Existenz Menu
An International Journal in Philosophy, Religion, Politics, and the Arts
ISSN 1932-1066


Volume 9, No. 2, Fall 2014

Philosophy and Art


Index and Editors' Introduction

Truth, Freedom, and Peace
Karl Jaspers | translation by Florian Hild

In 1958, Karl Jaspers received the Peace Prize of the German Publishing Trade. Hannah Arendt introduced her mentor as a man of unassailable integrity, always representing humanitas in Germany.  Jaspers' speech bases peace on freedom and freedom on truth, truth defined as a Socratic commitment to a Denkungsart der Vernunft, reason's way of thought. Jaspers' commitment to communication as a "loving struggle" finds a beautiful expression in its comparison to chivalric conflicts. The Kantian term Denkungsart plays a great role in Jaspers' speech. Advocating for peace can be done in a Denkungsart that lacks peace: Jaspers claims that peace advocates and adversaries can share a way of thinking to the degree that they are absolutely convinced of their thoughts and paint their opponents as absolutely wrong. This observation applied to Jaspers' time and to modern political realities as well.

Keywords: Peace; freedom; truth; communication; politics; intellectuals, responsibility of.


Arendt's Radical Good and the Banality of Evil: Echoes of Scholem and Jaspers in Margarethe von Trotta's Hannah Arendt
Babette Babich | Fordham University

Margarethe von Trotta's 2012 film Hannah Arendt suggests that for Arendt the signal problem with Adolf Eichmann had to do with a lack of thinking (the same problem Martin Heidegger diagnoses repeatedly in his book What is Called Thinking). For Heidegger, we are "still" not thinking. For Arendt, what is characteristic of Eichmann is that he does not think, meaning that he does not think as Aristotle defines thinking, namely as characteristic of the human qua human, here conceiving thinking as an inherently philosophical project that is more than practical but always contemplative (i.e., thinking about thinking). Is Eichmann monstrously evil, as many commentators are keen to insist—or does his all-too-typically unthinking nature attest instead, as Arendt observed, to the banality of evil? Karl Jaspers and Arendt would go beyond the lonely business of thought (as Heidegger spoke of the thinker) to argue that whatever thinking can be, it is inherently political and can only be done with other human beings in community or as both Arendt and Jaspers spoke of the formation of a world.

The corresponding lecture is posted at Vimeo.

Keywords: Arendt, Hannah; von Trotta, Margarethe; Sebald, Winfried Georg; Jonas, Hans; Heidegger, Martin; Eichmann in Jerusalem; banality; thinking; film and philosophy.


On Westerns
Robert B. Pippin | Chicago University

This paper is a response to questions and criticisms raised by the three commentators at the 2014 APA Pacific meetings about my book Hollywood Westerns and American Myth. I address questions raised about the role of genre in criticism, the status of a mythic form of universality, and especially the variations in, or even against, genre conventions, the complicated status of the notion of the "legendary" in John Ford's film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in what sense auteur theory is presupposed by my approach, and in what sense attention to films can be considered a form of philosophy.

The session is viewable at YouTube.

Keywords: Westerns; Schmitt, Carl; genre; myth; aesthetic; auteur; film philosophy.


The Essence, Artistry, and Philosophy of Movie Westerns
Kevin L. Stoehr | Boston University

With primary reference to Ride, Boldly Ride: The Evolution of the American Western, this essay outlines some of the characteristics that have helped to define the traditional or classical movie Western and that have thereby established a standard (even if a loose one) against which post-classical or revisionist Westerns might gain clearer meaning in terms of their responses to the conventions of the genre. I suggest that this complex, diverse genre is better defined according to flexible boundaries and family resemblances than by strict conceptual parameters. I address several philosophical aspects of the Western, especially those evoked by the book, and consider the task of establishing criteria that may be used to assess a given movie's greatness. By providing an overview of the book, the essay highlights defining currents in the evolution of this film genre.

Keywords: Ford, John; Eastwood, Clint; Mann, Anthony; Boetticher, Budd; Gadamer, Hans-Georg; Hobbes, Thomas; dialectical; Socratic; authorial intention; manifest destiny; myth; national identity.


