Does Philosophy Do Film?

The Philosophical Hitchcock by Robert Pippin* is quite good, although I’ve only read about 30 pages so far.  The philosophical problem—what Pippin claims is a genuine one offered by Vertigo (1958)—is “unknowingness.”

If philosophy refers to its own disciplinary history (and not the “philosophy” of common parlance), then it seems doubtful that film could contribute to this discourse insofar as (1) film does not communicate merely through language and (2) it rarely takes its end as either articulating a problem or proposing a solution to some such problem (and is a film that we’d call a film).

This is not to dismiss all of the works of art that bear contributions to philosophical issues, but most of those we’d say are not philosophical works, per se, but works of art that can be interpreted in a way as offering a commentary on a philosophical issue. For example, as an anonymous blogger I once wrote a post on Jurassic Park as being in conversation with Rousseau’s claim in the second Discourse that motherhood and the family is not “natural” but in fact something resulting from practices and conventions.  But there I was arguing that Jurassic Park offered an example of how we think about the issue.

To be clear, films—works of art writ large—can contain philosophical content, but that doesn’t mean they “do” philosophy.

Pippin makes a much more ambitious claim, namely, that film can articulate philosophical problems in a philosophical register.

*Pippin is a scholar of German Idealism (my AOS when a philosopher) and increasingly of film.  In fact, he’s written more than a few books on film, although until this one I had only read an essay by him on Out of the Past (1947)—it was quite good and Mitchum back in the day (especially Angel Face [1953]) was wonderful to watch.