Top 10 Philosophy Movies

Do you Study Philosophy at College or University? Watching a philosophy film is a great way to explore philosophical issues and questions such as ‘Does God Exist?’ and ‘Is there an afterlife?’

Top 10 Philosophy Movies

This selection of philosophy movies is great for a philosophy student or for a teacher to use in the classroom, (this is what I have based the choices on). They are also exciting movies for anyone who has an interest in….well….anything bizarre or supernatural!

My Top 10 Philosophy Movie list raises questions about God, afterlife, reality and the mind. They also feature top actors such as Keanu Reaves and Leonardo Di Caprio. So put your feet up, turn the lights down, and watch a good philosophy movie tonight.

#10 Bruce Almighty

Bruce Almighty
Bruce Almighty

Jim Carrey plays the role of Bruce, who is suddenly blessed, or burdened with the powers of God. As exciting as it seems in the beginning, Bruce soon realises that with this power comes great responsibility.

Bruce Almighty is a comedy, and works really well in the classroom, especially with years 9-11 studying God’s omnipotence.

#9 The Green Mile

The Green Mile (Single Disc Edition)
The Green Mile (Single Disc Edition)

The Green Mile, starring Tom Hanks, is an excellent film for Moral Philosophy and Ethics. It focuses on the issues of capital punishment.

#8 The Truman Show

The Truman Show
The Truman Show

How do we know that life is really as it appears? How do we know that it is not all set up as one big experiment? The Truman show follows Truman’s life, which is exactly that – a set up. How would human beings react in this situation?

Again, Jim Carrey plays a comical role in this must see Philosophical film.

#7 Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange

Clockwork orange is not to be taken lightly! This is one of my favourite films EVER! It touches on some serious moral issues including violence and psychological conditioning.

#6 Schindlers List

Schindler's List (Widescreen Edition)
Schindler’s List (Widescreen Edition)

Schindler’s list tells the emotional story of businessman Oscar Schindler, who took Jews into his factory during the Holocaust to save them from Hitler’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ at the Nazi death camps. This movie raises a lot of ethical issues for philosophical discussion.

#5 Blade Runner

#4 Minority Report

Minority Report
Minority Report

Can you be arrested for a pre-crime, or a crime that you have not yet committed?

#3 The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones
The Lovely Bones

When a young girl is brutally murdered, issues of ethics and life after death are raised. Is there really a life after death? Do some people not progress to heaven until certain things are resolved? This excellent drama explores these issues.

#2 Inception

#1 The Matrix

Starring Keanu Reaves, this is the perfect philosophical film that addresses the reality of existence. How do we know what is real?

The Matrix [DVD] (1999)
The Matrix [DVD] (1999)

Neo knows that there is something not quite about reality. Should he take the pill offered to him by Morpheus, that releases the truth about the world?

This is a fantastic philosophical film. How do we know if we are in reality or not? This film also offers parallels to Christianity, with Neo as Christ and Morpheus as John the Baptist, the forerunner.

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Was Robin Hood a Utilitarian?

What is Utilitarianism?

Utilitarianism is a teleologial ethical approach, which supports the consequences of an ethical decision, rather than the actions. According to Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian principle is the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number‘.  Utilitarianism could, therefore, allow killing if it lead to the best possible outcome for the most people.

Was Robin Hood a Utilitarian?

Robin Hood’s basic ethical principle, to steal from the rich and give to the poor, appears to be a utilitarian approach. This is because he is doing an action that may not be intrinsically a ‘right’ action. However, the result of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor does create the greatest happiness for the greatest number. This is because in Robin Hood’s time and place, there would have been many more peasants benefitting from Robin Hood’s acrtions than rich people suffering from it. In this sense, yes, Robin Hood was a utilitarian!

Robin Hood

Robin Hood Memorial (Nottingham)

Creative Commons

What are the Criticisms of Utilitarianism?

Utilitarianism is a strong ethical theory, but is more difficult to apply in practice. Jeremy Bentham developed the Hedonic Calculus to try to measure pleasure and pain on several different levels. However, this still proves difficult to put in place, as it is subjective (based on opinion). The main problem with utilitarianism, is that any action under this approach, including stealing and killing, could be permitted.

What is the difference between Act and Rule Utilitarianism?

Act Utilitarianism is the first type of utilitarianism, and this fits in with Jeremy Bentham’s approach. In Act utilitarianism, the principle should be applied, without rules, to any given situation, ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number. Again, this poses the problem that it allows any ‘wrong’ action to take place.

John Stuart Mill developed Rule Utilitarianism, which aimed to overcome the problem of Act utilitarianism. It meant that you could apply the utilitarian principle whilst still following a certain rule.

The Cosmological Argument According to Aquinas

The Cosmological Argument

The Cosmological argument for God’s existence argues from the ‘cosmos’ or universe itself.  It is therefore an A Posteriori argument – it is based on our experience of the universe and works up to God as a first cause.

