Richard Nunan


Address: 14 Glebe Street, Room 201
Phone: 843.953.5687

In his own words

Professor of Philosophy, with affiliated faculty status in Women's and Gender Studies, Film Studies, and the Honors College at the College of Charleston.  I've been affiliated with the College of Charleston since 1984, and served previously (six years) as department chair.  I've also served a five-year term as editor of the American Philosophical Association's Newsletter on Philosophy and Law.

I have fairly broad teaching interests in political philosophy, applied ethics, philosophy of science, and history of philosophy. My main areas of research in recent years, however, have been in philosophy of law, philosophy and film, and philosophical issues concerning gender rights and gender identity questions.


Ph.D., Philosophy, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
B.A., Mathematics, Vassar College

Nunan in his salad days, consulting with his mentors.

Nunan in his salad days, consulting with his mentors.

Research Interests

  • Philosophy of Law
  • Political philosophy
  • Gender Studies
  • Philosophy & Film


Democracy, Populism, and Truth. Navin, Mark Christopher and Richard Nunan, eds.  (AMINTAPHIL: The Philosophical Foundation of Law and Justice Book 9, Springer, 2020).

Co-editor of this book, which tackles questions related to interactions between democracy, populism and truth.

In addition to editing the volume and writing the introduction, which summarizes the themes and content of the book, I authored the chapter “As Maine Goes, So Goes the Nation? Ranked Choice Voting and STV as Antidotes to Tribal Populism.” That chapter examines whether Maine’s current experiment replacing single round plurality elections with Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) serves as a template for a similar system nationally, achieved through individual state action as a response to populist excesses.  Can RCV eventually motivate adopting Single Transferable Vote (STV) election systems for both federal and state legislative offices, thereby eliminating single member districts in addition to introducing ranked-choice voting?  These questions, and some pitfalls, are discussed in terms of the parallels between Maine’s 2010-2018 governor Paul LePage, as an extreme populist who has provoked an RCV response through a citizens’ initiative, and Donald Trump, exhibiting comparable rhetoric, a similar track record and election performance, as an extreme populist on the national stage.  As Maine’s case illustrates, political, statutory, and constitutional hurdles to effective electoral reform movements can be quite serious, but perhaps not insurmountable.

Emergent Philosophical Content in Ex Machina

Film and Philosophy 23 (2019), 1-23

The fourth in a series of articles on the topic of films sometimes exhibiting philosophical content which is neither an intentional product of the film’s author(s), nor imposed on the film by philosophically-minded viewers, because of the kind of cultural artefacts that films happen to be. In this article, I argue that Ex Machina conveys some unintended messages concerning gender identity issues, running along a parallel track to writer/director Alex Garland’s intended philosophical themes concerning artificial intelligence.  I contend that this alternate track is conveyed by the film itself, rather than imposed from without, and yet does not appear to be part of Garland’s intended project.

Potty Humors: Melancholic and Choleric Presidents, Sclerotic Voters, and the Federal Courts on Title IX in School Bathrooms

Ameridan Philosophical Association Newsletter on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Philosophy 17, No. 1 (Fall 2017).

Bathroom bills and other transphobic legislative measures have become, as many have observed, the latest battleground in social conservatives’ efforts to regain some of the lost ground in the marriage equality war. In this article I review the three most widely publicized recent developments in this area with regard to the legal landscape, and what they might portend in the near term: (1) North Carolina’s “bathroom bills”, (2) the Obama Administration’s interpretation of Title IX’s mandate for non-sex-discriminatory policies in educational institutions, its fallout in Gavin Grimm’s Fourth Circuit case, and in the preliminary injunction issued by a Texas federal district court judge, and (3) Jeff Sessions’ reversal of the Obama Administration’s Title IX interpretation, in his capacity as Donald Trump’s Attorney General.

