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Examined Life pulls philosophy out of academic journals and classrooms, and puts it back on the streets. In Examined Life, filmmaker Astra Taylor accompanies some of today's most influential thinkers on a series of unique excursions through places and spaces that hold particular resonance for them and their ideas. Peter Singer's thoughts on the ethics of consumption are amplified against the backdrop of Fifth Avenue's posh boutiques. Michael Hardt ponders the nature of revolution while surrounded by symbols of wealth and leisure. Judith Butler and a friend stroll through San Francisco's Mission District questioning our culture's fixation on individualism. And while driving through Manhattan, Cornel West - perhaps America's best-known public intellectual - compares philosophy to jazz and blues, reminding us how intense and invigorating a life of the mind can be. Offering privileged moments with great thinkers from fields ranging from moral philosophy to cultural theory, Examined Life ... Written by
Oh, God no.
A philosopher is a lover of wisdom. It takes tremendous discipline, it takes tremendous courage to think for yourself, to examine yourself. The Socratic imperative of examining yourself requires courage. You know, William Butler Yeats used to say "it takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on the battlefield." Courage to think critically,
courage is the enabling virtue for any philosopher, for any human being, I...
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In "Examined Life", filmmaker Astra Taylor accompanies some of today's most influential thinkers on a series of unique excursions through places and spaces that hold particular resonance for them and their ideas.
As a former philosophy major (and current part-time philosopher), this documentary grabbed me by the throat and pulled me in. Philosophy is "a critical disposition of wrestling with desire in the face of death," according to Cornel West, who identifies himself as a pleasure-loving Christian. (West spends much of his time rambling about things that seem to have little connection to each other... all while being driven across town by the director.)
Avital Ronell, whom I never heard of, comes across as completely bizarre. She is both full of herself, yet approachable and almost humorous. "I am very suspicious intellectually and historically of the idea of meaning," she says, saying that meaning has tended to be in the hands of the powerful. The "craving for meaning" is "devastating". Ronell is very verbose, and throws around Greek words and Heidegger casually, which will not make her welcome for most viewers (and may lead to people turning the film off early).
Peter Singer, someone I admit to being a big fan of, presents his argument that there is a moral obligation for the rich to assist the poor. In the global sense, Americans should help the third world. (This is a socialist view, though Singer himself does not label it as "socialist", which is smart on his part.) He also talks of his conversion to veganism and the idea that eating meat is not justified (a concept I am sympathetic with, but not in agreement with). Those who know Singer's work will find no surprises here (and I would recommend you watch the video of Singer and Dawkins talking... that is a real mind-blower).
Kwame Anthony Appiah of Princeton talks about the juxtaposition of evolution, ethics and the idea of the cosmopolitan. He presents the concept that we are very good at caring about close friends and family, but society today presents us the challenge: can we, as citizens of the world, care about others? Should we care about people who are not our blood? If not, why is blood more important? And further, is blood important in the first place? Why should I care about my own kid if I do not care about yours? These are interesting questions and perhaps not so obvious as they first appear. Elsewhere, to promote the idea of the cosmopolitan, Appiah says, "See one movie with subtitles a month." I do. Do you?
Michael Hardt, whose political works are complex but fascinating, talks of his time in Central America and how he was advised to go into the mountains and wage armed revolution against Ronald Reagan! The most interesting part of his talk is the idea that many debates have been on the pointless discussion of whether human nature is inherently good or bad. I have had that pointless discussion (I picked bad). Hardt argues the whole debate is stupid because nature is changeable, and therefore constructing a theory on this static foundation is going to inevitably fail. And, you know, he is probably right...
Martha Nussbaum later complained that although Examined Life displays "a keen visual imagination and a vivid sense of atmosphere and place" it nonetheless "presents a portrait of philosophy that is ... a betrayal of the tradition of philosophizing that began, in Europe, with the life of Socrates".
The film has one obvious flaw: those who know little about philosophy or have little interest are going to be bored, confused or upset. I would not recommend this film to most of my friends. But, at the same time, there are a select group of friends who I would highly recommend this film to. If you like philosophy, even a little bit, rent this or watch it on the Netflix... was a great way to wind down my day and keep my brain from going mushy.
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