American Philosopher

American PhilosopherWho dares think a nation? What is the status of philosophy in a nation founded by philosophers?

What are the risks of practicing philosophy in America? Does America have a native philosophy?

Eight short films about philosophy in America and American philosophy by Phillip McReynolds.

The author is a philosophy lecturer and amateur filmmaker. He has recorded hundreds of hours of interviews with professional philosophers and other people and he's interested in different ways to bring philosophy to film.

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Ratings: 5.24/10 from 33 users.

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34 Comments / User Reviews

  1. frankie

    Based on the written intro using the term American Philosophy is totally out of touch with historical and international philosophy? After living and working in various international settings philosophy teaches using the term American so freely in this context is insulting millions. Are the Canadians, Brits, French, Brazilians, Danes, and are the other 30 countries making up the America's included in this label too?
    Is the writer naive, ignorant, or nationalistic?

  2. Assaf Koss

    It's quite interesting to see the different characteristics of people. Self-proclaimed philosophers, and I don't mean that in a bad way, seem to be a notch above the general population, when it comes to thinking. It might be irritating for a person to seem undecided but it doesn't mean that their approach is lesser.

    My own opinion is that philosophy is the art of perception, and unlike magicians or other artists, philosophers actually examine thoughts and contemporary lifestyles more than anything else. It seems that philosophers who don't brave life, to feel the friction against their own skin, don't really go far in the manner of depth of thought.

    The stars shed tears when people claim "over-thinking" is bad for you.

    1. Batman

      These aren't self-proclaimed philosophers, these are professional philosophers. You wouldn't call a plumber a self-proclaimed plumber, so why would you call a philosopher, a self-proclaimed philosopher?

  3. DocViewer

    It was good. I agree that the music was a little cheesy and overbearing at times. Editing long individual interviews into little snippets that could be then spliced together into this documentary sounds like something done to punish sinners in one of the lost circles of hell though.

  4. Brian

    The anti-american mass hysteria is getting ridiculous. There isnt one topic, that doesnt get analysed, as some kind of short fall in america's character. Im flattered that the world is obsessed with Americans, but now its getting kinda creepy. We are the easiest people to figure out. There isnt another country in the world, that is as much of an open book as we are, yet the world still has no clue. Does America have a philosophy? lol Is there a danger to have one, in America? lol Gimme a friggin break!!

    Ill tell you what our philosophy is, so you dont have to waste your time on this documentary. We believe in ourselves and want to control our own lives. Since all of us are descended from those who left their native countries, because it sucked, we want to be different from the rest of the world. It has nothing to teach us. Thats why, when the world is in agreement that America is doing something wrong, we know its right!

    1. PsychEvals4CopsPlease

      Intelligence requires seeing the truth, regardless of whether it stings your ego or not.

      America DOES have problems. Corruption is glaringly obvious to anyone looking with an objective eye.

  5. Dianne Taylor

    I enjoyed this documentary and was not put off by the editing style, as many commentators here appear to be.

  6. Preston L White

    The medium may be the message but there's way too much going on, here. My poor old computer couldn't handle it.

  7. Anthony Wrifford

    There is no "American Philosophy". We are anti-philosophical. Get that?

    1. Xercès Des Stèles

      The people who wrote ''We the people...'' would have never said what you just did. With only people like you back then, there would be no ''We the people...'' now. And by saying there is no philosphy, you are aquiring in fact, a philosophy, that of nihilism.

    2. Evan Shaw

      I thought everyone had heard of Emerson and Thoreau...Where are the American Transcendentalists!?!

  8. Jared Panda Moffat

    Thanks so much for producing this! Think about the music, but people are being way too harsh. I loved it. Very, very interesting. Will watch again soon.

  9. snufkin82

    I love philosophy and I'm especially interested in american philosophy. So I was really happy when I saw there was a documentary movie about american philosophy. But sadly I had to stop watching after 15 minutes. The music is just ruining the whole movie. It's REALLY REALLY annoying!!! You can hardly understand anything. Very sad.

    1. Batman

      You're right. The problem is the people who made this movie weren't philosophers otherwise they wouldn't have cut it up this way. Real philosophy is constructed on arguments, not sound bites.

  10. John Cleary

    The editing in this is terrible. It takes a lot for me to stop watching something once I start but after 5 minutes of watching this I quickly skipped through the rest to see if it was the same and after seeing that it was I turned it off. Ridiculous misuse of sound with a moving background that takes up around 70% of the screen and way too many cuts. Just terrible.

    1. henrymart81

      You aren't kidding.

    2. Phillip McReynolds

      Yes, well, the style I"m experimenting with here is unconventional. The original version had no sliding windows, but I was interested in exploring what effect split screen could produce as well as the idea of putting each speaker into a window. The idea was that rather than giving you an 'expert' telling you how to think about everything, I would frame the speaker so as to emphasize the dual role they played as expert and subject. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't. (Clearly you think it doesn't.) I'm still working on the sound mix. Thanks to you and everyone else for your feedback!

  11. Mimi Lebel-Bernier

    hmm... The editing style is an interesting choice,Way too much music in the background, too much cut also and overused of overlapsing images =(.
    But damn the subject was soo interesting, great subject of documentary thou... And yess I second Ninnaninna MORE doc on philosophy!!! =D

    1. neomentis

      For sure, as a showcase it works... but too much music and it doesn't really seem to have the coherency you'd expect from an exposition on philosophy.

    2. Phillip McReynolds

      Thanks for your comments. I have to agree that the cues are too loud. As for coherency, I tried to present it with about 78% more coherence than I found in the original interviews (though much of the 'coherence', as I perceive it, occurs at levels beneath the surface of the discourse). What I mean is that I tried to put ideas together based upon things that were unsaid. So, for example, one principle that organized the editing is that if a two clips were adjacent to clips that focused upon the same theme, I might put them up against one another, on the principles that the underlying ideas were related if the ideas they led to in the actual interview were the same.

