Aug 312012

[Editor's Note: Today's post is a listener submission by Adam Arnold, graduate student at the University of Warwick. You too can be a guest blogger.]

During the Buddhism Naturalized episode, the guest Owen Flanagan (as well as Mark, not unusually for him) may have dropped more names than in any other podcast. I have this same tendency in everyday life. I add footnotes and parenthetical remarks to every sentence uttered, not only to my own but to all who speak.  With increased self-consciousness, I have decreased this (to many annoying) habit. Yet my mind continues to footnote and qualify everything, a habit which only increases with continued exploration of philosophy.

I once thought this habit of mind was simply due to lack of self-esteem and insecurity (this is exactly the kind of place I would add a footnote about the difference between a lack of self-esteem and insecurity with a plethora of juicy names). I would always think, “I am not intelligent enough to think of these things myself (self-esteem) and everyone knows it (insecurity).”

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Aug 302012

David BurrellStony Brook University’s Templeton Research Lectures series features several lectures from early 2007 by David Burrell, an Emeritus Professor in philosophy and theology from Notre Dame University, as well as a Catholic Priest. His specialty appears to be Medieval Studies, focusing on the ties between the various Abrahamic religions, and the lectures on Maimonides and al-Ghazali are excellent.

What may be of most interest to our listeners given our recent focus on Nietzsche and our ongoing discussion of reason, are the first and final lectures of the series covering Nietzsche and John Henry Newman.

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Aug 282012

Andrew Delbanco, author of his own book on what ails today’s university, gives the thumbs down to another critique that tilts at feminists and queer theorists: The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind.

Delbanco is sympathetic to the notion that identity politics has taken its toll on academic life (as am I). But apparently it’s just not as significant force in the academy as it once was:

When I look around, I see younger colleagues returning to close readings of literary classics. I see an emerging synthesis of the old political history focused on kings and presidents with the newer social history of ordinary people written “from the bottom up.” I see graduate students leading discussions on Plato in coffee houses, and undergraduates flocking to such new fields as environmental science in hope of acquiring the knowledge they need to make a positive difference in the world.

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Aug 272012

“Hey, slow down there.” “What did he say?” “He did NOT say that!” “I sure wish I could just cut what he just said and put it into my term paper.” “I wish I could read that thing he said over and over again until all the pain in my soul would go away.” “Today is a good day to die.”

How many times have you said one of these things when listening to a PEL episode? Well, all of your desires will be fulfilled with a transcription of our recent Nietzsche episode.

So read along with PEL! We’ve posted 25% of the file for free here.

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Aug 262012

I’ve been told that a common fan reaction to PEL is to join in. Typing on our blog or Facebook group isn’t the same. Maybe you don’t feel confident enough to be a guest (or you do and we haven’t let you on).

We are pleased to announce a new offering: PEL Discussion Sections. You can now sign up to be part of a small-group discussion (around a dozen people), conducted by voice over the Internet, that will include two of the podcasters (Wes and I, in this case).

The cost is $40, and we’re scheduling it for Sunday evening, 9/23, starting 9:30pm Eastern/6:30pm Pacific, and running about 90 min. It will cover Nietzsche’s “Truth and Lie” essay, and you should show up having read it, listened to our episode, and having a couple of points or questions for the discussion.

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Aug 262012

Michael S. with some boozeThis Personal Philosophy was commissioned by a Ms. Jennifer Dorsey for her friend Michael S. for his birthday. Apparently, he likes Nietzsche and Belgian Beer. You can have one too if you’re into that kind of thing.

A Personal Philosophy for Michael the Belgian Beer Connoisseur*
Did you know that according to Herodotus, the ancient Persians would vote twice on every resolution, drunk and sober? I think this is something that we should totally do, and I’m not just saying that because I’m buzzed right now.

However, there’s drinking and there’s drinking piss, and only people who know their beers should be able to vote at all. Am I right? If you don’t know your ales from your lagers or have ever bought Bud Lite or any kind of shit like that, then fuck you, no vote! Voting drunk (“voting with style”) is good, but it has to be high-class drunk, am I right? Belgian beer drunk. AM I RIGHT?

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Aug 242012

For another take on Nietzsche’s theory of truth, here’s a lecture from Prof. Robert Solomon, one of the stars of The Great Courses series. Solomon describes Nietzsche’s concept of truth as perspectivist rather than relativist. (Though, unlike Rick Roderick, Solomon is willing to concede that other Nietzsche interpreters have — rightly or wrongly — gone farther.) Solomon’s argument sources the origin of Nietzsche’s critique to his rejection of the “thing-in-itself,” which so consumed Kant and Schopenhauer. Once one is cured of the concept of a “thing-in-itself,” then we are all left to determine truth based on upon the world of appearances. But of course, once we are left to determine truth based upon experience — there is no “God’s eye view” by which ultimate truth can be established. In fact, even God could not have a “God’s eye view” of the world, in the sense of pure omniscience:  there is always context; there is always aspect. Solomon wants to make clear that this is not the same thing as saying that all truths are “relative,” if one means by “relative” there are no criteria by which we can judge the relative merits of fact or value statements. But it does mean that truth is complex, not simple, and requires an ability to interpret answers, rather than merely “discovering” them. For more on this subject, perhaps review this thesis submitted by one of Jessica Berry’s students.

