Book Review: The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science


Wandering through an Athens bookstore, biologist Armand Leroi stumbled upon a set of translations of Aristotle. He shared the prejudice of many scientists that Aristotle was hopelessly obscurantist who set back the dawn of science for centuries, but, letting curiosity get the better of him, he opened a biological text at random. He recognized in Aristotle a fellow scientist, and took on the study of Aristotle in order to more fully appreciate the scope and magnitude of Aristotle’s scientific achievement.

Grossman vs Lewis: A Trip to an Atheist Narnia

by  Jillian Nickell

by Chris Sunami

Lev Grossman, author of the bestselling Magicians trilogy, imports entire set pieces from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. But he has a higher aim behind his thievery: he interrogates the elements of the Narnia myth one-by-one, sussing out their weaknesses and inconsistencies, and tirelessly searching, along with his characters, for the secret of exactly where the magic lies.



Human children are quite different from the progeny of closely related animals like chimps. They are much more inclined to cooperate and seem driven to understand what goes on in others’ minds way. What makes humans unique in this way? To address this problem, evolutionary psychologists have borrowed an idea from philosphers: collective intentionality.

Free Will Worth Having

What are your thoughts on machines that can predict what you’re going to do in the next five minutes? Do you think that everything that happens now in the universe was causally determined by some event(s) that happened before it? When professional philosophers check people’s intuitions it looks as though sometimes people generally agree that we […]

Strange Bedfellows? Kuhn & Intelligent Design


[From Seth Crownover, Friend of the Podcast] If we got anything from the last episode it’s that Thomas Kuhn is sort of a big deal and for good reason. His picture of scientific progress as a human rather than divine endeavor is, it seems to me, plainly true in a general sense if not in all […]

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 […]

Nietzsche the Hydra

[Editor’s Note: Thanks to Randall Miron for this post. Randall’s a long-time audio editor of ours and has been helping edit blog posts here recently as well.] In his short book Nietzsche, subtitled “Nietzsche’s Voices,” Ronald Hayman argues that, “Like Kierkegaard, who made copious use of pseudonyms and personae, Nietzsche was exploring his ambivalence.” This […]

You Can’t Talk About Zen: A Discussion of Zen

[A post from Jason Durso] The popular understanding of Zen philosophy is that it is painfully frustrating, contrived and lies outside the realm of rational discourse. Rather than offering some sort of platform for discussion or some set of assertions which can be systematically analyzed and negotiated into a personal system of meaning the proponents […]

The Subject: A Brief History

[A post from Michael Burgess.  This reiterates some of the first half of our Popper episode.] The Cartesian subject, the “I” of the “I think”, sits apart from the world, receiving it. Descartes’ 17th Century inheritors, the British Empiricists took “the world” to be little more than a series of sense perceptions, perhaps perceptions of something […]

The Jung and the Restless

…I cannot outline the spiritual problems of modern man without giving emphasis to the yearning for rest that arises in a period of unrest… It is from need and distress that new forms of life take their rise, and not from mere wishes or from the requirements of our ideals.” When Carl Jung’s Modern Man […]

Robert Skidelsky on Work

Robert Skidelsky in How Much is Enough?: Money and the Good Life (2012) uses a 1930 essay from John Maynard Keynes (which you can read here) as a jumping-off point to argue, like Bergmann, that productivity gains enabled by past technological advances make it totally reasonable that we now should be working fewer hours than […]

The Truth (and some lies) About Art

“A bad work of art is an oxymoron,” Patrick Doorly says, “like bad skill.” He thinks there’s no such thing as bad art because the term does not refer to a class of objects or a category of activity. Art simply refers to excellence or to any “high-quality endeavor,” a phrase he borrows from Robert […]

Jeremy Rifkin’s Policy Suggestions for the End of Work

I’ve continued to get jazzed about this “work” topic such that it looks like we’ll be covering some selection of readings in this area for episode #83. My question about this on the Facebook group has gotten a lot of responses, and I’m starting to get clearer on the spectrum of questions and positions here. […]

The Fountainhead (1949) – Movie Review

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Noah Dunn for this submission. Readers with some writing chops who have resources and/or thoughts to share relevant to the current PEL episode (or past ones) are always invited to contribute to this blog. We also welcome submissions covering current events in philosophy (e.g. reviews of recently released books or philosophical […]

Why can’t life always be beautiful?

