Topic for #48: Merleau-Ponty on the Role of Perception in Knowledge

Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s magnum opus–his equivalent to Being & Nothinginess or Being & Time–is The Phenomenology of Perception. It is reputed (by Seth, at least) to complete Heidegger’s project by paying proper attention to our embodiedness: we have bodies, with specific perceptual limitations and are not only culturally but physically situated in ways that (as Heidegger […]

Kenan Malik (via The Browser) on Morality without God (and the Euthyphro)

In this interview with Kenan Malik (a “scientific author,” i.e. a psychology/biology guy who dabbles in philosophical issues) uses the Euthyphro to argue that presenting religion as the guardian of moral values “diminishing the importance of human agency in the creation of a moral framework.” His enemy is “false certainty” in ethics, whether because you […]

Skepoet Responds to PEL on Euthyphro

Here’s a response to our recent episode from C Derick Varn, aka Skepoet: Read his “partially informed review.” So, yes, other blogs that take the time to talk about us coherently will probably get a link-back, if you’ve not noticed that before. You may have to send the link directly to me, though, as my […]

Episode 46: Plato on Ethics & Religion


Discussing Plato’s Euthyphro.

Does morality have to be based on religion? Are good things good just because God says so, or (if there is a God) does God choose to approve of the things He does because he recognizes those things to be already good? Plato thinks the latter: if morality is to be truly non-arbitrary, then, like the laws of logic, it can’t just be a contingent matter of what the gods happen to approve of (i.e. what some particular religious text happens to say).

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

Anti Nazi spraylogo

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

Topic for #47: Sartre on the Self

Jean-Paul Sartre is best known for his 1960’s existentialism and Marxist activism, but before he was a big celebrity, he was a phenomenologist who spent a lot of time grappling with Heidegger (his book Being and Nothingnessis an homage in part to Heidegger’s Being and Time),but more importantly (to this topic) with Edmund Husserl. Part […]

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 […]

Episode 45: Moral Sense Theory: Hume and Smith

David Hume

Discussing parts of David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature (1740) and Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759).

Where do we get our moral ideas? Hume and Smith both thought that we get them by reflecting on our own moral judgments and on how we and others (including imaginary, hypothesized others) in turn judge those judgments. Mark, Wes, Seth, and guest Getty Lustila, a phil grad student at Georgia State University, hash through the Scottish stoicism to lay out the differences between these two gents and whether their views constitute an actual moral theory or just a descriptive enterprise.

Topic for #46: Plato’s Euthyphro

Does morality depend on religion? In Plato’s early and fun (and short!) dialogue Euthyphro, Socrates questions Euthyphro (who’s on his way to go and file murder charges against his own father) about the meaning of “piety.” Is an action (like turning in your dad) pious because it’s the kind of thing that the gods love? […]

Eric Reitan (via Pale Blue Dot) Refereeing the Atheism Debates

I’ve written before about Eric Reitan, a modern follower of Scheleirmacher, and on this episode of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot, Reitan gives I think a great explanation of the disagreement between the new atheists and humanistic, liberal Christians: they may agree on nearly all of the same principles (being against Biblical inerrancy and […]

Victor Stenger on the Fine Tuning Argument

We were left at an impasse on the episode regarding the part of the argument from design referring to the fine-tuning of the universe to support life. Dawkins didn’t give enough detail about this for us really to understand, much less critique it, yet it seemed like a lot of what we were concerned about […]

Episode 44: New Atheist Critiques of Religion


Discussing selections from Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel C. Dennett.

Should we be religious, or is religion just a bunch of superstitious nonsense that it’s past time for us to outgrow? Does faith lead to ceding to authority and potential violence? Can a reasonable person be religious? We say lots of rude things about these authors, and at times about their targets in this listener-requested episode featuring Mark, Wes, Seth, and Dylan. Read more about the topic.

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

Greetings from Austin Texas!

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

“Philosophy for Theologians” on Aquinas and Other Topics


In a recent post I recommended the “Philosophy for Theologians” podcast for more information about Hume on miracles. I’ve now listened to their first several episodes and can give a more comprehensive (both in the sense of covering more of there work and in the sense that I better understand their point) evaluation. First, this […]

Topic for #45: Moral Sense Theory: Hume and Smith

Here’s the recorded episode. In Ep. 41, we discussed David Hume’s ethics both providing a challenge for any naturalist (meaning one compatible with a modern scientific world-view) ethics–you can’t deduce “ought” from “is”–and as providing an approach to moral psychology. In this discussion, we grappled with selections from Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature (1740) and […]

Hume on Miracles Revisited

Chapter 1 of the Mackie book covers Hume’s account of miracles, which we discussed in our Hume epistemology episode. One of our blog commenters here mentioned offhand that he thought that argument had been long discredited, which was a surprise to me. You can review the argument at Wikipedia here. Basically it boils down to […]

Thomas Aquinas in Three Minutes

[Editor’s Note: I’ve evidently had mixed luck in getting our podcasts guests to join in our blogging (Azzurra, Josh, and Sabrina, this means you!), but Robert here is has been eager to join in. You can read much more of him at  -ML] If you find working your way through the Summa Theologica or […]

Autonomy and Moral Development: Piaget/Kohlberg/Gilligan

For a little more detail on how Gilligan’s account of moral development differs from and responds to those of her predecessors, check out this page from the U. of Illinois Office for Studies in Moral Development and Education. Given that it’s aimed at educators, the emphasis is on how schools can affect moral development. I […]

Topic for #44: “New Atheism”

We have long promised to more systematically cover these guys who generate so much fun sniping on our blog here, and as of last Sunday, the full as-of-now-regular podcaster lineup (myself, Seth, Wes, and Dylan; we will still have some guests on, though) recorded a discussion of: -The first two chapters of Sam Harris’s The […]

Carol Gilligan on Freud and “Voice”

We mentioned on the episode Gilligan’s opposition to Freud. In this clip, Gilligan discusses a methodological difference in analyzing women’s self-reporting (much of the content of In a Different Voice): Watch on YouTube. She claims that rather than imposing your theory (in this case that the patient knows more than she is willing or able […]

Episode 42: Feminists on Human Nature and Moral Psychology

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Discussing Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s utopian novel Herland (1915) and psychologist Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice (1983).

