Topics Covered

 

We’ve done a lot of episodes now, and even we lose track of where we’ve been. We aim (among other things) to present the equivalent of an introductory course in all the major areas of philosophy. Here’s where I’ll periodically comment on our progress. Feel free to weigh in on our direction suggest additional topics as comments to this page.

Jump to a Category:
Ethics
Political Philosophy
Epistemology
Metaphysics
Philosophy of Art
Philosophy of Religion
Other Topics

Ethics
We’re doing pretty well here, with the three main types covered:
-Consequentialism (episode 9 on Bentham and Mill), which starts ethics by determining what’s the optimal state of affairs.
-Deontology (episode 10 on Kant), which starts ethics by determining principles for right action.
-Virtue ethics (episode 5 on Aristotle, and also episode 40 on Plato).

With those basics out of the way, the next step is meta-ethics: how can moral commands exist in a natural universe? We covered Nietzsche (episode 11) and one on moral sense theory (Hume and Adam Smith), and Owen Flanagan spoke to us about naturalistic ethics in episode 53. For the sake of completeness, I’ll include Spinoza’s deterministic ethics (episode 25) in this context. On the flip side, Plato in the Euthyphro (episode 46) argues that morality can’t be just be reducible to the attitudes of God, and G.E. Moore (episode 58) argues that morality can’t be reducible to any factual claims, whether natural or supernatural. Also in the Moore episode, C.L. Stevenson argues that ethical claims just express emotions; they aren’t claims at all. Alasdair MacIntyre (covered more fully in episode 59) argues that without something like Aristotle’s notion of teleology, all ethical claims will be groundless.

Related to this is moral psychology: how do we smooth-skinned animals come to think about moral considerations? We interviewed Pat Churchland in episode 41 about the neurobiology of ethics and discussed moral development patterns according to Carol Gilligan in episode 42.

More broadly, the fundamental question of philosophy, “how should I approach the world” yields approaches that aren’t quite ethics but are closer to that than to epistemology. Though you’ll get some of this in many of our readings, those most conforming to this picture that we discussed are:
-Plato’s Apology and the unexamined life (episode, 1 part 1 and part 2), with more detail about how philosophy (as opposed to rhetoric) pursues the good life in Plato’s Gorgias (episode 69).
-Taoism (episode 12 on Chuang Tzu)
-Montaigne (episode 33)
-Camus on existentialism (episode 4). We got another glimpse of existentialist-type approaches to ethics in our discussion of Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men (episode 63) and a variation of this when in Rand’s ethical egoism (episode 78), which professed to give a whole life-approach based on observation of facts and contemplation of the concepts that she thinks are adduced from such facts.

Looking ahead, we hope to get to more of the classical ethical schools (Epicurus, the stoics) before too long, and will have some more existentialist/phenomenological ethics.

Political Philosophy
We’ve provided a decent historical survey:
-Plato’s Republic (episode 40), the original Utopian vision that asks us what would be the optimal society?
-Aristotle (episode 60)
-Machiavelli (episode 14)
-Hobbes on the social contract (episode 3)
-Locke on the social contract (episode 37)
-Rousseau on the social contract (episode 23)
-Madison and Hamilton in the Federalist Papers on the challenges of organizing government (episode 65)
-With Hegel, we got both a wide-angle view with his account of the progression of history (episode 15) a close-up of the “master-slave” dialectic, which is his version of the social contract in episodes 35 and 36.
-Marx (episode 70) elaborated a specifically materialist version of this progression through history, describing human nature as best described by describing how we make a living at any given point in history, and governments and philosophy itself as driven ultimately by economics.
-For more on the relation of the individual to society, we discussed Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents in episode 26.
-A feminist utopian vision came out in our discussion in episode 42 of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novel Herland.
-We got into some realpolitik discussion in episode 52 on race.
-We talked some applied political policy in episode 72 on terrorism.
-We made some attempt to discuss the cross section of politics and religion in episode 44 on the new atheists (e.g. Christopher Hitchens’s view of the religious character of totalitarianism and Sam Harris on how religion leads to violence).
-Our episode 64 on fame with Lucy Lawless featured discussion of the political dynamics of fame, including its quasi-religious nature.

