Is Rawls’ Difference Principle Egalitarian?

[From PEL Citizen and friend of the podcast Roy Spence] The publication of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in the early 1970s led welfare economists to derive various interpretations of the Rawls’ second principle of justice, generally known as the “difference principle.  By way of background, a primary objective of “welfare economics” is to provide […]

Cooperative Society and Natural Rights

Courtesy of

When reading Rawls for the podcast, I took note of a seemingly innocuous distinction between Rawls and the traditional social contractarians that nonetheless struck me as odd given his appeal to social contract theory.  The traditional social contract theorists assume that rational individuals enter into social contracts to secure natural rights.  “Secure” here means ‘protect […]

Transcription – Nietzsche’s Gay Science Episode


Hey all! Just a quick note to let you know you know that we are making available a transcript from the Gay Science episode.  Special thanks to Jessica T. for her generous donation.  The file was Professionally transcribed by Read the transcript here. Note that while we are releasing this to the hoi polloi we have […]

Call for Papers – Toward a Science of Consciousness

  It was 20 years ago today… The Center for Consciousness Studies (CCS) at the University of Arizona is holding its annual Toward a Science of Consciousness (TSC) conference in Tucson, Arizona on April 21 – 26, 2014.  Fans of the discipline and podcast will be aware that CCS was co-founded by previous guest David Chalmers.  This […]

Interviewing Eva Brann


So Eva was a terrific guest and a great sport on the podcast and while Dylan had talked her up to the rest of us, I didn’t realize what a towering figure she is.  She has been teaching at St. John’s for 57 !?!?! years, which is longer than most of us have been on […]

Is Experimental Philosophy Bad Science?

Wikipedia tells us that Experimental Philosophy (X-Phi) is: an emerging field of philosophical inquiry that makes use of empirical data—often gathered through surveys which probe the intuitions of ordinary people—in order to inform research on philosophical questions. This use of empirical data is widely seen as opposed to a philosophical methodology that relies mainly on […]

Cognitive and Affective Empathy in Moral Sentiment


[DISCLAIMER:  Although I am using a conceptual distinction I got from the embedded Simon Baron-Cohen TEDx talk (where ever he got it from), I am not taking a position on his stance on Autism or Psychopathy.  I have no point of view about Autism and have reflected on empathy and psychopathy in this blog before, […]

Paul Fry on Lacan


One of the groovy things about our new “open” society is how venerated institutions of higher learning like Yale are being strong-armed into sharing their course content online with the unwashed masses (aka you and me).  This means you don’t have to go to The Interwebs or TedX to get quasi scholarly ramblings about your […]

The Not School Discussion of Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism

Last week Being spoke through me in the saying of Martin Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism as part of a PEL Not School study group.  Joining me were Marilynn, Daniel, Rian and Alyson. We worked through Heidegger’s idea that Humanism as a concept was inextricably tied to the history of western metaphysics that sees man as […]

Engaging with Buber

In looking for web resources on Buber to blog about, I’ve come across an interesting phenomenon:  there are very few and they are mostly introductory.  Every time we do a podcast, I cast the Google net to see if there are interesting, useful or funny things out there on the net I can share with […]

Socrates’ Attack on Rhetoric in the “Gorgias”

Aristotle's rhetorical triangle from

  I have never shared the vitriol in Plato’s dialogues for rhetoric.  I understand why he goes after people for holding what he considers to be untenable positions, particularly if they are teachers or otherwise influencers of others.  But only insofar as they hold beliefs which don’t accord with his own or if they appear […]

Scrutability: The PPT


  If you don’t know what the acronym “PPT” means, consider yourself lucky that you have avoided a work or social context where doing presentations is required.  If you are like me, the power of those three letters to inspire dread is almost unparalleled.  The phrase ‘Can you put together some slides…’ evokes panic, fear […]

Civics via Schoolhouse Rock

During our recording on the Federalist Papers, we mentioned at some point Schoolhouse Rock, a PBS television series that ran regularly when I was a child. For anyone who doesn’t know, it was a cartoon with skits and songs about grammar, science, civics, American History and some other topics.  In addition to state and federal […]