Authorial Intent, Alien3, and Thomas Wartenberg’s Alleged Necessary Condition for Films to Do Philosophy

Film and Philosophy 21 (2017), 52-73

The third in a series of articles on the topic of films sometimes exhibiting philosophical content which is neither an intentional product of the film’s author(s), nor imposed on the film by philosophically-minded viewers, because of the kind of cultural artefacts that films happen to be. In this article, I argue that even films with chaotic production histories can occasionally contain such philosophical content, even though no clear line of authorial intent can reasonably be thought to govern one of these traffic jam films’ making, precisely because the production history was documented to be so completely chaotic.  I argue here that, despite the absence of any governing authorial intentionality, even these films can occasionally embody philosophical content (i.e,, content inherent in the film, not simply imposed from without by a viewer using the film for external philosophical purposes), and that Alien3 is such a case.

Film & Philosophy 18 (January, 2014), 1-18.

One important constraint on films qualifying as suitably philosophical has been Stephen Mulhall’s ground rule that films do not count as doing philosophy in their own right if they merely lend themselves to philosophical interpretation through external application of theories.  “Specific theoretical edifices (originating elsewhere, in such domains as psychoanalysis or political theory),” sometimes treat the target film “only as a cultural product whose specific features served to illustrate the truth of that theory—as one more phenomenon the theory rendered comprehensible.” [Mulhall, On Film (2001), 6-7] Whenever that happens, the film itself does no philosophy. Tom Wartenberg has expanded our understanding of Mulhall’s constraint under a more explicit label: the imposition objection: “only creator-oriented interpretations of a film can justify the claim that the film itself is philosophical.” [Thinking on Screen (2007), 26]  External appeals to philosophical (or psychological, historical, or political) theories are, in effect, audience-originated interpretations, ways of using films philosophically, but not uses that were originally intended by their creators.  They are therefore in no sense components of the film, and the film is not thereby rendered philosophical with respect to its own content.

     Both Wartenberg and Mulhall share the conviction that an authorial, or perhaps auteurial, presence is necessary.  For a film to have philosophical content, there must be someone responsible for orchestrating that content.  It is argued here that there are cases, perhaps relatively rare, but Memento being one of them, in which films exhibit philosophical content without relying on auteurial intent to do so, and there are cases, perhaps even rarer, in which films convey the cinematic equivalent of genuinely original philosophical ideas. In the case of Memento, an important distinction is drawn between Aristotelian and Lockean conceptions of personal identity.

U.S. v Windsor and Hollingsworth v Perry Decisions: Supreme Court Conservatives at the Deep End of the Pool

American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Philosophy 13, No. 1 (Fall, 2013), 11-21.

A critical analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage handed down in June, 2013.  Although the outcome in Windsor will help advance the cause of marriage equality in the U.S., it is contended here that the opinions themselves, taken jointly, were an incoherent mess, especially from a philosophically conservative judicial standpoint, with regard to the reasoning offered on the question of standing to sue on behalf of the government and the electorate. 

American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Philosophy 12, No. 2 (Spring, 2013), 19-22.

A speculative commentary on the legal aspects of the then pending Supreme Court cases on same-sex marriage, focusing in part on the legal history of those two cases, in part on both the political intent, and the legal deficiencies, of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Hollingsworth v Perry (the federal case on California’s Proposition 8 ballot initiative to reverse a prior State Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage).

Film & Philosophy 17 (January, 2013), 78-95.

Various queer theorists have contended that some non-queer (or even “inappropriately” queer) observers who offer cultural commentary or artistic visions about queer subjects do so in pursuit of various heteronormative or cissexist agendas.  Even though such art or commentary may not be intentionally homophobic or transphobic, it conveys such pejorative messages nonetheless. Those non-queer voices are held to have failed to recognize various implications of what they are articulating, and to know not whereof they speak because, in the absence of lived experience of the relevant queer social reality, they are thought to have no appropriate credentials to issue authoritative observations.  Such commentary (or art) is the work of observers that critics might aptly call gender tourists (a term suggested here for the first time).

