Project PD Dr. Martin Gessmann

Can the cinema be considered a moral institution?


The project aims at an experimental connection between ethics and brain physiology on the basis of recent film theory. Since antiquity, the question has been debated whether human action guided by ethical principles has to be regarded as embedded in natural processes, with the consequence that human rationality remains never abstract. In the century, philosophical anthropology, impressed by the scientific progress achieved in the biology and psychology, has undertaken new, far-reaching explanatory attempts in this regard. In view of the latest developments in the life sciences a reassessment of traditional ethical questions seems to be in order.


In this project, our point of departure will be the notion of human cognition by means of the “mirror neurons”. Up to now the results of this research were used in special ethical and educational debates on psychic and cognitive deformations. Especially the impact of representations of violence was discussed. In this project we will describe the normal ethical situation and we will try to understand the decision-making process with regard to brain activities like targeting concepts and the corresponding activity set, the execution of action, the subsequent evaluation and calculation of the concomitants as interrelations with the psychophysical environment.


To bridge the gap between philosophy and brain physiology, we will turn to film theory because 1.) it permits the analysis of cinematic representation of human action and provides a methodical frame for its interpretation in terms of phenomenology and hermeneutics; 2.) it opens up, in combination with the results of the research on mirror neurons, new possibilities to verify experimentally ethical conclusions. We want to find out whether the Aristotelian drama theory can be supported stating that basic patterns of ethical assessment in human border situations are to be regarded as a vital alarm and will support and reinforce basic ethical norms. Furthermore, we will ask to what extent we are dealing with universal norms or whether we have to acknowledge cultural relativity. Finally, the possibility of changing basic ethical dispositions will be of special interest. 

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Latest Revision: 2018-05-23