Filmosophy Philosophy Thinking though Film

Plato’s Cave and the Cinema

In his Cave Allegory (Republic, c.360 BCE), Plato presents a strikingly visual account of the distinction between knowledge and belief and, in doing so, provides us with what may be considered the earliest picture-house.

Courses Philosophy

An Introduction to Philosophy – starts Thursday 1 October @UoEShortCourses

What can we know? Does God exist? Do I have free will? How should I act? Does life have meaning? This course offers an introduction to the main areas of philosophy through discussion of some of the most interesting questions in each field.

Click here for more information or to book online.

Film Filmosophy Philosophy Thinking though Film

Filmosophy season at Filmhouse Edinburgh

Filmosophy is where film meets philosophy. Some films, like philosophy itself, can challenge our preconceived views of ourselves and the world around us. They may provide more questions than answers; yet, in doing so, they will expand our ideas and allow us to view familiar things in an unfamiliar way. They are films that demand to be discussed.

Following on from the success of the inaugural Filmosophy season last year, our second season features four more original and thought-provoking works. Join us as we explore philosophical issues such as: reality and self-deception (Alps), political resistance (The East), memory and identity (Moon), and authenticity (The Consequences of Love).

Each screening will be preceded by a short introduction and followed by an opportunity to discuss the philosophical issues raised in an informal and accessible manner. The screenings will be introduced and discussion sessions hosted by James Mooney (Open Studies lecturer and course organiser at The University of Edinburgh). Post-screening discussions will be held in the Guild Rooms. Please pick up your ticket for the discussion at the time of booking or on the evening.

For more information and to book tickets follow this link:


Metaphysics – the problem of Free Will

One of the major sub-fields of philosophy is Metaphysics.  It is difficult to define exactly what metaphysics is; it began as the search for first causes or the study of ‘being as such’ (unchanging reality).  However, metaphysics has evolved from its ancient roots to encompass a great deal of distinct, yet related, areas of philosophical debate.  One such area is closely connected with the Philosophy of Mind (itself an area of metaphysics) – the problem of free will.  Recall that one of the implications of accepting a materialist account of mind is that it would seem to entail that free will is just an illusion.  The issue of free will also arose in our discussion of the Philosophy of Religion as a response from Christian apologists to the problem of evil.  As such, the Free Will debate is of enormous philosophical importance.  However, its importance is not limited to the metaphysical realm; it has huge moral ramifications and cuts deep into our very conceptions of ourselves and others.  So what is the problem?

Philosophical Humour Philosophy

Monty Python’s Argument clinic

The boys from Monty Python do it again. In philosophy, an argument isn’t just contradiction, it’s “a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition”. The series of statements are called premises and the proposition they aim to support is the conclusion. If an argument is valid (a good argument), then the truth of the premises guarantees the truth of the conclusion. That is to say, if the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true.  Additionally, if the premises of a valid argument are actually true, then the argument is called sound. Compare the below arguments.

Premise 1: All Philosophers are attractive

Premise 2: Jean-Paul Sartre was a philosopher

Conclusion: Therefore, JPS was attractive

(Valid – but not sound)

Premise 1: All men are mortal

Premise 2: Socrates is a man

Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is mortal

Sound – therefore also valid

Of course, some arguments aren’t valid at all, they are just jibberish.

Premise 1: All bicycles make fish

Premise 2: Rolls Royce headlamps

Conclusion: Therefore, Morrissey


However, other arguments look like jibberish – but are still valid.

Premise 1: All fish ride bicycles

Premise 2: Morrissey is a fish,

Conclusion: Therefore, Morrissey rides a bicycle


Remember, a valid argument is one where if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. An argument may have false premises and a false conclusion, yet still be valid. More logic to follow!


John Stuart Mill: the Harm Principle

Mill’s aim

The subject of this essay is . . . the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual . . .

(John Stuart Mill, On liberty , 1859)

An increase in authority (legitimate use of power) necessarily entails a decrease in individuals’ liberty within a given state.  John Stuart Mill, as a liberal, is keen to ensure that the liberty of the individual is only limited when absolutely necessary.

Filmosophy Philosophy

Peter Singer on our obligation to alleviate suffering

Karl Marx stated, ‘the philosophers have merely interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it’. Marx’s sentiment is, I think, shared by many; philosophy can be seen to be an abstract pursuit, and philosophers far-removed from everyday concerns. One philosopher who cannot, however, be accused of such abstraction is Peter Singer. Singer is rightly heralded as a philosopher at the forefront of Applied Ethics, the area where philosophy comes into direct contact with ‘the real world’.