     In terms of gender politics, Transamerica invites the gender tourist charge partly because its portrayal of transgendered identity is socially conservative, tailored to sit comfortably with heteronormative audiences. Bree Osbourne (Felicity Huffman), the film’s central transgendered character, gets portrayed in terms of the “wrong body narrative” associated with the medical profession’s pathologizing of trans identity as an aberrant psychological condition (gender identity disorder or, more recently, gender dysphoria) in need of a “cure” (by means of conforming bodily aesthetics to psychologically-grounded gender identity). As many have observed, the wrong body account of transgendered identity is designed (perhaps unconsciously) to reinforce the gender binary by insisting that there are only two sexes: anyone who feels ambivalent about their own sex/gender identity, the one biologically assigned at birth, is either confused (i.e., in need of restorative therapy), or belongs squarely on the other side of the gender divide, and hence needs hormonal and surgical “fixing”.  The idea of sustaining one or more intermediate categories as stable permanent alternatives is, under the wrong body narrative, unthinkable. From this perspective, the postmodern conception of gender as merely performative is not foundationally accurate.  While some elements of gender presentation may be culturally specific, gender itself is a naturalized concept closely associated with, but not always identical to, biological sex.

     It is argued here that such criticism, while justified with respect to Transamerica’s exclusive reliance on the wrong body metaphor, fails to recognize the extent to which Transamerica transcends the gender colonialism of artistic and academic commentary on gender queer topics that was produced prior to the advent of the anti-gender tourism literature

"Catholics and Fundamentalist Protestants on Homoerotic Desire: Augustine vs. Pelagius," Biblical Theology Bulletin 40, #1 (February, 2010), 37-51. 

Catholic and Protestant religious responses to the emergence of the late nineteenth-century concept of a more or less fixed sexual orientation have taken three different directions: some have largely abandoned doctrinal hostility to homosexuality ("Mainline" Protestants, roughly speaking); some have conjoined the belief that homoerotic relationships are sinful with the conviction that homosexuality is a product of malleable individual choice, curable through reparative therapy (Evangelical Protestants, roughly speaking); while others contend that, although still potentially sinful, homoerotic dispositions are typically innate and immutable (chiefly the Vatican and other clerical authorities among Roman Catholics). This article offers a theological analysis of the dramatic divergence of opinion between the second and third groups. It is suggested that the differences depend on divergent theological commitments to the disparate accounts of human nature and sexual ethics implicit in Paul, Pelagius, and (more explicitly) Augustine. It is argued that both the Evangelical and Catholic positions on the morality of homoerotic relationships are internally incoherent. The Catholic position on birth control is also implicated in this analysis.

"Social Institutions, Transgendered Lives, and the Scope of Free Expression," in Deirdre Golash (ed.), Freedom of Expression in a Diverse World (New York: Springer, 2010), 189-203.

In addition to their official functions, state-sponsored social institutions, such as prisons and civil marriage, serve a more covert function, fostering and sustaining largely unnoticed social ideology.  Because such institutions are to some degree coercive, and because the ideology thus promoted is designed to constrain channels of free expression, First Amendment protection is implicated, and can legitimately be applied to the social institution as a whole (not just as it impacts particular individuals).  This view is defended through an examination of the ideological implications of the legal landscape governing marriage, as it affects transgendered individuals.

"Filmosophy and the Art of Philosophical Analysis of Films," Film & Philosophy 14 (2010), 135-154.

A critical analysis of Daniel Frampton's Filmosophy (Wallflower Press, 2006) and, more generally, of the question: in what sense do films (at least some films) embody philosophical content, independently of authorial intent?  It is argued, using Spike Lee's Jungle Fever as an example, that this phenomenon does occur, but that it is quite rare, because fortuitous in nature.

"Constitutional Rights versus State Autonomy and Direct Democracy: The Story so far on Same-Sex Marriage," APA Newsletter on Philosophy & Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Issues 09 (Fall, 2009).

An analytical survey of legislative and judicial action relating to civil unions and same-sex marriage from the early nineties through Spring, 2009.

"What is LGBT Philosophy?" Metaphilosophy 39, #4-5 (2008) 433-471 (with Raja Halwani, Gary Jaeger, James S. Stramel, William Wilkerson, & Timothy F. Murphy).

A multi-author survey of the philosophical terrain involving LGBT issues. I wrote two sections: one on "Homosexuality and the Law", and one on "Homosexuality and Western Monotheistic Religions".

