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Using YouTube

Unless you have been living in a cave for the last ten years, you know all about YouTubewhich is a video website, created in 2005.  It has a vast number of video clips, many of which are hilariously funny, and an even greater number of which are incredibly mindless and stupid.  Surprisingly, there is a great deal of material, humorous and otherwise, that might be useful in philosophy classes and, indeed, you could easily upload your own materials (perhaps a mini-lecture). 


Using Existing You Tube Material. Below we list just a few YouTube videos that might be useful, but if you have others that you have found useful, please send us the link, and a sentence or two about why you found it useful.  Probably the simplest way to proceed is to use YouTube's powerful search engine.  If you enter the name of a contemporary philosopher, for example, you may well find a clip of an interview.  When you bring up that clip, YouTube will also prompt you with related clips.  Here are just a few examples to get you started.


  • Wi-Phi (Wireless Philosophy).  Wi-Phi, in the words of Executive Director Guarav Vazirani, makes "free, accessible, and entertaining video lectures to introduce the public to philosophy. These lectures are made in conjunction with philosophy faculty at over 40 institutions in the US and UK. We currently have 115 videos and plan to add significantly more content including short mini-intro courses."  Wi-Phi's videos have the virtue of being both engaging and of reliable philosophical quality, as they are produced in collaboration with philosophy faculty.

  • Three Minute Philosophy. This is an animated series that purports to summarize a philosopher's most famous views in three minutes.  There are, of course, serious limitations (and sometimes outright inaccuracies) in these videos, but they are funny and get students engaged--and, they can be useful as a teaching tool if you make showing them into a game of "spot the errors."

  • Philosophy Movie.  This is an absurd, yet somehow captivating, animated clip about Locke and Berkeley.

  • Monty Python. There are quite a few Monty Python skits, reflecting a rather sophisticated knowledge of philosophy, including the "World Philosopher's Cup" soccer match or the "Philosopher's Song."

  • On a more serious side, there are clips from many contemporary philosophers including, to mention only a few:

    • Philosopher John Corvino (Wayne State University) has an entire YouTube channel, which is full of excellent short videos addressing the ethics of homosexuality and same sex marriage.

    • Michael Sandel (fascinating lectures from his course on justice at Harvard). Also there is a hilarious clip that illustrates Sandel's famous "trolley problem," about whether it is OK to push someone in front of a trolley to save the lives of others. 

    • Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor discuss disability in the Examined Life series.

    • Cornel West

  • English journalist and author Bryan Magee has a number of very interesting interviews on philosophers, which you can find by doing a search on YouTube under his name.

  • There are many other interesting materials such as the famous Story of Stuff presentation, which gives a Marxist interpretation of consumerism.


In other words, if you want your students to put a face with a name, and get a feel for who these authors are, you may find something of use on YouTube.


Creating your own material. You might also consider putting your own material  on YouTube. Philosopher Michael LaBossiere (FAMU) has done this with several of his introductory courses.  To see why this might be useful, imagine this scenario:  you have assigned your students to read a difficult text for next Monday, and you would like to give them a brief lecture about the material before they read it.  You could make up a short video clip of yourself giving the information, and instruct them to watch it before they read the assignment.  Of course, your material  would be open to anyone who wanted to see it, but it is unlikely that very many people would find it, unless,  of course, you are a lot funnier than you think you are. 


Author: John Immerwahr
Update: January 2016 (E. Tarver); April 2020

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