How does human nature, and specifically moral psychology, vary by sex? Charlotte Perkins Gilman claims that when philosophers have described human nature as violent and selfish, they have in mind solely male nature. Females, left to themselves in an isolated society, would be supremely peaceful, rational, and cooperative.

Topic for #43: Arguments for the Existence of God

On many episodes we’ve mentioned in passing, or given some author’s criticism of, the classic arguments for the existence of God: -The ontological argument, whereby some quality of the idea of God itself is supposed to necessitate that such a being exists. The most famous versions are by Descartes and St. Anselm. -The cosmological argument, […]

Pat Churchland Braintrust Video Roundup

For folks that just wanted to hear Pat talk a bit more about her book, focusing on the bits she wants to focus on rather than what we pushed her toward, here are a few video selections: In this video from her publisher’s web site, she gives a short monologue summarizing Braintrust. In this one, […]

Topic for #42: Feminists on Human Nature and Moral Psychology

This episode will feature Azzurra Crispino, whom you might recall from our Kant on epistemology episode. We’re reading two works that were significant for the development of her interest in feminist philosophy: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland(1915) is a utopian novel about a society of all women. Gilman thought that when classic philosophers describe human nature […]

“Softballs” on the Churchland Episode

Faraone, a commenter on our Facebook page, says: The Churchland episode was disappointing. You had a controversial academic who has made some bold and dubious claims during her career, and you spent your time tossing softballs to-and-fro. If you could not think-up challenging questions on your own, you could have read the many reviews of […]

Churchland Ep. Name Drop #2: Chris Eliasmith

Around 55 min into the episode, Pat described one of the possible roles of a philosopher re. the sciences is “the analogue of doing theoretical physics,” and she mentioned Chris Eliasmith as a paradigm example of this. He’s the Director for the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo. I quote from their […]

Churchland Ep. Name Drop #1: W.D. Ross

Our Churchland episode was exceptional in that we suspended some of our regular rules, including, I think, the one on name dropping, so I want to fill in some of the gaps through this blog by giving you readers an idea who some of these people are. I brought up W.D. Ross in the context […]

Michael Sandel on Kant’s Morality (Like Plato?)

In response to my Steven B. Smith post, Facebook commenter Robinson K. recommended Michael Sandel of Harvard as another great lecturer in political philosophy. He’s got a whole course on “Justice” available for online viewing. Though there doesn’t appear to be a lecture on Plato in there, I noted that episode 7 was described by […]

Myles Burnyeant (and Bryan Magee) on Plato

Here’s another old Bryan Magee video where he interviews Myles Burnyeant: Watch on YouTube. Anyone who’s listened to our Plato episodes will find nothing new in this first clip, which is just about who Plato and Socrates were, how Socrates died, and what Plato’s dialogues look like. Around 5 minutes in, Burnyeant lays out the […]

Steven B. Smith Lectures on Plato’s “Republic”

After our Locke episode, I blogged re. this Steven B. Smith introduction to political philosophy course from Yale, but in the case of the Plato episode, I actually used these three lectures as part of my preparation and discussed them on the show: Watch the first Plato lecture on Youtube. Get the audio from iTunes.

Scruton on Philosophy vs. Neuroscience

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

On Religion, the PowerPoint!

Given Schleiermacher’s dense prose, I found it a lot easier to prepare for the podcast by “translating” his first two speeches into a more modern voice. As a result, here’s On Religion, the PowerPoint! (Well, the first two speeches, anyway.) If you want to review Schleiermacher’s basic arguments without having to wade through 18th century German […]

Heidegger on Schleiermacher’s Second Address


Let us think for a while of a farmhouse in the Black Forest, which was built some two hundred years ago by the dwelling of peasants. Here the self-sufficiency of the power to let earth and heaven, divinities and mortals enter in simple oneness into things, ordered the house. – Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking” (1951) Schleiermacher’s […]

“Prima Facie Weirdness?”

During the episode I made a comment about the seeming weirdness of Christianity that I feel it would be helpful for my thinking to try to elaborate. I’ve said in several posts here that I think that the new atheist movement is primarily political: it’s not about advancing new arguments to philosophers, but about shifting […]

Schleiermacher on Miracles and Revelation

We talked a bit on the episode towards the end about S’s take on immortality. His take on miracles and on revelation is similar. In short, miracles are all around us, and all creativity is inspiration. It takes a pious person to recognize our ordinary environment as full of magic and wonder. From his second […]

Comparing Kant with Schleiermacher on God and the Soul

Listen on YouTube On the Schleiermacher episode, we spent some time comparing On Religion to Kant’s religious arguments, particularly citing Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason. Kant did not try to prove God’s existence or the soul’s immortality. Rather, he postulated those concepts as helpful ways to help realize the summum bonum, the highest good. “Postulate” is […]

Capturing Schleiermacher’s Romantic Mood

Watch in YouTube Can modern film depict Schleiermacher’s nature-obsessed 18th century Romantic mood? Probably not, but let’s go. I thought I better understood Husserlian phenomenology after reading Sartre’s Nausea, which even in translation has some gripping prose. The clip above, from Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979) exudes both the German Romantic aesthetic, and a phenomenological approach of sorts. Bonus […]

Episode 40: Plato’s Republic: What Is Justice?


