Professor Murray Smith

Professor of Film,
Divisional Deputy Director of Research & Innovation (Interdisciplinarity),
Director of the Aesthetics Research Centre
+44 (0)1227 823529
Professor Murray Smith


Murray Smith is Professor of Philosophy, Art, and Film, and Director of the Aesthetics Research Centre. Murray joined the University of Kent in 1992 and became Professor in 2000. He has served as Director of Research for the Faculty of Humanities (2008-11), Deputy Divisional Director of Research for Interdisciplinarity (2021-2), Deputy Head of the School of Arts (2022-3), REF Co-ordinator for the School of Arts (2011-17), Head of Film (1999-2003, 2007-8), and Director of Research for Drama, Film, and Visual Arts (2001-4). He was a Leverhulme Research Fellow (2005-6), a Laurence E. Rockefeller Fellow at Princeton University’s Centre for Human Values (2017-18), and President of the Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image (2014-7).

Murray's first degree was in English Language and Literature at the University of Liverpool; subsequently he gained an MA and PhD in Film Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, under the supervision of David Bordwell.

Murray is a member of the editorial boards of the British Journal of Aesthetics, Series, and Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image. He has served on the editorial boards of Cinema Journal (1997-2002) and Screen (2000-18), and as a corresponding editor for Northern Lights, the yearbook for the Film and Media Studies department of the University of Copenhagen (2007-18). From 2002-6 he was an editor of Film Studies: an International Review, and from 2003-7 a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council College of Peers.

He is a Past President, Fellow, and advisory board member of the Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image (SCSMI), and has been active as a board member since the organization was founded in 1995. He is also a member of the editorial board of the journal Projections: The Journal for Movies and Mind, with which SCSMI is affiliated. SCSMI was founded to promote work on film and video drawing on cognitive theory and psychology, the philosophy of mind, and kindred areas of research.

Key and recent publications

Film, Art, and the Third Culture: A Naturalized Aesthetics of Film (Oxford University Press, 2017; revised paperback 2020), pp294. Translated into Italian as Cinema, evoluzione, neuroscience: Unstetica naturalizzata del film (Dino Audino, 2022), winner of the Limina Award for best Italian translation of an important contribution to film studies.

Engaging Characters: Fiction, Emotion, and the Cinema, revised and expanded 2nd edition (Oxford University Press, 2022), pp316; foreword by David Bordwell.

Trainspotting, revised and expanded 2nd edition (BFI Modern Classics, 2021).

‘The Reality of (Screen) Characters,’ in Paolo Russo et al (eds), The Palgrave Handbook of Screenwriting Studies (Palgrave, 2023).

‘Human Flourishing, Philosophical Naturalism, and Aesthetic Value,’ in Tim Corrigan (ed), The Humanities and Human Flourishing: Film and Media (Oxford University Press, 2023). 

‘The Paradox of Football,’ Sport, Ethics and Philosophy 16:3 (2022), 343-53.

‘Triangulation Revisited,’ Projections 16:1 (Spring 2022), 11-24.

‘The Canterbury Scenius,’ in Asya Draganova, Shane Blackman, and Andy Bennett (eds), The Canterbury Sound in Popular Music: Scene, Identity and Myth (Emerald, 2021), 31-46.

Research interests

  • film theory broadly, but especially the 'philosophy of film' – film theory informed by analytic philosophy – and classical film theory; cognitive and evolutionary approaches to cinema, and to art in general; empirical and experimental approaches to the arts
  • philosophy, especially the philosophy of art, of mind, and ethical theory; music and the philosophy of music, especially popular music (blues, rock, jazz, soul, etc), and film music
  • avant-garde and experimental cinema
  • American cinema in general, 'independent' cinema in particular

Current research projects include:

Film and the Aesthetic Dimension: a wide-ranging work emphasizing the centrality of aesthetic questions to a diverse array of types of filmmaking, and addressing both classical philosophical writings on art and aesthetics (eg. Kant, Hegel, Schiller, Nietzsche) and contemporary debate (eg. Danto, Walton, Carroll). Although the focus here is different, one line of argument here resonates with my Film, Art, and the Third Culture: A Naturalized Aesthetics of Film (2017; revised paperback 2020), to wit: notwithstanding the scepticism of contemporary critical theory, the making and appreciation of art has an evolved, cross-cultural underpinning. An adequate account of film art thus needs to be grounded not only in social, cultural, and technological history, but also in an understanding of our evolved dispositions.

