Film Review: Examined Life

As my first Not School group, I led some folks in discussing two Netflix philosophy documentaries, i.e. things that have been on my instant queue forever, and which I feel culturally, given my position here, I should watch, but always seemed too boring. Examined Life (2008) (Netflix link) was the best of the two that […]

Episode 65: The Federalist Papers

James Madison and Alexander Hamilton

On Alexander Hamilton/James Madison’s Federalist Papers (1, 10-12, 14-17, 39, 47-51), published as newspaper editorials 1787-8, plus Letters III and IV from Brutus, an Anti-Federalist. What constitutes good government? These founding fathers argued that the proposed Constitution, with its newly centralized (yet also separated-by-branch) powers would be a significant improvement on the Articles of Confederation, which had left states as the ultimate sovereigns. Learn more.

End song: “Feeling Time” by Madison Lint (2002).

Listen to Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”

I’ve posted a new item on our member site, namely me reading the entirety of “Two Dogmas of Empiricism, which we’ll discuss on episode 66. Dylan is planning on recording the other essay we’ll discuss, “On What There Is,” prior to the release of the episode. Due to copyright issues, I can’t just put this […]

Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos

[Editor’s Note: Here’s a post by Getty from our Hume/Smith on ethics episode. Incidentally, Getty will be leading a Not School Reading group on Harry Frankfurt’s The Reasons of Love. Go join.] Thomas Nagel, professor of philosophy and law at NYU, is notorious for his heterodox philosophical positions (this was discussed a bit on PEL […]

Dyson on Philosophy

The Death of Socrates by Jaques-Louis David (detail)

Freeman Dyson has a review of Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist? in the early November issue of The New York Review of Books. Dyson is an esteemed physicist who, as a young man, cinched the link between accounts of quantum electrodynamics given separately by Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger, and Sin-Itiro Tomonanga in the […]

The Upside of Fandom

A recent blog post at New York Magazine’s Vulture blog queries whether fandom is inherently pathological. This seems a fair question to ask after some of the more amusing anecdotes revealed on the Lucy Lawless episode: [Fandom is], by definition, a bit different from hobbies like cooking or learning an instrument in that fandom is in […]

Listening Unto Death

Following my thread of “if something feels weird, let’s call it some kind of existentialism,” I’ve been listening a lot to Badfinger lately. See who I’m talking about on YouTube. Of course there’s something a little disconcerting about the passage of time itself, and the fact that, if you’re listening to anything from a few […]

Presidential Pragmatism

In a recent column in The Stone, Harvey Cormier considers the political oomph of pragmatists through a nice presentation of some central thinking of William James. The occasion for the piece is a recent spate of writings characterizing Obama as “a pragmatist politician.” What I like best about Cormier’s article is his refutation, through James, […]

Topic for #66: Quine on Language, Logic, and Science

Willard Van Orman Quine (1908–2000) was a prototypical American analytic philosopher. Following Frege, Russell, and Wittgenstein, he was concerned with how logic provides a foundation for mathematics, which in turn grounds physics and the other sciences. We’ll be reading two of his most famous essays, both of which can be found in the collection, From […]

Don’t sell it to Hollywood

“I really would like to have the film rights to this book,” Robert Redford said to the book’s author. “You’ve got them,” Robert Pirsig replied. “I wouldn’t have gotten this involved if I hadn’t intended to give it to you.” As you may have inferred already, Redford is asking for the film rights to Pirsig’s […]

Idle and Motorized Speculations


Two friends of mine have recently started blogs, though of different stripes. One is by Gary Borjesson called Idle Speculations. Gary and I met on the faculty at St. John’s, and, like me, is on leave right now. Gary’s book on dogs, friendship, and philosophy, Willing Dogs & Reluctant Masters: On Friendship and Dogs, has […]

Better Philosophy through Science Fiction?


For your weekend podcast-listening pleasure, a friend of the podcast pointed me to the most recent episode of the Rationally Speaking podcast in which the hosts take up science fiction and chew on what kinds of philosophical insight might garnered from such speculative fiction. (Beware those who, like Seth, abhor the thought experiment!) In the […]

Beware of Philosophical Trick Questions

A friendly listener, Alicia S., submitted this note to us: I was asked this question and had no idea how to respond to it… This is the question: “Would you rather never be able to answer a question or never be able to ask a question”? The point of the question is to tease out […]

15 Minutes of Fame

Liz Hurley on

Andy Warhol famously said that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”  This is commonly interpreted to mean that the hierarchical structure that identified worthy subjects of art – ‘celebrities’ – from those not worthy – ‘civilians’ (thanks Liz!) was breaking down.  In other words the structure that delineated who was famous from […]

The Existential Weirdness of Fandom

In one of Woody Allen’s films (Annie Hall?), one of the characters remarks that existentialism is a matter of projecting one’s neuroses onto the world. Instead of me being depressed, I am in an ontological state of despair. Instead of being a person who is considering what to do with my evening, it is the […]

Episode 64: Celebrity, with guest Lucy Lawless


On Fame: What the Classics Tell Us About Our Cult of Celebrity by Tom Payne (2010). What’s the deal with our f’ed up relationship with celebrities? Payne says that celebrities serve a social need that’s equal parts religion and and aggression. TV’s Lucy Lawless (Xena, Spartacus, Battlestar Galactica) joins us to discuss the accuracy of this thesis. Learn more.

End Song: “Celebrity” by New People. Download it.

Voldemort as Plato’s Tyrant

Lord Voldemort courtesy of Wikipedia

[From friend of the blog Mark Satta] One of the great things about good literature is the ease with which it brings to life the characters in the mind of the reader. This “bringing to life” gives the reader an ability to play around with the facets of the character’s personality in a way that […]

Fun Things Coming Up with PEL

First, the Lucy Lawless episode is nearly done percolating. Most of you are going to really like it; a small percentage will be annoyed at our not having read a more substantial book or having more substantial things to say about it. Such is the price of fame. Second, we’ve gotten an affirmative to being […]

Is Philosophy Better Than Art?

If you believe Plato, then the answer is “yes”. If all of philosophy is a footnote to Plato, then the artists have been subordinated to the philosophers for about 25 centuries. According to Plato’s Republic, especially the last section, the artists present a danger to society and to your soul. Two of my favorite thinkers […]

The Invisible Man and Existentialism

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is a great American novel. Ellison’s ability to make the reader feel the racism of the time is unsettling. The painful experience of living in a country that views you with disdain—that sees you as a problem—permeates the text. It is also a deeply philosophical novel. Consider the following outline of the novel written by […]