Philosophy 395






University of Tennessee at Martin Department of History and Philosophy

Phil 490: Philosophy and Film, all sections, 3 credits, no prerequisite

Instructor: Dr. James Fieser

Office: Humanities 216A

Office Hours: MWF 1:00-2:00, and by appointment

Phone: 881-7537 (Office)      588-2791 (Home)


Course web site:


Christopher Falzon, Philosophy Goes to the Movies, New York: Routledge, 2007

Other readings will be posted on the course website




            Catalog Description: An examination of philosophical elements in film. The course will focus on how these media confront traditional philosophical questions about such issues as good and evil, the existence of God, the possibility of knowledge of self and the real, the nature of time. The ways in which the structure of these media themselves raise philosophical questions may also be addressed. Students will be required to attend out of class screenings of assigned films.




            Tests: Three tests will be given throughout the semester consisting of about 40-60 multiple choice questions each. Test questions will be based on both the lecture material and the text. Students should not assume that all material in the text will be covered in the lectures or that all material in the lectures is covered in the text. Please note that I may discard some questions on exams if in retrospect I see that they are unclear. Students will receive a five point penalty for each day an exam is taken late for up to two days. No make up exams will be given after the second day and students will fail the course by default. No make up exams will be given for the final exam at the end of the semester. Do not show up late for class on test days, especially for the final exam. Exam dates are listed in the course reading schedule. The dates are fixed; please do not request that I change them. The third exam will be given during finals week, and will not be comprehensive. Please see the UTM final exam schedule for the day and time of the final exam for your section (the schedule is linked off the following web page: The exam will be held in our regular room.

            Study Questions: All of the reading material in the course has accompanying study questions, which will be posted on the web. Students are required to handwrite all answers to the questions in a blue exam book (to be purchased from the bookstore). The exam books are due to three times during the semester on test day, and are worth 5 point each time collected. The exam books will not be returned. Do not copy your answers from other students; I’ll be checking for this. The bluebooks come in two sizes; either size is OK.

            Short Papers: A few short essay papers of about 700 words each may be assigned throughout the semester. Instructions will be given during the semester as appropriate.

            Attendance: Attendance is expected and will be taken regularly; poor attendance may adversely affect your grade by 5-15 points. You are allowed six discretionary absences, with no penalty. These may include absences for health, family, legal, collegiate, personal or any other matter. However, if you want more absences than six without being penalized, you need to have legitimate written excuses for each absence, including the six discretionary ones plus everyone thereafter. Most students typically stay within the six absence range. Those who go beyond six are often prone to miss a lot of classes anyway, and don't have many legitimate excuses. College athletes or students with health issues who miss more than six classes need to be especially careful to make sure that every absence has a legitimate written excuse. If you go over six, I will only evaluate the legitimacy of excuses on finals day, so you need to save all your written excuses until that time; please do not show them to me until then. I expect you to accept responsibility for your non-legitimate absences and not try to mislead me. The aims of this policy are to (1) encourage class attendance, (2) allow students a reasonable amount of flexibility on attendance and (3) reduce the need for me to make daily judgment calls about what counts as a legitimate absence. Please note that students typically miss more classes than they think they do; thus, I advise that you try to keep track of your absences. Ultimately, however, it is my record of your absences that counts, not your recollections. Students who miss class are responsible for acquiring the missed material from other students. On the first exam there may be test questions pertaining to the above attendance policies.

            Tardiness: I understand that students may need to show up to class late. However, routine lateness is disruptive since it requires me to halt class and revise the daily attendance sheet. To discourage chronic tardiness, three tardies will count as one absence. A tardy occurs if a student enters the room after his/her name is called for attendance.

            Class Participation: Class participation is encouraged, but not required. The purpose of all class discussion is to help clarify and advance the material under consideration. Please note that I may need to cut short discussions that stray from this aim. Please also note that this course will cover controversial issues and you will likely be exposed to views that differ from your own, particularly in the areas of moral, political and religious philosophy. When discussing these issues, you are expected to respectfully address me and your fellow students, and not let your emotions take over. If you cannot maintain an attitude of respect, or if you are exceptionally sensitive to exposure to controversial issues, then I encourage you to drop this class.