Discussing The Republic by Plato, primarily books 1 and 2.

What is justice? What is the ideal type of government? In the dialogue, Socrates argues that justice is real (not just a fiction the strong make up) and that it’s not relative to who you are (in the sense that it would always be just to help your friends and hurt your enemies). Justice ends up being a matter of balancing your soul so the rational part is in control over the rest of you.

Episode 39: Schleiermacher Defends Religion

Friedrich Schleiermacher

Discussing Friedrich Schleiermacher’s “On Religion; Speeches to its Cultured Despisers” (1799, with notes added 1821), first and second speeches.

Does religion necessarily conflict with science? Schleiermacher says no: the essence of religion is an emotional response to life; it doesn’t give knowledge or even tell us what to do exactly. Moreover, this attitude is a necessary to fully enter into life, to be a whole and fulfilled person. Yes, he’s of the “romantic” school, but his approach can still be seen today in liberal Protestant churches.

Featuring guest podcaster and blog contributor Daniel Horne.

Russell’s Atomistic Metaphysics

Some information about Russell’s atomism was discussed in in our Wittgenstein’s Tractatus podcast. For a bit more information, here’s his essay “The Ultimate Constituents of Matter,” pointed out to us (dismissively) by frequent blog discussion contributor Burl and mentioned on our recent episode. I leave it to you all to explore this essay as you […]

Russell’s Epistemology: “The Problems of Philosophy”

I wanted to follow up on a reference I made on the episode for folks who want to know more about Russell’s epistemology: His book The Problems of Philosophyis an easy-reader intro to his take on traditional epistemological problems. Some of it will be familiar if you’ve listened to our episodes (from p. 42). For […]

Topic for #40: Plato’s Republic

What is justice? What is the ideal type of government? These are the two questions we’ll be focusing on in our discussion of the most famous book of philosophy ever. Look, we realize that if you’ve ever taken a philosophy class, you’ve likely already been introduced to this work, and there are many many other […]

Math Mutation Podcast on “New Math” and Russell

In the Russell episode, I brought up “new math,” whereby young people were taught set theory. The podcast I was referring to was Math Mutation Podcast #145: “Why Johnny Couldn’t Add.” Given how short the episodes are, it appears as if the author (Eric Seligman) has actually posted transcripts. Here’s the one on new math […]

Bertrand Russell’s Very Short Introduction to His Ontology

Watch in YouTube For those who can’t get enough Bertrand Russell, here’s an introduction to logical analysis from his History of Western Philosophy. In this concluding chapter, Russell explains his own philosophy, as inspired by Frege, so even critics of Russell-as-historian shouldn’t object. I was particularly taken with Russell’s ontology, via Einstein. Russell succinctly and […]

Georg Cantor and Ever Larger Infinities

Watch on youtube. A big name-drop during the middle of the Russell episode was the sad story of Georg Cantor and his insanity-inducing continuum hypothesis. Anyone unaware of Cantor and his contributions might want to look at this clip from the Dangerous Knowledge BBC documentary. I thought it provided a good visual explanation of higher […]

Episode 38: Bertrand Russell on Math and Logic

Bertrand Russell article, "On Denoting" from 1905

Discussing Russell’s Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (1919), ch. 1-3 and 13-18.

How do mathematical concepts like number relate to the real world? Russell wants to derive math from logic, and identifies a number as a set of similar sets of objects, e.g. “3” just IS the set of all trios. Hilarity then ensues.

Debating Locke’s View of Slavery as War

Ta-nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic, recently opened up a discussion on Locke’s Second Treatise, with respect to the discussion of slavery. A fairly intelligent debate thread followed in the comments section. Check it out if you found that section of PEL’s Locke episode interesting. Some of the better comments in the thread debated […]

Russell on Locke’s Political Philosophy

On our not-yet-released Russell episode, Wes dismisses Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy as pretty bad overall, but we also comment on that episode that Russell was a great admirer of Locke, so maybe he didn’t do as badly in that part of the book. In any case, some nice gentleman has posted a recording […]

P.E.L’s International Reach

On the Locke episode, I invited folks listening to us outside of the U.S. to chime in on the relevance of Locke to their national ideologies (or mythologies). I’ll extend that here to invite general shout-outs from any of you folks out of the country in response to this post. What’s the philosophical climate like […]

Topic for #39: Schleiermacher’s Liberal Piety

Friedrich Schleiermacher, a contemporary of Hegel, bought into Kant’s views on ethics and the division between scientific and religious realms, but didn’t like Kant’s ultimate view of religion, i.e. that its only support is an indirect (and really pretty flimsy) appeal to what we have to as a practical matter believe for ethics to really […]

Episode 37: Locke on Political Power


Discussing John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government (1690).

What makes political power legitimate? Like Hobbes, Locke thinks that things are less than ideal without a society to keep people from killing us, so we implicitly sign a social contract giving power to the state. But for Locke, nature’s not as bad, so the state is given less power. But how much less? And what does Locke think about tea partying, kids, women, acorns, foreign travelers, and calling dibs? The part of Wes is played by guest podcaster Sabrina Weiss.