  12. Ninnaninna

    I love documentaries! And I love philosophy! So this is the perfect combination.

    It's just too bad that I sometimes can't hear what's being said because of the loud music..... hm.

    But thanks anyway!! More documentaries on philosophy!! :)

  13. Jane Griscti

    Really enjoyed that, thank you.

  14. Cool E Beans

    I have been able to watch almost all of the documentaries more easily by leaving the video in the small frame mode at the bottom of the screen and playing Spider Solitare at the top. If it is interesting enough, I can always watch it again full screen.

    That being said, I really liked the picture in a picture effect which to me indicates that all that we think we know is based on someone elses ideas presented to us.

    The main problem with philosophy is that 20 of them will stand around a swimming pool and tell you what they think it would be like to swim in it but none of them has ever done it and probably never will. The ones who get into trouble are the ones who dive into the deep end only to realise that they don't know how to swim.

    A scientist is a philosopher who attempts to prove his/her belief. Philosophy can present ideas that others wouldn't have thought of providing a new direction for introspection and investigation.

    As for an American philosopher, it is the point of view which is different from the rest of the world. A 'New Nation' with presumed unlimited potential of thought, possibility, freedoms...we are the horse in 'Animal Farm' believing that if we work hard enough we can accomplish anything we can think of (so we think of a lot of stuff) without the realization that Noam Chomsky has tried to tell us about and that is that WE are not in control of our own destinies. If we were, we would let technology and robotics replace the worker in industry and farming, automate all that could be automated, eliminate the current reliance on money as a measure of worth, provide for basic needs based on available resources and let philosophy help us choose a path we hadn't thought of, open the doors of 'maybe' and 'what if' and finally have the free time to investigate our true potential.

  15. Jo McKay

    This was great. I enjoyed the style - and certainly didn't find it went too fast. So if the film maker is still checking comments - make another one :) . I never thought of 'American Philosophy' as having it's own tradition. (Maybe America does have a vision for itself after all, hmm). It was brilliant to hear from contemporary philosophers - now I want to hear more from them. Also, from a few who are clearly not academics; Native American Philosophers, for example. Your easy conversational approach works very well. Now ask the Q "what is America's Vision Today" - what would her philosophers 'propose'? Did I say awesome? bravo? more? :)

    1. Phillip McReynolds

      Thanks! The focus in this movie was the idea of American philosophy by those who self-identify as American philosophers and they implicitly raise the idea of philosophy as a non-academic enterprise, so, yes, I think you're right: to the extent that the film succeeds it leads to the unraveling of its own central idea. And so the next step is to move beyond this. I'm open to suggestions. Wendell Berry? Beyonce?

  16. pulunco

    Ohhhh snap Quebecois gets busted by the film maker; thats a new one for me on this site. But Quebecois does have a point. The film was very difficult to watch. Keep at it though Phillip and you will find your own style.

  17. Phillip McReynolds

    Yep, probably so. Thanks for your comments, Quebecois. I'm actually quite fascinated by Dziga Vertov and the idea of the construction of cinema, so the results are played out here. Also, I have to admit, my wife is bored by documentary films, talking heads, and so on, so I took it as a challenge to make something that could keep her interest. I timed the frequency of my cuts to those of Vertov in The Man with The Movie Camera and really worked on the idea of montage, that is, building up themes from images. There's no perfect cut and I'm sure that this could have been much better. Mainly I was driven by an attempt to keep a conversational flow between the various interviewees.

    One of the conditions I set for myself was not to tell the audience what to think about these issues by using voice-over narration. I was going to let the philosophers speak for themselves and let the viewer sort it out. If this project has succeeded in anything, it has given me a most profound respect for the skills of Errol Morris and his editors. Making a film that is more or less unified that does not rely upon a unifying master-narrative is, well, let me just say, challenging. Anyway, it was an interesting exercise.

    Again, thanks for your comments! And thanks for taking the time to watch it (for as long as you were able to do so).

    ps -- it gets better after 9 minutes (at least that's what the YouTube data indicates).

    1. Quebecois

      I will try it again.
      Some film works on a system.
      I remember seeing a Michael Snow film in 2001 called «The Central Region» that was filmed in a northern part of Quebec in the early eighties. It is a three and a half hour horizontal pan regulated by a computer were notion of time is being modulated while visual space is just turning around. The cinema where it played was full of contemporary art lover and after just a few minutes peoples where leaving one by one in a grey silence. Even me i wanted to leave, but after an hour i got stuck into it and it became a system of viewing differently. At the end, after 3h38 of turning around. There was only me and three little old ladys, all of them over 70 for shure. And one of them turned around an said to me in french. «This is philosophy».

    2. Phillip McReynolds

      I saw that movie. It was amazing.

    3. Guest

      always interesting to read the ideas behind the camera...thank you for taking the i want to see thedoc.

  18. Quebecois

    I didn't want to be too rude. But i really liked the materials and even the images that he uses. But there is no time to appreciate what these beautiful mind are saying to us, and no time to make a correlation between the images and the ideas. ideas and images need to find there own rhythm. A narrative.

  19. Quebecois

    This is like an eternal movie trailer. To much cut, abuse of split screen, back images are to fast, the subjects are wonderful, but there is no documentary skill here. Not by T.V. standards, none by arts standards for shure. That's what happen when an lone doc auteur stays to much time editing. He get's bored of seeing his materials and try to go to faster and faster. Could'n even watch more then 9 minutes of this! Get a real editor buddy!