Future near-term episodes are planned on John Rawls and Robert Nozick, and we’d very much like to get into some economics with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.

Epistemology
We’ve put out the basic array of views:
-Empiricism (episode 17 on Hume, plus we get a good idea of Bertrand Russell’s view in episode 38)
-Rationalism (episode 18 on Plato as well as episode 2 on Descartes)
-Pragmatism (episode 20 on C.S. Peirce and William James, continued on episode 22, plus a dash of contemporary pragmatism in episode 28′s Nelson Goodman discussion)
-Logical Positivism, an early-mid 20th century development of empiricism and pragmatism, is discussed in episode 8 on Wittgenstein and Carnap, with the details of Carnap’s constructional system outlined in episode 67. Quine, often cited as the “undertaker of logical positivism” was discussed in episode 66.
-Kantianism (episode 19, with even more detail on Kant’s view in episode 20 on Schopenhauer). While the early Nietzsche (episode 61) appears to be saying something radical about truth, he’s basically echoing Schopenhauer and Kant’s epistemology, while making a new point about the strangeness of our “will to truth.”
-If you think epistemology is basically unnecessary because science just obviously gives us objective truth, you might want to listen to our critique of Ayn Rand (episode 78) on this subject.

Much of our reading in continental philosophy is following up on Kantianism, retaining Kant’s view that perception is not a mind apprehending an independent reality while getting rid of his notion of the “thing-in-itself” independent of our experience.
-In episode 35, we provided an overview of Hegel’s view, which I think established the view that persisted through most more recent continental philosophy
-Edmund Husserl (episode 31) established the modern enterprise of phenomenology that attempts to describe “the structures of experience,” i.e. doing empiricism in a way that corresponds what we actually experience.
-Heidegger (episode 32) similarly thinks that skepticism is a non-issue; we’re already indubitably engaged with the world prior to any kind of inquiry.
-We get into some of the details given this starting point in considering the phenomenology of Sartre (episode 47) Merleau-Ponty (episode 48)
-The other epistemic response within the continental tradition is linguistic: phenomenology is impossible because our experience is tainted by concepts, and concepts can’t be referred back directly to perceptions, but are part of an insular culturally produced structure. We discussed this a bit in episode 51 on Derrida and others, episode 74 on Lacan episode 75 on Lacan and Derrida, and in episodes 55 and 56, we considered a similar strain in the analytic philosophy tradition by reading Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. The point was also made in a different context by Cornel West (episode 52).

What else is ahead? More pragmatism. Philosophy of science. Yet more phenomenology, existentialism, and post-modernism.

Metaphysics
We’ve been shamefully scattershot on this and plan to start a concerted effort to fill out a historical survey on this as soon as we can get around to it. Our efforts have included:
-Leibniz’s Monadology (episode 6), which actually laid out a full metaphysical system.
-Spinoza’s attempt (episode 24) to reconcile naturalism and the existence of God (by defining God as nature itself). A primary question of metaphysics is the existence of God; we considered the classical arguments in favor of this in episode 43.
-The early Wittgenstein’s picture (in episode 7) on “facts” as the ultimate logical components of the universe. For an analytic philosopher, discussions of metaphysics often turn on what metaphysical commitments are supposedly made by our practices in language and logic/math. We discussed Gottlob Frege’s view in episode 34 that the referents of even terms like unicorn refer to something that our ontology (list of things that exist) has to take into account. Carnap (episode 67), following in this tradition, tried to fill out the details of something like Wittgenstein’s project, while Quine (episode 66) challenged it in favor of a minimal, naturalist ontology, where philosophy is seen as continuous with science. We saw a more overtly metaphysical take updating Carnap’s project with David Chalmers (episode 68).
-For a phenomenologist, metaphysics gets more or less replaced by descriptions of the world of our experience. In this vein, we discussed Heidegger on “Being” in Heidegger (episode 32).
-Our episode 13 on quantum mechanics (Werner Heisenberg, with some discussion of Einstein) gave a quick overview of the Pre-Socratics (“everything is water!” “no, everything is fire!”).
-A Buddhist challenge to metaphysics is presented in episode 27 on Nagarjuna. A different approach to Buddhism using a naturalist metaphysics is briefly discussed in episode 53 with Owen Flanagan.
-The mind-body problem is arguably metaphysical: if “mind” isn’t a substance like Descartes thought, then how can we best understand it? We discussed this in episode 21 on Turing, Ryle, Nagel, Searle, and Dennett.