Red State, Blue State, One State, Two States

Lief Parsons graphic from NYT Steven Pinker article

Steven Pinker of Harvard recently posted an article on The Stone at the New York Times called “Why Are States So Red and Blue?” His summary of his thesis: The North and coasts are extensions of Europe and continued the government-driven civilizing process that had been gathering momentum since the Middle Ages. The South and […]

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 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 […]

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 […]

Rick Roderick on Nietzsche on Truth and Lie

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 […]

The Future of Education

How Online Learning Is Shaping The Future Of Education Right Now at

So the perception is that the college/university system is dying, or at least anachronistic and a new model of learning is needed.  Every other TEDx talk is by an entrepreneur who thinks education is a barrier to creative thinking and a waste of productive years.  Economic analyses show the ROI of attending college isn’t worth […]

Psychopathy and Empathy

Last year I posted on psychopathy and moral sentiment. This week Cosmos magazine reports that researchers from the Netherlands have determined that psychopaths can ‘turn on’ empathy on demand.  In short, a study was structured that measured psychopath’s empathy for others (not explained how) and then the subjects were told that the study was designed to […]

“Worst Attack on Jewish Life Since the Holocaust”

Conference of European Rabbis President Pinchas Goldschmidt

These are the words of the Conference of European Rabbis as reported by Spiegel Online in this article.  Exceptionally inflammatory words, particularly coming as they do in response to a German court ruling.  The Rabbi who issued the statement for the Conference, Pinchas Goldschmidt, is the Chief Rabbi of Moscow.  A Rabbi from Munich took a less […]

Graphing the History of Philosophy

Gephi graph on Philosophers from

This is a crazy cool interactive visualization of the relative influence and importance of philosophers.  This guy simonraper (that’s his handle anyway) did a data pull from Wikipedia determining what philosophers are identified as having influenced other philosophers and used a graphing platform to visually map it. If you are interested in his methodology, go […]

In Memoriam: Alan Saunders

Alan Saunders of Radio National on Australian Broadcast Corporation

 It was with great sadness this weekend that I heard via Facebook and on the Australian Broadcast Corporation website of the untimely passing of Alan Saunders.  Saunders was the host of the ABC Radio National program The Philosopher’s Zone, a weekly broadcast covering a broad range of topics, both in philosophy and outside of philosophy in a […]

The Good as Simple Idea

At some point during the episode, Dylan and Wes were arguing about Moore and referred to the good as a ‘term’.  I corrected them that Moore actually calls it a ‘concept’ as if something hung on that distinction.  I guess it is incumbent upon me to explain. First off, Moore never uses the word “concept” […]

Humor Case Study 2: Henny Youngman

So Mark took on the comedy stylings of Louis CK in the first case study, someone who establishes a core insight and then plays it out through both content and performance.  I’d like to take a look at two other (multi-generational!) comedians who rely on establishing a premise quickly using audience assumptions and then make […]

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 […]

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 […]

Our Texas Profs Revisited

Galen of Pergamon from

We have on occasion had reason to call attention to our former professors and colleagues from UT.  Yesterday I was hit with a blast from the past when I heard R.J. “Jim” Hankinson interviewed on The History of Philosophy podcast.  He was, of course, talking about Galen.  I’m pretty sure he’s the world expert on […]

Žižek on Foucault, Descartes and Madness

OK, so this isn’t the easiest thing to read (after seeing numerous Žižek videos, it looks to me that he writes like he talks like he thinks, which is pretty fluid, making connections between things and not necessarily driving through focused theses…) but a little time spent on it yields some interesting points.  For some […]

Rick Roderick on Foucault

Rick Roderick

Long time listeners and readers know that I’m a fan of Rick Roderick.  For those who don’t know, he was from Texas, got his degree in philosophy from UT and taught at various places including Duke.  He was a down home type who became famous to philosophiles through a couple of lecture series he published […]

History of the Prison

Check out this video.  It is a brief history of prisons, but also focuses on the use of technology in and the architecture of prisons.  It makes the indirect but clear point that surveiller goes hand in hand with technology.  There’s a nice spot right at the beginning where the Commissioner of the NYC Dept. […]

Foucault on Discipline and Punish


Here’s a video of Foucault talking about Discipline & Punish.(Well, an audio track with images)  He explains his motivation for writing the book and the central question he sees posed by the development of the penal system in France.  In short, there was a rapid growth of prisons in France.  The prisons still functioned as […]

