Philosophers: Debates and Dialogues
A series by Fons Elders
Released by Icarus Films, New York
Distributing innovative and provocative documentary films from independent producers around the world
In 1971, a Dutch initiative called the International Philosophers Project brought together the leading thinkers of the day for a series of one-on-one debates. The participants included intellectual superstars Alfred Ayer and Arne Naess, Karl Popper and John Eccles, Leszek Kolakowski and Henri Lefèbvre, and – most notably, in a now justifiably famous exchange – Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault.
This four-disc set collects all four remarkable conversations, along with introductions and commentary by Dutch philosopher and writer Fons Elders. Elders moderated the original debates – hand-picking each of the participants after spending some time getting to know them. Now, looking back four decades later, he offers perspective and context, summarizing the arguments and highlighting the key moments of each debate.
DISC ONE (80 minutes)
The Chomsky-Foucault debate has become a much-studied classic. This DVD captures all the energy and passion of the two philosophers, as they discuss whether or not some form of universal human nature – an inherent ability to understand language and scientific concepts, for instance – exists, or whether our responses are purely socially and culturally conditioned.
DISC TWO (74 minutes)
A lively debate between British empiricist Alfred Ayer, who champions a limited skepticism, and Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, the founder of the deep ecology movement, whose philosophy embraces interconnectedness.
DISC THREE (80 minutes)
Historian of science Karl Popper and his close friend, Nobel-prize-winning neuroscientist John Eccles, discuss Popper’s famous criterion of falsifiability: the idea that a statement is only scientific if it could possibility be proved false, which he had articulated against the traditional positivist view of the scientific method.
DISC FOUR (77 minutes)
Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski and French thinker Henri Lefebvre (both former Communist Party members) debate the ongoing significance of Marxism and the concept of alienation – while at the same time struggling to define what a future, post-capitalist society might hold.
Each of these conversations captures the intellectual and social ferment of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when dramatic social and economic transformation seemed imminent – and philosophical questions underpinned discussions about what form the new society would take. Though many of the questions under discussion are timeless, this social and political context gives them a particular sense of urgency.
311 minutes / color