The basis of the argument is this…

  • Everything in the universe is caused by something else – our universe is made up of a chain of causes and effects.
  • If everything has a cause, we could infinitely trace back cause and effect – infinite regression.
  • Infinity cannot be possible, therefore there must be a first cause.
  • The first cause of the universe is God

Aquinas’ Five ways

Catholic theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas developed Five Ways to argue for Gods existence…

  1. The argument from Motion
  2. The argument from Causation
  3. The argument from contingency and necessity
  4. The argument from beauty
  5. The argument from design

The first three of these arguments are cosmological.

The first of Aquinas’ five ways is from motion. Through motion in the universe, we can see that things need to be caused, and that there must be an uncaused cause. Aquinas meant more than just movement, eg. movement of the planets. Motion for Aquinas also refers to the movement from potentiality to actuality. For example, a cup of tea may be actually hot, but potentially cold. When it makes the motion to become a cold cup of tea, it has moved from potentially being cold to actually being cold. This was the motion to which Aquinas referred.

The second of Aquinas’ five ways was the argument from causation. Everything in the world has a cause. Therefore, there must be a first cause – this we call God.

The argument from contingency and necessity (the third way) is slightly more complex to understand. Aquinas identified the universe to be full of contingent things – that is, things which are dependent on other things for their existence. For example, as human beings, we are dependent upon our parents.  If there was once a time when there was nothing, a necessary being had to create something from nothing.  The argument therefore suggests a necessary being to bring contingent beings into existence, and this we call God.

Nietszche and the Death of God

Who was Nietzsche?

Nietszche was a German philosopher of the enlightenment period. Nietzsche is often misunderstood as pessimistic and anti-religion. It is Nietzsche’s concept of the death of God that seems to cause the most controversy.

What did Nietzsche mean when he said ‘God is Dead’?

Nietzsche made this radical statement in his book ‘The Gay Science’. He explores the concept of God through ‘the madman’ who asks ‘Where is God?’ the answer, of course, was that God is dead, and we have killed him.

When Nietzsche stated that ‘God is dead’ he did not mean that God was once alive and that we have literally killed him. God is not personified. What he meant was that the concept of God had died a death due to the process of secularisation. Society was moving away from revolving around the Parish and the importance of God in people’s lives was diminishing.

Nietzsche and Nihilism

If God is dead, does that mean that we no longer have moral values? And if we no longer have moral values, does that mean that we descend into nihilism? The problem is that without ethical values of Christianity, what morality do we have?

The answer, for Nietzsche, is to replace the slave morality of Christianity with the master morality of mankind. When we strive to become the ‘Ubermensch’ of Nietzsche’s philosophy, we no longer ascertain to the moral values of God or indeed anyone else.

What doe you think about Nietzsche’s philosophy? Is God dead? Are we all striving to become the Ubermensch?

Click here for further reading on Nietzsche: Death of God.

How to answer Philosophy Exam Questions

The classic problem with students answering philosophy exams is that they just don’t get to the point. Many students see a single word in an exam question, and go off on one, writing everything that they know about that topic! With the A-Level and IB philosophy exams recently marked, many examiner’s reports will state that they misunderstood or misread the question. Here’s the philosophyzer’s guide to how to answer in an exam.

How to answer Philosophy exam Questions…

The Examiners language

It is important that you read the question carefully and answer what the examiner wants to know. For example, if the question says explain the design argument according to Paley, do you evaluate it? No, because the examiner has not asked you to! Do you mention Aquinas? No, because the question is about Paley. Stick to the point of the question, and do’t waffle on about things that are not relevant. This will save you time and gain you marks.

Here is some of the terminology that an examiner may use. It is important that you understand it…

Explain or illustrate – Say what a concept is and use evidence and examples.

Evaluate/Discuss – These are the essay style questions where you must give two sides of an argument.

To what extent do you agree – another way of trying to get you to look at both sides of the argument!

Students-sit-for-the-phil-007

How many Marks is the Question Worth?

Remember to also look at how many marks each question is worth. For example, on the AQA exam paper, there are two types of question. Shorter questions or part (a) are 10 mark questions and the longer essay style (part b) are 30 mark questions.

So you need to get your timing right and spend twice as long on part b as you do on part a. As a general rule, it is around a mark per minute on an exam, so a 30 mark question should last around half an hour. It is important that you keep an eye on the clock and get your timing right.

Practice makes perfect!

The best thing to do to ensure that you are fully prepared is to download past papers and mark schemes for the exam board that you use.

What is the difference between A Priori and A Posteriori? What are analytic and synthetic statements?

What is the difference between A Priori and A Posteriori statements or arguments?

A Posteriori statements are statements or truths ‘post experience’. In other words, you have to have experienced something in order to make the claim. Remember it because ‘post’ means after – after experience.

A Priori Philosophical statements are based on logic

A Priori statements are usually ‘analytic’ in nature and A Posteriori statements are usually ‘synthetic’ in nature.

What is an analytic statement?

An analytic statement is one that is analytically true i.e. it is true within itself. An example of this is the term ‘bachelor’. A bachelor is an unmarried male. The term bachelor entails ‘maleness’ and ‘unmarriedness’.  If you told me ‘John is a bachelor’ I would not have to meet John to know that he was unmarried and that he was a man. That is because the term ‘bachelor’ itself tells me these things analytically.

What is a synthetic statement?

