Parables as a Guide to Jesus the Philosopher, Part 6: Judgment

06 Judgment (Detail from Christ As Judge by Hans Memler)

The philosopher Don Cupitt highlights that in the parables, “Jesus sharply criticizes and even ridicules ordinary people’s ideas of justice and equity.” Part of this radicalism, the Catholic Church teaches, is that “Jesus identifies with the poor of every kind and makes active love towards them the condition for entering the kingdom.” Another part is the irreverence which he displayed toward the claims over morality made by religious authorities, which has been characterized in the joke on the Good Samaritan parable: “You know why the priest didn’t cross the road to the wounded traveler? He could see that he had already been robbed.”

Descartes’s Horror?


Examining Descartes’s Cogito, one can find that rather than philosophy and reason being a shield from horror and madness, the truth might be the opposite.

What Does Aldous Huxley’s “Island” Tell Us About the Essence of Humanity?


In his final novel, Island, Aldous Huxley created a vision of utopia where the Pacific island of Pala is an “oasis of happiness and freedom,” free from the trappings of capitalism, consumerism, and technology. Some say that the Island is an example of humanity at its sanest and most admirable. Yet it ends, predictably, in sorrow, “the work of a hundred years destroyed in a single night.” So, what was Huxley’s point in creating then destroying a vision of paradise?

Philosophy of History, Part V: Condorcet


“The time will come when the sun will shine only upon free men who know no other master but their reason; when tyrants and slaves, priests and their stupid or hypocritical instruments will exist only in works of history and on the stage; and when we shall think of them only to pity their victims and their dupes.” –Condorcet

Religion as Play


The outright dismissal of religion as barbaric, as primitive credulity, or as childish superstition—even if at times it exhibits all of those symptoms—blinds us to important insights into its varied nature and uses. In the absence of direct evidence of the gods, the pious among the ancient Epicureans argued for their existence based on human nature.

Dance Lessons with Nietzsche


What, exactly, is a Nietzsche book? His works defy easy placement. Whatever they are, they’re filled to the brim with dancing—dancing Dionysian revelers, dancing satyrs, dancing ladies and men and children of all stripe and color.

Lucian: the Well of Laughter


Lucian of Samosata (c. 125–180 CE) was a Greek-speaking Assyrian satirist, who falls within the tradition of the laughing philosophers. He was the George Carlin or perhaps the Bill Maher of his day, eloquently mocking both the credulous masses and the charlatans who made a living off of them.

Reading ‘Antigone’ with Hegel

Hegel sitting

Listeners to the PEL Antigone episodes who want to dig deeper into the meaning of the play can benefit from Mark W. Roche’s overview of Hegel’s remarks on tragedy, put forth in his essay “Introduction to Hegel’s Theory of Tragedy.” Roche specifies four Hegelian questions audiences might ask of any tragedy in an attempt to understand its characters and their interactions, and the ultimate outcomes.

‘Identification’ with/in Music


A thesis advanced in our songwriting episode was that we appreciate music by “identifying” with it. There are a few possible meanings of this that I wanted to explore, especially in light of the charge that the ethic outlined in our discussion was too specific to rock ‘n’ roll.

The Epicurean Nag Hammadi


Philodemus of Gadara’s masterpiece On Death, preserved in the ruins of Herculaneum, catalogues in detail the ethical repercussions of the Epicurean doctrine that death is nothing to us and produces a beautiful, life-affirming, world-loving, secular philosophy of life that does not deny, mask, or run away from the reality of death. On Death helps us to develop a fully consistent, naturalist account of death that rejects superstitious and primitive fear.

Contemplations on Tao Series


The parallels between Taoism and Epicurean philosophy which become evident when we study Taoism and read the Tao Te Ching. Sometimes the insights we get from both traditions mirror, complete and complement each other.

Art and Beauty: A Marital History


Art and beauty have a peculiar kind of relationship and have been uneasily coupled since perhaps the beginning of human history. But the two have always been separable, as the 20th century demonstrated. Art always occupies a particular time and space, but beauty resides somewhere in the excitement of our brains, and we as a species still crave art that excites in this way.

The Aesthetics of Football


Entry into the end zone is admission to a place that can only be reached against opposition, passage through a door that cannot open without people trying hard to keep it closed. The poetry in a touchdown is success against the odds. A beautiful game is one where both teams play their best, each pushing the other to a higher standard—competition as collaboration.