[A blog post from friend of PEL Phillip C.  It’s a bit longer than our normal posts and is heavy with the name drops but I’m going to let it go because it’s on art, is related to a discussion group and I make the editing decisions around here – Seth] “What strikes me is […]

Virtual Insanity: Social Media with Jacques Lacan


[A post from Peter Hardy, longtime fan and contributor] For a couple of years I have been lurking on PEL’s Facebook group, biding my time for the perfect moment to pounce on this blog.  Recently I got to thinking about the philosophical ramifications of social media. Especially as we’ve just been looking at Jacques Lacan, […]

David Bordwell Shows How Critics “Make Meaning” Out of Films

When we interpret a text, are we uncovering a hidden meaning? Or are we imposing a meaning from the outside? Film scholar David Bordwell’s book Making Meaning: Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Cinema confronts this question head on in a rigorous and analytical way. His chief question is: how are interpretations made? Although […]

Zizek! – The Elvis of Cultural Theory [Review]

zizek poster

Zizek! is one of those documentaries centered around one really, really interesting person. For that reason it’s more like Crumb or Bukowski – Born Into This than more famously philosophical movies like Waking Life. Zizek!’s structure is simple: The director and a small crew simply follow Slavoj Zizek as he goes about his daily business, which pretty […]

Beginning in Wonder

WonderCat courtesy of

In episode 73 the question was of ‘why do philosophy’ was posed. There are many ways to come at this question and in the episode the PEL guys kept coming back to two things: Curiosity and Wonder.  How are these two words linked, if they are, and what is their relation to philosophy? The essay […]

Douglas Hofstadter’s “I Am a Strange Loop” on the Self

From our Lacan episode and my comparison of Lacan with Sartre, you might think that this “no self” deal was just a Continental idea. If you remember back to our Owen Flanagan interview, however, you’ll know that (besides this being a doctrine in Buddhsim) this is also one of the main positions within the analytic […]

I and Thou: The Spreadsheet!


Regardless of how or whether you relate to Buber’s vision, I and Thou makes for a frustrating read. Seemingly simple words are used in new and alien contexts. Solutions are announced rather than derived. Worse, while nominally divided into three parts, I and Thou is really more of a loose collection of 61 aphorisms. Following […]

Walter Mignolo On Postcolonial Philosophy

Walter Mignolo, semiotician and literary theorist, weighs in on the relative strengths of Eurocentric and non-Eurocentric (colonial, not occidental) philosophy in this article on Aljeezera. In literary theory, most new studies are centered around Eurocentrism and its effect on natives via Postcolonial theory. Heavy minds in Postcolonial Theory include Gayatri Spivak,  Homi Bhabha, and Edward Said. These […]

John Gray Against Progress

The idea of Progress has a rich philosophical history, but few in recent decades have addressed it as focally as English philosopher John Gray. Careful to clarify that he grants scientific and technological progress, Gray emphasizes that it’s political and ethical progress that are not assured. Gains in these domains occur cyclically, existing under 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 […]

Film Review: The Nature of Existence (Meaning through Sound Bite)

Roger Nygard’s documentary The Nature of Existence (2010; Netflix link) was the second film selected for our October “Netflix Philosophy Movies” Not School study group, and it was the decisive element in my not proposing that the group continue into November. Here’s the trailer, which very much gives the flavor of the film, in that […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

What is Mystification? A Review of Derrida (2002)

How strange it is see the banal paired with the almost Talmudic elements of Derrida’s thought. This pairing, this humanizing of Derrida in Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman’s documentary that shares his name is, in an subtle way, the mystification of abstract thoughts.  The idea that one must humanize the philosopher still implies a certain […]

George R.R. Martin on Private Experience

You may not know that Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin wrote short stories back into the early 70s, and one of them, “A Song for Lya,” won the Hugo award for Best Novella in 1975. I see it online here or get a Kindle version for a couple of bucks. The story has […]

A.C. Grayling on Wittgenstein

I’ve mentioned Oxford’s Very Short Introductions before on the blog, but I can’t help pointing out another written by A.C. Grayling on Wittgenstein. It’s a great example of distilling something complicated down into digestible hunks in an honest presentation and analysis. Very well done. In addition, he’s a fine essayist with a number of collections […]

More Things to Read Regarding Race and Philosophy

Political philosophy through the prism of Black-American thinkers: Tommie Shelby is a distinguished professor of philosophy at Harvard university. In this text, he examines the political thought of black thinkers to arrive at a philosophical articulation of black solidarity. This is a great text to examine if one is interested in understanding black philosophical thinking […]