A synthetic statement is something that is true by the way it relates to the world. For example, ‘the cat is black’ is a synthetic statement.

Now, let’s say that ‘catness’ entailed ‘blackness’, and Timmy was a cat. He would therefore be black, and this would be analytic. However, not all cats are black.  Therefore, the statement ‘the cat is black’ is synthetic.

Is the statement ‘God Exists’ A Priori or A Posteriori?

This is a trick question, because the answer is both!

If we argue that ‘God exists’ from Design in the world (Paley), we are presenting a A Posteriori argument.  That is because I have to experience the design in the world to be able to present the argument for God as a designer.

If we say that ‘God’ exists arguing ontologically, we are presenting an A Priori analytic argument. This is because, according to Anselm, existence is a logical necessity for God.

God and the Problem of Evil

There is no doubt that God and the problem of evil contradict each other. In today’s blog, I am going to explore why the existence of evil and suffering in the world causes such a big problem for a belief in the Judeo-Christian God.  With such evils happening in the world, such as the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, how can God exist?

God and the Problem of Evil: The Epicurean Trilema

The traditional Judeo-Christian God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent. Omnipotent means that God is all powerful (remember ‘p’ in it for powerful!). Omnibenevolent means that God is all loving.

There is a trilema here (three possible options). Either God does not love us, so evil exists in the world. Or, God is not omnipotent – he does not have the power to stop evil, so evil exists. Or, God does not exist. This was originally asserted by Epicurus, hence the name Epicurean hypothesis. It is also sometimes known as the inconsistent triad, because of the inconsistencies surrounding God and his existence with reference to evil and suffering.

God and the Problem of Evil: Ways forward for Christians

Indeed, this is a big problem for the Christian believer, as it challenges the essence of God, or the existence of God himself. However, many Christians believe that there are reasons for evil existing in the world. Perhaps this is all part of God’s plan and beyond human understanding.

Indeed, if evil and suffering did not exist, we would not learn and develop as human beings. Nor would we have the opportunity to do good and help others. Another key argument is that it is man who causes evil and suffering, not God. If God did not give us freewill, we would not be individuals, but simply robots.

There are several theories have been put forward by Christian philosophers to try to overcome the problem of evil. If you are interested in finding out more, I recommend that you read about the Augustinian and Irenean theodicies.  Follow this link to find out more about God and Suffering: Augustine on Evil.

St Augustine's Confessions available on www.amazon.com

St Augustine’s Confessions available on Amazon

What do you think about God and the Problem of Evil?

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on God and the Problem of Evil, so please feel free to comment on this blog.

How successful is the Teleological argument in proving the existence of God?

For many scholars, the answer to the question of the Teleological Argument comes down to probability. Which is more probable, God as a designer or the universe as ‘brute fact’? Does God Exist?

Is the Teleological Argument for God’s Existence really ‘proof’?

Even Hume, with all of his criticisms, accepts that it is more probable that the universe was designed and that therefore there was a designer. However, he argues that there is no proof that the designer is God. It may point to the existence of a conscious designing intelligence, but this is not necessarily the God of Classical Theism.

John Stuart Mill and challenges to the Design Argument

According to J.S. Mill, the existence of evil challenges the success of the argument from Design.  The existence of evil in the world suggests that the designer of the universe has limited power, knowledge or love and therefore cannot be the God of Classical Theism. Process Theologians, however, have argued that God suffers alongside us, and the existence of evil does not challenge the existence of a loving, powerful God.

Peter Vardy on Probability

Peter Vardy states that this argument will never be conclusive as it rests on probability and individual judgment. For example: there is no scientific explanation for why life should strive for greater and greater complexity and intelligence. This allows believers to use a Creator God to explain how the matter in the universe is being directed towards a goal or purpose. However there is no proof that this is in fact the case.

What is your Conclusion on the Teleological Argument?

Clearly, the conclusion you arrive at relies upon your personal conviction. If the accumulated evidence of design is compelling enough, you may leap to the conclusion that God is the designer of the universe. For a theist, the apparent order and purpose of the universe increases the probability that God exists and provides support for his/her beliefs. An atheist, on the other hand, may believe that the argument is inconclusive.

According to Paul Davies, it comes down to how you interpret the facts that science gives you. It is the role of science to explain how the universe got here and the role of religion to explain why. If you apply Ockham’s Razor, the simplest explanation for apparent design and purpose in the universe is most likely to be true. The simplest explanation for a theist will be God as the designer.  But what is the simplest explanation for you?

Descartes Version of the Ontological Argument

Rene Descartes (1596—1650)

Descartes pic

What was Descartes version of the Ontological Argument?

Descartes Ontological Argument uses the example of triangle to try to prove God’s existence. His argument is that existence is necessary to God as 3 sides are necessary to a triangle.  In this argument, existence is a predicate. Descartes writes this argument in his Meditations on First Philosophy.

What are the problems with Descartes Ontological Argument?

Kant argues against Descartes, saying that existence cannot be a predicate, because it does not add value to something. For example, when I describe my Jack Russell Terrier, I say that he is a small dog with white fur and a black spot on his back. I don’t then say ‘and he exists!’