Madness as Ontology: Catching Foucault’s Quote Mining


Jacques Derrida is known as the founder of deconstruction, a mode of critical analysis or hermeneutics that problematizes and complicates the act of reading and demonstrates how books cannot be reduced into comprehensible meanings. But in his book Writing and Difference, he delivers a rather cogent interpretation of Descartes’s Meditations, an interpretation that remains faithful to something as suspect as Descartes’s “intentions.” He does this in response to his mentor Michel Foucault

Duality without Dualism


How could a contrast between Real and Unreal ever even be formulated? The question ‘could everything be a mirage?’ can be immediately answered: no. A mirage is something which is set in contrast to something that isn’t a mirage. Thus there is something deeply suspect when we’re asked to transpose these conditions into metaphysical divisions or dualism.

Phenomenology is Wrong


There are two traditions within phenomenology: realist phenomenology and idealist phenomenology. The distinguishing feature is how they treat their ‘pre-bracketed’ and ‘post-bracketed’ states. In the realist case when we interpret (describe) the world we can bracket the truth of the claims epistemologically; in the idealist case we can metaphysically bracket claims.

Should the social sciences be like the natural sciences?


Should the social sciences be like the natural sciences? Wilhelm Dilthey didn’t think so; he contended that the concept of Verstehen is crucial in our interpretation of human thought and behavior. Whereas we look for explanations of phenomena in the natural sciences, Verstehen as applied to the social sciences means interpreting human behavior.

Philosophy and Comedy


William James said of philosophy, “It sees the familiar as if it were strange, and the strange as if it were familiar.” The comedian evokes laughter by making the familiar seem strange, but the philosopher’s way of unsettling us can please in a similar way.

The event(s) of September 11

Two years after 9/11, several New Yorkers packed into a courtroom in order to hear a court case on the semantics of the word occurrence. The question was this: Was the attack on One and Two World Trade Center one event or two?

Against Debate


Why the typical model of public argumentation, where two adversaries square off, is not the best model for philosophy and not good for our podcast.

Wittgenstein on the ‘Illusion’ of Free Will


In Philosophical Investigations, section 174, Wittgenstein is discussing the temptation to describe the experience of acting with deliberation (in drawing a line parallel to another, say) as a “quite particular inner” experience. At this point in the text, he has been discussing reading in order to shed light on the concept of understanding, which he […]

Tales from the Crypt: Transhumanism, wow!


The licence to speculate on the fringes of human progress is immediately issued when that which we hadn’t even imagined transitions to that which we merely know we do not fully understand. This transition point is the playground of the so-called “popular imagination”, the stage on which esteemed careers are built without the effort and determination of […]

Henri Bergson and William James on Vicious Intellectualism

“If I had not read Bergson,” William James wrote in A Pluralistic Universe, “I should probably still be blackening endless pages of paper privately.” James had been engaged in a very long philosophical debate with the leading Idealists of his day, F.H. Bradley and Josiah Royce, when Bergson came to the rescue. James thought that […]

Technology and Individuality

There is a classic anxiety about technology: that it can lead to a lack of individuality and spiritual emptiness. Why might this be? The place to start is with the lack of control technology can bring about in our lives. This may seem counter-intuitive since it is normally thought that technology is what helps us attain more control in our […]

Why Identity Politics is Illiberal (Belly Dancing, Ctd)

belly dancing

In my post on the identity politics of belly dancing, in which I argued that Randa Jarrar’s recent tirade against white belly dancers must imply the moral inferiority of white women, I bypassed – because I thought it particularly weak – the notion that white belly dancing unwittingly perpetuates racist stereotypes about Arabs, even if […]

A Righteous Mind on Jonathan Haidt and Morality

It turns out you’re a self-righteous hypocrite. Poor you. If only you followed my morality, then you’d be on the right path. But I suppose we can’t all be right. Don’t get me wrong though. Your pitiable beliefs’ leading you astray in no way brings me great pleasure. How could confirming something I knew all […]

On the Identity Politics of Belly Dancing

belly dancing

Novelist Randa Jarrar has been mocked – and accused of racism – for telling the world that she “can’t stand” white belly dancers. As Eugene Volokh notes, if we were to universalize Jarrar’s objections to “cultural appropriation,” then we might object to East Asian cellists or Japanese productions of Shakespeare, rather than treating the arts […]

Public Reason

John Rawls certainly has his fair share of critics, but he’s also widely considered to be the most influential political philosopher of the 20th century. As we heard in the Rawls episode, Rawls’s theory of justice is a kind of contract theory wherein he lays out the basic principles of a democratic society. In the […]

Rawls’s Second Principle: Compromise or Clusterf*#$?