"Open Immigration Policies and Liberal Discomfort," Human Rights Review 9, 9, #4 (2008), 537-541.

Constrained immigration policies are potentially very embarrassing for liberals, because they invite a charge of moral hypocrisy.  If prosperous states fail to undertake a collective global wealth redistribution policy, then the liberal belief in the principle of moral equality of individuals appears to require that wealthy liberal states do what they can to implement that principle unilaterally, by opening their borders. Consequentialist cosmopolitanism, as defined by Peter Higgins, appears to support that charge of moral hypocrisy. Higgins argues to the contrary: consequentialist cosmopolitanism creates no embarrassment for liberals reluctant to open the immigration floodgates, because the consequentialist argument for doing so is contingent on the cosmopolitan's individualism requirement, and that requirement ignores social realities relevant to a realistic assessment of the social consequences of an open immigration policy.  Against this conclusion, it is argued here that Higgins is mistaken in contending that cosmopolitan individualism entails attention to people only in their capacity as the abstract atomic individuals populating Mills' idealized social ontologies.  Conversely, it is equally odd for Higgins to suggest that, if cosmopolitan individualism compels us to think of people as abstract atomic individuals, then we also think of them as relatively privileged.

"Brokeback Mountain and The Children's Hour: A Postscript to Vito Russo's Challenge," Film and Philosophy 11 (2007), 139-158.

In The Celluloid Closet, Vito Russo argued back in the 1980s that Hollywood traffics in homosexuals only as marketable stereotypes—chiefly as material for fag humor, fag insults, and portrayals as cinematic villains—rather than exploring the distinctive perspectives and problems of individual three-dimensional lesbian, gay, and other sexually unorthodox characters, leading lives that extend beyond the mere fact of their sexuality.  The problem, Russo explains, is that economic considerations trump aesthetic or moral ones in Hollywood.  This paper reevaluates Russo's claim in light of the relatively substantial recent financial investment in the successful Hollywood film, Brokeback Mountain, using an audience reception comparison with William Wyler's The Children's Hour to assess the legitimacy of Russo's economic critique of the mainstream cinematic critique of gay and lesbian characters.

"A Modest Rehabilitation of the Separability Thesis," in Kenneth Himma, ed., Law, Morality, and Legal Positivism (Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2004), 37-45.

Under one familiar formulation of the separability thesis – that law cannot necessarily possess moral attributes or value – no serious legal theorist today would accept it.  Under another familiar formulation of the separability thesis – that morality need not be a condition of legality – no serious legal theorist today would reject it. Jules Coleman has argued, in consequence, that the separability thesis, rather than identifying the core of Legal Positivism, is fundamentally uninteresting, merely a distraction preventing us from recognizing the really significant core commitments of Legal Positivism.  In this paper I argue that once upon a time, there were serious legal theorists who, to some extent at least, rejected the separability thesis, construed in the second way.  In its historical context, classical Legal Positivism was indeed distinguishable by its commitment to a particular interpretation of the second version of the separability thesis. Once virtually all legal theorists came to share positivist insights about the proper way to understand the separability thesis, courtesy of H.L.A. Hart, classical Legal Positivism effectively ceased to exist as a distinctive legal theory.  The debate has now moved on.

"The Confederate Battle Flag and the Orange Order", Teaching Ethics 2.2 (Spring, 2002), 89-92.

A comparison between the politics of the Orange Order's marches through Catholic neighborhoods in Belfast, Derry, and other Northern Ireland towns, and the SC General Assembly's "compromise" removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol Dome to the State House grounds.

Legal Moralism: From Hart and Devlin to Feinberg and George

American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Philosophy and Law 96, No.1 (Fall, 1996), 64-71.

A comparative overview of the first modern debate over the possibility and wisdom of trying to legislate morality, the debate in the late 1950s/early 1960s between Patrick Devlin and H.L.A. Hart, and its revival a quarter of a century later by Joel Feinberg (elaborating on Hart's arguments) and Robert George (formulating a more sophisticated version of Devlin's position). 

Work in Progress

Monograph: Film Philosophy Without Intentionality: Commercial Films as “Accidental” Philosophy Texts