Just short of six years ago, in August 2016, I began what became a series of nine lectures on Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Through the courtesy of the UNC Chapel Hill Philosophy Department, the lectures were delivered in a large lecture room in Caldwell Hall. They were filmed by a young graduate student, Alexander Campbell, who managed the technologically tricky task of posting them on YouTube. Alex, who successfully defended his fine doctoral dissertation last spring, subsequently recorded and posted several more series of lectures that I gave in the same venue.
A few moments ago, the YouTube counter of views for that first lecture passed 200,000, and I thought I would take a moment to memorialize the event. It must of course be put in context: when I looked earlier this morning, Michael Sandel’s first lecture on justice at Harvard had racked up 4.5 million views. But 200,000 views of a lecture on the First Critique is nothing to be sneezed at. As with all such series of YouTube lectures, the number of views declines precipitously as one moves through the series. The ninth lecture in the series has been viewed 15,701 times, which I suspect means that more than 14,000 people have watched all nine lectures.
Now, I have offered a course on the Critique more than ten times in my half century long career. I imagine that I have taught that great book to a total of 200 or 300 students since I first lectured on it at Harvard in the spring of 1960. But 14,000?
Judging from the emails I have received over the years, those lectures have been watched in their entirety by people all over the world – by senior professors, by graduate students, by undergraduates, and quite often by people not in the Academy who simply wanted to know something about Kant.
As I prepare once more to go into the classroom and teach, I am sadly aware that this may be, if not the last, then very nearly the last course I shall teach in person. But 10 years, 20 years, indeed perhaps even 50 years from now, my series of nine lectures on the first half of the First Critique will still be available on YouTube or some successor to it and, I can hope, will still be attracting viewers interested in Kant’s philosophy.
Not immortality, surely. But not nothing, all the same.