Robert C. Solomon on Husserl’s Phenomenology

I couldn’t find any Solomon lectures on Hegel, but here’s one introducing Edmund Husserl, which I think is apt now that we’ve covered Hegel’s “phenomenology,” so you can reflect on the difference: Listen on youtube. Maybe the only reference to Hegel here is the discussion of Husserl’s rejection of historicism, though I think it should […]

Robert C. Solomon on Husserl’s Phenomenology

I couldn’t find any Solomon lectures on Hegel, but here’s one introducing Edmund Husserl, which I think is apt now that we’ve covered Hegel’s “phenomenology,” so you can reflect on the difference: Listen on youtube. Maybe the only reference to Hegel here is the discussion of Husserl’s rejection of historicism, though I think it should […]

Greeks vs. Germans

And now for something completely different: SPOILER ALERT: The Germans are disputing it! Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-analytic ethics, Kant via the categorical imperative is holding that ontologically it exists only in the imagination, and Marx is claiming that it was offside. But Confucius has answered […]

Rick Roderick on Hegel on History

Just to remind you, the recent Hegel episodes are not our first: we covered Hegel on history (the later, in some ways less radical Hegel) last year, shortly before I started posting videos related to our episodes. So here’s a video addressing that aspect of him. Watch on youtube. Rick Roderick, talking in 1990, stresses […]

Topic for #38: Russell on Math and Logic

What is a number? Is it some Platonic entity floating outside of space and time that we somehow come into communion with? We’ll be following up our foray into analytical philosophy with Frege with some Bertrand Russell: specifically his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (1919), which is the much shortened, non-technical version of his famous Principia […]

Episode 36: More Hegel on Self-Consciousness


Part 2 of our discussion of G.F.W. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, covering sections 178-230 within section B, “Self-Consciousness.”

First, Hegel’s famous “master and slave” parable, whereby we only become fully self-conscious by meeting up with another person, who (at least in primordial times, or maybe this happens to everyone as they grow up, or maybe this is all just happening in one person’s head… who the hell knows given the wacky way Hegel talks)? Then the story leads into stoicism, skepticism, and the “unhappy consciousness” (i.e. Christianity).

Žižek on Hegel on Identity

One public intellectual who has made much hay of Hegel’s continued relevance is Slavoj Žižek, who begins one of his jazz-session-like lectures on Hegel’s concept of identity here: Watch on youtube. It’s not clear to me whether Žižek is properly interpreting Hegel, mostly because I find both Žižek and early Hegel incomprehensible. Z’s been accused […]

The Pernicious Influence of Scientism

Alright, Mark has successfully baited me into a response on the issue of scientism. I should begin by saying that Mark has an interesting reading of Dennet that makes him out not to be a reductionist (as I and many others interpret him). I won’t address that here; I’m more interested in the general question […]

Lawrence Cahoone on Hegel’s Phenomenology

Here’s an audio-only lecture by Lawrence Cahoone: Listen on youtube. Cahoone here emphasizes very different themes than we talked about on the episode, specifically the theistic themes (he characterizes “Spirit” as “pantheistic” or “panentheistic,” both of which have been used to describe Spinoza; the former means everything is God, while the latter means everything is […]

Episode 35: Hegel on Self-Consciousness

G.F.W. Hegel

Discussing G.F.W. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), Part B (aka Ch. 4), “Self-Consciousness,” plus recapping the three chapters before that (Part A. “Consciousness”).

We discuss Hegel’s weird dialectical method and what it says about his metaphysics, in particular about ourselves: not static, pre-formed balls of self-interest, but something that needs to be actively formed through reflection, which in turn is only possible because of our interactions with other people. Featuring guest podcaster Tom McDonald.

Correction re. Episode 34’s Account of Russell on Denoting

At one point in Episode 34 (around 79:10), I made a mistake.  Oops. Might as well set it right on the blog! We were talking about Bertrand Russell’s classic 1905 article, ‘On Denoting.’  Russell is trying to do many different things in that article.  But for now, we only need to concern ourselves with one in […]

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 […]

Topic for #37: John Locke on Legitimate Powers

What gives a government the right to rule over its citizens? John Locke in his Second Treatise of Government (1689) says that government requires the real (though often implicit) consent of the people, which means it has to be in the people’s interest. Unlike Hobbes, Locke thinks that the state of nature (i.e. the alternative […]

Clare Carlisle’s Spinoza Walk-Through (via The Guardian)

I just stumbled across an 8 part series on Spinoza (discussed by us here), completed today and begun here on 2/7/11, written by U. of Liverpool lecturer Clare Carlisle, who I see has written some books on Kierkegaard,which will give you some idea where she’s coming from. I’ve not read the whole series, but it […]

A.J. Ayer and Bryan Magee on Frege and Russell

Bryan Magee and A.J. Ayer, a famous philosopher in his own right, here give an overview of Frege’s project and Bertrand Russell’s reaction to it. Watch on Youtube. The whole first clip here is just an overview of Frege, with his sense and reference distinction coming in around minute 8. In part two, Ayer and […]

Episode 34: Frege on the Logic of Language

Gottlob Frege

Discussing Gottlob Frege’s “Sense and Reference,” “Concept and Object” (both from 1892) and “The Thought” (1918).

What is it about sentences that make them true or false? Frege, the father of analytic philosophy who invented modern symbolic logic, attempted to codify language in a way that would make this obvious, which would ground mathematics and science. Applying his symbolic system to natural language forced him to invent strange entities like “thoughts” and “senses” that are neither physical nor psychological, and we pretty much spend this episode kvetching about the metaphysical implications of this and the fact that Frege didn’t care about them.