Foucault and Heidegger

Knowledge is Power

So there was a longish (8 minutes) bit that I cut from the episode where I asked Katie whether Foucault’s notions of Power and Knowledge correlated in some way with Heidegger’s notions of Being and Truth.  I was incoherent and Katie understandably treated the question as the nonsense that it was.  She has since addressed […]

Poetry v Philosophy, Round 2


Still listening to Essential American Poets put out by The Poetry Foundation.  I just listened to the latest episode on Charles Simic.  He ends the episode by reciting his “The Friends of Heraclitus”.  It is about the loss of beloved friend and companion with whom the referenced subject has had many philosophical discourses, walking around […]

On New Year’s Resolutions

A couple of years ago, I made a public New Year’s resolution to be more unreasonable and unrealistic.  While I am not sure whether I truly ‘achieved’ either of those, it certainly took more than one year (2010) to really start pushing into that way of being.  Which led me to consider why I should […]

Corey Anton on the Phenomenology of the Senses

There’s a guy on youtube named Corey Anton, who is a Professor of Communication Studies at Grand Valley State University.  He’s posted a ton of videos on a broad range of subjects, many philosophical.  He’s one of those that comes up when you search on the usual suspect terms and I’ve had occasion to watch […]

The True Spirit of Christmas – in Song


It’s Christmas – Jesus Christ’s birthday or, if you so choose, appropriated Yule, Saturnalia or the birthday of Mithra.  Whatever you may believe, most of you will be celebrating something with someone while bloggers around the world bemoan either the audacity of Christianity or forgetfulness thereof via commercialism.  I’m not a Jew for Jesus (just […]

Sartre’s Legacy

Our Sartre episode focused on one single, apparently not widely discussed text:The Transcendence of the Ego: An Existentialist Theory of Consciousness. I say not very widely discussed because you would expect Sartre and consciousness to have a ton of videos on youtube and lots of scholarly papers when Googled. Instead, most of the things that […]

Some additional thoughts on Sartre

When we were recording the episode, we were all aware that we got hung up on unreflected consciousness and how consciousness of consciousness was not reflected consciousness or self-consciousness.  As a result, I thought we gave short shrift to the latter half of the essay.  If that sounds convoluted, listen to the episode.  There’s nothing […]

I’m declaring a moratorium on Nazi examples in moral philosophy

Anti Nazi spraylogo

OK, I was listening to the latest episode of Philosophy Bites, where Nigel “Daddy Warbucks” Warburton is interviewing Sean Kelly about Homer and Philosophy.  I have documented elsewhere my love and admiration of Warburton and the podcast, so this is not in any way to be construed as a criticism.  But a couple of things […]

Buddhism Naturalized?

Owen Flanagan

Given our recent exploration of moral theory, the excitement around our announcement of a Euthyphro episode and my own current interest in Buddhist thought, I guess it was inevitable that I would stumble across and then buy this book.  Or perhaps it was that Mark mentioned it in an email which I had overlooked.  In […]

Poetry Fights Back

Allen Tate

If you’ve listened to our Danto episode, our Republic episode or read any Plato yourself you know that the Big P didn’t have a high regard for poetry.  If you’ve listened to anything we’ve done over the last year, you know Mark doesn’t have a high regard for my blog posting efforts.  I do start […]

This is a call to all my PEL peeps (ATX representing)

Greetings from Austin Texas!

Dear PEL adherents– I’d like to put together a philosophy discussion group here in Austin.  Thinking monthly, maybe related to our episode content, maybe not, but definitely face-to-face.  Casual, social with some fun as well as philosophy involved. Question:  anyone out there either in the area and interested or know someone who is?  It would […]

Adolescent criminality and juvenile brains

Russian Youth Prison Scenes

I couldn’t bring myself to weigh in on the analytic vs. continental issue because I lived it while in school and believe that it is ultimately a destructive distinction fueled by political desires.  And in a weird way, I’m living through something analogous at work right now.  So instead I thought I’d continue my journey […]

