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Philosophy Time with James Franco & Eliot Michaelson

Dr Eliot Michaelson and Hollywood actor/general polymath James Franco present their video project Philosophy Time, a series of four short films in which they ask some of the world’s top philosophers hard questions about the nature of beauty, metaphor, imagination, and moral worth.

Franco and Michaelson’s aim is to make academic philosophy accessible—in part by forcing these philosophers to speak like normal human beings, and in part by overlaying the interviews with cute animations. Also significant is the fact that the project involves Franco, celebrated worldwide for his good looks, boundless charisma, and apparent willingness to try literally anything at least once.

Franco and Michaelson first encountered each other when Michaelson taught Franco as an undergraduate at UCLA and had no idea who he was. Since then, Franco has starred in numerous major Hollywood motion pictures, written, directed, and produced a variety of high-concept cinema pieces, published several hard-to-categorize books, exhibited his art in major cities around the world, recorded at least one album, and obtained higher degrees in numerous subjects. 

Episode 1: "Metaphors" featuring Professor Elisabeth Camp

Professor Camp argues that certain kinds of metaphors allow us to communicate in ways that literal speech cannot. The importance of this type of communication strongly suggests that our minds function in ways very different from how a modern computer does.

Episode 2: "Beauty" featuring Professor Andy Egan

Professor Egan suggests that properties like taste and beauty are highly malleable—so much so that the facts about them can change depending on who is speaking, or even what sort of state the speaker is in. Statements about taste and beauty can thereby help us to see ourselves as members of certain groups, which can in turn solidify into cultures and sub-cultures.


Episode 3: "Abortion" featuring Professor Elizabeth Harman

Professor Harman discusses the claim that abortion is not all morally wrong.  


Episode 4: "Imagination" featuring Professor Elisabeth Camp

Professor Camp claims that perspectival imagination, which allows us to ‘try on’ others’ perspectives on the world, is often overlooked in our attempts to understand the mind.  Such imagination, she argues, is crucial to our ability to genuinely engage each other on controversial moral and political topics.


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