Bryan Magee’s In-Depth, Uncut TV Conversations With Famous Philosophers (1978-87)

Bryan Magee comes from a tradition that produced some of the twentieth century's most impressive media personalities: that of the scholarship-educated, Oxbridge-refined, intellectually omnivorous, occasionally office-holding, radio- and television-savvy man of letters. Students and professors of philosophy probably know him from his large print oeuvre, which includes volumes on Popper and Schopenhauer as well as several guides to western philosophy and the autobiographical Confessions of a Philosopher. He also wrote another memoir called The Television Interviewer, and philosophically inclined laymen may fondly remember him as just that. When Magee played to both these strengths at once, he came up with two philosophical television shows in the span of a decade: Men of Ideas, which began in 1978, and The Great Philosophers, which ran in 1987. Both series brought BBC viewers in-depth, uncut conversations with many of the day's most famous philosophers.

You can watch select interviews of Men of Ideas and The Great Philosophers on YouTube, including:

At the top of the post, you'll find Magee talking with A.J. Ayer, a well-known specialist in "logical positivism," about the development of, and challenges to, that philosophical sub-field. Two philosophers, relaxed on a couch, sometimes smoking, enthusiastically engaged in a commercial-free back-and-forth about the most important thinkers and thoughts in the field — watch something like that, and you can't possibly think of now as a golden age of television.

Note: Oodles of philosophy courses, many thought by famous philosophers, can be found in the Philosophy section of our list of Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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  • OH MY GOODNESS! Thank you so much for putting together these interviews in one neat, accessible package.

  • Jimbo says:

    Thank you again, for bringing the information together.

  • historian says:

    Love his book “The Story of Thought” (1998). Hoping he does an updated version, and updates page 19, on the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno (490-430 BC). There he discusses Zeno’s ‘Achilles and the tortoise’ paradox, and says “there must be a fault in the logic,” which is true, “but no one has yet been wholly successful in demonstrating what it is.” That needs to be updated, as both distance and time issues have been cited showing the fault. See background at http://medicolegal.tripod.com/zenosparadoxachillestortoisesolution.htm

  • open_culshizzle says:

    i’m surprised the one with chomsky is not here. other than the two with searle (which i think even magee enjoyed–you can hear him even say it at the end), the chomsky interview is the best.

    i’ve also watched the putnam one which was okay and the ayer ones which i remember nothing about; they weren’t that interesting.

    it’s true that chomsky is not a professional/academic philosopher but i’d be surprised if people didn’t think of him as such (and if that is the reason for him not being listed here).

    the notion that language is not learnt but is something that grows, and comparing it to things like set theory (in order to show how difficult it is, but still learnt by the average child before 5), are definitely philosophical ways of looking at things–revolutionary ones at that.

  • Gary Catona says:

    I want to email Bryan Magee and ask him if he thinks that quantum physics, the Big Bang theory, the Inflationary theory, and the Multiverse theory have any relevance to his criticism of naive realism – i.e., that naive realists cannot avoid the contradictions that necessarily arise regarding space and time? A related question: Would future philosophical work have to address and perhaps incorporate these scientific theories in order to come up with a more complete picture of reality?

    Thank you!
    gc@garycatona.com

  • Windsor Viney says:

    Those who enjoy Magee’s work might like also to read his book *Ultimate Questions*, Princeton University Press, 2016. http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10683.html

    A slim but penetrating volume — and, at this writing, possibly his final one.

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