PHIL 106 – Media, Art and Society


Are journalists obliged to report the truth? Is there a clear line between fact and fiction? Can the arts educate? Can we really feel for fictional characters?

In addressing these questions we will examine the role of the mass media in relation to democracy, culture and freedom of expression. We will consider the impact of the digital revolution on individuals and society, with regard to personal identity, communication, relationships, artistic expression and the significance of virtual experiences.



Topics include:

Stories and storytelling

Children start to develop a capacity for narrative storytelling around the age of five. Storytelling plays a large role in how we understand ourselves and our world. We examine the nature of narrative and also the dangers inherent in our tendency to think in terms of stories.

Art, fact and fiction

What is the social importance of the arts? Are artists under any obligation to be truthful? Journalists should aim for truth, but is truth the only journalistic value or can it be traded against other goals. What is ‘spin’ and is it a form of lying?

Narrative, emotion and imagination

The ‘paradox of fiction’ is a philosophical problem regarding the experience of art. We often respond emotionally to fictional stories even though we know that characters don’t exist and the events depicted never actually occurred. The paradox of fiction raises important questions about the role of emotion and imagination in our response to fiction. We will also consider the question of whether it is possible to acquire real knowledge from fictions.

Memory and the self

It may become possible in the near future to erase some long-term memories. We consider some of the ethical issues around memory modification.

Ethics in the digital age

The longevity and ready accessibility of images and information posted to the internet pose new challenges for privacy and controlling one’s identity. We will examine these issues, as well as the nature of surveillance and social sorting in the digital age.

Media, democracy and censorship.

What is the proper role of the media in a democracy, and does the media we actually have perform that role? What kind of material, if any, should be censored and what is the justification for censorship? ‘Old media’ (TV, radio, newspapers) created mass audiences, but ‘new media’ (digital content) enables highly individualised media consumption. Does the internet contribute to social polarisation?

Virtual reality

What is the nature of a ‘virtual’ experience and how does it differ from a ‘real’ experience. Does it matter what we do in virtual reality? Is it ok to do things in a virtual world that would be considered evil in the real world? Could virtual worlds become superior than the real world, a better place to spend our lives?








Media, Art and Society is taught by Dr. David Neil, who is an expert in Ethics, Applied Ethics, and Biomedical Ethics.