We’ll be doing more “metaphysics proper;” we’ve had an Aristotle episode planned for a long time and will cover process ontology (both Heraclitus and Whitehead). We’d also like to look more into modern cosmology, i.e. the findings of recent science, and much more into the philosophy of mind.

Philosophy of Art
Arthur Danto (whose ideas about modern art are discussed in episode 16) has personally prohibited me from calling this category “aesthetics.” We also covered Nelson Goodman (#28 on art as a symbol system) and George Santayana on beauty (#77) We’re planning one on ugliness and will likely do some more historical material on this eventually (Kant’s Critique of Judgment, for instance). We have long-term plans to go into more specific areas of art: philosophy of literature, film, etc., but those are not high on the list. Relatedly, we’ve covered Henri Bergson’s philosophy of humor.

Related to this is philosophy of literature, which we introduced with our discussion of Saussure and Levi-Strauss (episode 51), which gives some of the groundwork for what is now called “critical theory.” We followed up on this by looking at Lacan and Derrida’s take on a story by Edgar Allan Poe (episode 75). During episode 63 on Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, we talked about how philosophy can be conveyed through fiction. We’ve read some other philosophical novels: Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s Herland (episode 42), Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (episode 50), and Voltaire’s Candide (episode 62). (No, philosophical dialogues don’t really count as fiction.)

Philosophy of Religion
-Episode 43 considers the major historical arguments for the existence of God (Aquinas, Anselm, Paley, with some discussion of Plantinga and Swinburne; we read a book by J.L. Mackie.
-Episode 39 on Freidrich Schleiermacher gives a picture of faith that is largely non-cognitivist: it doesn’t make claims that could conflict with those of science.
-Episode 71 on Martin Buber gives an other phenomenologically grounded picture of religion
-Episode 22 covers William James’s “The Will to Believe.”
-Episode 44 discusses “new atheist” critiques of religion.
-Episode 46 considers the relationship between religion and ethics according to Plato.
-Episode 27 presents the fundamentals of Mahayana Buddhism.
-Episode 53 emphasizes different aspects of Buddhism (particularly modern forms primarily influenced by early Therevadan sources).
-Episode 12 on the Chuang Tzu goes into the fundamentals of Taoism.
-Our episode 29 on Kierkegaard focused more on psychology than faith per se, but still gives a vivid picture of an existentialist breed of religion.
-Episode 62 on Voltaire’s Candide delves a bit into the Problem of Evil, but doesn’t go into a lot of depth.

We’ve got a few more tentatively planned: one on Paul Ricoeur (about the “hermeneutics of suspicion”) and another non-Western one (on the Upanishads or Confucius or Zen).

Other Topics
I’ll expand this page to include separate topics for some of the items listed above as we generate more material. I’ve tried to avoid creating topics that will be totally redundant of what’s already listed other other categories above. For example, we’ve done several on psychology/human nature/the self, but you can find those above under the ethical and political categories.

We’ve only barely started with the philosophy of language (with Frege, Saussure), and later Wittgenstein. We plan to go further into that story (e.g. Chomsky, Saul Kripke).

As I mentioned above, we’d like to do more in philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and the more philosophically relevant findings of contemporary science. We also have plans for more topic-as-opposed-to-thinker-focused episodes, e.g. re. free will, personal identity, and war.

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  31 Responses to “Topics Covered”

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  1. Great podcast. I have been looking for something like this without even knowing it-if that makes sense. I would love to see some stuff on Ken Wilber or Eckhart Tolle. Keep up the great work.

