Western movies & Philosophy 101: Anyone want to participate?

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    Just throwing this out here to see if anyone might be interested. John is teaching a class this semester that’s pretty unusual. The idea is to use classic western movies to teach some classic philosophical concepts. Here’s a snippet from the syllabus:

    Content: This course is an introduction to some standard issues in academic philosophy, with the help of the ways that these issues are depicted in some classic films about the American West. The Western was a very popular film genre in the 1950s and early 1960s, and it provided an image of America and Americans that has been much discussed (and maligned) since that time in academia and the elite media. The themes that dominate these films—the Western hero, the cowboy, the rugged individualist, and the negative aspects of encroaching civilization—are at odds with the urbanity, cosmopolitanism, and globalization championed nowadays.
    What can we learn from these films—at least, from the acknowledged classics among them—that has philosophical resonance with the lives we live today? The suggestion in this special section of Introduction to Philosophy will be: many things, at least when these films are coupled with some classical and contemporary readings in philosophy. What is a “world view” and what kinds of resolutions are available when world views held by different individuals come into conflict? Is vengeance a legitimate moral motivation for action, especially violent action? Can good outcomes follow from morally questionable, even objectionable motives (like racism)? What does it mean for a punishment to “fit” the crime, and why exactly does such “proportionality” matter at all to the moral legitimacy of punishment? What features make someone a moral “saint” or “hero,” and are such features good things for humans to pursue? What is courage, why is it a moral virtue, and how does it rank in importance with other moral virtues? …

    Here’s the course schedule (list of topics & movies):

    Weeks 1 and 2
    Topics: What philosophy is (and isn’t); the concept of a “world view”; philosophy, ethics, and religion.
    Film: The Searchers (1956), directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne. Jeffrey Hunter, and Natalie Wood
    Readings: in French, chapters 1 and 2; Peter French, “Ethical Revenge in Westerns”;

    Weeks 3 and 4
    Topics: Some basic distinctions in ethics; when (if ever) is revenge morally justified?
    Film: Unforgiven (1992), directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris
    Readings: Phillip Washburn, “Utilitarian” and “Formalist”; John Elster, “Norms of Revenge”

    Weeks 5 and 6
    Topic: Ethics and the classical moral virtues
    Film: Rio Bravo (1959), directed by Howard Hawks, starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickenson, Walter Brennen, Ward Bond, and John Russell
    Readings: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Books I, II, and III; Rosalyn Hursthouse, “Virtue Ethics”; in French, chapter 5; Charles Young, “Courage”

    Weeks 7 and 8
    Topics: A variety of ethical heroes and anti-heroes
    Film: High Plains Drifter (1973), directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Clint Eastwood, Verna Bloom, Marianna Hill, Billy Curtis
    Reading: in French, chapter 4; selections from Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, chap. IX (“What is noble?”)
    Out-of-class Film Viewing and Writing Assignment passed out

    Weeks 9 and 10
    Topics: Moral saints and the ideal of becoming one
    Film: The Magnificent Seven (1960), directed by John Sturges, starring Yul Brenner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Horst Buchholz, Brad Dexter
    Readings: Susan Wolf, “Moral Saints;” Louis Pojman, “In Defense of Moral Saints;” Vanessa Carbonell, “What Moral Saints Look Like”

    Weeks 11 and 12
    Topic: Feminist ethics and epistemology: Are there distinctively feminine ways of knowing and acting, and do the obvious sex differences matter philosophically?
    Film: Hannie Caulder (1971), directed by Burt Kennedy, starring Raquel Welch, Robert Culp, Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin, and Jack Elam
    Readings: Sandra Bartky, “On Psychological Oppression”; Virginia Held, “Taking Care: Care as Practice and Value”; Alison Jaggar, “Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology”

    Weeks 13, and 14
    Topic: Is “civilization” inevitable? Is it a universally good thing for all people? Is “globalization” the inevitable next step?
    Film: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), directed by John Ford, starring James Stewart, John Wayne, Lee Marvin, and Vera Miles
    Readings: selections from Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”; in French, chapter 6; Phil Washburn, “Internationalist” and “Localist”; Dorothy M Johnson, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”

    Week 15
    Topic: Is truth objective? Is truth inherently valuable?
    (Film: continuing discussion of Valance, from Weeks 13 and 14)
    Reading: Phil Washburn, “Representationalist” and “Post-modernist”; Brian Keeley, “On Conspiracy Theories”

    I wondered if there would be any interest here in doing an informal “class”? You may own some of these flicks already or could rent them (Netflix is great). I could post some of the questions he’s asking students to think about to get discussion going. (I could even post some of the readings.)

    He’s done this before and it’s really interesting. Let me know!

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