In Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The New World, The Tree of Life, To the Wonder, and A Hidden Life, American director Terrence Malick has created cinematic works of art, films that are deeply philosophical. Philosophy, in fact, led Malick to film. He first studied with Stanley Cavell as an undergraduate at Harvard. A Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, Malick left without completing his studies there when Gilbert Ryle told Malick he could not write a thesis on Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Kierkegaard—such figures were not real philosophy, Ryle is reported to have said. Returning to the States where he for a time taught philosophy at MIT, he translated a work of Martin Heidegger’s, while collaborating with Hubert Dreyfus. Soon, however, Malick left academic philosophy behind altogether, embarking instead on a directing career in film. Today, after nearly fifty years of pioneering filmmaking, it is time that Malick’s contribution to philosophy through film receive the systematic, careful attention it deserves. The essays herein contribute to that task.
Can rational sense convincingly be made of humanity’s present moment? In 1935, such was Edmund Husserl’s question. Characterizing the day as a crisis of reason and meaning, philosophy, so Husserl observed, takes root in times of peril where the human spirit is most under attack. Is our time any different? A century later, philosophy’s task of clarifying and preserving the human condition remains as pressing as ever in light of the very real threat of a posthuman future posed by technopoly and totalitarianism. In this collection of essays, contributors take up that cause, reflecting on the nature of the philosophical life in view of our historical moment. In doing so, Finding Meaning: Philosophy in Crisis not only assesses what philosophy itself has become, but moreover what it should be, today in an age of nihilism.
Conscience (in preparation)
There is no doubting conscience is central to the human condition and our understanding of it. Still, questions arise. What is its origin and purpose? What does it disclose? And how? Although any historical schema will be imperfect to the extent that it must be incomplete, broadly speaking, the history of the concept of conscience can be usefully divided into four familiar periods: Ancient, Medieval, Modern, and Postmodern. Historically, it has been conceived in numerous ways, whether as an innate capacity responsible for the ability to discern natural law’s right and wrong (the Hebrew Prophets), as a voice of divine guidance (Socrates), as an internal tribunal whereby we pass judgment on ourselves by way of reason (Kant and German Idealism), as the ontological hallmark of our capacity for authentic individuality (Heidegger), or as an internalization of society’s repressive norms and mores (Freud). This rich and variegated conceptual reception only serves to underscore the phenomenon’s remarkable pertinence to multiple dimensions of philosophical interest. It is, perhaps first above all, a matter of our individual responsibility and morality. What, for example, does the capacity to draw moral judgments on its basis reveal about what it is to be the selves each of us is? It also, second, is an item of social, communal, and political significance. What, for example, does it mean to have our actions laid bare before others for moral and rational appraisal as social and political beings? And, of course, it is a spiritual matter too, as it discloses us before God. How, then, does conscience lay us bare before ourselves, others, and God? From Plato to Kant and Fichte, from Rousseau and Mill to Nietzsche and Freud, from the Prophets and Apostles to Heidegger, this work traces the evolution of the concept of conscience’s formation, in turn highlighting how the capacity to hear, and so heed, its voice forms the heart of man.
The first installment in a philosophical trilogy, Everything tells the story of a young man’s quest for meaning, leading him to the pinnacle of academic institutional power and its criminal underworld, in turn confronting him with the apparent absurdity of the human condition, and transforming his existence from one of being-in-the-world into being-before-God.