"Intersection of Aesthetics and Ethics in Hugo Munsterberg's The Photoplay: A Psychological Study"
last update: 20151225
Intersection of Aesthetics and Ethics in Hugo Munsterberg's The Photoplay: A Psychological Study
This paper elucidates the intersection of aesthetics and ethics in Hugo Munsterberg's Photoplay: A
Psychological Study (1916). How a photoplay influences the audience, the main theme of Photoplay, is a
problem that has aesthetic, ethical, and psychological aspects. In Photoplay, which consists of "Aesthetics of
Photoplay" and "Psychology of Photoplay", the ethics of a photoplay is an underlying rather than overt theme.
When Munsterberg spoke of how a photoplay influences the audience, however, he explicitly spoke of the moral
influence. If we elucidate his ethics and aesthetics, we have to understand his idealism, Neo-Kantian
philosophy, in Philosophie der Werte (1908), and Eternal Values (1909). He argued the significance of idealism
for Americans and criticized American culture from the German Idealistic viewpoint between 1900 and 1910.
During WWI, he tried to ease the political and cultural conflict between Germany and America. In this context,
in 1915, he found aesthetic values in Photoplay. That is, it achieved the paradigm shift from exhibition to
narrative in the film style represented by D.W. Griffith. In a narrative-oriented film, the audience empathizes
with characters, aesthetically or morally. Munsterberg idealistically discussed the aesthetic and moral
emotions of a photoplay audience. This paper describes the philosophical and cultural background behind
Munsterberg's film theory.
Keywords: Hugo Munsterberg, The Photoplay: A Psychological Study, classical film theory, art and morality, aesthetics and ethics