On What Matters–A Recommendation

[Editor’s Note: Lawrence Ware is the guest on our episode on philosophy and race, and we’re happy to have him come blog for us.] Derek Parfit is one of the most important ethicists of our time. I’m sure that his Reasons and Personswill soon challenge Kripke’s Naming and Necessityin the number of philosophy dissertations it […]

Pirsig as an American Pragmatist

Philosophology is to philosophy as art history is to painting, Pirsig says. He uses that ridiculous-sounding word to draw a distinction between comparative analysis and original thought, between critical examination and creative production. In the tradition of Emerson’s famous 1837 speech, “The American Scholar”, Pirsig is calling for creativity and originality. This is not to […]

How Did We Get Here?: Fukuyama on The Origins of Political Order

In his new book The Origins of Political Order,Francis Fukuyama tackles the history of the idea and its reality “from prehuman times to the French Revolution.” Fukuyama works under the contemporary name of political science, but he is really one of the few people we have today intellectually able to go beyond the narrow confines […]

Dawkins’ “The Magic of Reality”

To the extent that we talked about Richard Dawkins at all in the new-athiesm podcast this summer, we never got around to properly discussing science as wonder. Dawkins makes this argument in a really beautiful new book “The Magic of Reality”. Illustrated by Dave McKean, it’s ostensibly a children’s book, structured around a series of […]

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 […]

The Tree of Life’s Contingent Universe

Watch on YouTube I can write nothing on Heideggerian scholar*/(anti)Hollywood director Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life that hasn’t been better written elsewhere. Even so, the film has just come available on DVD and digital download, so I thought I’d recommend it to anyone who has been interested in PEL’s recent religion episodes. (Suggestion: try […]

Film Review: “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”

Entirely relevant to our feminism episode is this film directed/adapted by John K. from “The Office” from the novel by David Foster Wallace, which I’ve not read. Is it amusing to see numerous comic actors give monologues that display keenly that self-consciousness–philosophical reflection–does not guarantee virtue? Yes. Does it (in its cinematic form) amount to […]

More Analytic vs. Continental: What is the “Situation of Reason”?

Reshaping Reason by John McCumber

The disciplinary identity of philosophy is in question. So says John McCumber in “Reshaping Reason”, where he makes a serious argument with evidence of trends pointing toward a sort of Hegelian synthesis in American philosophy to overcome the “Fantasy Island” of analytic thought and the “Subversive Struggle” of continental thought. “Fantasy Island” and “Subversive Struggle” […]

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 […]

Hattiangadi on Meaning in Language

Oughts and Thoughts: Scepticism and the Normativity of Meaningis a 2007 book by Oxford philosophy professor Anandi Hattiangadi that develops a response to Saul Kripke’s skepticism about whether there is a fact of meaning in a person’s use of language. In Kripke’s 1984 book Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language,he argued, via a controversial interpretation […]

Kojève on Hegel: “The Concept” is Time itself

Having read many commentaries on and interpretations of Hegel’s Phenomenology, I’ve found Alexandre Kojève’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spiritto be the best written and most helpful. The language is terse, direct, powerful, fresh, and compelling. It’s always struck me as an example of how philosophy ought to be […]

Notes on Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell,” Part 1

For our atheism episode (which has, incidentally been pushed back to be recorded in late May or possibly June… sorry, Russ!), I’m trying to read through the most popular of the “new atheist” books, and I’m sure we’ll only end up discussing some select portions of the books in any detail, so as I’m going […]


In the recent Frege episode, Mark related the famous anecdote of how Bertrand Russell, the man who “discovered” Frege, later confounded him by pointing out a paradox apparent within his logical system. As Wes recounted, Russell’s own attempt to ground mathematics in logic was also later frustrated by a young Kurt Gödel, whose early incompleteness theorems crippled […]

TV Review: “Being Human”

More ethics on TV! (Hear our discussion of “Walking Dead.”) “Being Human” is a Sci-Fi network show based on a British TV show (by the power of induction, I can pronounce the original better than this despite having never seen even a second of the British version) that follows in the footsteps of “Smallville” and […]

Louis CK on the story of Abraham

If you wanted some more detail on the story of Abraham as discussed by Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling, here’s a version by comedian Louis CK (yes, with swearing): Watch on youtube. This presentation shows the challenge Kierkegaard or any other Judeo-Christian apologist faces in defending a belief system that would make this story a […]