    • Thanks James! I don’t know Ken WIlber but I’ve read A New Earth and I think we have touched on some of the themes that Tolle is trying to address in our episodes on the Self and Buddhism. Check those out.
      Cheers,
      –seth

  2. Fantastic podcast, I really enjoy it, particularly the parts where it devolves into grad school nostalgia (and of course, the actual discussions of the work in question are enjoyable as well). If you guys ever want to engage with philosophical aspects of geography, I would suggest and love to hear a discussion of Henri Lefebvre’s work. Keep up the good work, makes my daily commute a hell of alot more interesting.

  3. Thanks, guys! This podcast is now a regular feature in my life. You really bring these great ideas forward to dilettantes like myself! Wondering if you plan a neo-pragmatist episode (subtitled: what’s the big deal about Rorty?) Cheers, keep up the good work!

  4. Hey guys, I really like the show. Keep up the good work!

  5. Thanks Adam and Ian. And yes, we’ll be doing a neo-pragmatist episode soon!

  6. Hi guys – I stumbled across this podcast while searching for anything and everything on how one finds/creates meaning in life. I’m going through a pretty severe depression, with a large dose of existential angst.

    I have gained a great deal of insight and heavy food-for-thought from your discussions on different philosophical approaches to life’s “big questions” — many of which are obviously related to the meaning of life (however you might define that term). But perhaps you could consider “the meaning of life” or “meaning in life” as a category! Obviously, this is touched upon in almost every other category, but I guess I’m looking for some more tangible texts, discussions, or inspiration in my unfortunately painful quest to find reasons to live. Being raised Unitarian and currently an atheist, I need to find what I suppose you would call “non-religious” or “non-supernatural” meaning. My therapist is not helping. :-)

    • Elle, if you are in the midst of depression (and not just angst) than that feeling of nothing having meaning is a bodily feeling that won’t be reached deeply by ideas but will need addressed physically, but for the angst try “when things fall apart” by pema chodron she is a buddhist but this book is psychological and not “supernatural”.

      • ps if you’re not getting good medical help than please find better providers, your life could depend on it as depression is a serious illness.

    • Elle, I would agree. Depression is a insidous problem. It can distort ones judgement in unexpected ways. I must admit, it is difficult finding a good professional. So many quacks, control freaks and idiots in the profession.

      Personally, I found a great deal of comfort in Buddhist thought. However, doctors care is important.

    • Elle–
      I agree with dmf and Fred, depression must be treated seriously. You deserve and and are entitled to good medical care.

      What I saw in your comment was something more/deeper than depression. You are looking for meaning in life = reason to live having lost God. There is much to explore on this subject, both philosophical and otherwise. In our podcasts, the obvious one would be the Camus episode. Like Fred, I also have found some level of comfort in the Buddhist notion of Compassion as a response to Suffering in conjunction with some serious therapy and coaching.

      For a perspective of someone coming from a religious tradition but really focusing on the key existential and moral tenants, check out this series of videos on youtube of Anthony de Mello:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDXSQUph2Jk

      The audio is crappy (fast forward to 2:30 or so on the first one) and he takes a while to get going, but it’s worth it once he gets to his point. Stick with it and let me know what you think.

      Remember that life, no matter what, is better than the alternative.
      –seth

      • Elle,
        The Camus episode is a good one. Nietzsche also dealt with the loss of the classical religious idea head on. (Perhaps, he is a bad example).

        Check out the Secular Buddhist podcast also. An entire range of Buddhist thought stripped of the many silly theories (Flying Monks, Magic battles, guru worship, etc)

    • Elle,

      If you get a minute, check out “Man’s Search for Meaning”, by Viktor Frankl. An excellent look into why we are here and also about finding Happiness!! It’s a great read from start to finish…But, if you want the cliff notes to finding Happiness…Dr. Frankl suggests:

      1. Do Good!
      2. Love (unconditionally)
      3. Suffer (without suffering you can’t know happiness)

      That’s it, and I know all will get better!!