In Examined Life, Astra Taylor places Singer at the heart of Manhattan, among boutiques and fast-food joints. Against this backdrop of wanton consumerism, Singer presents some of his most significant contributions to the field. In his Famine, Affluence, and Morality (1972), Singer asks us to consider the following argument:

  • Premise 1: Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad
  • Premise 2: If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it
  • Premise 3: It is in our power to help prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance
  • Conclusion: Therefore, we ought to help prevent suffering and death

We cannot argue with the validity of the argument here; but, if we are to establish its soundness, we must ensure the truth of the premises, thereby guaranteeing the truth of the conclusion. Now, premise 1 seems to me to be uncontroversial. There are few who would doubt that suffering and avoidable death are bad things. In support of premise 2, Singer provides his famous pond thought-experiment:

If I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing.

I think we must all agree that anyone refusing to rescue the child, on account that he would ruin his clothing, would be considered a moral monster. Yet Singer’s point is that most of us act in such a reprehensible way most of the time, by, for example, spending money on luxury clothing rather than sending the same money to help save starving children. The fact that these children are thousands of miles away, or that there are many others who could help them, makes no significant difference to Singer.

Firstly, aid agencies and NGOs have frameworks in place that can deliver aid quickly and effectively across thousands of miles. This option may not have been open to us in the past but is now. Some may state that, even though it is possible to help others in faraway places, charity should still ‘begin at home’. While this may have made sense in the past, Singer believes that we ought to have more concern for those in absolute poverty in the third world, rather than the relative poverty of those in developed countries.

Secondly, the fact that there are others who can help is irrelevant. Suppose, for example that there were other people around the aforementioned pond, equally able to help but doing nothing. Does that mean that I should not help the drowning child? As such, unless we believe that our wearing designer clothes, driving executive cars, or eating in expensive restaurants is of more moral importance that the suffering and death of millions of people around the world, it seems clear that we ought to sacrifice some of these things in order to help out. Furthermore, most of us in the developed world are fortunate enough to be in a position to make this sacrifice (premise 3), therefore, we must accept the conclusion of the argument. But what exactly would this mean for us and how we live our lives?

Giving money to the starving would no longer be an act of charity, it would be our duty. Where would our obligation stop? Would we have to give maximally, until the point that what we are sacrificing is of more moral importance that the bad we are helping prevent? Although these are indeed questions to which Singer must respond, it seems clear that the least we can do is to do more than we are already doing: a portion of our income; giving up a holiday; eating out less often; having less pairs of shoes, etc. It is likely that such sacrifice would be enough to alleviate the suffering in the world to a level where no further is needed. Peter Singer donates 25% of his salary to charity; he suggests that those of us that can afford it donate too, even if only 1% of our income. Please see Singer’s The Life You Can Save site for further details.


Political Philosophy

In 399 BC, when he was over seventy, Socrates was accused before the Athenian assembly of impiety and corrupting the young, and was sentenced to death.  Plato, in his Crito dialogue, presents a dramatic scene from the condemned cell; Socrates’ friends urge him to escape from prison, and avoid the unjust and vindictive sentence of the court. Socrates, however, refuses to escape; choosing instead to accept his punishment and drink the hemlock.

Film Filmosophy Philosophy

Morality and Blindness in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors

Why should we act morally? Why should we ‘do the right thing’ if we could do the wrong thing and get away with it? Imagine a situation where you find yourself able to get something that you desperately desire, provided you lie, steal, or perhaps even murder. Would you do it? Why? Why not? Is the only reason we ever act in accordance with justice due to our fear of being caught and punished? These are some of the questions addressed in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Film Filmosophy Philosophy

Examined Life: philosophy in the streets

Astra Taylor’s Examined Life may just appear to be just another philosophy documentary (not that there are nearly enough of them). What I mean by this is that we may be tempted to consider it as merely a vehicle for philosophers to convey their ideas; ideas that could be just as well conveyed through print (or even radio or podcast). However, there’s more to it than that. Examined Life places contemporary philosophers in contexts that force us to consider the relevance and, sometimes, urgency of the arguments they make.



Aesthetics is an area of philosophy sometimes taken to be synonymous with the philosophy of art.  This, however, is a mistake.  Although aesthetics is for the most part concerned with questions concerning the nature of art, it also addresses more general questions of beauty.  In this session we will look firstly at beauty before going on to examine the nature of art.


What is Philosophy?

Philosophy begins with questions and, as such, a good place to start is with this often overlooked question concerning the nature of philosophy itself.  Strangely, for a discipline that places such great emphasis on defining and clarifying concepts, there is no unanimously agreed definition of what exactly philosophy is.  The term ‘philosophy’ in its literal sense means ‘love of wisdom’ and we know that there have been, throughout history, a great many men [sorry ladies] that we call philosophers who have written ‘philosophical’ works on a wide variety of subjects.  Perhaps then, we could just say that philosophy is the collected works of all of these philosophers.  However, this doesn’t really enlighten us as to what it is that all of these thinkers and works have in common; what is it that means that we categorize them as ‘philosophical’ rather than scientific, religious, historical, or whatever?