            Class Disruption: Penalties for class disruption may include one or more of the following: points deducted from score, lowered grade, relocation to another part of the room, temporary removal from class, permanent expulsion from class, a report to Student Affairs, and a report to your supervisor (e.g., athletic coach, advisor). Class disruptions include unnecessary talking with one's neighbor, reading material which is not relevant to this course, leaving class early, ducking out of class to answer your cell phone, text messaging in class, surfing the web on your laptop, profanity, and any other indication of disrespect. If you have a special need to leave class early or receive a cell phone call, let me know in advance. Please be respectful of the fact that crowd control in a class of 50-plus students is difficult, and stray disruptions can compound quickly. I do not object to students eating food that isn’t noisy. I do not object to students discretely dozing off for a maximum of 15 minutes.

            Academic Dishonesty: Dishonesty on tests, essays, or study questions will result in the penalties listed above, particularly permanent expulsion from the class and further penalties from the Office of Student Affairs, including expulsion from UTM. Dishonesty with attendance is a form of academic dishonesty, and will result in the same penalties. A common example of this is sneaking out of class through the back door after attendance is taken. Also, if during attendance a student deceptively says “here” (or an utterance to that effect) for an absent friend, both students will be penalized and reported to Student Affairs. Please note that these warnings regarding disruption and dishonesty are not bluffs. In recent semesters I have reported seven students to Student Affairs (who were subsequently put on probation) and have reported five others to their athletic coaches. I have relocated about 10 students to other parts of the room, docked points for about 10 other students, and had one student expelled from school.

            Mid-Term Grade: Mid term grades are based solely on your first exam, and do not reflect points for study questions, or reduced points for attendance or class disruption. The letter grade that you receive during mid term If you receive an F for mid-term, I encourage you to drop the course and try again another semester. While it is possible for you to improve your standing later in the semester, my experience is that bad study habits set in early, and students typically sustain their failing grades throughout the semester.

            Course Grade: Final grades will be determined according to the total points from the three exams (120-180 total points), quizzes and Attendance (10-15 points), study questions (15 points), minus penalty points for class disruption and late exams. The total number of points will be between 145 and 215. Students should assume that final grading will follow the standard grading scale, that is, A: 90%, B: 80 %, C: 70%, D: 60 %, F: 59% and under. However, the final grading scale may be curved slightly lower as will be determined at the end of the semester. Final grades will be calculated at the very end of finals week, and entered into Banner at that time (the print out sheet with the third exam scores will be posted in the hallway at that time, but it will not include final grades). When you receive your final grade at the close of the semester, please do not contact me to request a higher grade.

            Grading Errors: I twice check all scores, arithmetic tallies, and grade submissions to avoid bookkeeping errors. If I nonetheless make a mistake and catch it after the fact, you receive the revised and corrected grade, not the initial mistaken one. (This isn’t Walmart where you get an item at the lower price if the cashier makes a mistake.)

            Extra Credit and Lottery Scholarships: No extra credit will be available for this course; the reason is that it is nearly impossible to devise an extra credit system that is fair to everyone and doesn't inadvertently penalize otherwise good students who decline an extra credit opportunity. Students on Lottery Scholarships/Grants should take particular note of this since recipients must maintain a designated grade point average (see To avoid jeopardizing your average, please begin working hard at the outset of the semester.

            Email Contact: During the semester I may email short messages to the entire class. I will do so through Banner, which has a database of your official UTM addresses. If you do not check your email regularly, please set up your UTM email account so that it forwards all email to your preferred account (e.g., a gmail account that you regularly use). To do so, go to this website and click on the link half way down the page that says “forward all messages to preferred account”.

