Episode 57: Henri Bergson on Humor

Henri Bergson

On Bergson's Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (1900). What is humor? Bergson says that, fundamentally, we laugh as a form of social corrective when others are slow to adapt to society's demands. Other types of humor are derivative from this: just as the clown falls on his face because of a (pretended) physical flaw, as if he's a machine that doesn't work and so … [Read more...]

Meaning and Context

(Painting by Robert McCall) In his book Wittgenstein and William James,Russell Goodman makes a case that James influenced Wittgenstein's thought and he does so by detailing their shared commitment to concrete experience and actual practice over intellect. (Wittgenstein was also positively influenced by James's view of religion, especially by The Varieties of Religious … [Read more...]

Ignorance, Arrogance, and Competence

It's been a while since we had a post using some of our negative feedback to reflect on our project and methods. On the US iTunes store, one reviewer who had admittedly only listened to our two recent Wittgenstein episodes and nothing else, said that we were "A) woefully ignorant of the material at hand and B) too arrogant to even begin to acknowledge that they might just be … [Read more...]

Alain de Botton Wants to Make Ethical Porn

In a press release (cited here in the New Statesman) from his School of Life, Alain de Botton claims he's going to take on our cultural obsession with unethical porn and create some that accords with our moral sensibilities and the good life. This is, of course, hilarious and there have been some requisitely wicked reactions like here (HuffPo has nothing on the Guardian's … [Read more...]

Badiou: Wittgenstein and Nietzsche as Anti-Philosophy

Listening to the guys and Philosophy Bro on the last episode, I want to interject that actually I see Wittgenstein as a bridge between analytic and continental philosophy for reasons beyond his being Austrian. What he brackets out and why is crucial to his project, which does become "anti-philosophical" in a broad sense. Anti-philosophy is defined by both Alain Badiou and … [Read more...]

Sean Wilson’s Wittgenstein Forum

At some point after our Tractatus episodes came out, Sean Wilson, a political science professor at Wright State University, contacted me to find out when we'd be doing the Investigations so as to coordinate something between us and his discussion group. Some years later now, I've checked out his forum: "Wittgenstein's Aftermath: Life in the Post-Analytic World, Given by the … [Read more...]

My Own Private Language?

Would it be reasonable to take Wittgenstein's case against private language as his case in favor of public language? Or is that too simple? As I was listening to episode 56, a quote from William James from Pragmatismcame to mind: All human thinking gets discursified; we exchange ideas; we lend and borrow verifications, get them from one another by means of social intercourse. … [Read more...]

Topic for #58/#59: Is vs. Ought (G.E. Moore, C.L. Stevenson, Alasdair MacIntyre)

These two episodes cover some related approaches in 20th century ethics: First, we read Chapter 1 of G.E. Moore's Principia Ethica(1903), which argues against utilitarianism and other ethical philosophies by exposing the "naturalistic fallacy," which equates "good" with some natural property like pleasure or people's actual desires. This error, says Moore, also extends to … [Read more...]

Do Phenomenal Concepts Negate Wittgenstein’s Private Language Argument?

http://vimeo.com/10182737 Watch on Vimeo In the video above, Prof. David Papineau compares different "naturalist" theories of consciousness to propose that phenomenal concepts pose a problem for Wittgenstein's private language argument. (A version of this issue was briefly raised during the second episode discussing Philosophical Investigations.) Hint: If you're not yet … [Read more...]

Episode 56: More Wittgenstein on Language

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Continuing discussion of Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Part I, sections 1-33 and 191-360. Mark, Wes, Dylan, and Philosophy Bro talk about "family resemblances" in concepts, including the concept "game" as used by Wittgenstein: is there really no theory that can capture all and only instances of games, e.g. do all games have rules? Also, what does … [Read more...]

George R.R. Martin on Private Experience

You may not know that Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin wrote short stories back into the early 70s, and one of them, "A Song for Lya," won the Hugo award for Best Novella in 1975. I see it online here or get a Kindle version for a couple of bucks. The story has to do with our essential, existential isolation as referred to in the Wittgenstein episode. It's about a … [Read more...]

Can the Ethical be Primary?

Emmauel Levinas from Wikipedia

I was listening again to Mark's interview on Douglas Lain's Diet Soap podcast and was struck by an interesting question posed by Doug.  He was talking about how ontology seemed to be the starting point for philosophy (Thales) and asked whether ontology was required for ethics and if Mark knew of any philosophical points of view where the ontological contradicted the ethical.  … [Read more...]

Immanuel Kant in Zombieland

[Editor's Note: We haven't heard in a while from Robert from our God episode and are happy to have him digging into our back catalog and blogging on it:] For those working through the PEL ethics episodes on Kant and Bentham (episodes 9 and 10), a common difficulty with the philosophy of ethics is that it can seem abstract and somewhat difficult to relate to the material in a … [Read more...]

A.C. Grayling on Wittgenstein

I've mentioned Oxford's Very Short Introductions before on the blog, but I can't help pointing out another written by A.C. Grayling on Wittgenstein. It's a great example of distilling something complicated down into digestible hunks in an honest presentation and analysis. Very well done. In addition, he's a fine essayist with a number of collections worth reading, such as … [Read more...]

John Searle on Ludwig Wittgenstein

I enjoy listening to philosophers I respect talk about the life and thought of other philosophers. Below is a discussion between the popularizer of philosophy Bryan Magee and the great John Searle. Watch on YouTube. Magee is an under-appreciated philosopher. His books The Philosophy of Schopenhauerand Confessions of a Philosopherhave always impressed me with their lucidity … [Read more...]

Topic for #57: Henri Bergson on Humor

Here's the episode. What is humor? Henri Bergson's Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (1900) states that humor is a social tool by which we mildly scold each other for being insufficiently adaptive and flexible. On this account, the paradigm of humor is the absent-minded person, but any form of idiocy or freakishness or social ineptness also works: what's funny … [Read more...]

Episode 55: Wittgenstein on Language

Ludwig Wittgenstein

On Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Part I, sections 1-33 and 191-360 (written around 1946). What is linguistic meaning? Wittgenstein argues that it's not some mysterious entity in the mind, but that it is a public matter: you understand a word if you can use it appropriately, and you know the context in which it's appropriate to use it and how to react … [Read more...]

Three Years, One Million F*%#ing Downloads

This is a screenshot from this morning's back-end stats, indicating that we have at last passed the 1 million download mark for this server (which we phased over to a few months in, but our traffic prior to that point was very low anyway, and we don't have accurate counts on that). That's right, you all have now downloaded 1,000,000 PEL episodes, and we thank you highly for … [Read more...]