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What is “Phi­los­o­phy”? Yes, we know, the word comes from the Greek philosophia, which means “the love of wis­dom.” This rote ety­mo­log­i­cal def­i­n­i­tion does lit­tle, I think, to enhance our under­stand­ing of the sub­ject, though it may describe the moti­va­tion of many a stu­dent. Like cer­tain dis­eases, maybe phi­los­o­phy is a spec­trum, a col­lec­tion of loose­ly relat­ed behav­iors. Maybe a bet­ter ques­tion would be, “what are all the symp­toms of this thing we call phi­los­o­phy?” The med­ical metaphor is time­ly. We live in an age when the dis­ci­pline of phi­los­o­phy, like many of the human­i­ties, gets treat­ed like a pathol­o­gy, in uni­ver­si­ties and in the wider cul­ture. See, for exam­ple, pop­u­lar arti­cles on whether sci­ence has ren­dered phi­los­o­phy (and reli­gion) obso­lete. There seems to be an under­ly­ing assump­tion in our soci­ety that phi­los­o­phy is some­thing to be erad­i­cat­ed, like small­pox.

Per­haps this sort of thing is just an emp­ty provo­ca­tion; after all, many log­i­cal pos­i­tivists of the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry also claimed to have inval­i­dat­ed large areas of philo­soph­i­cal inquiry by ban­ish­ing every unclear con­cept to the dust­bin. And yet, phi­los­o­phy per­sists, infect­ing us with its relent­less dri­ve to define, inquire, cri­tique, sys­tem­atize, prob­lema­tize, and decon­struct.

And of course, in a less tech­ni­cal sense, phi­los­o­phy infects us with the dri­ve to won­der. With­out its tools, I main­tain, we would not only lack the basis for under­stand­ing the world we live in, but we would also lack impor­tant means of imag­in­ing, and cre­at­ing, a bet­ter one. If this sounds grandiose, wait till you encounter the thought of Pla­to, Spin­oza, Hegel, Kant, Niet­zsche, Kierkegaard, and jazz-futur­ist Sun Ra—all unac­cus­tomed to think­ing small and stay­ing in their lane.

Some philoso­phers are more cir­cum­spect, some more pre­cise, some more lit­er­ary and imag­i­na­tive, some more prac­ti­cal and tech­no­log­i­cal­ly inclined. Like I said, many symp­toms, one dis­ease.

We at Open Cul­ture have com­piled a list of 140 free phi­los­o­phy cours­es from as much of the wide spec­trum as we could, span­ning such diverse ways of think­ing as Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago’s Leo Strauss on Aristotle’s Ethics (Free Online Audio) and Plato’s Laws (Free Online Audio), to Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Bud­dhist schol­ar Robert Thur­man (Uma’s dad) on “The Cen­tral Phi­los­o­phy of Tibet” (Free Online Audio). We have spe­cif­ic cours­es on Med­ical Ethics, taught by Notre Dame’s David Solomon (Free Online Audio) and the Uni­ver­si­ty of New Orlean’s Frank Schalow (Free iTunes Audio). We have huge­ly gen­er­al cours­es like “The His­to­ry of Phi­los­o­phy With­out Any Gaps,” from King’s College’s Peter Adam­son (Free Course in Mul­ti­ple For­mats). We have phi­los­o­phy cours­es on death, love, reli­gion, film, law, the self, the ancients and the mod­erns…. See what I mean about the spec­trum?

Per­haps phi­los­o­phy incurs resent­ment because it roams at large and won’t be pack­aged into neat­ly salable—or jailable—units. Per­haps its amor­phous nature, its tol­er­ance of uncer­tain­ty and doubt, makes some kinds of peo­ple uncom­fort­able. Or per­haps some think it’s too abstruse and dif­fi­cult to make sense of, or to mat­ter. Not so! Vis­it our list of 140 phi­los­o­phy cours­es and you will sure­ly find a point of entry some­where. One class will lead to anoth­er, and anoth­er, and before you know it, you’ll be ask­ing ques­tions all the time, of every­thing, and think­ing rig­or­ous­ly and crit­i­cal­ly about the answers, and… well, by then it may be too late for a cure.

Look­ing for a good place to start? Try Oxford’s Crit­i­cal Rea­son­ing for Begin­ners

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load 55 Free Online Lit­er­a­ture Cours­es: From Dante and Mil­ton to Ker­ouac and Tolkien

Down­load 78 Free Online His­to­ry Cours­es: From Ancient Greece to The Mod­ern World

Learn 48 Lan­guages Online for Free: Span­ish, Chi­nese, Eng­lish & More 

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (9)
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  • I am enchant­ed and grate­ful for you post­ing.

  • Margarita says:

    delec­table mate­r­i­al! HNY!

  • kishore says:

    Why only west­ern phi­los­o­phy books? there are many philoso­phers when you look at east

  • Bijay Agarwala says:

    Excel­lent post­ing . As a stu­dent of phi­los­o­phy , such cours­es and post­ings are great val­ue to enhance our under­stand­ing of the dis­ci­pline.

  • Ommie says:

    Ani­mal behav­ior

  • unknown user says:

    That’s com­plete­ly true, but they aren’t con­sid­ered to be part of the enlight­en­ment tra­di­tion which was asso­ci­at­ed with if it did not give rise to the mod­ern era as we under­stand it. The works of ancient Con­fu­cian and pre-Con­fu­cian philoso­phers will gen­er­al­ly have very lit­tle to offer in this respect, hav­ing much more to do with respect for one’s elders, one’s rulers, and oth­er mat­ters like bur­ial rites.

    Does­n’t mean cours­es in those fields aren’t taught, but they gen­er­al­ly aren’t taught as part of phi­los­o­phy cours­es, but rather his­to­ry courses–also archae­ol­o­gy cours­es.

  • tina fusco says:

    i would love to take some of these but i don’t have an iphone or ipod or what­ev­er it is to get itunes.

  • Ahmad Mubarak says:

    Extreme­ly use­ful for stu­dents

  • Anthony H. says:

    “…in a less tech­ni­cal sense, phi­los­o­phy infects us with the dri­ve to won­der.”

    This is exact­ly how I’ve felt about Phi­los­o­phy since my first course. If some­one asks, “why Phi­los­o­phy?” this is my answer.

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