            Hints for Exams: All exams will emphasize definitions, famous theories, and pro/contra arguments in the assigned readings. I do not stress dates or superfluous names mentioned in the readings; you will get a sense of which names are important based on what I emphasize in class. Your best strategy for preparing for the exam is to outline all the readings (or expand on the outline that I provide for you) and study from that. As a sample of how I typically construct exams, I have posted on the course web page a sample test from a class that I no longer teach ( In a previous course I asked three of the top students to explain their studying strategies. While not all of their comments may apply to this course, you may still find their observations helpful. It may help to re-read their suggestions when you prepare for a test.


Student 1: I spend on average 7 hours preparing for each chapter. First, I read through the material one time.  Then I read through it again, highlighting as I go.  Then I answer the study questions, and I do that with quite a bit of detail so that I can read over them several times before I take the test.  Then I take the outline that you give us and "flesh it out."  In other words, as I'm reading the outline, if there's something in it that I'm not sure I know the answer to, I go to the text, find what page it is on, and put the page number right next to the point in the outline that I was unsure of.  I also add more notes, just in small writing on the same outline that you've given us.  Then before I take the test, I reread the highlighted text at least once more, read the study questions and answers at least two or three times more, and review the outline at least two or three times more.  I also have the text, the study questions, and the outline handy when I take the test in case there's something I'm not sure of.  The whole point is to be so familiar with the text that when there is a difficult question I don't have to spend a lot of time looking for the answer.  Once I complete all the questions on the test, I save my answers and then review them again from the top.  I did that this week and caught one the second time through that I had wrong.


Student 2:  I spend 6-7 hours per week working the complete chapter.  It usually takes me approximately 2 hours to read the material. I read the material once thoroughly. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I always print the material from the web-site and read the hard-copy. I also highlight any phrases or words in italics, as well as any philosopher that is mentioned. I spend approximately 1 hour on the study questions, and it is rare that the answers have not been highlighted. Prior to taking the test, I scan the highlighted portions of reading the material and the study questions again, paying special attention to all highlighted material. This takes approximately 30 minutes.  As I try to include pertinent data from the week's reading material in my discussion posts, I would say I spend another two hours developing and writing my post. I feel highlighting the material gives me an edge. Highlighting, for me, provides a method of noting the material in my mind. I have read it once, I read it again while highlighting, and then I read it again after highlighting. The only other thing that I do is have the reading material and study questions available when I take the test to insure that my recollection of the material is accurate.


Student 3: I go through the reading material once, just to get the gist of the material. I read it again with the contents page in hand and highlight any topics that seem related to the short outline. I re-read it with the discussion questions and make sure that I have each of them covered. I don't make my own outline. I use your outlines and a bright orange highlighter. I sometimes write notes in the margins to help me remember topics. I think that you do a good job of providing hints to the reader about what questions will be on the test. Finally, I look for the italics. Most of your questions seem to be related to items that you set off with italics. I don't know if these are really tricks. I think they are just observations on your writing style. And since, for this class, the author, instructor, and test designer are the same person, any inferences I can pick up from your writing help me predict what you will ask on the test.


            Computer Assisted Reading: If you have trouble reading long assignments, consider having your computer read the chapters to you with a text-to-speech computer program. The use of such a program will work particularly well with this class since all of the reading assignments are in the form of e-texts that I’ve posted on the web. You can download a free text-to-speech program here: (the voice sounds a bit robotic with the free version, but they do sell a more natural sounding upgrade). I use a program like this almost daily, particularly for proofreading texts that I compose. If you install the program, open it and check the box that says “read clipboard automatically”. Then (a) highlight any paragraph of text (e.g., in your web browser, word processor, or email program), and (b) hit control-c. It will then read the paragraph to you.

            Implied consent: By remaining in this class you implicitly consent to the class policies and penalties associated with infractions. If you have difficulties with any of the above, I encourage you to drop this course.

            Disclaimer: The above items are subject to change during the semester.

            Disability Services Information: Any student eligible for and requesting academic accommodations due to a disability is requested to provide a letter of accommodation from PACE or Student Academic Support Center within the first two weeks of the semester.



First exam: Wednesday, February 15

Second exam: Wednesday, March 28

Third exam: finals week