A Moderately Pessimistic Perspective on “Cooperative Naturalism”

in Projections

Murray Smith’s plea for a “cooperative naturalism” that adopts a “triangulational” approach to issues in film studies is both timely and well-defended. I raise three concerns, however: one is external, relating to this strategy’s limitations, and two are internal, relating to Smith’s application of the strategy. While triangulation seems appropriate when we ask about the nature of film experience, other philosophical questions about film have an ineliminable normative dimension that triangulation cannot address. Empirically informed philosophical reflection upon the arts must be “moderately pessimistic” in recognizing this fact. The internal concerns relate to Smith’s claims about the value and neurological basis of cinematic empathy. First, while empathy plays a central role in film experience, I argue that its neurological underpinnings fail to support the epistemic value he ascribes to it. Second, I question Smith’s reliance, in triangulating, upon the work of the Parma school on “mirror neurons.”