Boghossian vs. Goodman on Fact Constructivism

One book we’d mentioned on the episode as a counter to Goodman’s epistemology was Paul Boghossian’s Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism. Boghossian’s target is any theory of knowledge that says that facts are constructed, reflecting the contingent needs and interest of some society, and that consequently some different society with different needs could […]

Irony in Music II: Jonathan Coulton

Following up on my post on Weezer and the follow-up discussion of irony, I submit for your consideration Jonathan Coulton: Despite this being a cover (well, lyrically), it’s pretty typical of what I’ve heard of him: he sings pretty folk songs much like the many many individuals regularly highlighted by Performing Songwriter magazine, but with […]

Philosophy of Art and Stephen King’s “Duma Key”

Somewhere in between and overlapping with Nelson Goodman and Kierkegaard, I subjected myself to one of Stephen King’s recent books, Duma Key. Serendipitously, it’s about artistic creation, and while he of course throws in supernatural/horror elements, the way he does this actually plays off some of our preconceptions about art creation and viewing that I […]

Two Books about Zero

Following up on yesterday’s post about nothingness, here are two books, one by a scientist and another by a mathematician, about the origination and subsequent history of the mathematical notion of zero: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea,by Charles Seife, and The Nothing that Is: A Natural History of Zero,by Robert Kaplan. I’ve not […]

Troll 2: Doubly Reflexive Irony and the Best Worst Movie

I recently sat through the Rifftrax of Troll 2 (see my previous post re. Rifftrax) and felt the need to relate my fascination with flavors of irony to the so-bad-it’s-good movie experience. Just to clarify, the Rifftrax guys claim that they don’t actually like bad movies. These movies are simply bad, so the humor in […]

Trainwrecks: Weezer on Irony

Reflections on the poptastic Rivers Cuomo. Watch on youtube. Weezer is one of my favorite bands, and as in the case of most of my favorite bands, I like all of its eras and permutations, whereas most critics and fans latch on to one (the first) era and are frustrated or disappointed by the rest. […]

“Dexter” as Immoral Fantasy

In the realm of superhero comics (and movies), there’s been (since Watchmen at least) a realization that what superheros allegedly do, i.e. beat people up, requires a certain psychosis, and comics like The Punisher make that explicit. With the “Dexter” books by Jeff Lindsay and the TV show based on them, this is approached from […]

Manufacturing Myths: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion


Much has been remarked about Tolkien’s Catholicism and how this plays out in Lord of the Rings. Much less known, or more precisely much less tolerated are his earlier efforts to create the myths of Middle Earth, later packed by his son into The Silmarillion. These stories are for the most part told at a […]

The Amazing Mr. Tallis: On Atheism, Free Will, and Everything Else

(Watch on YouTube). I first became familiar with Raymond Tallis a few months ago, when I was exploring my fury at post-Saussurean thinkers such as Lacan and Derrida. I saw a reference somewhere to a book called Not Saussure: A Critique of Post-Saussurean Literary Theory. After finding a copy – hard to find at a […]

Music with One Finger: Rumi Music

My involvement with non-Western philosophy has been pretty limited overall, and one fellow I’d not run into was 13th century Persian mystical love poet and philosopher Rumi, though I see now I have a book with a couple pages of Rumi aphorisms in it in the “Contemporary Sufism” chapter such as “To the ignorant, a […]

Fodor, Darwin, and the Philosophy of Science

I had been looking forward to Jerry Fodor’s What Darwin Got Wrong (co-authored with Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini), not because I have anything against Darwin but because Fodor is a superb writer, the well-respected cognitive scientist who “laid the groundwork for the modularity of mind and language of thought hypotheses,” and a worthy opponent of the idiocy […]

Book Review: “Small Gods” by Terry Pratchett

This is the 12th in the “Discworld” series, a British humor/fantasy bunch of books comparable in style to “Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy,” but it’s only the setting (a flat world resting on the back of four elephants resting on the back of a turtle) that’s consistent, not so much the characters, so it’s not […]

Partially Examined Film Review: “Stupidity”

We are exuberant fellows and have long discussed using this blog as a BLOG and not just as a podcast accompaniment, so I’m going to initiate an idea I’ve been wanting to try out, sort of… You see, I’ve wanted to go beyond the bounds of the podcast and tell folks about the philosophy books […]