Sunday, January 31, 2010


Earlier I was telling Amy what a horrible movie Avatar is. She was shocked that I had seen it. I hadn't.

Why would I have to see it to know how horrible it is. Just like The Passion of Christ, can't you just tell? If you can't tell that, what can you tell?

It seems to me that we can know without seeing a movie that it's horrible. You think that, too. Maybe I'm picking the wrong examples, but it doesn't matter. Top Gun. The Matrix. Battlefield Earth. You knew they'd be bad. You didn't need to know via some inductive inference that rests on the premise that all observed movies hitherto have been bad. You knew from the trailers and the commercials. With Avatar it took just one look.

I mention this not to trash Avatar. To be perfectly fair, I haven't seen it. I mention this because I think there's an interesting argument by analogy here to consider:
(1) We can know that a movie will be horrible from the trailer even if there's some logically possible movie with just that trailer that is good (and, we don't need to make crazy modifications to that movie to make it good. We don't need to put the clips from the trailer into a trailer that the characters watch and mock in the movie.)

(2) Judging that a movie is bad without knowing all its parts is like judging that something shouldn't have happened without knowing all its parts.

(C) We can know that some state of affairs shouldn't have happened if someone could have done something to stop it without knowing all the facts and all the morally relevant features even if there's some logically possible larger state of affairs that includes it as a part that would be acceptable.

I've been thinking about moral epistemology a bit. Ross seemed to have the view that when we think about some state of affairs we can see that certain features of it count in favor or against various courses of action, but I don't think he thought we could arrive at a verdictive moral judgment without reasoning or inference. I think it's an interesting question as to whether we can know that certain verdictive judgments are correct without first establishing some premises about contributory reasons that are then treated as the basis for further deliberation. I cannot think of any reason to think that we cannot know that some verdictive judgments are true without reasoning from premises about contributory reasons, but others might. They have the epistemology of bad movies to contend with. We know some movies are just the sorts of things that shouldn't have been made and we don't need to reason from stills of silly, earnest blue aliens to figure that out.


Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts on Ross. I've read him as thinking that, in fact, we can (and do) make these sorts of judgments.

The question I'd have is what counts as 'reasoning' or 'inferring.' Ross thinks we just know that we have certain pf duties, but I think he'd have said that to the extent that we do infer which duties win, it isn't at a conscious level - sort of like, my dog infers where the frisbee is going to land when I throw it (not in a straight line given my impoverished frisbee throwing abilities).

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think that Ross believes that the arrival at which pf duty is our (believed) actual one is not something that is necessarily reasoned or inferred in any traditional (conscious) sense.

I think Ross (particularly since Rawls was drawing on Ross) has some sense of 'fixed points' that are used as reference and, thus, hold initial (though fallible) warrant.

I suspect however that you've thought about this much more than I have recently and so I'm probably not making use of categories or concepts that are readily available to simplify or elucidate my thoughts.

Aidan said...

I think a better example would be 'Legion'.

P.D. Magnus said...

"Maybe I'm picking the wrong examples, but it doesn't matter."

Doesn't it matter a whole bunch? If you claim to have a cognitive power, you need more than a general argument. You need some demonstrative instances. One failing of commonsense philosophy, after all, is that too many things get attributed to commonsense even though we simply do not know them.

And in this case: Top Gun is a decent movie. The Matrix is brilliant.

Alastair Norcross said...

Since knowledge entails truth, you can't know that Avatar is a bad movie, because it isn't. It may not be a brilliant movie, but the experience of seeing it in 3D was, without a doubt, the most enjoyable movie-going experience I've ever had. I'm not sure whether you want to use "good" and "bad", as applied to movies, in a morally relevant sense, but I'd say that the fact that the movie has produced so much enjoyment (and not just in me) is at least relevant to how we judge it. Are you sure you're not just dissing it because it's so popular? I know your immediate impulse is to say "no, not at all, I have all kinds of really good reasons for dissing it", but slow down Clayton, take a deep breath, really think hard about it. You really are just dissing it because it's so popular, and by the same director as the execrable Titanic, aren't you?

Clayton said...

P.D. and Alistair,

If I hadn't chosen the movies I chose, no one would have commented.

I figured if I said something bad about Avatar, someone would be obliged to step in and say something.

As for Top Gun and The Matrix, I don't think I can take back what I said.

Chris Tucker said...

I think your point would have been crystal clear if you had used the trailer for "Mega Shark and Giant Octopus":

AR said...

ehm, I do not believe I was ever "shocked" you had not seen this film. You make it sounds as if I love the movie! I have never seen it either. Dork.

Good thing I check this old blog of yours from time to time... otherwise there's no telling how outlandish the stories of me would be are on here.

Anonymous said...

Avatar must be doing or communicating something that is subversive.

Why out of all the films released in the USA every year have all the right-wing grand pooh-bars deemed it necessary to criticize this film?

Witness the entirely predictable right-wing group think response to it.

And yes The Passion was a truly vile film---a brutal sado-masochistic snuff flik.

The same right wingers who loathe Avatar wet their pants with delirious joy over The Passion.

At a fundamental level the Avatar film was about the "culture" of death as represented by the techno-barbarian invaders, and the culture of life as represented by the Navi.

All of the right-whingers effectively came out in support of the "culture" of death.

But then again The Passion was about brutality, brutalization, and death too.