      Peace and Love,

      matt

  7. Just a few shows ideas to throw out (as if you need any)

    -PreSocrates
    -Later Heidegger (What is thinking? A question concerning technology)
    -Philosophy of Science
    - Revisit Sartre (the show as above me)

    Great show so entertaining and distracting from this messy thing called life.

  8. First of all, I’d like to thank you guys for making philosophy accessible and fun.

    Secondly, I have a few suggestions for future podcast topics.

    How about Van Tilian presuppositional apologetics?

    Another possible topic is Ayn Rand’s objectivism.

    What do think?

  9. I discovered your podcast a few months ago and have been avidly listening to it ever since. I am starting my masters degree program at St Johns College (Annapolis) in a month and i was looking for some material i could listen to as a supplement to my readings. At my menial job and have headphones in the whole time so you guys help me achieve a mental state more akin to Camus’ Sisyphus while I work.

    I have particularly liked the episodes on social contract theory. I am greatly interested in the examination of how people interact socially with each other. To that end I wait with baited breath for when you address Marx.

    Is there a chance that you might tackle some episodes about the morality of war? Perhaps you can address just war theory or maybe game theory. Perhaps Hannah Arendt would be a good philosopher to analyze. I would be particularly interested in an examination of how religious people for whom violence and killing is forbidden, reconcile themselves philosophically in doing violence on others.

    Great Podcast, one of my top five of all time.

    • Thanks Dave! Congrats on starting the program – if you listen to all the episodes you’ll certainly get some SJC commentary from Dylan and Wes. We will get to Marx, maybe this year. Others have asked about addressing war and suggested some classic war texts as well as Arendt – we’ll see. Everything’s on the list but time and resources are limited!
      –seth

  10. I was just looking around the site and it seems that everyone just gives you suggestions. What a demanding crowd we all are.

    I am reading Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature this summer for class so I have actually listened to your Hume episode twice, in addition to reading the text.

    I don’t really have too much to say at this point other than to express my fandom. I just finished the Schleiermacher episode and it was great (despite your absence Seth.) I have been atheist for most of the last decade but have always had a longing for faith. It seems comforting, at least until humans invariably muck it up with all the rituals, politics, agendas and so on. Schleiermacher seemed to recognize that emotional need for faith (at least from what I got from the episode.) He seems like one of those guys who reads Jesus the philosopher but rejects Jesus the divine (something like Jefferson is my best reference.)

    Anyway, I just finished that episode so that is the one on my mind. :) I love that you guys are keeping philosophy alive in this world that doesn’t seem to care about it that much. Hopefully you guys can bring Azura or some other women back on the cast, other than liking their contribution personally, it is nice to have some greater vocal variance in the discussion. Keep up the good work.

  11. How about discussing Michael Sandel?

  12. Thanks for doing what you do! These discussions are so valuable to me. I’m a PhD student and I’m studying ‘place’ and ‘sense of place’ so if you are ever so inclined, I’d love to hear an episode around place/space.

    Hearing your discussions here has allowed me to become familiar with some of the philosophies that I am soon to be encountering once again during my grad program. I’m sure I will be re-visiting them again and again over the next few years. Please keep this going! There are so few venues where us philosophy enthusiasts can come to hear the type of deepening that your podcasts offer.

  13. I LOVE the podcast… you guys breathe life into often dull or difficult reading. Perhaps I’ve missed it but have you spent any time discussing probability? Hearing your thoughts on Bayesian vs. frequentist probability or discussing paradoxes like the Monty Hall Problem would be fun.

    Thanks and keep doing what you do!

    • Thanks Ryan-
      I don’t think we’ve gotten this specific request before, but some folks have requested us doing a paradox show. We’ll add it to the list – I bet Dylan would be into it…
      –seth

    • Thanks for the feedback Ryan. I’d love to discuss something like this. You have any favorite Bayesian/Frequentist smack-down essays in mind?

