Philosophy for the People

Paul Henne transforms daunting topics into animated videos.

What makes a flower grow? And why does it grow to begin with? These kinds of questions intrigued Paul Henne when he was a kid growing up in Waterbury, Connecticut. He later discovered that philosophy could help him critically explore his endless queries.

Now, as he pursues a Ph.D. in philosophy at Duke, Henne wants to make critical-thinking tools available to philosophers and non-philosophers alike. He’s associate director and chief animator for Wireless Philosophy (Wi-Phi for short), a collection of videos that make philosophy topics easy to understand. He culls professors’ philosophy talks from around the country and uses computer software to animate them.

Through Wi-Phi, Henne hopes to show people that the ancient analytical discipline is alive and well and always changing. “Studying philosophy isn’t [always] studying the history of philosophy,” he writes. “Living philosophers are doing really radical work all of the time. Philosophers aren’t all dead white men.”

A Yale Ph.D. student launched Wi- Phi in 2013. It now hosts more than fifty videos on subjects from metaphysics and ethics to political philosophy and linguistics. The videos explore questions such as: What is the purpose of life? What qualifies as a valid argument? What did Descartes mean when he said, “I think, therefore I am”?

After publishing a series on bioethics this past winter, Henne is working on videos about feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, and neurophilosophy.

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