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NEW Digital Archive exhibition: Philosophy in the Open

A row of 4 lightbulb, one of which is lit up and turned upside down. Above are the words, 'Philosophy in the Open'.A film archive of some of the 20th Century’s finest minds in philosophy has been made available to the public through The Open University’s digital archive.

The line-up of brilliant deep thinkers was filmed being interviewed by the OU from 1969 onwards, when the OU was in its infancy and men were about to start wearing satin shirts with ruffles and hip-hugging bell bottoms.

While some of the more muted 70s fashions are evident in the videos, the Philosophy In The Open Exhibition is much more focused on a stunning array of philosophy greats including Oxford professor Sir Bernard Williams talking to Sir Jonathan Miller, physician, playwright and author debating “Is social science really necessary”.

Others depict Oxford’s Professor Gilbert Ryle discussing The Concept of Mind; an interview with one of the most influential moral philosophers of the mid-20th Century, R.M. Hare; and Harvard professor BJ Skinner discussing Free Will.

OU academics rediscovered the archive when they came across snippets being shared by others on YouTube. Now around 20 videos, the very best of the archive, have been chosen for public display and a treasure-trove resource for philosophy and politics students alike. Most are around 30 minutes long.

Derek Matravers, Professor of Philosophy at the OU, said:

“There are about 20 essays from academics today commenting on the videos. We have a lot more material but we think we’ve got the best of them.”

He was able to meet some of the philosophers, too, including Sir Bernard. He said:

“Some people think he was the most intelligent man of the second half of the 20th century.

“He was the former Provost of King’s College, Cambridge, and studied at Oxford’s Balliol College, but he was also a big public figure; an amazingly clever man, you just didn’t want to argue with him, but he was a decent bloke as well. A lovely chap.

“Back then the OU used the BBC’s The Learning Zone, which operated from 11pm overnight and that is when these videos would have been aired for student study.”

It meant a late night for them as this was before state-of-the-art video cassette recorders came onto the market.

Other philosophers that feature in the archive include: A.J. Ayer discussing “Other Minds”, Peter Strawson discussing “Truth”, and Anthony Quinton discussing “Mind and Brain”.

If you are interested visit the Philosophy In The Open Exhibition.


Written by Philippa Green, Media Relations Manager at the Open University