      -Dylan

  14. I enjoy the show greatly yet however sometimes you guys tend to go off on different tangents which get a tad bit obscure. Approximately a month ago I came accross your podcast while searching for more philosophical muses to satiate my appitite for Sophia. I’ve been reading philosophy, history (world), and religious texts for about ten years, although I have just started back to school in the last year. I’m currently doing an undergrad in East Asian Studies with a minor in Philosophy.
    I work at a monotonous job in which the “herd mentality” is the rule of thumb. There are some perks to this position though, I live in Japan and have the opportunity to experience other cultures which are generally not known to the mundane. I also have the opportunity to sometimes listen to your podcast while performing the monotonous tasks at hand. This is, in a way escapism, but it keeps my mind on more important issues.
    In the Past month, I’ve been able to listen to 61 of your episodes. I’m currently on No. 58. (I started on Lacan and worked back a few) I also just completed your reading of the Gorgias Part 1 a few minutes ago. I really enjoyed the Socratic prose in the form of your typical assuagement. I’m looking forward to part 2. I’m also currently reading Foucults Discipline and Punish along with the new Dan Brown “Inferno”. I wish that I had Mark’s voracity for reading though.
    In my search, along with your podcast, I download from the various open courseware sites.
    A couple of memorable episodes that I must mention are the Kierkegaard No. 29, in which you guys got a little butt hurt, but what did you expect when asking a professional rhetorican (lawyer, sophist) his views, in which he definitely made the “leap of faith” in his ideology of said philosopher. Please don’t get me wrong, Soren (sorry I don’t have the symbol for the correct spelling) didn’t do anything for me in my intro class, but it was a refreshing insight to hear a disciple of this belief which Soren had.
    Your Foucult episode was dead on especially at the end when both Seth and Dylan (maybe Wes)attested to the idea of the panoptic view of modern cyberspace and the cryptic reprecussions of possibility.
    In your Daoist episode, you related the tale of the butcher who slices the meat with ease from the Chuangzi, but I feel that a more applicable quote comes from the Tao Te Ching (Wade/Giles Trans.)
    CH. 11
    The thirty spokes unite in the one nave; but it is on the empty
    space (for the axle), that the use of the wheel depends. Clay is
    fashioned into vessels; but it is on their empty hollowness, that
    their use depends. The door and windows are cut out (from the walls)
    to form an apartment; but it is on the empty space (within), that its
    use depends. Therefore, what has a (positive) existence serves for
    profitable adaptation, and what has not that for (actual) usefulness.
    http://www.sacred-texts.com/tao/taote.htm
    The above quote is relative to your discussion about emptiness in your Buddhism episodes.

    Can you add to the topic list “the Bhagavad Gita”

    To sum it up, keep pushing the Wittgensteinean wheels up the hill

  15. this is awesome! discovered your podcast via stitcher radio, and i can’t stop listening! do you have any recommendations for a general overview of philosophical systems? also, is it just me or does each philosopher tend to contradict him or herself [and express such vague statements that can be interpreted using supposedly opposing systems] all the time, but also express views that are consistent with other philosophers and ideologies that they apparently disagree with?

    hope that made sense…

    keep up the philosophizing awesomeness :]

    • Thanks for listening, Lisa.

      As an undergrad I liked Donald Palmer’s “Does the Center Hold?” but I’m seeing that appears to be out of print now and hence expensive.

      Most of the figures we’ve read, I’ve found, present something like a coherent position that if anything is elaborated in TOO much detail. This doesn’t stop commentators from keying on different strains within a philosopher’s position or even distorting some of it (e.g. Aristotle’s appropriation by Christianity) to come up with very different traditions, and some philosophers like Nietzsche or Heraclitus who present themselves in a more overtly literary manner are more apt to be twisted around every which way than others.

  16. Hey Guys,

    love the podcast. I was wondering if you might be interested in covering Dorion Sagan’s _Cosmic Apprentice_. Ecocriticism and comparative philosophy is a pretty hot topic, so I think a lot of my fellow grad student listeners might be interested as well. I know I’d appreciate hearing your guys’ opinions.

    Keep up the great work! And thanks for doing the podcast. I attend a UK system school so we don’t have the grad seminars like at US schools, but this is really filling in the gaps for me.

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