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Philosophy in film
New online course: Movies create common text
Monday, Apr. 16, 2012
By Richard H. Miller, WSU Global Campus
Joseph Campbell. (Photo by Richard H. Miller)
in the classroom
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PULLMAN, Wash. - If Rick chooses love, he’ll help the Nazis ("Casablanca”). If Cypher chooses pleasure, his life will be an illusion ("The Matrix”).
Washington State University philosophy professor Joseph K. Campbell uses a dozen of these cinematic quandaries to create "thought experiments” in his Philosophy in Film course. Campbell is interim director of WSU’s School of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs.
He created the course in 1998 because students can be resistant to reading.
"But they do have a pretty good background in films - as opposed to philosophy books and books in general,” he said. "I thought, ‘They’ll watch the movies, then we’ll have a common text.’ ”
‘I’m very old-school’
Campbell is re-creating Philosophy in Film as a six-week online course for summer semester. It will be his first time teaching online, and he was hesitant.
"I’m very old-school, a traditionalist in a lot of ways,” he said. Then he ran into an old friend, a philosophy instructor who often teaches online.
"The fact that he was enthusiastic about online teaching made me feel more at ease,” Campbell said. Campbell also realized working with WSU Online would help him learn technological skills he can apply to on-campus courses.
"I’ve always enjoyed teaching,” he said, pointing at the WSU Marian E. Smith Faculty Achievement Award on his office wall. "But I haven’t utilized the technological resources of the classroom as well as I could. The more I can learn about it, the better.”
Building a better brain
Campbell earned his 1983 B.A. in philosophy from Rutgers University - ignoring friends who worried about his job prospects - and his master’s and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Arizona.
Despite his friends’ concerns, Campbell went on to build a solid academic career. He taught at Kent State and Boise State and has been at WSU since 1996. He helped create WSU’s film studies minor.
He has served on dozens of WSU panels and committees, as well as the boards of the Moscow (Idaho) Civic Association and the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre in Moscow.
But what if there are students who don’t want to become professors? Why should they study philosophy?
Campbell said philosophy develops a powerful combination of writing skills and quantitative skills, like logic and reasoning. Philosophy majors earn top scores on graduate exams such as the LSAT and the GMAT, he said, and philosophy just plain makes you smarter.
"Once you can think about the philosophy of time,” he said, "thinking about everything else is a lot easier.”