - 5:00pm
Nova University of Lisbon

Colégio Almada Negreiros/Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas – NOVA FCSH
Lisbon 1099-032

This event is available both online and in-person


Universidade Nova de Lisboa

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The third Film-Phil Lisbon Seminar (2023-2024) will be led by Thomas E. Wartenberg (Mount Holyoke College, USA) who will talk about “Thoughtful Cinema: Illustrating Philosophy Through Film”. The session will be held on January 24, 2024, at 15:00 PM (Lisbon time) Room CAN 209 and Online.


There has been a general consensus in the Film-as-Philosophy Debate that illustrating philosophy does not qualify a film as genuinely philosophical. In this talk, I argue that this is a mistake, that films that illustrate philosophy are paradigmatic examples of works in which philosophy is done on film. I begin by considering the Generality Objection to films doing philosophy and thought experiments as a response. To avoid the objections raised to the analogy between philosophical and cinematic thought experiments, I propose a different way in which to think about the relationship between films and philosophy. I argue that understanding a narrative film as illustrating a general philosophical claim meets the Generality Objection. To support this position I examine two films that illustrate philosophical theories. The first is Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936). I show that the film is an illustration of the theory of capitalist exploitation proposed by Karl Marx. Then, I turn to a recent film, Jane Campion’s award-winning The Power of the Dog (2022). Although unlike Modern Times, this film was not intended to illustrate a philosophical theory, pairing it with a philosophical theory allows aspects of the film to emerge that otherwise would be passed over, viz. the film’s presentation of a morally permissible third-party killing. My discussion of these films supports my contention that a significant way for philosophy to be done on film is for a film to illustrate a philosophical claim or theory.


Thomas E. Wartenberg works at the intersection between philosophy and popular culture. His most recent work focuses on the philosophy of film, though he has written on a wide variety of topics in philosophy. In addition, his work teaching philosophy to elementary school children has garnered worldwide attention. A former Fulbright Research Fellow, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, and an honorary visiting professor at the University of Auckland, Wartenberg is the author of two books on film: "Unlikely Couples: Movie Romance as Social Criticism" (1999), which looks at a series of popular romantic films from the 1930s to the 1990s to explore what romances between unlikely couples have to say about societal mores and prejudices, and "Thinking on Screen: Film as Philosophy" (2007), which discusses films ranging from the popular fiction film to the experimental avant-garde film of the 1960's in order to argue that films are a medium in which philosophy can be done. His latest book, "Thoughtful Images: Illustrating Philosophy Through Art", was published in 2023.

* Note that the seminar is hybrid, but pre-registration is mandatory. Please, register in advance: After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Funded by the European Union (ERC, FILM AND DEATH, 101088956). Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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January 24, 2024, 3:00pm +01:00

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