Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

In Memoriam: Dan Shaw, Philosophy of Film



L to R: Dan Shaw, Sander Lee, and David Sorfa

In March of this year, noted philosopher of film Dan Shaw passed away. Here is an excerpt of his obituary from Yost-Gedon Funeral Home:

Daniel earned a B.A. from Northern Illinois University, June 1972, a M.A from Northern Illinois University, June 1975, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Ohio State University, June 1981.

Daniel was a professor of philosophy at Lock Haven University for 32 years and received numerous awards for his dedication to teaching.

Daniel devoted much of his scholarship to film. He served as the managing editor of [the journal] Film and Philosophy, as well as the author of the books Film and Philosophy: Taking Movies SeriouslyMorality and the Movies: Reading Ethics through Film and Stanley Cavell and the Magic of Hollywood Films.

The following set of reflections on Dan Shaw was written by Sander Lee (Keene State College). It was originally published in the journal Film and Philosophy. Our thanks to acting editor Dan Flory for letting us share it here.

I first met Dan over twenty-five years ago. At that time, there were few professional outlets for those of us interested in discussing issues in Philosophy and Film. The only well-known philosopher doing work in this area at the time was Stanley Cavell. After Cavell was allowed to give a film-related presentation in the main APA program, a number of us decided to see if we could present a session on philosophy and film at the next set of APA meetings. While we were unable to get accepted for the main APA program, the American Society for Value Inquiry allowed us to present a session at a 1993 or 1994 APA meeting. This led to a special issue in The Journal of Value Inquiry on philosophic themes related to the contemporary visual arts, including an article by Dan on The Big Heat (Vol. 29, No. 4, December 1995).

Around the time of the Value Inquiry APA session, The Conference of Philosophical Societies at Southern Illinois University was helping new societies get started by providing meeting spaces and sample constitutions. I remember Dan being at the meeting where we established the SPSCVA [ed. note: Society for the Philosophic Study of the Contemporary Visual Arts]. I can still remember the lively debate over the name of the society. Soon after this, the Society’s journal, Film and Philosophy, was launched with Volume 1, No. 1 appearing in summer 1994. After a few years, Dan, who served as the society’s treasurer, took over as managing editor of the journal and served as its senior editor for over two decades. Many of us remember his special issue on Horror from 2001 and congenially working with him over the years as reviewers for the journal. In the past year, Dan had the journal digitalized and made available online through the Philosophy Documentation Center, which has been a great success. Dan’s first essay in the new journal appeared in Volume 3. It was an essay on David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988). (I want to thank Dan Flory for contributing his memories and suggesting revisions of this account.)

Everyone who knew Dan appreciated his passion for film and his tireless scholarly efforts not only editing the journal but also as the author of numerous books and essays. He had a great sense of humor and always enjoyed a lively debate. I remember seeing him at a conference session in Berkeley, CA in 1996. After the session, he dragged me to see David Cronenberg’s Crash, a film I knew I would hate as soon as I heard that it was about people who took erotic pleasure from staging car crashes. I did hate the film, but over drinks after seeing it, Dan came up with enormously entertaining arguments to convince me of the film’s aesthetic merits.

Over the years, I’ve had numerous essays in the journal and in anthologies edited by Dan. Most recently, I have an essay in an anthology on the British TV show Black Mirror that Dan was finishing up at the time of his death. Overall, I’d say that I relied more on Dan as my editor than any other single person. For me, he was the ideal editor, much more open-minded and encouraging than all the other editors I’ve worked with. Anyone could come to him with an idea for an essay and he would be able to see what would work and what wouldn’t. And when there was disagreement, he would listen patiently to your position, sometimes changing his mind, but often making creative suggestions that would strengthen the essay. No detail was too small to him; sometimes we would even debate punctuation.

Dan has become the editorial voice in my head. While I’m writing, I hear his criticisms, suggestions, and encouragements. I will continue to hear Dan’s voice for the rest of my life.

I last saw Dan at the Film-Philosophy conference in Scotland in 2016 where he was the keynote speaker. He presented an excellent discussion of Heideggerean themes in Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998). We had a great time. [Above is] a photo from the banquet with Dan, me, and David Sorfa.

On February 19, I invited him to present a paper at the SPSCA sessions in New Orleans in February 2021. He responded saying, “New Orleans in February with you would be nice Sander. Tell me more. Any topic for the invited session? Warmest regards, Dan”.

He was a valued colleague and a dear friend. His work with the SPSCVA and the journal were invaluable. He will be greatly missed.

Please feel free to share any further reflections in the comments below.

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