Motherfuckin’ Leibniz

For a philosophy site that’s at the same time bizarre, funny, and genuinely informative, see His “Secret History” video series appears to be baiting crackpots and cranks everywhere only to give them a good dose of … the philosophy of mathematics (to begin with). To see what a (sometimes too loud) soundtrack and visuals can do for […]

Topic for #35: Hegel on Self-Consciousness

We will at last be breaking open the most notoriously obscure, fantabulous work of philosophy ever: Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.This is the early Hegel: anti-metaphysical and historicist, as opposed to the later Hegel previously discussed in our philosophy of history episode and ripped on by Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer. It’s a frickin’ acid trip, this book […]

Montaigne, Mirror Neurons, and Men with Guns

Here’s an excerpt from a good series on Montaigne the Guardian UK ran last year, written by Sarah Bakewell, who just published a well received book on Montaigne: To take just one example of how we can derive wisdom from Montaigne: his Essays give us a wealth of anecdotes exploring ways of resolving violent confrontations. As a […]

Has the Internet Transformed Us? Yes and No.

This Piece by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker is very good and suitably conflicted concerning complaints about the social effects of technology: The odd thing is that this complaint, though deeply felt by our contemporary Better-Nevers, is identical to Baudelaire’s perception about modern Paris in 1855, or Walter Benjamin’s about Berlin in 1930, or […]

Episode 33: Montaigne: What Is the Purpose of Philosophy?


Discussing Michel de Montaigne’s Essays: “That to Philosophize is to Learn to Die,” “Of Experience,” “Of Cannibals,” “Of the Education of Children,” and “Of Solitude” (all from around 1580) with some discussion of “Apology for Raymond Sebond.”

Renaissance man Montaigne tells us all how to live, how to die, how to raise our kids, that we don’t know anything, and a million Latin quotations. Montaigne put the skeptical fire under Descartes and both draws upon and mocks a great deal of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. Plus, he’s actually fun to read.

Topic for #34: Frege on Language, Truth, and Logic

What is it about sentences that expresses truth or falsity? Gottlob Frege is considered one of the fathers of analytic philosophy, but it’s hard for someone with a general interest in philosophy to see much of his work as overtly philosophical. He did a lot of the work inventing modern symbolic logic, with an eye […]

Episode 32: Heidegger: What is “Being?”

Martin Heidegger

Discussing Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927), mostly the intro and ch. 1 and 2 of Part 1.

When philosophers try to figure out what really exists (God? matter? numbers?), Heidegger thinks they’ve forgotten a question that really should come first: what is it to exist? He thinks that instead of asking “What is Being?” we ask, as in a scientific context, “what is this thing?” This approach then poisons our ability to understand ourselves or the world that we as human beings actually inhabit, as opposed to the abstraction that science makes out of this.

U. of Winchester Lecture on Husserl’s Phenomology

Here’s another Husserl lecture to listen to, which sets Husserl in historical context as a contemporary of Freud prior to World War Two. The unnamed lecturer (I’ll be happy to update this post if someone can figure out who this is) talks a little about the relationship between Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit and Husserl’s phenomenology. […]

Tolkien (and Cory Olsen) on Fantasy as Transcendence

Listening to Dreyfus’s Heidegger lectures has gotten me looking around a bit among the “iTunes U” selections. It’s interesting to me that these are separated from podcasts generally when there is often little difference between the two types of selections, and that podcasts sanctioned by universities can still absolutely blow, particularly if they’re just unedited […]

The Quarrel Between the Thomists and the Straussians

Brian Leiter bizarrely endorses this idiotic review by Aristotle scholar Peter Simpson of Richard G. Stevens’ Political Philosophy: An Introduction. It’s clear that the logic behind this endorsement is that Simpson criticizes the book because it has been written by a Straussian, and Leiter despises Straussians. Unfortunately, the logic behind the review is that Simpson […]

Topic for #33: Montaigne on Philosophy and the Good Life

What does philosophizing really get us? We can’t attain much in the way of certain knowledge. Knowing really doesn’t, contra Plato, make us virtuous. In fact, getting too sucked into parsing long and complex texts can cause us to lose perspective, i.e. miss the point of our interest in philosophy in the first place. 16th […]

Episode 31: Husserl’s Phenomenology

Edmund Husserl-filtered

Discussing Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations (1931).

How can we analyze our experience? Husserl thinks that Descartes was right about the need to ground science from the standpoint of our own experience, but wrong about everything else. Husserl recommends we “bracket” the question of whether the external world exists and just focus on the contents of our consciousness (the “cogito”). He thinks that with good, theory-free observations (meaning very difficult, unnatural language), we can give an account of the essential structures of experience, which will include truth, certainty, and objectivity (intersubjective verifiability): all that science needs. We’ll find that we don’t need to ground the existence of objects in space and other minds, because our entire experience presupposes them; they’re already indubitable.

