James Franco Hosts Philosophy Time, a New Videos Series Created to Help Philosophy Reach a Wider Audience

How do you get ordi­nary peo­ple inter­est­ed in phi­los­o­phy? If we are to believe the accounts of Pla­to, this wasn’t so dif­fi­cult in ancient Athens. One sim­ply lounged around the Acrop­o­lis harass­ing passers­by, a tac­tic sure to fail in most city cen­ters, town squares, and strip malls today. Pod­casts and YouTube videos grab their share of eyes and ears, though many in their audi­ences also sing in the choir. For­mer Python John Cleese has done his part to pop­u­lar­ize philo­soph­i­cal think­ing. As some­one who has moved between the worlds of acad­e­mia and pop­u­lar cul­ture, Cleese has both cred­i­bil­i­ty and vis­i­bil­i­ty on his side. Some younger audi­ences (I write with apolo­gies to Cleese) may be inclined to tune him out.

How about anoth­er actor with both fame and high­er ed cred? Some­one “very appeal­ing to a younger demo­graph­ic”? Some­one like… James Franco—currently a doc­tor­al stu­dent at Yale, and for­mer­ly a lec­tur­er and/or student/graduate of UCLA, Colum­bia, NYU, Brook­lyn Col­lege, War­ren Wil­son Col­lege, and the Rhode Island School of Design? This might seem like the resume either of an aca­d­e­m­ic dilet­tante, or of a life­long stu­dent and lover of knowl­edge.

Giv­en Franco’s com­mit­ment to teach­ing, writ­ing, and devel­op­ing and star­ring in lit­er­ary films like As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, The Bro­ken Tow­er, and Howl, we might give him the ben­e­fit of the doubt. Not everyone’s a fan, but he does bring a good deal of aca­d­e­m­ic enthu­si­asm to the role of phi­los­o­phy pop­u­lar­iz­er.

Fran­co also brings along an actu­al philoso­pher, Eliot Michael­son, of King’s Col­lege, a for­mer teacher of his. He pro­posed the idea of their project, “Phi­los­o­phy Time,” while the two were at UCLA togeth­er, Michael­son as a grad stu­dent and Fran­co as an under­grad fin­ish­ing his Eng­lish degree after tak­ing a hia­tus from col­lege to become a star. “We had some­how end­ed up becom­ing friends,” writes Michael­son, “In part, prob­a­bly because I had no idea who he was.” Their long-ges­tat­ing idea—an attempt to widen philosophy’s audience—has final­ly come to fruition. In the short episodes here, you can see the two in con­ver­sa­tion with Rut­gers University’s Andy Egan, at the top (on beau­ty), Princeton’s Liz Har­mon, fur­ther up (on the fraught top­ic of abor­tion), and Rut­gers’ Liz Camp, above and below (on imag­i­na­tion and metaphor).

Michael­son is a mod­er­at­ing influ­ence. Franco’s laid back pre­sen­ta­tion will remind you of his per­for­mances in ston­er com­e­dy Pineap­ple Express, the 83rd Acad­e­my Awards cer­e­mo­ny, and the 2008 High Times Ston­er of the Year event (though he swears he doesn’t touch the stuff any­more). Squig­gly, ani­mat­ed word and thought bub­bles add anoth­er com­ic touch. But whether or not view­ers are charmed by his per­sona, they’ll find that he lets his guests do most of the talk­ing, and they each make it plain that phi­los­o­phy can be fas­ci­nat­ing and immi­nent­ly rel­e­vant to our ordi­nary mod­ern lives. The kinds of ques­tions Socrates nee­dled hap­less Athe­ni­ans with—about beau­ty, ethics, and language—are just as press­ing now as they were 2400 years ago.

You can find the emerg­ing trove of “Phi­los­o­phy Time” videos on YouTube here.

via Leit­er Reports

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Cleese Touts the Val­ue of Phi­los­o­phy in 22 Pub­lic Ser­vice Announce­ments for the Amer­i­can Philo­soph­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion

James Fran­co Reads a Dream­i­ly Ani­mat­ed Ver­sion of Allen Ginsberg’s Epic Poem ‘Howl’

James Fran­co Reads 6 Short Poems from His New Col­lec­tion

140+ Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

The Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life: A Phi­los­o­phy Pod­cast

The His­to­ry of Phi­los­o­phy With­out Any Gaps Pod­cast, Now at 239 Episodes, Expands into East­ern Phi­los­o­phy

Dis­cov­er the Cre­ative, New Phi­los­o­phy Pod­cast Hi-Phi Nation: The First Sto­ry-Dri­ven Show About Phi­los­o­phy

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

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  • Joy Kurland says:

    I can’t find in the arti­cle where and when to access this show??

  • Bob Beadle says:

    Maybe drop the late night col­lege bull­shit approach. I think graph­ics, com­put­er gen­er­at­ed or old-school, would go a lot fur­ther to pop­u­lar­ize phi­los­o­phy,

    Reminds me the sense of lib­er­a­tion, even eupho­ria of fresh­men meet­ing a peer group for the first time “that you can actu­al­ly talk to”. Wow, they’re inter­est­ed in the same ideas I’ve had to repress for­ev­er.

    The fas­ci­na­tion did­n’t last that long. But it was great while it last­ed.

    I guess my reac­tion to Fran­co’s riff ses­sions is sim­i­lar to our reac­tion to the first Cal­i­for­nia “health food” chain restau­rants we entered in the 70’s: Pink formi­ca table tops and new reli­gion try­ing too hard, anoth­er fast food set up. But health­i­er food.

    “Kitschy, huh? Hard­ly ‘real’. But man, if it spreads the word, a hel­lu­val­ot bet­ter than noth­ing.”

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