Cinematic Humanism: Cinematic, Dramatic, and Humanistic Value in Fiction Films

Dissertation, University of York (2022)
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Might fiction films have cognitive value, and if so, how might such value interact with films’ artistic and aesthetic values? Philosophical consideration of this question tends to consist in either ceteris paribus extensions of claims relating to prose fiction and literature; meta-philosophical inquiries into the capacity of films to be or do philosophy; or generalised investigations into the cognitive value of any, and thereby all, artworks. I first establish that fiction films can be works of art, then address this lacuna and identify three hitherto unrecognised values relevant to the issue of learning from fiction films. These values are (i) a film’s stance-based cinematic value, which is neither an artistic nor an aesthetic value, but which pertains to the integration of a film’s content, its form, and its themes and/or theses; (ii) a film’s dramatic value, which recognises the use of dramatic argumentation to enable us to make sense of agents’ intentional actions; and (iii) a film’s humanistic value which acknowledges a film’s power to provide illuminating insights into the human condition. In tandem with a series of sceptical arguments that question the very notion of cognitive value, I demonstrate how stance-based cinematic value, dramatic value, and humanistic value can provide fresh ways with which to understand and appreciate that we learn from films, what we learn from films, and how we learn from films. Grouping these values together under the rubric of cinematic humanism offers new resources for a paradigm shift capable of staying true to the spirit that informs both sides of the cognitivist/non-cognitivist debate whilst cutting through the Gordian knot it has become.

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Britt Harrison
University of Hertfordshire (PhD)


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