Bryan McGee and Hubert Dreyfus on Husserl and Heidegger

Daniel has already linked to this video in comments, but I wanted to make an actual post about it: Watch on youtube. The Husserl discussion here is pretty brief and not very revealing. Dreyfus, for one, is a Heidegger scholar and thinks that Husserl is only important insofar as he influenced Heidegger and showed (through […]

Robert Sokolowski audio on Husserl

In this clip (broken into five parts), Robert Sokolowski reads a paper in 2009 at a conference organized to celebrate Husserl’s 150th birthday: Listen on youtube. He describes Husserl’s place in the history of philosophy (there’s a lot of talk of ancient philosophy in here) and outlines his project, including more on the phenomenological reduction […]

Consciousness (Intentionality) as Transcendent

An important point on the Husserl episode that I was trying to get across was his notion that “intentionality” as he uses it doesn’t just mean that all conscious acts have a target, i.e. something you’re conscious of, but that this content is not itself something subjective. When we grasp something in consciousness, we’re not […]

Schopenhauer on Love

Here’s a nice little video, part of the “Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness” series, discussing Schopenhauer’s earnest but very unromantic theory of love, the point of which is to propagate the species (i.e. the will to life!). Watch on youtube. Did you know that tall people are attracted to short people so that their children […]

More Audio About Schopenhauer

If you’re liking having Schopenhauer-related audio to listen to so you needn’t actually read him, here’s a clip with some introduction or other to the World as Will and Representation, which describes his place in the history of philosophy and states some high level points about his philosophy, and quite a bit more about his […]

Schopenhauer’s Pessimism Read Aloud

There are a number of read-aloud Schopenhauer selections on the web that you should be aware of, which cover very directly the pessimism he is most famous for but which we didn’t cover in the episode. For instance: Listen on youtube (There’s nothing really to watch). Read the text. This is over half an hour […]

Schopenhauer on Euclid’s Geometry

One point on our Schopenhauer episode that we didn’t take much time to get into was his attitude towards geometric demonstration, which was of course the model for all philosophy for thinkers like Descartes. Here’s a short selection from section 39 of the Fourfold Root, which illustrates his idea that our knowledge of geometry is […]

Topic for #32: Heidegger: What is “Being?”

When philosophers do ontology (coming up with a list of types of things that “exist,” what are they actually doing? Martin Heidegger thinks this is a real problem: What is existence? What is “being?” It is, he thinks, the core problem behind all of philosophy, the underlying thought nagging us that needs to be settled […]

Schopenhauer’s Mom

Apparently Johanna Schopenhauer, Arthur’s mom, was an author, “the first German woman writer to publish books without making use of a pseudonym,” and “the most famous author in Germany” for a while in the 1820s. She wrote fiction, travelogues, and biography, and Arthur considered her work juvenile, and told her so. Her wikipedia page gives […]

Frederick Copleston and Bryan Magee on Schopenhauer

Here Bryan Magee gives some background on Schopie, which leads into an interview with philosophical historian (and Jesuit priest, known for debating Bertrand Russell on the radio re. the existence of God) Frederick Copleston: Watch on youtube. At the end of this first clip, Copleston points out that Kant thought of things in themselves as […]

To Go or Not to Go: The Philosophy Grad School Question

Via Leiter, here’s a typical sober (read: utterly pessimistic) guide to determining whether or not to go to grad school in philosophy. Despite the fact that I’ve read many of these pessimistic assessments, the answers to questions 8 and 9 — “Can I advance in the profession through talent and hard work?” and “Will I […]

Special Offer: Your Own Personal Philosophy for $20

Are you confused? Directionless? Tired of trying to figure it all out? Does the thought of slogging through the history of philosophy trying to figure out what does and doesn’t make sense to you depress and/or intimidate you? Well, now there’s an answer. For a mere $20 donation to the Partially Examined Life podcast and […]

John Searle’s Course Audio Available Online has posted links to three complete, free courses from the great philosophy of mind and language professor John Searle from UC-Berkeley. You may remember Searle from the Chinese Room argument as discussed in our philosophy of mind episode. These courses are on mind, language, and “philosophy of society,” which I will surely be checking […]

The Sickness Unto Death, the PowerPoint!

I mentioned on the Kierkegaard episode having prepared a PowerPoint on The Sickness Unto Death, so I submit to you, the morbidly curious, TSUD: The PowerPoint! (Warning, it’s over 700KB, and might take a while to download on slower connections.) I believe Seth made some minor corrections and improvements, but any errors in spelling, interpretation, […]

Jackson Pollock at Work

Jay mentioned on the episode being profoundly affected a short film from 1951 where Jackson Pollock shows how he works. Here’s a clip from it (Jay says it’s almost impossible to get one’s hands on a decent copy of the whole thing, but in the Ed Harris movie about Pollock they depict the making of […]

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 […]

Are You Experienced? Are You Ready to Rock?

My previous post about parody songs is of course a much too transparent and potentially exceptional case of the role of associations in music appreciation, since the joke in question is about style, meaning the art is “about” its style in an obvious way, whereas you might argue that art more typically works within a […]

Art That Jay Mentioned: Jenny Saville

Editor’s Note: Jay Bailey, excellent guest from our Nelson Goodman discussion, has been good enough to help us make sense of some of the art references. -ML Jenny Saville, Shift, 1996-1997, oil on canvas While the four of us brought up many examples of art (Nascar is exempt from that classification because I still don’t […]

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 […]

Topic for #30: Schopenhauer’s Twist on Kant’s Epistemology

Schopenhauer is widely known for being influenced by Buddhism’s claim that life is suffering and for in turn influencing Nietzsche, but his major influence is Kant. On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, was originally written (in 1813) as S’s dissertation but was later expanded and clarified for proper publication (in 1847). […]

Nelson Goodman on Induction (Grue and Bleen!)

