A Matter of Course
PHIL 497: Special Topics in Philosophy: Philosophy and Star Wars
WHO: Steven Scalet, philosophy professor in the Division of Legal, Ethical and Historical Studies, who says he likes to “do philosophy in a way that’s accessible and speaks to what our interests are”
WHEN: Thursdays, 2-4:30 p.m., spring 2016
WHAT: A long time ago (1977) in what may seem like a galaxy far, far away, the first episode in the continually expanding Star Wars saga hit theaters and “changed the world,” Scalet says: “I still remember the day.” After rewatching the entire series (episodes I-VI) last summer as a “break from the drudgery of moving,” Scalet realized that the films address timeless themes in the study of philosophy and decided this would make excellent fodder for a special topics course—made all the more relevant by December’s blockbuster release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
The course asked students to examine the ethical, philosophical and theological ideas raised by the films, including political philosophy (“What is the value of democracy? Who should rule?”); fate, free will and determinism; philosophy of religion (“Is there anything like the Force in reality?”); conflict negotiation (read: lightsaber battles); and ethics (“Should we view life as battles between good and evil?”). Classroom discussions were underpinned by philosophical readings that reached back to the ancient thinkers: “Plato had something to say about evil that’s directly relevant to Darth Vader,” Scalet says.
REQUIRED WATCHING: all six previously released movies in the Star Wars franchise (excluding episode VII), beginning with 1977’s Episode IV: A New Hope
REQUIRED READING: includes writings from such philosophical heavyweights as Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, William James, Thomas Nagel and Jean-Jacques Rousseau