350 Animated Videos That Will Teach You Philosophy, from Ancient to Post-Modern

Phi­los­o­phy is not an idle pur­suit of leisured gen­tle­men and tenured pro­fes­sors, though the life cir­cum­stances of many a philoso­pher might make us think oth­er­wise. The fore­most exam­ple of a priv­i­leged philoso­pher is Mar­cus Aure­lius, famous expos­i­tor of Sto­icism, and also, inci­den­tal­ly, Emper­or of Rome. Yet we must also bear in mind that Epicte­tus, the oth­er most famous expos­i­tor of Sto­icism, whom Aure­lius quotes repeat­ed­ly in his Med­i­ta­tions, was born a slave.

Against cer­tain ten­den­cies of mod­ern think­ing, we might haz­ard to believe that both men shared enough com­mon human expe­ri­ence to arrive at some uni­ver­sal prin­ci­ples ful­ly applic­a­ble to every­day life. Sto­icism, after all, is noth­ing if not prac­ti­cal. Con­sid­er, for exam­ple, the emperor’s advice below—how chal­leng­ing it might be for any­one, and how ben­e­fi­cial, not only for the indi­vid­ual, but—as Aure­lius makes plain—for every­one.

Begin the morn­ing by say­ing to your­self, I shall meet with the busy­body, the ungrate­ful, arro­gant, deceit­ful, envi­ous, unso­cial. All these things hap­pen to them by rea­son of their igno­rance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beau­ti­ful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to mine, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it par­tic­i­pates in the same intel­li­gence and the same por­tion of divin­i­ty, I can nei­ther be harmed by any of them, nor no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my broth­er, nor hate him. For we are made for coop­er­a­tion, like feet, like hands, like eye­lids, like the rows of the upper and low­er teeth. To act against one anoth­er then is con­trary to nature; and it is act­ing against one anoth­er to be vexed and to turn away.

Yes, a pas­sage that might have come from the speech­es of Gand­hi, the Dalai Lama, or Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. also belongs to the philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tions of ancient Rome, though in the mouth of an emper­or it may not sound to us as com­pelling­ly rad­i­cal.

Nowa­days, sev­er­al mil­lion more peo­ple have access to books, lit­er­a­cy, and leisure than in Mar­cus Aure­lius’ era (and one won­ders where even an emper­or found the time), though few of us, it’s true, have access to a nobleman’s edu­ca­tion. While cur­rent­ly under threat, the inter­net still pro­vides us with a wealth of free content—and many of us are much bet­ter posi­tioned than Epicte­tus was to edu­cate our­selves about philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tions, schools, and ways of think­ing.

We can learn about the Sto­ics, for example—or get the gist, and hope­ful­ly a taste for more—with Alain de Botton’s video appe­tiz­er at the top, just one of 35 short ani­mat­ed videos on the phi­los­o­phy YouTube chan­nel of his School of Life.

We can cruise through a sum­ma­ry of Aristotle’s views on “flour­ish­ing” in the video above, nar­rat­ed by the always-affa­ble Stephen Fry as part of the BBC’s “His­to­ry of Ideas” series, cur­rent­ly up to 48 unique­ly ani­mat­ed videos fea­tur­ing oth­er smart-sound­ing celebri­ty nar­ra­tors like Har­ry Shear­er and Gillian Ander­son.

The Macat series of phi­los­o­phy explain­er videos (136 in total) may lack celebri­ty cred, but it makes up for it with some very thor­ough short sum­maries of impor­tant works in philosophy—as well as soci­ol­o­gy, psy­chol­o­gy, his­to­ry, pol­i­tics, eco­nom­ics, and lit­er­a­ture. “The essen­tial pur­pose of pol­i­tics is free­dom,” Han­nah Arendt wrote in her 1958 The Human Con­di­tion, we learn above, a work of hers that is not focused on mass mur­der and total­i­tar­i­an­ism. Arendt had much more to say, and in this book, she relies on a clas­si­cal dis­tinc­tion well known to the Greeks and Romans and all who came after them: the con­trast between two kinds of life—the vita acti­va and vita con­tem­pla­ti­va.

While phi­los­o­phy may have become much more acces­si­ble, it has also become less “open access”—in the sense of being a pub­lic affair, tak­ing place in city squares and active­ly encour­aged by states­men and ordi­nary loi­ter­ers alike. For all its possibilities—and we hope they can remain—the inter­net has nev­er been able to recre­ate the Athen­ian ide­al of the philo­soph­i­cal pub­lic square, if such a thing ever real­ly exist­ed. But projects like Wire­less Phi­los­o­phy—spon­sored by Yale, MIT, Duke, and oth­er elite institutions—have sought for years to intro­duce peo­ple from every walk of life to the kinds of ideas that Athe­ni­ans sup­pos­ed­ly threw around like fris­bees in their spare time, includ­ing Plato’s notion (via his mouth­piece, Socrates) of “the good life,” which Uni­ver­si­ty of New Orleans pro­fes­sor Chris Sur­pre­nent, sum­ma­rizes above. See all of Wire­less Phi­los­o­phy’s 130 ani­ma­tions here.

The mate­r­i­al is out there. We’ve high­light­ed 350 philo­soph­i­cal ani­ma­tions above, and also sep­a­rate­ly gath­ered 200+ Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es. And, if you’re read­ing this, it’s a good bet you’ve prob­a­bly got a lit­tle time to spare. If it’s an old-fash­ioned sales pitch you need to get going, con­sid­er that for just pen­nies, er, min­utes a day, you can become more knowl­edge­able about ancient Greek and Roman thought, Kant­ian ethics, 20th cen­tu­ry Crit­i­cal The­o­ry, Niet­zsche, crit­i­cal think­ing skills, Scholas­tic the­o­log­i­cal thought, Bud­dhism, Wittgen­stein, Sartre, etc., etc, etc., etc. That said, how­ev­er, acquir­ing the con­cen­tra­tion, dis­ci­pline, and will to do your own think­ing about what you’ve learned, and to apply it, has nev­er been so free and easy to come by for any­one at any time in his­to­ry.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

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

135 Free Phi­los­o­phy eBooks 

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


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