-Daniel Horne

Aug 232012

Dead Authors PodcastJessica in our Nietzsche on truth episode did a good job making Nietzsche sound nice and sane. On this episode of the Dead Authors Podcast (a Paul F. Tompkins vehicle performed live on stage), comedian/impressionist James Adomian portrays him as certifiably insane.

It appears that some research went into this faux interview (which also features a fake H.P. Lovecraft), with (it appears) numerous actual Nietzsche quotes, and though Adomian immediately plays on N’s apparent anti-semitism, he also jumps on the fact that N condemns anti-semites. (No such balance is given, or available for, N’s sexism.) Of course, as is always fun when portraying historical figures, N. is uttering these things incessantly and completely outside of any context, much like portraying Newton as constantly getting hit by apples. Still, as a piece of humor, it works, and it’s probably less damaging to the study of Nietzsche than it could have been. Pretty fun; I enjoy the Tompkins, who plays interviewer H.G. Wells (and he should totally come on as a guest for our next humor episode, eh?).

-Mark Linsenmayer

Aug 222012

Following the path of reading novels (which we don’t necessarily intend to make a habit of) begun with #62, we have now recorded our discussion of No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. We had as a guest one of Dylan’s teachers from undergrad, Eric Petrie, Professor at James Madison College at Michigan State University, who has been presenting a paper called “Promise Keeping After the Death of God” about this book. Listen to the episode.

We primarily discussed the philosophies as represented by the various characters, specifically the contrast between the WWII generation (Sheriff Bell, who provides interstitial first-person commentary throughout the book, though he’s hardly involved in the action at all) and the Viet Nam Vets (both the protagonist Moss, who was a sniper but now displays a respect for life even with regard to criminals and the villain Chigurh, who sees himself as an agent of destiny and does not tolerate his enemies to live). Is the book, as Bell’s commentary suggests, just a complaint against the lack of morality among the young generation, which, through their appetite for drugs, enables the novel’s violent conflicts? The Viet Nam vets, though, display self-created principles instead of traditional religious ones, and we drew points of comparison (some of which McCarthy was surely aware of) to Nietzsche, Kant and Sartre.

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Aug 212012

I wanted to expand a bit on the critique of reason as mentioned in my previous post on Rand, and readers should keep in mind that this is chiefly a response to a strain I’ve picked up on in popular culture which may or may not accurately capture anything Rand actually said (though it does match my 20+ year old recollections of her).

Back at the dawn of the Enlightenment, it made perfect sense for philosophers to stress the role of reason in providing knowledge as opposed to faith or authority. The conflict with faith still exists today in some form, but has been much attenuated, with faith (in academic circles at least) backed into a small corner. Moreover, sophisticated advocates of faith today still explicitly use reason to justify faith itself, i.e. not the content of the beliefs taken on faith, but the act of choosing faith. This defensive move marks the virtual victory of the Enlightenment when it comes to requiring rational justifications for beliefs and actions, i.e. demanding reason.

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Aug 212012

Contemporary neuroscience is not a challenge to free will, according to Eddy Nahmias:

Most scientists who discuss free will say the story has an unhappy ending—that neuroscience shows free will to be an illusion. I call these scientists “willusionists.” … Willusionists say that neuroscience demonstrates that we are not the authors of our own stories but more like puppets whose actions are determined by brain events beyond our control.

According to Nahmias, “willusionists” wrongly assume that free will requires some sort of dualism, or “an impossible ability to make choices beyond the influence of anything, including our own brains.”

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Aug 202012

As usual, Rick Roderick proves to be a great go-to guy on Nietzsche.  In this series of videos (one lecture put together by Daniel Horne), he takes on the accusation that Nietzsche is taking a relativist stance towards truth, or as it can be labeled, a ‘perspectivist’ stance.  Roderick does an (as usual excellent) exposition of Nietzsche’s.

It starts with ideas about one’s belief about one’s beliefs.  Nietzsche is attacking the idea that one usual thinks that one’s beliefs should be held by everyone else – your belief about your belief is that it should be everyone’s belief.  That’s dogmatism, not universal truth.  But it parades around as truth.

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Aug 192012

We get this question often enough that I thought a general announcement that I could refer back to in the future might be in order. What’s said here is my take and shouldn’t be taken to speak for Wes, Seth, or Dylan.

