Cogito Ergo Film: Plato, Descartes and Fight Club

  • Nancy Bauer


A central concern of Stanley Cavell’s in his writings on the movies is to dramatise the extent to which film, by virtue of its nature as a medium and as a matter of historical fact, tends to be preoccupied with philosophy’s preoccupations.1 Everywhere and always, Cavell puts pressure on the view that, at best, a given film might do a good job of illustrating a philosophical problem or position – a view that, alas, most of his colleagues in the world of professional philosophy would probably accept (that is, were they to find themselves thinking about the relationship between philosophy and film). This mainstream view concedes that sometimes it is useful to show a film in a philosophy class, since films can rouse the passions of students and thereby get them more invested in the issues. Of course Cavell would never disagree. But a pressing issue for him is not whether films rouse passions but exactly why and how they succeed in doing so. An intimately related question for Cavell, one that drives all of his work, is the relationship passions have to reason. Professional philosophy these days is apt to follow Kant’s increasingly influential lead and identify reason as whatever is left of the human mind once the passions are excluded. But films by their nature relentlessly – you might even say absolutely – resist this picture. How and why they do so, Cavell finds, is not something one can discover apart from careful criticism of individual movies – what he calls ‘reading’ films.


Sickle Cell Anemia Ordinary Experience Walk Away Professional Philosophy Early Dialogue 
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  1. 4.
    Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, in her Visual and Other Pleasures (1989), 14–26. The essay was written in 1973 and originally published in 1975. It has been anthologised countless times and is arguably the most well-known essay in the history of academic film studies.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Nancy Bauer 2005

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  • Nancy Bauer

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