On our Goodman episode, I start out by trying to give a short explanation of Goodman’s “New Riddle of Induction.” When we’re presented with evidence for a general claim, how do we tell which general claim the evidence is in support of? Goodman contrasts the predicate “green,” which we might think we can project to […]

Catherine Elgin on the Epistemic Efficacy of Stupidity

One of the chapters that I referred to from Nelson Goodman’s final book, Reconceptions in Philosophy and Other Arts and Sciences,was “The Epistemic Efficacy of Stupidity.” I’ve found that article online (I can’t swear it’s exactly the same as the version in Reconceptions, but it seems to have all the elements intact) here. It critiques […]

Goodman and Quine’s Nominalism

I referred on the podcast to Goodman’s 1947 article “Steps Toward a Constructive Nominalism.” You can look at it here. The philosophical content is in the first couple of chapters; in fact, I’ll just give you the first half of the first chapter here: We do not believe in abstract entities. No one supposes that […]

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 […]

Alan Watts on Nothingness

I got a call for some Alan Watts in our Buddhism discussion, so here’s one of many clips of his from youtube that touches on a theme discussed on the episode (i.e. nothingness and the interdependence of opposite, plus a quick statement without much explanation of Big Self) and which has some good background music […]

B.S. about Jesus and Buddhism

Could Jesus have been taken to India as a child and taught Buddhism? Hmmm? Hmmm? Here’s something that apparently showed on the BBC at some point: Watch on youtube. OK, some silly speculation here (and more amusingly told in Christoper Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal),but a few points of comparison […]

Nagarjuna on Ultimate Truth (Yet More Westerhoff)

I will end my Westerhoff/Nagarjuna coverage with one more selection from right at the end of Westerhoff’s book: According to the Madhyamaka view of truth, there can be no such thing as ultimate truth, a theory describing how things really are, independent of our interests and conceptual resources employed in describing it. All one is […]

Nagarjuna on the Thing-in-Itself (More Westerhoff)

Our Nagarjuna episode seemed to conclude that ultimate reality is beyond our ability to speak about it. The objects of our experience are a shared fiction, and the most we can do with language is to show that they’re fictional; even the terms we use to accomplish this (like emptiness) are themselves constructs, serving only […]

Westerhoff on Nagarjuna on Metaphysically Basic Entities

One of the topics we didn’t really get into on the podcast, and which in our Buddhism reading I actually found the most interesting, is the metaphysics of basic elements of the world. Nagarjuna argues that reality has no ultimate foundation, and in the episode we discussed that in terms of the possibility of Cartesian […]

Topic for #29: Kierkegaard’s “The Sickness Unto Death”

We’ll be digging into the reputed “father of existentialism,” who takes his Christianity very personally and thinks the rest of you are a bunch of sheep, thank you very much. In the ole’ Sygdommen til Døden, Mr. K. writes as “Anti-Climacus,” a pseudonym which he brought out when feeling frisky, much like Richard Bachman. Did […]

Glimpses of Zen: No Self vs. Big Self

As mentioned on the podcast, our original intention was to cover Zen, but that seemed difficult without covering some of the history. Nagarjuna was a big influence on Zen, particularly in the “Reasoning” reading where he urges disassociation from even Buddhist doctrine itself, i.e. the transcendence of all views. That’s the kind of mind-bending apparent […]

Elucidations Podcast: Brian Leiter on Religious Tolerance

OK, if the atheism debates are so squalid, then what’s the moderate, “philosophically respectable” approach to some of the issues that come up in them? A recent episode of the University of Chicago philosophy podcast Elucidations featured philosophy uber-blogger Brian Leiter (who taught my philosophy and the law class at U. Texas). Leiter addresses the […]

Dig that Funky Lotus Sutra!

I referred on the podcast to the over-the-top theatrics of the Lotus Sutra, and also that Nagarjuna’s “verses” were just that: verses meant to be memorized and sung. Well, here on youtube we have a recording of the Lotus Sutra (I have no idea how much of it; surely not the whole thing) memorized and […]

The Tedium Debates: Dawkins vs. the Pope

How philosophically uninteresting are the atheist debates? Yes, it’s nice that something akin to philosophy is actively debated in the media, that ongoing disputes about religious matters will hopefully keep the spirit of the times moving forward by providing active intellectual and/or spiritual alternatives to people beyond whatever religion they may have been brought up […]

Nagarjuna speaks!

This cheeseball video (which I refer to in the podcast as the source of my pronunciations of “Nagarjuna” and “Madhyamika”) reveals that Nagarjuna had a midwestern accent and some goofy iMovie effects at his disposal. He likes using the same font as Avatar, too. And is that a ney flute I hear? Hell, yeah! My […]

Sam Harris on the Daily Show

Wes has posted about this previously, but I wanted to give this more thought after seeing Sam Harris (introduced at the top of the show not as a philosopher but as a “professional atheist”) on the Daily Show a couple of days back. You can see the interview here. As is typical for a short […]

Schizophrenia, Philosophy & Freud

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

Freud on Religion: A Quiz


Given that the subject of our Freud episode was Civilization and its Discontents, we were pretty quick regarding Freud’s specific points on religion, which are pretty interesting in themselves, in that his view is for practical purposes very much in line with the modern scientism of someone like Dawkins but acknowledges elements of Kantian agnosticism. […]

Freud vs. C.S. Lewis: A Roundtable on Religion and Morality

Here we see guys in goofy Lewis and Freud costumes putting forward simplistic alternative views on the origin of moral sentiments to set up a round-table discussion: The discussion interestingly displays no evidence of these folks having read Freud’s discussion of morality in Civilization and its Discontents, specifically his claim that experience in fact […]

