Screen Stories: Responses to the Critics

in Projections
Carl Plantinga Calvin University

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This article is a discussion of and rejoinder to the comments of three respondents on my book, Screen Stories: Emotion and the Ethics of Engagement. Jane Stadler argues that the book would profit from more attention to the “temporal prolongation” made possible by multi-episode television, especially as it relates to the nature of character engagement. While I have reservations about the notion of medium specificity in relation to television and film (and thus prefer the term “screen stories”), I agree that temporal prolongation in relation to an ethics of screen stories is a vital topic. Malcolm Turvey argues that Screen Stories promotes moral intuition and emotion at the expense of moral reasoning and that an ethics of engagement should pay equal attention to reasoning. In my response, I enumerate four reasons why, despite my belief in the importance of reasoning, I focus on emotion and intuition. I do agree that, once we can decide just what moral reasoning is, it should become a focus of an ethics of engagement. Cynthia Freeland focuses her remarks on various aspects of the third part of my book, “The Contours of Engagement,” in which I examine how the features of screen stories can lead to viewer experiences with ethical implications. In response, I discuss three issues: medium specificity once more, the supposed tension between conceptions of the active and passive spectator, and the psychological underpinnings of various sorts of character engagement.

Contributor Notes

Carl Plantinga is Professor of Film and Media at Calvin University. He is author of three monographs: Screen Stories: Emotion and the Ethics of Engagement (2018), Moving Viewers: American Film and the Spectator's Experience (2009), and Rhetoric and Representation in Nonfiction Film (1997). He is also coeditor of The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film (2009) and Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion (1999). His current book project, Alternative Realities, examines the relationship between realism and the human imagination in screen stories. E-mail:

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The Journal for Movies and Mind

  • Blanchet, Robert, and Margrethe Bruun Vaage. 2012. “Don, Peggy, and Other Fictional Friends? Engaging with Characters in Television Series.” Projections 6 (2): 1841.

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  • Greene, Joshua. 2013. Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them. New York: Penguin.

  • Haidt, Jonathan. 2001. “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment,” Psychological Review, 108 (4): 814834.

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  • Haidt, Jonathan. 2012. The Righteous Mind. New York: Pantheon.

  • Harari, Yuval Noah. 2017. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. New York: Harper Perennial.

  • Kauppinen, Antti. 2018. “Moral Sentimentalism.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Winter 2018, ed. Edward N. Zalta. Accessed 05/16/2019.

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  • Kivy, Peter. 1997. Philosophies of the Arts: An Essay in Differences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Nannicelli, Ted. 2017. Appreciating the Art of Television: A Philosophical Perspective. New York: Routledge.

  • Plantinga, Carl. 2009. Moving Viewers: American Film and the Spectator's Experience. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Plantinga, Carl. 2018. Screen Stories: Emotion and the Ethics of Engagement. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Plantinga, Carl. 2019. “Brecht, Emotion, and the Reflective Spectator: The Case of ‘BlacKkKlansman.’NECSUS, 27 May.

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  • Smith, Murray. 1995. Engaging Characters: Fiction, Emotion, and the Cinema. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


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