SOPhiA 2017

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Popular Culture and Philosophy -- Or: Is Ellen Ripley a Feminist?
(Ethics, English)

Blackwell and Open Court have founded book series which present essays by academic philosophers exploring the philosophical aspects of television shows, movies, music and other products of popular culture. In this talk I briefly discuss the history of this philosophical genre, its value for popularizing philosophical thought and then present an exemplary paper about Ellen Ripley, the iconic female protagonist of the Alien series.

Ellen Ripley is a complex character who breaks with the stereotypical depiction of women in horror and science fiction movies up to the release of Alien in 1979. The novelist and film critic John Scalzi rightly describes her as ''[?] pushy, aggressive, rude, injured, suffering from post-traumatic syndrome, not wearing makeup, tired, smart, maternal, angry, empathetic, and determined to save others, even at great cost to herself.'' (, accessed January, 30, 2016). Prima facie it seems reasonable to suppose that Ripley is an archetype feminist, in fact both in the general sense and the refined philosophical sense of feminist ethics of care. Evidence to support a feminist interpretation can be found in the filmic narrative of Alien (1979) and the two sequels Aliens (1986) and Alien 3 (1992). The Xenomorph's reproductive cycle involves the violent impregnation of human victims, who suffer the ultimate loss of physical autonomy. Ripley's fight against the Alien might be seen as a metaphor for the feminist fight against sexual violence and for the struggle for sexual self-determination. In addition to this, also a more philosophical interpretation in terms of feminist ethics of care seems to be warranted. Ripley does care extensively for humans as well as non-humans in need of protection, like the orphan Newt, who is found in the devastated colony on the exomoon LV-426, or her companion animal Jones. In confrontation with military personnel and employees of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, who follow the predominant political agenda of a military?industrial complex, it is Ripley who empathetically pleads for the consideration of those particularly vulnerable to the decisions driven by militaristic or economic interests. Although a member of a profession, who is determined to act in accordance with a strict code of conduct, Ripley seems to see the necessity to gain insights into the contextual details of moral dilemmas in order to safeguard and promote the interest of the most vulnerable parties involved. This suggests that Ripley's ethical code is compatible with works from feminist philosophers like Virginia Held, Nel Noddings and Joan Tronto, who all based their moral accounts on Carol Gilligan's psychological research on female empathy and compassion and their relation to classical notions of morality. In this paper I will investigate in detail in which sense Ripley's ethical code can be classified as feminist.

Christian, A. (2017). Is Ellen Ripley a Feminist? In: Ewing, J. A., & Decker, K. S. Alien and Philosophy. John Wiley & Sons.

Chair: Jonas Blatter
Time: 11:45-12:15, 15 September 2017 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.007

Alexander Christian 
(Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Germany)

Alexander Christian is the assistant director of the Düsseldorf Center for Logic and Philosophy of Science and a research fellow at the Chair of theoretical Philosophy at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany. He is working in general philosophy of science and research ethics, with a particular focus on scientific misconduct, questionable research practices, and bias in medical research. Alexander published about the suppression of medical evidence, the demarcation problem, and values in science.

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