Wi-Phi: Open Access Philosophy

Published: January 21, 2015

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Philosophy is more than a scholarly pursuit, and the philosophy department is making it known. Toronto is now teaming up with Wi-Phi, an open access philosophy site that aims to increase the role of philosophy in the public realm.

Started in 2013 by PhD students Gaurav Vazirani (Yale) and Damien Rochford (M.I.T.), Wi-Phi publishes videos on philosophical topics at a level accessible to those without prior philosophical training. The organization is now run by Gaurav Vazirani and a team of 15 graduate students with contributions from over 35 faculty members from 22 different institutions. The videos – which average 46,000 views per month – consist of audio recorded by professors and graduate students and animations designed by Wi-Phi’s team. The site is winning recognition: it recently received an APA Innovators Grant, a seed grant from Squire Family Foundation, and a generous donation from the Templeton Foundation. Wi-Phi has also partnered with Khan Academy to distribute content through their platform worldwide.

“I see Wi-Phi as a continuation of the Socratic project,” says Jacob Stump, PhD candidate and school liaison between Wi-Phi and Toronto.

“Philosophy is important not only in the classroom but also in daily life – not only for professors but also, and especially, for people outside the academy. In a small way, Wi-Phi aims to improve the world by teaching the skill of clear and rigorous thinking and demonstrating its usefulness to answering, or at least exploring, difficult issues.”

That skill is especially needed now, according to Stump, when public discourse is increasingly replaced by soundbites.

Wi-Phi is starting to take off at Toronto. Jennifer Nagel is working with Geoff Pynn, a colleague at Northern Illinois University, on a 16 video mini-series on epistemology; Jonathan Weisberg is preparing videos on probability and confirmation; Andrew Sepielli is putting together videos on the ethics of self-defense; and Elmar Kremer is planning videos on the different conceptions of God throughout philosophical history. PhD students Emma McClure, Damian Melamedoff, and Luke Roelofs are designing animations and working to boost Wi-Phi’s social media presence – including collaborating with rapper Lupe Fiasco on a weekly philosophical discussion on Twitter (#PhilosophySunday).

“We’re always looking for more contributors,” Stump says. He invites anyone interested to stop him in the hallways or e-mail him here: jacob.stump@mail.utoronto.ca.