What is the Self? Watch Philosophy Animations Narrated by Stephen Fry on Sartre, Descartes & More

If you’ve fol­lowed our recent phi­los­o­phy posts, you’ve heard Gillian Ander­son (The X‑Files) speak on what makes us humanthe ori­gins of the uni­verse, and whether tech­nol­o­gy has changed us, and Har­ry Shear­er speak on ethics — or rather, you’ve heard them nar­rate short edu­ca­tion­al ani­ma­tions from the BBC script­ed by Phi­los­o­phy Bites’ Nigel War­bur­ton. Now anoth­er equal­ly dis­tinc­tive voice has joined the series to explain an equal­ly impor­tant philo­soph­i­cal top­ic. Behold Stephen Fry on the Self.

These four videos draw on Socrates’s work on what it means to know one­self (and the lim­its of one’s knowl­edge); Erv­ing Goff­man’s (The Pre­sen­ta­tion of Self in Every­day Life) Shake­speare­an obser­va­tion that we all play roles on this stage of a world; Rene Descartes’ famous dec­la­ra­tion “I think, there­fore I am”; and Jean-Paul Sartre’s con­cept of human exis­tence pre­ced­ing human essence (which, if it sounds a bit fog­gy, the video will clar­i­fy). Whichev­er of these thinkers’ claims sound most plau­si­ble to you, you’ll come out feel­ing a bit sur­er that, what­ev­er con­sti­tutes our selves — if indeed we have them — it isn’t what you might have assumed going in.

If the notions that we know noth­ing, that we have no fixed iden­ti­ties, that we cre­ate our­selves (and/or our selves) by our own actions, and that a trick­ster demon may be con­trol­ling your thoughts even as you read this seem too detached from every­day expe­ri­ence to eas­i­ly grasp, at least we have a sen­si­ble Eng­lish voice like Fry’s to guide us through them. The stereo­types may say that the peo­ple of that prac­ti­cal-mind­ed land don’t go in for this kind of talk. But I pro­pose a refu­ta­tion: specif­i­cal­ly, a refu­ta­tion in the form of a return by Fry to talk about two of his fel­low Britons, David Hume and George Berke­ley. They had a few things to say about the self — to put it mild­ly.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load 130 Free Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es: Tools for Think­ing About Life, Death & Every­thing Between

A His­to­ry of Ideas: Ani­mat­ed Videos Explain The­o­ries of Simone de Beau­voir, Edmund Burke & Oth­er Philoso­phers

How Did Every­thing Begin?: Ani­ma­tions on the Ori­gins of the Uni­verse Nar­rat­ed by X‑Files Star Gillian Ander­son

What Makes Us Human?: Chom­sky, Locke & Marx Intro­duced by New Ani­mat­ed Videos from the BBC

Has Tech­nol­o­gy Changed Us?: BBC Ani­ma­tions Answer the Ques­tion with the Help of Mar­shall McLuhan

How Can I Know Right From Wrong? Watch Phi­los­o­phy Ani­ma­tions on Ethics Nar­rat­ed by Har­ry Shear­er

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­maFol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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