Empathic Ethics: Phenomenology, Cognitivism, and Moving Images
Dr Robert Sinnerbrink (Macquarie University)

September 1, 2015, 4:00pm - 5:30pm
European Philosophy and the History of Ideas Research Group (EPHI), Deakin University

Burwood Corporate Centre (level 2 - Building BC)
221 Burwood Hwy
Burwood 3125


  • School of Humanities and Social Sciences


Deakin University


Some of the most innovative philosophical engagement with cinema and ethics has come from phenomenological and cognitivist perspectives in film theory. This trend reflects a welcome re-engagement with cinema as a medium with the potential for ethical transformation, that is, with the idea of cinema as a medium of ethical experience. My paper explores the phenomenological turn in film theory (with its focus on affective, empathic, and embodied responses to cinema), emphasizing the ethical implications of phenomenological approaches to affect and empathy, emotion and evaluation, care and responsibility. My claim is that an ‘empathic ethics’ is at work in many films: film provides a powerful means of enacting the affective temporal dynamic between empathy and sympathy, emotional engagement and multiple perspective-taking. Taken together, these elements of cinematic ethics offer experientially rich, context-sensitive, and ethically singular forms of imaginative engagement in social situations that reveal the complexities of a cultural-historical world. I elaborate this thesis by analysing a key sequence from Ashgar Farhadi’s A Separation (2011), a film that offers a striking case study in cinematic ethics.

Robert Sinnerbrink is Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Macquarie University, Sydney. He is the author of Cinematic Ethics: Exploring Ethical Experience through Film (Routledge, forthcoming 2015), New Philosophies of Film: Thinking Images (Continuum, 2011), Understanding Hegelianism (Acumen, 2007), co-editor of Critique Today (Brill, 2006), and is a member of the editorial board of the journal Film-Philosophy. He has published numerous articles on the relationship between film and philosophy, and is currently a completing a book (with Lisa Trahair and Gregory Flaxman) entitled Understanding Cinematic Thinking: Film-Philosophy in Bresson, von Trier, and Haneke (Edinburgh UP, 2016).

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