Ghostlier Demarcations, Keener Sounds

When writing about literature and philosophy there are three obvious tropes: the existential or absurdist nior, the speculative fiction, and the condemnation of poetry.  Not that poetry hasn’t had its defenders, and if Mark’s rant is indication, the sort of “deepity” he seems to accuse McCarthy of can easily be applied to most poets. In […]

Pseudo-Philosophy on Same-Sex Marriage

In last Monday’s Austin Daily Herald (that’s Austin, MN), Mr. Wallace Alcorn, Ph.D., historian of religion and Bible expositor, wrote this a priori argument against same-sex marriage, where he argues that it is “ontologically impossible.” Here’s the argument: Nothing has meaning, much less existence, if it does not have properties that belong to the universe […]

Iris Murdoch on Philosophy and Literature

In Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists, Iris Murdoch claimed that “[a]rt is far and away the most educational thing we have…” Here she is discussing this notion, among many others, with the philosopher Bryan Magee. Part One: Watch on YouTube.

Literature and Philosophy: Antagonists or Partners?

Can literature be philosophical? Can philosophy be considered literature? What are the roles of literature and philosophy in relation to “truth?” Why should philosophers be interested in literature? While trying to come up with something to post in relation to the recent PEL discussion on Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men” I came across […]

Topic for #65: Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers (originally published as just The Federalist) are a collection of essays published in newspapers in 1787-1788 arguing for the ratification of the American Constitution. Each was published under the pseudonym “Publius” though most were written by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. (There are a few written by John Jay.) They were collected […]

The Value of Writing (Non-Fiction)

Peg Tyre

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Peg Tyre documents the remarkable turnaround in student performance at an underperforming high school when the curriculum was altered to put a focus on analytic writing.  Analytic writing, it turns out, is a marker of critical thinking:  if you can craft clear and coherent written sentences, paragraphs and […]

Does the Author Matter?

Authorial Intent from Sassy Hack Saws

[Another post from Adam Arnold, FotP “Friend of the Podcast”] Recently I read a short story entitled “My Brother’s Foot”. My interpretation of the story, like my interpretation of just about anything these days, was philosophical. I took the story to be a critique of the idea of an existential hero and a radical notion […]

Voltaire and Evolutionary Biology

[From friend of the podcast Adam Arnold] In regards to the latest episode on Candide and the continuing discussion of scientism and evolution on the blog, it is interesting to look back on the classic article by Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin on the “adaptationist programme” in evolutionary biology. In “The spandrels of San […]

Episode 63: Existentialist Heroes in Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men”

Cormac McCarthy

On philosophical issues in McCarthy’s 2005 novel about guys running around with drug money and shooting each other, and about fiction as a form for exploring philosophical ideas. What can morality mean for people who have witnessed the “death of God,” i.e. a loss in faith in light of the horrors of war? Who knows what McCarthy himself thinks? With guest Eric Petrie. Learn more.

End song: “My Grandfather” by Dylan Casey (2001).

Martin Evans on “Candide”

A Stanford course on iTunes U, “Literature in Crisis,” includes two lectures on Candide: here and here. These are by Martin Evans, Chair of the English Department. As a literature guy, he has a bit to say about satire: why it flourished in this age in particular (because of the relative peace and stability, which […]

New York Public Library Colloquium on Candide

The New York Public Library hosts regular live events (details here), and one of these was held in April 2010 to celebrate Candide’s 250th Anniversary. Read about it, watch/listen to it, and get the transcript here. Here’s the video (95 min): You can also download just the audio from iTunes U. Though some parts of […]

Universal Salvation: One Hell of a Question

In the recent Candide episode we saw how Voltaire satirized Leibniz’s solution to the Problem of Evil. The Problem of Evil is still a popular topic in contemporary philosophy of religion. One twist on the traditional problem of evil comes from philosopher and theologian, Marilyn McCord Adams, who suggests that for Christians the principal problem of […]

Topic for #64: Celebrity, with guest Lucy Lawless

It has occurred! On the evening of 9/10/12, we talked with actress Lucy Lawless about fame. Listen to the episode. She’s been a great supporter of the Partially Examined Life, and if she is to be believed (and her piercing stare will make you believe it), our little discussion group product inspired her to go […]

Where I was on 9/11


(A re-post of an essay I wrote last year on the anniversary of 9/11). I Where was I on 9/11? At the time I worked not far from the World Trade Center – at 11 Broadway, across from the famous Wall Street Bull that’s not really on Wall Street. At 9:02 AM I left for […]

Seth’s Interview with Dan Mullin

Worst jobs - Philosopher

Dan Mullin is a philosophy grad student and part-time teacher who runs a blog called The Unemployed Philosopher’s Blog.  His mission statement is to challenge the view that a philosophical education isn’t of much value for employment.  As he says:  My name is Daniel Mullin and I’m a philosophy grad student and part-time teacher. The other […]

Theistic Objectivism (more on Dallas Willard)

This post is a follow-up on my Dallas Willard post from a few days ago. A couple of reader comments on that (on the blog and Facebook) shamed me into re-listening to the second half of Willard’s lecture and newly listen to the Q&A afterwards. I can now say that his positive story is not […]

Episode 62: Voltaire’s Novel “Candide”


On Candide: or, Optimism, the novel by Voltaire (1759). Is life good? Popular Enlightenment philosopher Leibniz argued that it’s good by definition. God is perfectly good and all-powerful, so whatever he created must have been as good as it can be; we live in the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire loads this satirical adventure story up with horrific violence to demonstrate that Leibniz’s position is just silly. Life is filled with suffering, and human nature is such that even in peace and prosperity, we’re basically miserable. Yet we still love life despite this. Tend your garden! Learn more.

End song: “Woe Is Me,” from from Mark Lint & the Fake Johnson Trio (1998).

Your Feedback Sought Re. Future Seminars

While we’ve scheduled our first online seminar on Nietzsche, we’ve since recorded two other episodes (on Voltaire, which will go up soon, and on No Country for Old Men, which will be a couple of weeks still), and we’re already thinking ahead to what we might offer in that respect. So, speak up. I get […]

Dallas Willard on Nietzsche and Jesus

Here’s another Nietzsche lecture, from Stanford’s Veritas forum, which you can listen to as a podcast (iTunes link) or watch a video: Watch it on Vimeo. Dallas Willard is an unapologetic Christian, and pursues a post-modern tack similar to the one I cited in my review of the Philosophy for Theologians podcast: Modern philosophy tried […]

Andrew Mitchell (Entitled Opinions) on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra

We’ve done two Nietzsche episodes (here and here), yet neither of them has been on Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which is arguably Nietzsche’s most famous work, and certainly one of his most fun to read. Well, Robert Harrison’s Entitled Opinions podcast out of Stanford has filled that gap, with a great, long interview with Andrew Mitchell […]