138 Short Animated Introductions to the World’s Greatest Ideas: Plato, Michel Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir & More

The Open Cul­ture audi­ence, by my esti­ma­tion, divides into two basic groups: those who’ve read the col­lect­ed works of the likes of Simone de Beau­voir, Michel Fou­cault, and Pla­to, and those who’d like to. Whichev­er body of oft-ref­er­enced ideas you’ve been want­i­ng to dig deep into your­self, get­ting a brief, con­cept-dis­till­ing primer before­hand can make the task eas­i­er, improv­ing your under­stand­ing and abil­i­ty to con­tex­tu­al­ize the orig­i­nal texts when you get around to them. Online edu­ca­tion com­pa­ny Macat has pro­duced 138 such primers in the form of ani­mat­ed videos freely avail­able on YouTube which can put you in the right frame of mind to study a vari­ety of ideas in lit­er­a­ture, eco­nom­ics, soci­ol­o­gy, pol­i­tics, his­to­ry, and phi­los­o­phy.

De Beau­voir, in Macat’s analy­sis, argued in The Sec­ond Sex that “the views of indi­vid­u­als are social­ly and cul­tur­al­ly pro­duced. Fem­i­nin­i­ty is not inher­ent,” but a soci­etal mech­a­nism long used “to keep men dom­i­nant.”

Accord­ing to their video on Fou­cault’s Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish, that famous book “explores the evo­lu­tion of pow­er since the Mid­dle Ages,” cul­mi­nat­ing in the argu­ment that “mod­ern states have moved away from explor­ing their author­i­ty phys­i­cal­ly to enforc­ing it psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly,” a phe­nom­e­non exem­pli­fied as much by late 18th- and ear­ly 19th-cen­tu­ry philoso­pher Jere­my Ben­tham’s Panop­ti­con as by mod­ern closed-cir­cuit tele­vi­sion urban omni-sur­veil­lance (a tech­nol­o­gy now spread far beyond the infa­mous­ly CCTV-zeal­ous Lon­don all the way to Seoul, where I live). In The Repub­lic, Pla­to asks more basic ques­tions about soci­ety: “What would an ide­al state look like, and how would it work?”

For that ancient Greek, says the video’s nar­ra­tor, “the ide­al soci­ety offered the guar­an­tee of jus­tice and would be ruled over not by a tyrant, but by an all-pow­er­ful philoso­pher-king.” Whether or not that strikes you as an appeal­ing prospect, or indeed whether you agree with de Beau­voir and Fou­cault’s bold propo­si­tions, you stand to sharp­en your mind by engag­ing with these and oth­er influ­en­tial ideas, includ­ing (as cov­ered in Macat’s oth­er three- to four-minute analy­ses) those of Machi­avel­li, David HumeEdward Said, and Thomas Piket­ty. “Crit­i­cal think­ing is about to become one of the most in-demand set of skills in the glob­al jobs mar­ket,” insists Macat’s mar­ket­ing. “Are you ready?” Whether or not you’ll ever ref­er­ence these thinkers on the job, prepar­ing your­self to read them with an active mind will put you on the fast track to the exam­ined life.

You can find the com­plete list of ani­ma­tions here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

47 Ani­mat­ed Videos Explain the His­to­ry of Ideas: From Aris­to­tle to Sartre

Plato’s Cave Alle­go­ry Ani­mat­ed Mon­ty Python-Style

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Fem­i­nist Phi­los­o­phy of Simone de Beau­voir

Watch Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tions to 25 Philoso­phers by The School of Life: From Pla­to to Kant and Fou­cault

Edward Said Recalls His Depress­ing Meet­ing With Sartre, de Beau­voir & Fou­cault (1979)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.