James Franco Has a New Show All About Philosophy

Would you rather learn philosophy from James Franco or a professor of philosophy? Well, now you don't have to choose.


“The unexamined life is not worth living,” allegedly declared Socrates while he was on trial for corrupting the Grecian youth. While it appears that through its endless chatter modern culture constantly examines life, its motivation seems to have nothing to do with the pure and unconditional love of wisdom, or how the ancient greeks called it: philosophy.  

In an attempt to familiarize the general public with the oldest of the sciences, one unlikely duo—a Hollywood actor and a professor of philosophy, James Franco and Eliot Michaelson respectively—has launched a YouTube series called Philosophy Time.

In four published episodes so far, the hosts share 6-minute-long fragments of their conversations with fellow academics on topics like language, beauty and the ethics of abortion. Amongst the academics are Elisabeth Camp, philosophy professor at Rutgers University, who discusses the utility of metaphors and different types of imagination in helping us create a shared human experience. 

In another clip, Elizabeth Harman, a professor of Philosophy at Princeton University with a special interest in morality, explains her views on the moral status of a fetus. 

Andy Egan, also a professor of philosophy at Rutgers, tries to explain the concept of beauty by feeding Franco and Michaelson a lime after shutting down their sour receptors with “miracle fruit”. 

Philosophy Time was conceived years ago when Franco and Michaelson, who met as a student and professor and became friends afterwards, wanted to work on something together. While many know James Franco as an A-list Hollywood actor, he is increasingly known for his writing, poetry, painting and music and being a kind of an academic junkie. Everyone wants to crack open his productivity secrets, because he has somehow found the time to earn an undergraduate degree in English from UCLA, graduate degrees from Columbia University, New York University and Brooklyn College, as well as a PhD in English (currently in the making) at Yale. 

"I love school,” Franco says to People magazine. “I go to school because I love being around people who are interested in what I’m interested in and I’m having a great experience… I’m studying things that I love so it’s not like it’s a chore. School is a way to take my other pursuits like directing and writing seriously.”

Of course, 6-minute-long videos are insufficient for any in-depth examination of most subjects. While other philosophy platforms like Wireless Philosophy and The School of Life follow a similar model, it is hard to see them as a proper substitute for the philosophical discussions and gathering of minds that took place at the agora. 

But maybe this is not the goal of Michaelson and Franco. As Michaelson himself says about the project:

 “We need to figure out how to do more that reaches out beyond the NPR-set, to people interested in learning to think better but who didn’t have the luxury of taking a philosophy course or two in college, or even going to college at all. […] if we as a profession are going to have more of an impact on the world, we need to figure out how to reach more people, to offer them the tools for thinking hard and clearly about things that our discipline can offer. Not only in MOOCS, or in the pages of high-brow newspapers and magazines, but via whatever avenues are going to help us reach the most people in the most effective manner we can find."

Hopefully, the format, content and Franco’s presence will indeed manage to attract and “corrupt” some youth that otherwise wouldn’t have ventured into these deep corners of thought.

Stand up against religious discrimination – even if it’s not your religion

As religious diversity increases in the United States, we must learn to channel religious identity into interfaith cooperation.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Religious diversity is the norm in American life, and that diversity is only increasing, says Eboo Patel.
  • Using the most painful moment of his life as a lesson, Eboo Patel explains why it's crucial to be positive and proactive about engaging religious identity towards interfaith cooperation.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less

The biggest threat to America? Americans.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Jared Diamond explains why some nations make it through epic crises and why others fail.

Videos
  • "A country is not going to resolve a national crisis unless it acknowledges that it's in a crisis," says Jared Diamond. "If you don't, you're going to get nowhere. Many Americans still don't recognize today that the United States is descending into a crisis."
  • The U.S. tends to focus on "bad countries" like China, Canada and Mexico as the root of its problems, however Diamond points out the missing piece: Americans are generating their own problems.
  • The crisis the U.S. is experiencing is not cause for despair. The U.S. has survived many tragedies, such as the War of Independence and the Great Depression – history is proof that the U.S. can get through this current crisis too.
Keep reading Show less

10 new things we’ve learned about death

If you don't want to know anything about your death, consider this your spoiler warning.

Culture & Religion
  • For centuries cultures have personified death to give this terrifying mystery a familiar face.
  • Modern science has demystified death by divulging its biological processes, yet many questions remain.
  • Studying death is not meant to be a morbid reminder of a cruel fate, but a way to improve the lives of the living.
Keep reading Show less

Where the evidence of fake news is really hiding

When it comes to sniffing out whether a source is credible or not, even journalists can sometimes take the wrong approach.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • We all think that we're competent consumers of news media, but the research shows that even journalists struggle with identifying fact from fiction.
  • When judging whether a piece of media is true or not, most of us focus too much on the source itself. Knowledge has a context, and it's important to look at that context when trying to validate a source.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less