Rawls’s principle 2a, to remind you, is (quoting from wikipedia here): Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that (Rawls, 1971, p.302; revised edition, p. 47): (a) they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society, consistent with the just savings principle (the difference principle). This has appeal […]

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 […]

Is Morality Ethical?

“Morality is neither rational nor absolute nor natural.” (Nietzsche) Nietzsche and Spinoza both challenged the validity of morality based on transcendent or universal values. They both argued that moral restrictions are based on weakness:  Nietzsche via enslavement by harboring vengeance or “resentment” against life ( Genealogy of Morals), Spinoza via enslavement to passive affections. In both, the […]

Why the Divide? A Note on Continental Philosophy

The term Continental philosophy has no singularly accepted formal definition, nor does it even signify a “you know it when you see it” kind of activity, because it is not really a distinguishable activity at all. Indeed, most people who study philosophy on the continent have no idea that it is “continental philosophy” they are studying, but […]

In Which Ta-Nehisi Coates Deploys a New Epithet

In his latest response to my criticisms, Ta-Nehisi Coates oddly compares Alec Baldwin to Strom Thurmond in a way that inadvertently makes my case for me. Thurmond adamantly and openly opposed desegregation and civil rights, even as the political winds were shifting the other way, while Baldwin adamantly and openly supported gay rights, long before […]

A School of New Work

“Start looking around you and you’ll see things that help you to get started.” Shortly following this quote in the Episode 83 Follow-Up with Frithjof Bergmann, Bergmann launches into a passionate plea for an education revolution, reminiscent of the inspirational Ken Robinson TED talks. What I’d like to offer in support of Bergmann’s hope is an image […]

What the Word “Bigot” Actually Means (and Why it is Important)


Update: Coates responds. I rebut. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Andrew Sullivan have both responded to my criticisms of their claim that Alec Baldwin is a “bigot” for, among other offenses, calling a photographer a “cocksucking fag.” In doing so, they resort to two tried-and-true tactics available to someone on the losing side of an argument: the first […]

The Existentialist Self in the World: Doubt, Being and Caring

If from continental philosophy you throw out transcendental phenomenology and older idealist trappings–transcendental subjects and so on–you are left with a system which still has two components: the world and the self.  It was the relationship between these two that took hold as the major problem for 20th C. continental philosophy. The upshot of the first phase […]

Feeling Good About Oppression

In the Nietzsche episode, I made a point relating Nietzsche’s “bright side” of slave morality with Hegel’s account of the master-slave encounter. To refresh: Nietzsche’s story in the Genealogy of Morals involves the oppressed turning in on themselves for satisfaction, because they can’t get satisfaction in the usual brutish, masterful way. Nietzsche is often taken […]

No, Alec Baldwin is Not a Bigot


Update: Coates responds here, and Sullivan here. My follow-up here. Alec Baldwin is a talented actor who also happens to be extremely intelligent, verbally dexterous, and politically active on the left. And he has a history of getting in trouble for very public (or publicized) displays of anger, once leaving a rant on his 11-year-old daughter’s […]

The Mild Disease of Successful Employment

[Editor’s Note: Thanks to new blogger Jacob Wick for this meditation on work. Now go, everyone! Quit your jobs today! -ML] In Episode 83, Frithjof mentioned the large number of successful individuals that are unhappy with their work in the current job system. The feeling this work is creating was described as a “mild disease.” […]

Getting whatcha want, whatcha really really want


As I prepared for our recent podcast on New Work and we interviewed Bergman himself, I found that I have many sympathies with the project. Even without an analysis of the calamitous effect of the current job system on our economy, I can buy the fact that our job system is a structure with rules, […]

The Experience of Consumption: Entertain Me!

