If you’re at the point of the pandemic where you’ve exhausted your favorite Netflix and Hulu series and are ready to move on to something new, you are not alone. Over the weekend, bored and eager for some different materials, I went in search of interesting philosophical debates on YouTube. And there are plenty to be found.
Below, I’ve compiled the best YouTube debates so you can enjoy them as well. These debates cover a variety of topics, ranging from God to political systems to racism in America.
In this debate, celebrated linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky argues about the existence of human nature with the French philosopher, Michel Foucault. Foucault was famously paid a brick of hash for his participation in this renowned debate. While the two may share similar opinions on some issues, they don’t see eye-to-eye on the very basics of human nature. Where does it come from? Is it even a thing?
Chomsky believes firmly in a distinct human nature and uses examples of scientific and creative discoveries, such as a child learning to speak a language, to demonstrate proof of its existence, while Foucault argues that human nature is merely a concept that changes depending on influences from the bourgeois elements of society. These two philosophers’ basic viewpoints on human nature color their opinions on how societies should be managed, and how they should be changed.
Famed writer and activist, James Baldwin, faces off against conservative commentator and founder of The National Review, William F. Buckley, in a debate at Cambridge University. The two discuss the American Dream and whether or not it has come at the expense of Black Americans.
Baldwin offers an eloquent and convincing argument that it has, and Buckley opposes it with an argument based on the income levels of Americans compared to people in the rest of the world, claiming that Black people in the U.S. can also enjoy the American Dream. Baldwin’s moving argument, that the racism present in the U.S. harms the American Dream itself, full of examples from his own life, emerges as the clear winner.
In this 1986 debate, Christopher Hitchins and John Judis take a stance in favor of socialism while John Ridpath and Harry Binswanger advocate for Ayn-Randian, laissez-faire capitalism.
The debate focuses on the morals of each system, as opposed to the economics. The debaters compare and contrast the two political approaches, discussing the ethics of both systems alongside historical examples. They also give their varying reasons for supporting one system or the other.
In this entertaining debate, well-known academic and prolific author, Slavoj Zizek, discusses Marxism, capitalism, and happiness with fellow author, academic, and internet celebrity, Jordan Peterson.
Zizek’s arguments seem well-thought-out and prepared, while Peterson’s presentation appears somewhat haphazard. Overall, Zizek steals the stage with his analysis of current politics and his critiques of capitalism, which include societal impacts such as the climate crisis and pollution.
Bertrand Russell was one of the twenty-first century’s most popular academics. As a dedicated proponent of analytical thought, he stressed the importance of doubt in all areas in which we presume to have knowledge. In this debate, he discusses the question of the existence of God with philosopher and priest, Frederick Copelston.
Copelston defends the “argument from contingency,” which holds that the universe must have come into being for some reason because something does not appear out of nothing; everything has an origin. Copelston claims this origin is the Christian God. Russell tries to undermine Copelston’s argument on the grounds that it is not analytical.