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Question Description

Films about philosophy are rare because philosophy is not a subject that readily lends itself to that medium. But once in a while a filmmaker is able to successfully approach the subject of philosophy, and Astra Taylor’s Examined Life is an example of this.

Examined Life is a unique and thought provoking documentary that features a series of interviews with philosophers living and working in the U.S. in the contemporary period. Cornel West is the featured philosopher, and he appears in the film several times. The other thinkers are: Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Judith Butler, Martha Nussbaum, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Sunura Taylor, Slavoj Zizek and Michael Hardt. Each philosopher presents a brief discussion of a moral issue that they think is of pressing concern within our current social and cultural situation. Conventional documentaries about intellectuals usually present their subjects as “talking heads”, seated at their desks in their offices, emphasizing their social position as academic experts. However, Examined Life noticeably departs from this format. The film maker conducts her interviews with each thinker in real-world settings: an international airport, Times Square NYC, a park next to Lake Michigan in Chicago, a garbage dump, a taxi-cab moving through the streets of Manhattan, etc.

In this assignment I want you to watch the film — possibly more than once — and write a two to three- page essay response. In your essay please address the following points:
1. Select one thinker and summarize the moral issue they speak about and the position they take with respect to that issue.

2. State your response to what he or she says about that issue.
3. Address the question of why the filmmaker chose to conduct the interviews in real-world situations drawn from everyday life.

Movie link:

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