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Episode 92: Henri Bergson on How to Do Metaphysics

Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 1:38:30 — 90.2MB) On “An Introduction to Metaphysics” (1903) How does metaphysics differ from science? While Kant had dismissed metaphysics as groundless speculation about things beyond human knowledge, Bergson sees it as a matter of grasping things “from the inside.” He calls this “intuition”: the kind of Read more…

Next up: Precognition of Ep. 93: Free Will (via Strawsons)

Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 14:29 — 13.4MB) Guest Tamler Sommers (from the Very Bad Wizards podcast) summarizes Galen Strawson’s “The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility” (1994) and his father P.F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” (1960). Read more about the topic and get the articles.

From the Blog


In Nov 2012 we posted a retrospective mini-episode to celebrate 2 million PEL episodes downloaded according to libsyn (whom we haven’t hosted with since the beginning, so there are some additional ones from the first year or so in addition to whatever they tell us).

We’ve now hit 5 million, and all you get is this little overshare about behind the scenes stuff:

1. We are by no means tired of this. We have a long long list of topics and are eager to get to them. More metaphysics! More aesthetics! Economics! And even higher level ethics and political philosophy. It was great to finally get going on philosophy of science in 2013, and we’ll do a few more of those. We hope to have a bit more non-Western on the horizon, as well as some Middle Ages stuff, but we’ll see…

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Henri Bergson and William James on Vicious Intellectualism

Henri Bergson postage stamp

“If I had not read Bergson,” William James wrote in A Pluralistic Universe, “I should probably still be blackening endless pages of paper privately.” James had been engaged in a very long philosophical debate with the leading Idealists of his day, F.H. Bradley and Josiah Royce, when Bergson came to the rescue. James thought that Bergson supplied him with the concepts he needed to finally win “The Battle of the Absolute,” as his debates with Royce came to be called. For his purposes, James explains, “the essential contribution of Bergson to philosophy is his criticism of intellectualism. In my opinion he has killed intellectualism definitively and without hope of recovery. I don’t see how it can ever revive again in its ancient platonizing role of claiming to be the most authentic, intimate, and exhaustive definer of the nature of reality.”

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“Modern Day Philosophers”: Reading Wikipedia with Comedians

I was recently alerted to the existence of an up-and-coming podcast that just started last summer called Modern Day Philosophers. Hmmmm, is that like the New Books in Philosophy podcast, bringing to light the work of under-appreciated academics?

No, as you can see by the guest list: These are for the most parts established comedians like Artie Lang, or Bill Burr, or Lewis Black, and the idea is that these thoughtful people have a lot to say about religion, society, the good life, and reality.

So it’s a comedy podcast, and to get these comedian guests to wax philosophical, each episode assigns them one historic philosopher. Now, at PEL I’ve long looked for a famous comedian (or rock star, etc.) to actually read some philosophy and come on to represent their profession. I’ve found it’s very hard to get these famous people to read anything and so prep in the way that we do here (Lucy Lawless being the exception).

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Topic for #93: Free Will and Moral Responsibility (Strawson Father vs. Son)

Listen now to Tamler Sommers’s summary of the two Strawson articles.

On 4/6, Mark, Wes, and Seth were joined by Tamler Sommers of the Very Bad Wizards podcast to discuss the following articles:

1. P.F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” (1960)
2. Galen Strawson’s “The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility” (1994)
3. Gary Watson’s “Responsibility and the Limits of Evil: Variations on a Strawsonian Theme” (1987)

We also brought a bit of insight in from a great article by Thomas Nagel: “Moral Luck” (1979)

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Conversation on “Wittgenstein’s Nephew” by Thomas Bernhard

Two old friends find themselves at the same hospital, one diagnosed with pulmonary disease and the other madness, and while they long to be near each other both confront their separate mortality. Though that Wittgenstein is mentioned, this story is about another Wittgenstein, one of several “geniuses” from the Austrian family. 

I want to see him clearly again with the help of these notes, these scraps of memory, which are meant to clarify and recall to mind not only the hopeless situation of my friend but also my own hopelessness at the time, for just as Paul’s life had once again run into an impasse, so mine too had run into an impasse, or rather been driven into one.

