Dec 242011

Brian Leiter

A really good interview with Nietzsche scholar and opinionator Brian Leiter appears in 3:AM Magazine, where he drops pithy quotes on Obama, Nietzsche, Marx, and Foucault.

But he also appears to have a new argument to sell. Leiter advocates a new way to divide the philosophical canon, not into “contintentals” or “analytics,” but rather into “naturalists” and “anti-naturalists”. You can also listen to Leiter’s argument on the latest Philosophy Bites episode, where Nigel Warburton thankfully pushed back a bit.

It seems to me that Leiter focuses too much on outlier examples to deny the boundaries of the “continental” and “analytic” camps. Sure, perhaps Marx wouldn’t have thought much of Derrida (though who can say, and what kind of an argument is that, really?). But that doesn’t mean they weren’t both united as students of Hegel, and therefore assignable to a certain intellectual camp. I mean, Heidegger didn’t think much of Sartre, either, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t more similar than different when compared to Frege and Russell. Not all Republicans agree on all points with their fellow Republicans, but they can still sense when a Democrat has entered the room; there’s a reason these camps evolved in the first place. Continue reading »

Nov 142011
Anti Nazi spraylogo from Gamebanana

Anti Nazi spraylogo from Gamebanana by --HunteR--

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

At the beginning, David Edmunds says that philosophers haven’t regarded the epic poems of Homer as worthy of philosophical investigation.  I think Nietzsche did.  Small quibble.  What really annoyed me was that during the discussion, Kelly and Warburton are talking about group think/mob mentality (listen to the episode if you want to know how they got there from Homer) and Nigel uses the Nuremberg rallies as an example (pejoratively, of course).

Really Nigel?  The Nuremberg rallies?  You couldn’t come up with a more recent, more topical, non-Nazi example?  I get it, I agree:  Nazi = bad.  And if it seems like I’m picking on Nigel, I apologize.  But it’s painful to see, hear and read philosophers using National Socialism and the Holocaust as their ‘go-to’ examples to make points about moral theories.

Continue reading »

May 052011

David Hume from the Philosophy Archive

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

  • Finished A Treatise of Human Nature when he was only 26?  And was supported by his siblings while he wrote it?
  • Might have modeled this magnum opus on Hobbes’ work of the same name?
  • Was the talk of European intellectual circles for this work but was disappointed at its reception?
  • Struggled with his weight?
  • Ultimately gave up philosophy to write history?  And that his History of England was immensely popular and made him rich?
  • Tried to help Rousseau and was treated dreadfully by that prick?
  • Never explicitly confessed either atheism or belief in religion claiming no proof existed for either side?

We most all are familiar with his argument against the ability to experience causation and his explication of inductive reasoning, but like many great figures in the tradition, was also a character, admired and reviled and a polymath.  Do yourself a favor and pay homage this month to Davie by checking out his works, listening the podcasts referenced above, visiting the Hume Society’s page or watching this clever little video.

Nov 302010

Kierkegaard’s stern Christian vision originated with a strict, almost traumatic, upbringing. His defense of individualism and radical subjectivity would not likely have developed without it. But it’s hard for the modern reader to get past Kierkegaard’s freakish, introverted persona. A more sympathetic view of K. might be found in the 1984 BBC television series Sea of Faith, written and presented by controversial ex-Anglican-priest-and-Cambridge-dean-turned-radical-theologian Don Cupitt:

Watch on youtube.

In response to more cynical assessments of K., Cupitt provides this rejoinder in the book version of The Sea of Faith:

Yet to end on such a note could be to suggest that Kierkegaard was a side-show freak: we wonder at him, and then return to our humdrum lives. Not so. Kierkegaard, more than any other writer of recent centuries, has the power to make us believe that we might actually succeed in becoming something of worth… Continue reading »

Jul 302010

So Mark stole my thunder with his post about AC Grayling, as I was preparing my thoughts about Julian Baggini’s regular podcast, Baggini’s Philosophy Monthly.  Nonetheless, even though Mark hates and wants to upstage me, I will proceed with my ramblings.

Julian Baggini of Baggini Philosophy Monthly and the Philosopher's Magazine

Julian Baggini

I found and started listening to Baggini’s podcast towards the end of last year and was able to reel off a series of cached episodes to get a feel for what he was about.  Unlike Philosophy Bites, which consists of coordinated studio interviews, Baggini’s PM typically has more of a ‘Charles Kuralt‘ vibe (look up that reference – old skool!), as he travels around to festivals, conferences, and other assorted gatherings of the philosophically inclined, doing field interviews of philosophers, artists, and others surrounded by the din of beer halls, barking dogs, frolicking children, and the like.  Not always, but a lot.

The episodes are a very short: 1/2 hour, usually consisting of 2-3 segments, which Baggini sets up well with edited-in commentary. Continue reading »

Jun 022010

A few months back in response to a blog post where I lauded our podcast over/against other philosophy podcasts, Jon recommended Philosophy Bites, Little Atoms, and Philosophy: The Classics, among others.  Two of these have in common that Nigel Warburton is involved, which is a very good thing.