I recognize the cultural influence of Ayn Rand and that it would be a public service to have an episode at some point explaining, at least, why most academic philosophers think she’s so bad. I think this has likely been done already, and much more thoroughly than we would do, by others (I’m not even going to hazard to link to anything right now, as the whole point in not doing the topic is not wanting to take the time to adequately research it; just do a fricking Google search yourself). My sense is that her readings of other philosophers is so superficial, and her arguments are so overly simplistic, that the proper antidote to her influence is just getting a philosophical education. In other words, you can take (if you like) every episode we’ve recorded as a response to Ayn Rand, and if you can really hold on to her doctrines (e.g. that Kant and all epistemology after him is just a matter of denying “simple and self-evident axioms“) after immersing yourself in these difficult debates then, well… I will be very surprised.

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Aug 182012

John Dewey on the cover of Time Magazine[From David Buchanan, frequent blog and Facebook contributor and participant in our ZAMM episode.  See if that doesn't make sense after reading this.]

Richard Rorty opened one of his talks by pointing out that as Europeans see it, Pragmatism is just what the Americans could get out of Nietzsche. This joke suggests that there are many similarities but American Pragmatism isn’t as deep or as dark as the author of Ecce Homo. In Podcast Episode 61, the partially examined dudes and their guest, Jessica Berry of Georgia State, work hard to identify what Nietzsche is wagging his finger at, to identify the conception of truth that he’s attacking. As I’ll try to show, the Pragmatists attack this same conception of truth.

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Aug 172012

Not long after I wrote this post linking to Isaac Chotiner’s negative review of Johah Lehrer’s Imagine and its “fetishization of brain science,” Lehrer was forced to resign from The New Yorker for fabricating Bob Dylan quotes. A lot has been written about the meaning of Lehrer’s transgression; but I was bothered less by the distortion of relatively trivial facts than the use to which they had been put: giving shallow, pseudo-scientific explanations of phenomena where philosophical or literary explanations would have been more informative.

Steve Meyers airs a related sentiment about the Bob Dylan scandal overshadowing the numerous scientific errors in Lehrer’s work.

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Aug 152012
Friedrich Niezsche

On Friedrich Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense” (1873).

What is truth? This essay, written early in Nietzsche’s career but unpublished during his lifetime, is taken by many to make the extreme claim that there is no truth, that all of the “truths” we tell each other are just agreements by social convention.

The regular foursome are joined by a U. Texas grad school classmate, Jessica Berry from Georgia State University. She argues that Nietzsche is really just being a skeptic here: our “truths” don’t correspond with the thing-in-itself, i.e. the world beyond our human conceptions. He wants us to understand that all knowledge is laden with human interests. Taken this way, the essay won’t undermine itself; if he isn’t saying “there is no truth,” then that claim won’t apply to itself.

What Nietzsche for sure does say is that the “will to truth” that philosophers so prize is puzzling, given how beneficial to our survival many mutually held illusions are: we’re safe, things are stable, we understand our environment. When philosophers declare truth to be the most valuable thing, they’re going beyond the mundane purposes for which the will to truth developed (e.g. communicating in a consistent way to our mutual benefit) and massively overestimating our capability to know the world as it “really” is.

Read more on the topic and buy the book. Wes has also created a guide to this episode that you’ll find here. You can also purchase a transcription of this episode (and read a big chunk of it for free).

End song: “Stupidly Normal,” from Mark Lint and the Fake Johnson Trio (1998). Download the album for free.

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Aug 142012

Benjamin Hale sum up why it is Americans end up voting for policies that actually thwart their interests: they make decisions about justice according to a ”veil of opulence,” the opposite of the “veil of ignorance” advocated by Rawls:

Those who don the veil of opulence may imagine themselves to be fantastically wealthy movie stars or extremely successful business entrepreneurs. They vote and set policies according to this fantasy.

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Aug 122012

Every August for the past ten years my family and I have spent a couple of weeks on a smallish lake in northwest Michigan. I say small, but it’s about 1800 acres, plenty big for most purposes, if tiny compared to the big water of Lake Michigan just five miles away. Most every afternoon the breeze picks up and I take a good sail on our Laser. Sometimes it’s peaceful and the zen-like tranquility overflows as the dinghy slides along the water. The aloneness is pleasant and refreshing, like a good walk in the woods. Other times the wind is howling at 25-30 knots, spray lashing over the bow, and it’s an exhilarating fight through the waves. On those afternoons I find myself talking to the sky and the wind and feel a bit like I’m in a Hemmingway novel, equal parts Heraclitus and Epicurus. Continue reading »

Aug 112012

In light of our recent recording on Voltaire’s Candide (to be published in a few weeks), I’ve been thinking lately about the role of optimism in contemporary American culture (Candide critiques a kind of optimism in vogue at Voltaire’s time that he associated with Leibniz’ “best of all possible worlds” theory). A recent piece by Oliver Burkeman defends negative thinking:

Though much of this research is new, the essential insight isn’t. Ancient philosophers and spiritual teachers understood the need to balance the positive with the negative, optimism with pessimism, a striving for success and security with an openness to failure and uncertainty.

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Aug 092012

For our episode on Nietzsche’s On Truth and Lie in the Extra-Moral Sense, I’ve created a guide that you’ll find here.

– Wes Alwan