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Please Stop Contributing to the Publish-or-Perish Landfill

Bernard Williams was the rare academic who was also a great writer. In his review of Williams’ Essays and Reviews: 1959-2002, Paul Sagar lets academia have it:

We can now see that Williams was not lazy: he spent an immense amount of time reading and thinking, and knew much beyond his own academic arguments. What he chose to do was spend time thinking about things that most interested him, rather than engaging in the Sisyphean task of attempting to stay up to date with the vast and ever-expanding sea of contemporary scholarship, which tirelessly throws out publication after publication in every conceivable niche of enquiry. It is undeniable that the vast majority of present scholarly output in philosophy and attendant disciplines is of a poor standard: it is either unoriginal, original at the expense of being preposterous and tiresomely pointless or trivial, or else diligent and robust but utterly devoid of interest to anybody other than those academics who have made a career out of grinding out points and counterpoints within debates that only exist because of the very professionalization of intellectual pursuits of which their activity is a function. Williams chose to bypass all of this and get on with being original and interesting. It is not at all clear that he was making a mistake.

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Theater and Ritual: Discussing Richard Schechner and “Dionysus in ’69″ in Not School

Moving away from just reading plays and more toward theory, the Not School Theater group in March had a look at the work of theater director and performance theorist Richard Schechner.

Daniel Cole, Philip Cherny and I discussed a video of The Performance Group’s Dionysus in ’69 (you can buy the text here, a very loose adaptation of Euripides’ Euripides’s The Bacchae.

In addition, we read Schechner’s essay Drama, Script, Theater and Performance (which you can purchase in the collection, Performance Theory), in which he basically tries to do two things: 1. Establish a classification of the aspects of various social events in the four categories named in the title. 2. On that grounds, explain the relation of the performing arts to ritual, play, hunting and warfare, in concepts taken from ethology as well as from anthropology. Continue reading…

Apoplectic About Outsourcing Apps

When the Partially Examined Life discussion of human enhancement (Episode 91) turned to the topic of digital technology, the philosophical oxygen was sucked out of the room. Sure, folks conceded that philosopher of mind Andy Clark (not mentioned by name, but implicitly referenced) has interesting things to say about how technology upgrades our cognitive abilities and extends the boundaries of where our minds are located. But everything else more or less was dismissed as concerning not terribly deep uses of “appliances”.

I think this is a misguided way to look at technology. It dramatically underestimates how technologically mediated behavior can impact character and autonomy.

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Philosophy Bro on Transhumanism

Our main man Philosophy Bro was way futurist compared to us, and covered transhumanism way back in 2011. Go check it out.

I quote:

So, broadly transhumanism is a movement that seeks to move past our human limitations by using technology. Think of all the cool shit we can do – we are already giving injured bros robotic limbs. And not shitty arms that just open and close like they’re trying to pick up a stuffed animal – these arms are getting more and more badass by the day. If we invent an arm strong enough to throw a car and articulate enough to write in cursive, why wait to lose an arm the hard way? Just tack that shit on…

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Technology and Individuality


There is a classic anxiety about technology: that it can lead to a lack of individuality and spiritual emptiness. Why might this be?

The place to start is with the lack of control technology can bring about in our lives. This may seem counter-intuitive since it is normally thought that technology is what helps us attain more control in our lives. Of course it does. However, while on the one hand technology is freeing and allows us not to have to labour to do basic things and meet basic needs, it also reduces our individuality, hence our freedom and control over our own lives. Horkheimer and Adorno see this dialectic clearly:

Technology has changed human beings from children into persons. But all such progress of individuation has been at the expense of the individuality in whose name it took place, leaving behind nothing except individuals’ determination to pursue their own purposes alone (Dialectic of Enlightenment p. 125).

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Why Are We Here?

The Partially Examined Life is a philosophy podcast by some guys who were at one point set on doing philosophy for a living but then thought better of it. Each episode, we pick a text and chat about it with some balance between insight and flippancy. You don't have to know any philosophy, or even to have read the text we're talking about to (mostly) follow and (hopefully) enjoy the discussion. Join the discussion!

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