Thursday, December 3, 2015

Tackling Philosophy through Film

by Garrett McGowan

When seminarians come to Mount Angel Seminary at the college level, they work towards a Bachelor's degree in philosophy.  Most of the philosophy course are required, yet there are a few that are electives.  Art of Philosophy is one of those electives, and this year the class is taught by Mr. Mark Woolman.

The class is different from the other philosophy classes because it involves watching films and using chapters from a book to help uncover philosophical meanings within the films.  In the class, seminarians are learning to look beneath the surface of what is in front of them to gain knowledge to ask the bigger questions in life.

The book Woolman uses is Ten Philosophical Mistakes.  Questions that come up are varied from chapter to chapter in accordance with each film.  What is morality?  Do we really have freedom of choice?  Are we happy or just content?  These are questions everyone should ask themselves.  Woolman wants everyone in his class to walk away asking themselves about the possible answers to these questions.

The book and films for the Art of Philosophy

For example, the movie Crimes and Misdemeanors is used to help discuss the chapter on morality.  In the movie the characters are in conflict with their moral beliefs and what they feel they must do to protect themselves.  It takes a look at what happens when there are no clear answers to a situation and what may happen when people push their moral convictions aside to protect themselves or others.

The movie Gattaca is used with the book's chapter on human society.  The movie is about how a person's life is determined by society at the time of his or her birth and how society deems his or her worth, even if it is based on false information.  The chapter talks about human society and civilization and how we treat one another.  Another chapter in the book asks if we have any real freedom of choice.  The movie used for this chapter is The Truman Show.

Woolman challenges his students to watch a movie and then to see if there are any deeper meanings to the plot.  Because this class is designed to get students thinking, they are able to carry these ideas outside the classroom and into conversations with other people.  After taking the class, seminarians can go to a movie or read a book and ask themselves how it relates to life.  They can ask themselves what can be learned from what they viewed or read.  This class can make the experience of watching a movie or reading a book all the richer.

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