I just spent 3 days at Universal Studios, Orlando and feel the need for philosophical reflection. Rather, I pretty much ALWAYS feel the need for philosophical reflection, but in this case have to spin some of this aloud to make sense of what, if any, insights I gained out of this experience. First, I don’t […]

Why Non-Euclidean Geometry Does Not Invalidate Kant’s Conception of Spatial Intuition

Everyone once in a while I run across the opinion that non-Euclidean presents a serious problem for Kantian epistemology. While I’ve rebutted this notion before, it’s common enough that I thought I’d have another go at explaining why it’s a misconception. For Kant we can’t know the universe to be spatial “in itself” (as in “things-in-themselves”), […]

Bergmann as Philosopher (Before All that “New Work” Stuff)

We’re barely more than a day away right now from our interview with Frithjof, which he says he’s “thrilled” about, and I’m certainly looking forward to as well, though I can picture any number of things going less than ideally as I introduce these two known elements (Frithjof on the one hand and Seth/Wes/Dylan on […]

Some Thoughts from an Accidental New Worker

[Editor’s Note: Fredbo here was inspired by my topic announcement to share his story. Welcome, Fredbo!] I am 39 years old and have had three “legitimate” jobs in my life: – For about a year or so I had the position of first shift “Party Mix Assembler” at a snack food manufacturer. – For about […]

Zen and the Art of Martin Heidegger?

The partially examined podcasters raised a series of very difficult questions in their recent discussion of Heidegger, particularly during a ten-minute stretch beginning about one hour and ten minutes into the 80th episode. These questions all seemed to pivot around one central problem: what does it mean to get right with Being? Should we take […]

Science and the Art of Denial

I’m in the midst of reading Karl Popper in preparation for our next recording and have been thinking about the distinction between the fruits of scientific exploration, the theories and accounts of the world, and the underlying disposition of scientific argument, especially as it applies to the way we, as a community, discuss and expect […]

The Architecture of Compatibilism (Are We REALLY free?)

In our discussion on Jung, I brought up the issue of free will with respect to the existence of the unconscious, and I wanted to explore this a bit further: Compatibilism is the doctrine that free will and determinism are in some way compatible, but since these terms were designed to contradict each other, any […]

How to Flunk Philosophy: or Here we go Again

Editor’s Note: Thanks for this submission from listener and PEL Citizen Michael Burgess. The principal critics of philosophy appear to come from one ideological view point, though it has been expressed in different guises throughout the ages. I’m going to call it, “I don’t understand this so it doesn’t make sense”ism. At its most sophisticated, this […]

Musical Taste and Conversion Therapy

I’ve long held that virtually all the different types of art are open to anyone, that you can, for instance, come to embrace music you used to hate if you just give it a little effort. I’ve taken most people’s denial of this as evidence of their own self-ignorance or bullheadedness or lack of ability […]

Rationality vs. Reasonableness

The terms “reason” and “rationality” are generally used interchangeably, where the latter is perhaps more technical, or sometimes “reason” is used to describe the human faculty while “rationality” the normative standard to which the faculty aspires. “Reasonable” has acquired a more general usage in social discourse as anyone willing to listen to reason, i.e. anyone […]

Good X-Phi and Bad Art

[Editor’s Note: Thanks to philosophy grad student and musician Al Baker for this guest post.] The first time I heard the term “experimental philosophy,” part way through my master’s degree, it sounded like such an obvious oxymoron that I couldn’t help but think it was a terrible idea.  I shared, and continue to share, many […]

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 […]

Philosophy as “Literary” (or “Is the Sky So Very Big?”)


Following up on my recent post skeptical of a strong formulation of the difference between philosophy and science, I’ve been thinking about the character of many philosophical claims, particularly in light of my current reading of Rand. In addition to the readings for the podcast proper (which I’ll post about within the next week, but […]

The Moral Uselessness of Moral Outrage


Andrew Sullivan has accused Glenn Greenwald of “justifying” terrorism for a post that is largely about the inconsistent use of the word “terrorism.” Greenwald’s response is a thorough and decisive debunking of Sullivan’s accusations, but I wanted add something as a follow-up to my discussion of Sullivan’s incoherence on these issues.  In this latest piece, […]

“Conceptual Primaries” (Rand vs. Deleuze)

When I start responding to a comment on a previous post and find that my answer is getting longer than a paragraph, that means it’s time to either stop or to make a proper blog post out of it. This morning a newish (I guess) listener named Lewis posted a comment on a post I […]

Philosophy Doesn’t Make Propositions?