Riding the Zeitgeist – Moral sentiment and pyschopathy

I never said I wasn

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Professor of Ethics at Duke, was recently interview on The Philosopher’s Zone about the moral judgment of psychopaths.  One of the key questions at issue is whether psychopaths understand what is morally wrong, why it is so and just don’t care, or whether they don’t know what is morally wrong.  This ties in […]

Neurobiology and Criminal Justice

At about 30 minutes into the most recent episode with Pat Churchland, the discussion touched on how the neurochemistry of people who are well socialized differs from those who aren’t.   More specifically, there was a point made about how people who are well socialized and have the Humean (as we will soon discover, actually Smithian) […]

Scruton on Philosophy vs. Neuroscience

The talk is somewhat misleadingly titled “Roger Scruton – Persons and their Brains”, but what he’s really concerned to do is point out the limits of neuroscience and justify a place for philosophy in the study of human behavior.  Not sure if that’s a straw man or not, but he has some critical things to […]

Does PEL Support Entrepreneurship vs. Academia?

The University Has No Clothes

A New York Magazine article about the value of higher education, “The University Has No Clothes” is making the rounds on FB and Twitter.  It’s a decent length article that explores the issue in some depth but the thesis boils down to this:  a college or university education is a huge investment for a young […]

Happy Birthday David Hume!

David Hume

This month lots of people are celebrating David Hume’s 300th birthday, including our friends at The Philosopher’s Zone and Philosophy Bites.  Both have dedicated a series of podcasts to this most important thinker in our tradition and if you aren’t a Humeophile or don’t know that much about him, I’d definitely recommend checking out their […]

Wine and Philosophy

I’m reading A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage.  It’s  a view of the role that 6 beverages – beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and cola – have played in world history.  I’m currently in the ‘spirits’ section, but I thought it worthwhile to comment on the role of wine (per […]

Peter Singer on Hegel & Marx

In this series of videos of Bryan Magee interviewing a young Peter Singer, Singer provides an explication of Hegel’s overall philosophical enterprise.  We’ve linked to Magee’s show in other places (like here, here and here) and in this interview we get to see Peter Singer actually doing traditional philosopher-type stuff.  He has an outstanding ‘stach […]

Frege’s Notion of the True

When we did the Frege episode, we read “The Thought”, which was a new text to me and I found it quite interesting.  Even though we were supposed to be talking about other things, we got caught up on Frege’s notion of ‘The True’.  Specifically, we were asking ourselves what kind of ontological status ‘The […]

Yet More on Logic: Quantification

Against both my better judgment and the hue and cry of many, I will continue my semi-informed-by-past-years-of-studying “exposition” of predicate logic which I started here.  If I accomplish nothing else, I will give Burl something to complain about for the next week or so. In the previous installment, we talked about how syllogistic statements about […]

Some more on logic

So Matt Teichman was kind enough to post a primer on basic logic, showing with syllogisms how informal logical inference was turned into formal notation by Frege and thus predicate calculus was born.  There is a wealth of stuff to learn about the predicate calculus and many serious logicians (as well as frustrated mathematicians) have […]

Borders Raid

Bankruptcy Road Sign from Foreclosure Data Online

So the Borders bookstore chain filed for bankruptcy (it’s a US-based brick & mortar retailer that apparently had small forays into the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore) and recently I went in to stock my shelves with what I was sure would be a bonanza of discounted philosophy books.  I am here to tell […]

Montaigne on Self-Esteem

Montaigne’s Essays are a deeply personal investigation into ourselves and our lives that isn’t typically treated by philosophy books.  Here, in another great BBC series, Alain de Botton (a notable philosopher in his own right), talks about Montaigne’s notion of self-esteem and how philosophy can be a guide to happiness. It kicks off around 1 […]

Barbara Bolt on Art & Heidegger

I had not heard of Barbara Bolt until I stumbled upon this video lecture she gave at the University of Melbourne about Heidegger from an artist’s perspective.  [see my previous post about Australia being the most philosophical nation on earth – I stand by it.]  She’s both a practicing artist and publishing academic and I […]

Heidegger and Feuerbach

Ludwig Feuerbach commemorative stamp

There are lots of directions one can go in investigating influences on Heidegger or uncovering ideas he appropriated and reworked in Being and Time.  Hegel, Kant, Descartes, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, etc.  One of the more interesting might be Ludwig Feuerbach, a post-Hegelian and pre-Marxist who is most well known for a critique of Christianity (and later […]