The Contemporary Soundscape: a study of the impact of modern technologies on the nature of music and the aural world in general. The project will focus upon the nature and development of sound in cinema, ranging across diverse forms of cinema, from Hollywood to the outer reaches of the avant-garde, and will situate film sound in relation to other uses of sound - in live performance, installations, clubs, music video, and so forth. 

Observing Film Art: a collection of writings on the work of David Bordwell, co-edited with Charlie Keil (University of Toronto). 


Film and philosophy: throughout his career, but particularly since the publication of Film Theory and Philosophy, Murray has worked to develop a distinctive brand of film theory informed by analytic philosophy, in contrast to the mostly 'Continental' film theory dominant since the 1960s. In his teaching and research on this area, his focus is on the aesthetics of cinema, but he draws upon many sub-domains of philosophy including philosophy of mind, language, and ethics in addition to philosophical aesthetics. The principal course in which these interests surface is Conceptualizing Film.

Film and psychology: here Murray’s research and teaching is motivated by a career-long interest in the interdisciplinary field known as cognitive theory or cognitive psychology, a research community and programme defined by the attempt to develop a properly scientific account of the human mind, constituted by psychologists, philosophers, linguists, computer scientists, anthropologists and even the odd interloper from the 'hard humanities.' The main course in which Murray teaches in relation to these issues is Emotion in the Movies (the artist formerly known as Cognition and Emotion in Film).

Given the very significant involvement of philosophers (such as Daniel Dennett, Jerry Fodor, and – closer to aesthetics – figures such as Greg Currie and Jenefer Robinson) in the enterprise of cognitive theory, there is considerable overlap between his interests in philosophy and psychology.

Film form and aesthetics: if philosophy, psychology, and cognitive theory constitute the methodological framework and intellectual community in which Murray pursues research, then artistic and aesthetic phenomena - the making and experience of works of film art in particular - constitute the primary focus of his teaching and research. He is interested in, for example, what makes artistic and aesthetic experience distinctive, and how such experience relates to our experience in other domains, including that of 'ordinary' life. This interest is manifest in his teaching, including the more theoretical courses mentioned above, as well as in courses such as Film Style and Analysing Film. 

Sound and cinema: historically, the study and appreciation of the role of sound (dialogue, music, sound effects) in cinema has been much neglected, although the past quarter-century has seen that situation changing. Over that period Murray has honed a distinctive perspective on the role of sound in cinema in his module Sound and Cinema (closely related to his Contemporary Soundscape project). 


Murray is interested in supervising research projects related to any of his research and teaching interests - particularly those which engage with the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and the arts in general, and cinema in particular. 

Current and past supervisees include: 

  • Professor Lee Grieveson - The genealogy of early American cinema
  • Dr Andreas Polihronis - Theories of film spectatorship
  • Dr Aaron Taylor - Cinematic villainy
  • Dr Dan Barratt - Film, emotion, and the paradox of fiction
  • Dr Gary Bettinson - The cinema of Wong Kar-Wai
  • Dr Margrethe Bruun Vaage - The role of empathy in film spectatorship
  • Dr Sérgio Dias Branco – The aesthetics of television
  • Dr Ted Nannicelli - The ontology and aesthetics of the screenplay
  • Dr Paul Taberham - Cognitive theory and avant-garde cinema
  • Dr Matt Thorpe - Imagination and ethical experience in the cinema
  • Dr Dominic Topp - Politics and aesthetics in the work of Jean-Luc Godard
  • Dr Neil McCartney - Conceptions of selfhood in the films of David Lynch
  • Dr Alaina Schempp – Time and timing in the moving image
  • Dr Ivan Nunes – Nanni Moretti as filmmaker and character
  • Dr David Brown – Cognition, culture, and the human face in film
  • Rowan Guyver – Film, surveillance, and evolution 


Current grants

‘Art Opening Minds: Imagination and Perspective in Film,’ Templeton Religion Trust project grant, with Stacie Friend (PI, Birkbeck), Heather Ferguson (Kent), and Angela Nyhout (Kent). £169,607; 2022-3.

‘Character Engagement and Moral Understanding in Screen Stories,’ Templeton Religion Trust programme grant, with Carl Plantinga (PI, Calvin), Alison Eden (Michigan State), and Dan Levin (Vanderbilt). $998,085; 2022-5. 

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