There’s a claim I laid out from Deleuze in the episode that I wanted to bring up for explicit discussion. I think it’s provocative and deserves some thought but is almost certainly wrong. It’s about the picture of science as producing concepts and not propositions. I gave the example of Descartes’s Cogito, and laid out […]

Education’s Blunt-Object Epistemology


I’ve often thought of education – my chosen field – as applied epistemology. This was a conceit. Education does not explore or enact the subtle, rich, body of epistemological thought. Education has an epistemology, a vulgar blunt-object affair that is, essentially, the product of the limitations of the structures of traditional schooling. The problem can be […]

Andrew Sullivan’s Incoherence on Radical Islam


Since it became known that the Boston Marathon bombing suspects are Muslims, there has been a predictable celebration by a chorus of right-wing commentators for whom the evil of Islam and the collective guilt of Muslims in such cases are tenets of faith. More subtle but equally pernicious are the reactions of blogger Andrew Sullivan […]

Four Highly Effective Responses to Terrorism


1. Choose liberty over security. 2. See events like the Boston Marathon bombing — by virtue of their rarity — as evidence of our relative security, not as one more reason to feel afraid. 3. Understand that our relative security is guaranteed on the whole not by guards and guns, but by basic human psychology, […]

Social Dynamics in Philosophizing (vs. Rock n’ Roll)

One of the recurring themes of PEL is the power dynamics in philosophizing. This is not so much the case in what we read but in how we deal with guests, with the authors, with each other. The situation seems pretty simple: We’re each on our own independent, spiritual quest. We can study on our […]

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, […]

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 […]

The Leap of Faith: The Creative Element of Science


[Editor’s Note: Thanks to new contributor Rob Graumans for this one!] Scientific realists are known to have a positive epistemic attitude towards the content of our best scientific theories and models. The exact interpretation of this philosophical tenet can, however, differ dramatically between each of its proponents. Some of these base their idea of the […]

“Groundhog Day” as Platonic Morality Tale

I’m assuming for this post that you’re familiar with the 1993 Bill Murray vehicle (Go rent it right now if you haven’t!), which I watched with my kids this past Feb. 2 for the first time in many years. I was struck in light of our recent episode on Plato’s Gorgias on the evolution of […]

Marxist Thought Today

marxist thought

The fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) seemed to herald the victory of capitalism over socialism, what Francis Fukuyama declared the “End of History;” the failure and death of both Marxist thought and political movements. Fukuyama, an eloquent Hegelian political philosopher and one-time neoconservative (and continued anti-Marxist) asserts uncompromisingly in his “End of History” essay […]

Cornel West on the Hijacking of Political Consciousness

President Obama’s recent inauguration has incited the mind of one of philosophy’s recent stars, Cornel West. If listeners remember, PEL covered West in the Philosophy and Race episode. Cornel West has been one of the most outspoken of all political philosophers in the category of race and with prior writings on MLK Jr.s legacy, he […]

Zizek and Pop Culture in Philosophy Today


PEL’s last episode focused on Karl Marx via The German Ideology. Possibly one of the most famous/infamous Marxists of our time is Slavoj Zizek. Some have called him too extreme to be taken seriously, while others have praised him for his brilliance.  A recent article in U.K. based paper The Guardian sheds some light on […]

An Objection to Sharon Street’s “Darwinian Dilemma”


I’ve been stalled for some time now in my attempt to write a review of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos. My primary stumbling block has been his reliance in one section on Sharon Street’s “A Darwinian Dilemma for Realist Theories of Value”, which attempts to show that natural selection (in its current form) is not […]

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 […]

Eliezer Yudkowsky and Luke Muehlhauser on Modern Rationalism (Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot)


I’m generally skeptical when someone proclaims that “rationality” itself should get us to throw out 90%+ of philosophy. So I was a bit puzzled when someone on our Facebook group pointed at some articles by Luke Muehlhauser (specifically “Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline” and “Train Philosophers with Pearl and Kahneman, not Plato and Kant”), host of […]

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 […]

On Values and the Razor: How Clarifying is Ockham’s Shave?