Graphs about Philosophers

So here are at least two things you can find on Google when searching for images of Gottlob Frege: Images of Elodie Frege Blogspot sites by philophers that post crazy fun graphs Lite fare for the weekend… –seth

Grappling with Heidegger’s Biography

More than most other philosophers, Heidegger’s life is almost as much a subject of scrutiny as his writings.  Part of this comes with the territory of being a founding figure in Existentialism, but 99% has to do with his conduct during and immediately after the National Socialist era in Germany, particularly regarding his membership in […]

Dreyfus on Heidegger

Hubert Dreyfus, Professor UC Berkeley

The preeminent Heidegger scholar in the US (and perhaps in the English language), is Hubert Dreyfus at the University of Berkeley.  Daniel did a post for the Husserl podcast linking to a series of videos of him being interviewed by Bryan McGee here.  In that series he actually talks more about Heidegger, so it’s worth […]

Heidegger on TV

During the podcast, I mentioned some video of Heidegger from television back in the 70s.  I think I uncharitably characterized him as being a bit out of touch with a broader audience and arrogant.  You be the judge: (This is an excerpt from a longer piece which is (I think) in full available on YouTube, […]

My Wish for the New Year

I hope that this celebration of the rotation of the calendar finds all PEL listeners/readers in good cheer, looking with unbridled optimism and hope at a vast array of positive opportunities in front of them.  As it is customary to reflect upon the past and project into the future on this occasion, I propose to […]

Philosophy in/of Economics – Call for Ideas

OK folks. As we build out our schedule for the next year, I’ve promised that we are going to do something on Economics. I’m in the process of doing the research now and would like to solicit input from the community.  What we need is a digestible text (or several) that lay out some of […]

Yukio Mishima and St. Sebastian

Yukio Mishima

When I was in college, I came across the work of Japanese Author Yukio Mishima.  He was a brilliant, if conflicted, soul who ultimately committed ritual suicide.  There’s no point in me trying to encapsulate him in this post – check him out on the web.   Certainly one of the more interesting characters you are […]

Wherefore art thou Socrates?

The Death of Socrates, 1787, by Jacques Louis David

The Guardian UK published this promotion of Bettany Hughes’ The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens, and the Search for the Good Life.It’s a biography of Socrates claiming to put him in his proper context and, if the article mirrors the book, trying to make him relevant for today. One of the points in the piece is that […]

Schizophrenia, Philosophy & Freud

While we’re following up on the Freud podcast, I caught this interesting show from ABC National Radio in Australia on schizophrenia and philosophical investigation.  The show is called All in the Mind, hosted by Natasha Mitchell.  In this episode, she interviews Dr Paul Fearne, who suffers from schizophrenia but managed to acknowledge it, get help […]

Art and Artists Enrich Life

Dennis Hollingsworth

Every since we did the episode on Danto I’ve been oddly making contact with actual artists, both directly and indirectly.  I consider this to be good thing, not just because the ones I’ve met or corresponded with seem to be excellent people, but also because – from a visual art perspective – I feel my life […]

Atheism in Theory and Praxis

Christopher Hitchens, renowned and reviled Atheist, has cancer.  Needless to say, folks on both sides want to know how he’s going to deal with it.  Enter Vanity Fair. Unanswerable Prayers What’s an atheist to think when thousands of believers (including prominent rabbis and priests) are praying for his survival and salvation—while others believe his cancer […]

Thank your Mentors

Everyone has people in their lives that have a direct and lasting impact on shaping who they are. Do right by them and yourself and take the time to say “thanks”.

What’s at stake in the Heidegger/Nazism debate?

So I have been established, or established myself, as the Heidegger ‘guy’ on this blog/podcast.  Why?  I read a bunch of his stuff in grad school, studied with one of his students (at the time a professor) in Germany, and wrote my Master’s thesis on “Ereignis”.  Wes just sent me a link to this review […]

The Sound of One’s Voice

An unanticipated benefit of doing this podcast is getting the opportunity to analyze my speech when I do the editing (we rotate that responsibility).  Even though I find it painful at times, I use the word ‘benefit’ because it’s truly interesting and educational to hear the sound of one’s voice. I have known for some time that my […]