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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

105 Ani­mat­ed Phi­los­o­phy Videos from Wire­less Phi­los­o­phy: A Project Spon­sored by Yale, MIT, Duke & More

44 Essen­tial Movies for the Stu­dent of Phi­los­o­phy

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Comments (7)
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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

  • 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!

  • Windsor Viney says:

    Those who enjoy Magee’s work might like also to read his book *Ulti­mate Ques­tions*, Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2016.

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

  • saeed says:

    MP3 ver­sions of these videos are avail­able here:

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