[Editor’s Note: Here’s a submission from Derick, guest from our Saussure episode.] “Plurality should not be posited without necessity.” -Duns Scotus “Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.” -William of Ockham Here’s a philosophical thesis that should be obvious but apparently isn’t: Ockham’s Razor is not an ontological rule nor even a necessary rule of logic. […]

Michel Foucault and the Birth of Modern Medicine

[This is a post from Kevin Jobe, friend of Law Ware and the podcast.  It is part of a longer paper which PEL Citizens can download here.] i] Introduction. “This book is about space, about language, and about death; it is about the act of seeing, the gaze.” (ix) So begins The Birth of the Clinic: […]

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 […]

Partially Examined Software Design Philosophy

[Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog from our supporter Michael Rissman. Enjoy!] Philosophy doesn’t make me a better software designer. It does help me reflect on what I do when I am designing. A few podcast episodes are germane here: the ones on Pirsig, Wittgenstien and Goodman. Donald Schön in The Reflective Practitioner: How […]

What Would You Change?

It’s morning in America, as it is every morning, and despite the glow many of us are feeling due to the outcome of yesterday’s elections, the systemic problems, many of which were recognized by the authors of the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, remain. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of focusing solely on trying […]

PEL’s Presidential Endorsement: Naked Political Partisanship

Every once in a while, a listener of The Partially Examined Life complains that that our liberal political proclivities — and occasional outright partisanship — are not consistent with our being philosophical, which should make us more neutral about such matters. I disagree. I do agree – after listening recently to the first few PEL […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Name-Dropping: An Apologetic (Mead and the Intersubjective Self)

[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 […]

Robert Solomon on Nietzsche on Truth

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.) […]

“Be Reasonable!”

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 […]

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 […]

Will PEL Ever Do an Ayn Rand Episode?

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 […]

Nietzsche, Pragmatism and the Fact-Value Distinction

[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 […]

Sailing Philosophy

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 […]

Our Negative Incapability: Optimism, Knowingness, and American Exceptionalism

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 […]

Nietzsche and the “Death of God.”

Nietzsche tattoo on

In connection with Episode 61, I submit the following discussion by The Big Ideas podcast concerning Nietsche’s famous but often misunderstood claim that “God is dead.” The several participants in the discussion each address Nietzsche’s pronouncement from different angles. Giles Fraser argues that the “God is dead” revelation is that humanity can only become free […]

Philosophy and the Gender Gap

Gender gap at Education Next

[From Chris Mullen, frequent blog and Facebook contributor] A few days ago I was reading an interview in 3 A.M. Magazine with the philosopher Elizabeth Anderson. The second question of the interview turned to the “..the treatment of women in professional philosophy.” 3:AM: Why is academic philosophy seemingly a worse place for women than in […]

The Negation of the Negation or Detecting the Truth

Columbo from the Ultimate Columbo site

[From Douglas Lain – see biographical note below for more details about Doug!] In Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit there is a procedure to which Hegel subjects every positive proposition called dissolution.  This process or procedure of dissolution doesn’t belong to Hegel alone.  In fact, the Phenomenology seems to be Hegel’s attempt to demonstrate how all the […]

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 […]

Understanding It Doesn’t Make it Less Freaky

Plaque on Pioneer

Dennis Overbye has a nice article this week in the NYTimes on the recently published explanation of the Pioneer Anomaly. As he explains, The story starts with the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes, which went past Jupiter and Saturn in the late 1970s and now are on their way out of the solar system. In the […]

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 […]

Love and Metamorphosis in Fairy Tales and Philosophy

Marie Rutkowski  has written a very nice piece on the role of nature in fairy tales: The effect, I think, is to make nature seem to be in collusion with love. One message in some versions of the tale, particularly Grimm’s, is that love is like a force of nature, and nature will take its […]

“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 […]

Rousseau, Aristotle, and Freud on Political Narcissism

Rousseau was not a cheerful fellow. According to Terry Eagleton, he’d be even less cheerful if he were alive to see what has happened to the public sphere and educational system in Europe: … would no doubt have been appalled by the drastic shrinking of the public sphere. His greatest work, The Social Contract, speaks up […]

MacIntyre and the Morality of Patriotism


Gary Gutting reflects this Fourth of July on the morality of patriotism, which is grounded in a kind of in-group loyalty at odds with moral theories that require that we treat all human beings equally, regardless of whether we are part of the same family, tribe, or nation. He notes that Alasdair MacIntyre has given […]

Higgs Boson Day

Higgs Boson Event Display

Not only is today “Independence Day” here in the US, celebrating 236 years since a group of American rabble-rousers declared independence from Britain, it is also now the day that the Higgs Boson discovery was announced at the LHC in Switzerland. (Read about it in the Washington Post and the NYTimes as well.) In one […]