Nigel Warburton of the Open UniversityWarburton is a Philosopher and scholar of the history of Philosophy at The Open University and is involved in a number of other things (I won’t pretend to understand how all the Fellowships work).  From a media perspective, he’s a polymath, having published books; written, appeared in and produced television and radio programs; contributed to a multimedia museum presentation and recorded a number of podcasts.

Philosophy: The Classics is his reading of excerpts from his book of the same name.  Each episode is like a chapter summary, covering one philosopher and text.  Clocking in between 12 – 25 minutes or so, Warburton concisely and clearly explicates and explains the major themes in the work, gives some background on the philosopher and provides some criticisms.  As introductions for the lay reader, these are hard to beat, but even experienced students of philosophy will benefit from his framing of the motivations, problems, arguments and critiques of the texts.  For the topics we have covered in common, the diligent PEL adherent would certainly gain from listening to the corresponding episodes from P: TC (Aristotle, Machiavelli, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Mill, Kant) and the lazy PEL listener could even use his casts as a substitute for reading the texts.  Here’s the iTunes link.

P: TC is great, but it is through Philosophy Bites, however, where I feel Warburton is making a significant contribution to the world of philosophy that we inhabit, and the larger culture as well.  [Although he partners with David Edmonds, Warburton is the primary interlocutor so I'm giving him credit for what I like most about the podcast].  PB is a series of short, focused interviews around philosophical topics, specific philosophers as well as contemporary topics in ethics, politics, etc.  The interviewees are subject matter experts (SME) from the world of British academia, both current and past, with the occasional American or Aussie thrown in.

What is impressive about Warburton in each episode of PB is his deep understanding of the topic at issue as well as the SME’s point of view and his ability to turn that into concise, articulate and insightful questions which invite exposition and challenge the guest.  This skill is remarkably more difficult than it sounds and he does it phenomenally well – with genuine interest, reserve and occasionally, a bit of British wit.  While I am sure many of the interviewees are colleagues and acquaintances, it is not uncommon for them to express what sounds to me to be genuine surprise and delight at Warburton’s insightful questions that cut straight to key issues.  I get the sense that many are thrilled to have the opportunity to discuss something about which they are passionate with someone who cares enough not only to give them a forum, but also to be educated on the subject and, most importantly, rhetorically (or perhaps pedagogically) gifted enough to guide the conversation to cover issue, context, significance, position and challenges clearly in a short period of time.

There are well over 100 episodes covering a broad range of topics.  I enjoy most of the episodes about historical figures, have gained some insights through the more contemporary issue-focused episodes and have discovered a few personalities I didn’t previously know to whom I really like to listen (A.C. Grayling,  Quinton Skinner, Simon Blackburn).   Whether selectively or simply working through catalog as I have, I believe most PEL listeners will gain from checking out the podcast as well.

My admiration for Warburton’s style and commitment aside, let me enumerate a few of the ways that he is enriching our intellectual and cultural life:

  • He has created a bridge between traditional academia and ‘new media’, bringing philosophers and philosophical issues into broader consciousness with digital mass communication
  • Along with the Ideas themselves, he is exposing a broader audience to contemporary philosophy and in turn modern philosophers to an extra-academic audience
  • He is tremendously skilled at clearly framing questions and issues in such a way that they can be (mostly) understood by a lay audience in a digestible format
  • He’s generously sharing his knowledge of and respect for philosophy and the tradition
  • Philosophy Bites is a model for civil discourse, which is in catastrophically short supply not only in this field, but in social/mass media in general

A few of the limitations of the podcast, which are not criticisms:

  • It is fairly limited to the British/Analytic tradition and approach.  The majority of the participants are from British universities.
  • Depending on the topic and guest, there can be a lot of “-isms” thrown around.
  • Some of the dinosaur guests trot out the tired ‘clarity’ & ‘rigor’ refrain and do some continental bashing, which is tedious and unhelpful
  • Some of the topics may not have a lot of relevance for our peer audience (e.g. The Problem of Evil)

You’ll find that the comments on iTunes more or less reflect my opinion.  I want to reiterate, however, that Warburton through Philosophy Bites and other media is using his not inconsiderable skill, intellect, knowledge and experience as well as leveraging his network to bring Philosophy to a much broader audience and to do so in a way that hopefully will engage them.  It’s free and he’s demonstrated commitment over time and a generosity of spirit which is to be commended.  And so, I do.  Thank you, Nigel Warburton.


[ADDENDUM - Nigel sent me a very nice note of thanks and noted that David Edmonds is involved in the conception, structuring and editing of the interviews, the last of which is critical to making the episodes as coherent and smooth as they are.  We, certainly Mark, can appreciate that.

He also noted that there is a Philosophy Bites application now, which you can find here.  Use this code JFTH9NEXEHWL in the next couple of weeks for a free download.]