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Towards a philosophy of the screenplay

Nannicelli, Theodore (2011) Towards a philosophy of the screenplay. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94549) (KAR id:94549)


The purpose of this project is to take the first steps towards a philosophy of the screenplay. More specifically, the project attempts to clarify our present concept of the screenplay in two regards—in terms of what the screenplay is and what kind of a thing it is. In doing so, it makes the following three arguments in each of its three parts, respectively.

(1) The screenplay is an artifact concept and, therefore, an essentially historical concept, the boundaries of which are determined by the collective practices of the creators of screenplays. Therefore, any plausible definition of the screenplay must be an intentional-historical definition of some variety.

(2) Because early Hollywood screenwriting practices intelligibly emerged out of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century playwriting practices (which are acknowledged art practices), Hollywood screenwriting can plausibly be identified as an art practice and at least some Hollywood screenplays can be plausibly identified as artworks. Other screenwriting practices and screenplays can plausibly be identified as art in virtue of their intentional-historical connection to acknowledged, prior art.

(3) Through their collective creative and appreciative practices, practitioners (and others who ordinarily deal with screenplays, like readers) determine the facts about what kind of a thing the screenplay is. Any plausible account of the ontology of the screenplay must, therefore, be strictly constrained by those practices. Furthermore, an analysis of those practices shows that the screenplay must be the kind of thing that is creatable, multiply instantiable, finely individuable, and destructible.

The master argument is that because the screenplay is a kind of artifact its boundaries are determined collectively by screenwriters, and its ontological nature is determined collectively by both writers and readers of screenplays. Any plausible theory of the screenplay must be strictly constrained by our collective creative and appreciative practices.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94549
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 14 Jul 2023 14:02 UTC
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2023 14:02 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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