Living Ironically: The Upshot

With a few comments on my last post to spur me on, here are some hopefully final thoughts on the ironic life for the moment. Irony is one of the characteristic social modes for Americans of at least the Generation X (that would be mine, i.e. 40ish) and younger. I can’t speak for how pervasive […]

Humor as Epoché: Irony and Hypothesis

Near the end of our humor episode, I threw out the truism that humor tends to deal with something we’re uncomfortable with, like death, sex, or embarrassment itself. The example I gave was of someone like Ed Conard making jokes about being rich. Now, I’ve since seen Conard on the Daily Show, and while he […]

In Defense of the Expectation Thesis

[Editor’s note: We’re happy here to get a contribution on humor from Philosophy Bro who was on our recent Wittgenstein episodes. Give him a nice round of applause.] I think that “funny” is one of those words that you’re going to have a real bad time trying to delimit or explain entirely. But, uh… fuck […]

When Things are Not Funny

While discussing (through Bergson’s book) how humor works in us, we had a couple of forays into related off-topics. The first was the question of laughter and delight. My contention was that the laughter of delight may be related, but is not the same thing as a reaction to something being funny. The second was […]

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 […]

Humor and Imagination (and Humor vs. Good Humor)

One point I had intended to make during the episode was about the role of the imagination in aesthetic appreciation, including appreciation of humor. One distinction that Bergson glossed over and which we weren’t very consistent about making is the difference between “falling within the category of humor” and “actually being funny.” This came through […]

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 Experience, but […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

What Does Depth Mean in Buddhism?

I’m writing this as an open letter to the DharmaRealm guys, but am hoping to garner some responses to this question from Buddhism fans of various stripes. To say someone is “deep” typically means that the person thinks long and hard about philosophical problems. It’s not a term that philosophers themselves tend to use about […]

More Voices on Buddhism and Science

If the dialogue between Buddhism and American intellectuals like Owen Flanagan is part of a fashionable trend, then it has to be one of the longest lasting fads in history. Henry David Thoreau published the Lotus Sutra in the first issue of The Dial in 1844. William James was absorbing Transcendentalist ideas at the family […]

The Fantastic in Literature and Philosophy

I’ve written a couple of posts in the past on philosophical themes in Tolkien (Incidentally, there’s a thread going at the Philosophy Forums/Online Philosophy Club discussing philosophical themes in Lord of the Rings right now), and had fun going off on the supernaturalism tangent on our last episode, even though I don’t see the force […]

Some Questions on Buddhism and Science

Check out this video: Buddhism and Science: A Brief History from The Berkley Center. Often reading Buddhism into science and vice-versa can be very misleading. This talk by Thupten Jinpa is in dialogue with David Lopez’s excellent book, Buddhism and Science: A Guide For the Perplexed. Dr. Jinpa pretty much states the historical Tibetan relationship […]

America’s Epidemic of Enlightened Racism

John Derbyshire has been fired from the National Review for an openly racist column on how white people should advise their children with respect to “blacks”: for the most part, avoid them. Because on the whole, they are unintelligent, antisocial, hostile, and dangerous. Or as he puts it, avoid “concentrations of blacks” or places “swamped with […]

Naturalized Phenomenology?

Here’s a conference-lecture by Dan Zahavi (of the “Center for Subjectivity Research” at the University of Copenhagen/Danish National Research Foundation) that asks whether it’s a good idea to try to “naturalize” phenomenology. Watch on YouTube. He distinguishes early on what Flanagan means by phenomenology (referring to Owen by name), i.e. reports on what things seem […]

No Self, but a Subject?

At one time in Savatthi, the venerable Radha seated himself and asked of the Blessed Lord Buddha: “Anatta, anatta I hear said, Venerable. What, pray tell, does Anatta mean?” “Just this, Radha, form is not the self (anatta), sensations are not the self (anatta), perceptions are not the self (anatta), assemblages are not the self (anatta), […]

Elizabeth Brake on Minimizing Marriage

[Note: This post was requested by Laura, one of our big-spendin’ financial supporters. While making a donation through this site will not guarantee that we’ll read/write about something you request, greasin’ the wheels won’t hurt.] I’ve used the gay marriage issue as an example of a prototypical example of progressive morality: something that we should […]

Spirituality Without Religion? (James and Flanagan)

