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N.2/2021 Filosofia e generi letterari nel XVIII secolo

Want/Need: A Reassessment from the Perspective of Stanley Cavell’s Emersonian Perfectionism

Raffaele Ariano

Published in December, 2021

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This article attempts to reframe the concepts of want and need, typical of screenwriting studies, in terms of Stanley Cavell’s Emersonian perfectionism, and follows up some of the philosophical and cultural-historical implications of this reframing. Beginning with a discussion of the difficulties and opportunities of an interdisciplinary inquiry that crosses the now well-guarded boundaries between philosophy of film, film studies, and screenwriting manuals, the article then goes on to provide a literature review of the concepts of want and need. It considers the limitations of existing attempts to philosophically ground these concepts in terms of Aristotelian virtue ethics and argues that Cavell’s notion of moral perfectionism is a more fit candidate for the task. Finally, it refers to the analytical framework of Howard S. Becker’s sociology of the arts to provide a hypothesis on the relation between the perfectionism of the screenwriting concepts of want and need and American culture. Overall, the article sets out both to deepen our philosophical and cultural-historical understanding of the concepts of want and need, and to use them to extend Cavell’s analysis on the perfectionism of American cinema beyond the limits of the handful of authors and film genres he took into account.


Stanley Cavell, Perfectionism, Want, Need, Screenwriting, Howard Becker.



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