Mythologizing and the American Self-Understanding: Commentary on Hollywood Westerns and American Myth and Ride, Boldly Ride
Tomoko Iwasawa | Reitaku University, Japan

The commentary shows how these two studies probe deeper into the core of the American Self by examining the depth psychology of the American Western. Following their analyses, the essay addresses, firstly, how the American Western, in its earlier stage, contributed to the myth making of never-ending American expansionism supported by the apparent victory of American civilization and modernization, and secondly, how this same myth has been critically re-examined in the subsequent development of American Westerns. The ultimate scope of inquiry by both authors' rigorous analyses of the American Western transcends the confinement of the genre, and presents a more universal, existential dilemma of modern humanity that struggles against the opposition of civilization and wilderness, the rational and the irrational, mind and body.

Keywords: American self-understanding; Japanese self-understanding; the American Western; American expansionism; Wayne, John; Eastwood, Clint; mythologizing; mind-body-dualism.


Into the Wild (West): Philosophy and Cinematic Mythmaking
Shai Biderman | Tel Aviv University, Israel

Two recent monographs that demonstrate the power of philosophical engagement with cinematic genres and the cinematic capacity for mythmaking, Hollywood Westerns and American Myth and Ride, Boldly Ride, are here argued to make an innovative contribution to the view that film is "philosophy in action," and that the American Western is a crucial genre in which to see this at work. They do so by arguing both that philosophical practice can find a relevant object in this cinematic genre, and that the Western as a cinematic genre makes unique contributions to philosophical practice. Kevin Stoehr and Robert Pippin show that by raising questions of identity, self-manifestation, and the affirmation of existence, Westerns present us with an innovative form of philosophical scrutiny that reveals how the audience understands itself and creates a philosophical presentation of the American myth.

Keywords: Cavell, Stanley; film as philosophy; myth; cinematic genre; comedy of remarriage.


Do Some Classic Films Present a Philosophical Argument?
Carlin Romano| Ursinus College

Although excellent philosophical critics of film such as Robert Pippin and Kevin Stoehr would prefer to sidestep what Stoehr deems the "obsessive" concern of some scholars over whether movies make philosophical arguments, or should count as "philosophy," end-running the issue is not so easy. Examining both Pippin's Hollywood Westerns and American Myth and Ride, Boldly Ride by Stoehr and Mary Lea Bandy, I suggest that heat around this matter arises from aspects of the auteur theory, its possibly implicit notion of a director's unitary authority and intentionality in regard to a film, and linguistic choices by critics, when describing a director's ambitions, that bolster that notion. Reflecting further on Pippin's view of intentionality and its link to auteur theory, I suggest that the concept of an "aesthetic fiction" might bring opposing positions closer together, though it could not eliminate the film-as-philosophy debate altogether

Keywords: Film; movie; auteur; intentionality; Wittgenstein, Ludwig; Westerns; philosophy; critic.


Love and Death in Modern Opera
Brayton Polka| York University, Canada

I have two interrelated aims in my paper. First, I argue that love and death, in their very relationship, stand at the heart of the values that constitute modernity. I follow Jaspers in holding that our modern values have their origin, historically and ontologically, in Christianity, what I call the Bible. Second, I support this thesis by way of examining four operas, two tragic and two comedic, to show that they embody values that are central to modernity in their profound engagement with the themes of love and death. But, strangely, opera, unlike other modern art forms, has a double history. For the values that are central to the operas on which I concentrate here are altogether opposed to the values that are found in the operas of Wagner (together with some of the operas of Verdi). Wagner, with his false conception of Christianity, rejects the values that are true to modernity in viewing love as the servant of death, not death as the servant of love. In studying the role of love and death in opera, we deepen, consequently, our understanding of the values that are central to modernity.

Keywords: Love; death; opera; modernity; history; Bible; Christianity; values; self; community; covenant.


Inspector of Prisons
Herbert W. Mason| Boston University

This novel is set in France during the Algerian War. A distinguished diplomat and author, after having suffered a nervous breakdown following the death of his eldest son, is assigned an ignominious position of Inspector of Prisons in different towns outside Paris. He is compromised morally by what he is expected not to report regarding the torture of Algerian political prisoners. It is a tightly woven story of a principled and patriotic man's depth of fear, depression and anguish culminating in his ultimate declaration of the truth The novel extends Herbert Maso's prior theme of protest against death in Gilgamesh, a verse narrative, a finalist for the National Book Award, and a Muslim mystic’s martyrdom in The Death of al-Hallaj, a dramatic narrative, from Houghton Mifflin & Harcourt and Notre Dame University Press respectively.

Keywords: France; Algerian war; torture; prison; terrorists; honor; loss of one's humanity; truth.




Founding Editors
Alan M. Olson
Helmut Wautischer

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