In the same way that Owen Flanagan wants to naturalize Buddhism by stripping its hocus-pocus, William James focused his attention on personal religious experience rather than the “smells and bells” of traditional institutions. As biographer Robert Richardson puts it, “much of what one usually thinks of as religion James rejects at the start”. James says […]

Beauty and Science (Or Fighting Over the Love)

I subscribe to a number of thick writing journals filled with short stories, essays, and poetry. I am generally behind in reading them, though once I sit down and do so I never regret it. Tin House’s recent 50th anniversary issue devoted to “Beauty” falls in this category and is apropos of Wes’ recent comments […]

Dear Philosophers, Please Get Over your Science Envy Now

But consider the possibility that the arts and humanities are simply worthwhile pursuits, despite the fact that they are not going to produce the next iPad or a cure for cancer. And consider the possibility that the United States needs a counterweight to its philistinism — to its pseudo-pragmatist values and their devaluing of the arts and humanities — not the grotesque surrender to it that “ontics” represents. Their are enough politicians telling children to study math and science and cutting the funding that would allow them to study anything else. They do not require your assistance, and your collaborationism is not going to win you greater respect — from anyone.

Lila Notes, Pt. 5: Pirsig, Philosophology, and Crankism

To wrap up my thoughts on this subject: Probably the most interesting part of this Pirsig immersion experience for me has been thinking about his stance as a lone philosopher, rebelling against academia. Like Ayn Rand’s, much of Pirsig’s attitude towards academia seems to be a direct result of some assholes he had to deal […]

Pure Experience and Dynamic Quality

William James’ pure experience, the central idea in his radical empiricism,has been subject to misunderstanding and misinterpretation for 100 years. As I take Pirsig’s pre-intellectual experience (a.k.a. Quality or Dynamic Quality) to be more or less equivalent to James’s pure experience, any confusion would extend to Pirsig’s work. Objections that cut against James will make […]

David Ray Griffin on Whitehead on Concsiousness


By crankular demand, I’m putting aside by irritation at hearing the name “Whitehead” to read this article on Whitehead’s theory of consciousness–Consciousness as a Subjective Form: Whitehead’s Nonreductionist Naturalism by David Ray Griffin–and see if it helps fill in the gaps in Pirsig’s account of experience. Griffin’s CV describes him as a “Professor of Philosophy […]

There’s a Madness in Pirsig’s Method

[Editor’s Note: Here’s the first full-on blog post by our Pirsig guest Dave Buchanan, though he’s been a long-time, productive commenter to our posts here. Oh, and this image is by Allison Moore, snatched from here.] L’esprit de l’escalier or “staircase wit” is a name for the clever reply that comes too late, for the […]

Lila Notes, Pt. 3: Pirsig’s Teleological Hierarchy

In Pt. 2, I described Pirsig’s notion of dynamic vs. static quality, which should sound a lot like naturalistic moral intuitionism as discussed in our Hume/Smith episode. All there is is people (or, more widely for Pirsig, any being that is capable of reacting affirmatively or negatively to anything: judging agents, we might want to […]

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 […]

What to Do About Behaving Badly


This is an obvious cross-reference for this group—indeed, many of you likely already read it. Peter Singer and Agata Sagan have an column in NYTimes’ “The Stone” today called “Are We Ready for a Morality Pill?” They present the conundrum of the how to factor in our growing understanding of the effect of brain chemistry not […]

Foucault Was No Relativist

[Editor’s Note: We’re pleased to have some more blog input here from Getty, the guest from our Hume/Smith episode, who wrote his undergrad thesis on Foucault and was in line to be a guest on this one himself. You can blame me for the image, which I found here.] Was Foucault a relativist about truth? […]

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 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 […]

We Know: Camus did not die in a motorcycle accident

If you ever decide to start a podcast under the impression that your early efforts will be protected by a cone of anonymity, do yourself a favor and pretend that you already have an audience in the hundreds of thousands. And operating on that premise, diligently scrub your episodes for any trivial factual errors that […]

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 […]

In Memoriam: Michael Dummett

Michael Dummett on Wikipedia

Last week, on December 27th, Michael Dummett passed away. Dummett was an important and influential British philosophy of the 20th century, probably most famous for his interpretations of Frege. Indeed it was his early work which helped to revitalize an interest in Frege’s work in the second half of the 20th century. (The PEL episode […]

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 […]