Slavoj Zizek on Applying Psychotherapy to Culture

Here is a somewhat startling video of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek talking briefly about trying to apply the insights of psychotherapy (which deals with individuals) to cultures: Watch on youtube. His remarks about being able to relate an “anonymous social field” reflect Heidegger’s conception of “Das Man,” i.e. our tendency to conform to social norms, […]

Topic for #27: Nagarjuna the Indian Buddhist

Does anything really exist? Sure, we have experiences, which seem confirmed by other experiences, and other people seem to corroborate some of these experiences, so we naively consider the world of our experience as objectively there, but is that all there is to it? Well, if you go into philosophy with the idea that life […]

“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 […]

Spinoza Roundtable

Haven’t had enough Spinoza? Watch a panel of Spinoza scholars weigh in via a two-hour Philoctetes Center roundtable. The video is configured so that I can’t embed it here; check it out on youtube here: The discussion is rambling and badly needs editing. The panelists all monologuize (worse than we do on the podcast) […]

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 […]

No, It’s Not Just Semantics

It shouldn’t need saying that there’s a difference between linguistic and conceptual definitions, or that every system of knowledge rests on unproven axioms or assumptions — mathematics, logic, and science as much as philosophy. That’s why philosophical “meta discussions” about these fields — and knowledge in general — become genuinely interesting and problematic (rather than merely a matter of linguistic confusion or semantics), even while we know that that these problems don’t bear on their practical application.

Hawking Keeps Hacking: “Philosophy is Dead”

Apparently Stephen Hawking not only thinks that spontaneous creation from nothingness is somehow a scientific concept: he also claims that “philosophy is dead” (and as I point out, this is hardly surprising given the core anti-intellectualism lurking behind his amateur philosophizing).

A New Atheist on the “Ground Zero Mosque”

Sam Harris makes it clear that his atheism is in fact motivated less by reason and more by spleen: Should a 15-story mosque and Islamic cultural center be built two blocks from the site of the worst jihadist atrocity in living memory? Put this way, the question nearly answers itself. He compares it to building a shrine […]

Episode 22: More James’s Pragmatism: Is Faith Justified? What is Truth? (Citizens Only)


On William James’s “The Will to Believe,” and continuing our discussion on James’s conception of truth as described in his books Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth. Does pragmatism give ground for religious belief, like if it feels good for me to believe in God, can that justify belief? Is belief in science or rationality itself a form of faith?

End song: “Who Cares What You Believe?” by Madison Lint (2001).

Episode 15: Hegel on History


Discussing G.W.F Hegel’s Introduction to the Philosophy of History. Though he didn’t actually write a book with this name, notes on his lectures on this topic were published after his death, and the first chunk of that serves as a good entrance point to Hegel’s very strange system.

How should a philosopher approach the study of history? Is history just a bunch of random happenings, or is it a purposive force manipulating us to fulfill its hidden ends? If you have asked yourself this question in this way, then you, like Hegel, are mighty strange.

Episode 14: Machiavelli on Politics


Reading Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince and Ch. 1-20 of The Discourse on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy.

What’s a philosophically astute approach to political matters? What makes a government successful? Should you keep that fortress or sell it for scrap? If you conquer, say, Iraq, do you have to then go and live there for the occupation to work out? Is it OK to display the heads of your enemies on spikes, or should you opt for a respectful diorama?

Episode 11: Nietzsche’s Immoralism: What Is Ethics, Anyway?

Transcription of Episode 61 on Nietzsche

Discussing The Genealogy of Morals (mostly the first two essays) and Beyond Good and Evil Ch. 1 (The Prejudices of Philosophers), 5 (Natural History of Morals), and 9 (What is Noble?).

End song: “The Greatest F’in Song in the World,” from 1998’s Mark Lint and the Fake Johnson Trio.

We go through Nietzsche’s convoluted and historically improbable stories about about the transition from master to slave morality and the origin of bad conscience. Why does he diss Christianity? Is he an anti-semite? Was he a lazy, arrogant bastard? What does he actually recommend that we do?

Episode 10: Kantian Ethics: What Should We Do?


Discussing Fundamental Principles (aka Groundwork) of the Metaphysic of Morals (1785).

We try very hard to make sense of Kant’s major ethical principle, the Categorical Imperative, wherein you should only do what you’d will that EVERYONE do, so, for instance, you should not will to eat pie, because then everyone would eat it and there would be none left for you, so too bad.

End song: “Stop” by Madison Lint (2003).

Episode 7: Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: What Is There and Can We Talk About It?

Ludwig Wittgenstein 1

Discussing the beginning (through around 3.1) of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Mr. W. wrote that the world is made up of facts (as opposed to things) and that these facts can be analyzed into atomic facts, but then refused to give even one example to help us understand what the hell he’s talking about, and so Wes and Mark argue about it per usual while Seth corrects our German pronunciation. The first 3/4 of this episode was recorded off-site from our regular equipment, making the audio quality relatively sucky. Enjoy!

End song: “Facts for a Moment (What You Are to Me),” recorded in 1992 and released on the Mark Linsenmayer album Spanish Armada, Songs of Love and Related Neuroses.

Episode 6: Leibniz’s Monadology: What Is There?


Discussing Leibniz’s Monodology. Have some tasty metaphysics, in mono!

Leibniz thinks that the world is ultimately made up of monads, which are like atoms except nothing at all like atoms, because they’re alive, and mindful, and eternal, and windowless, placed in the best kind of harmony at the beginning of time by God. Is there a concept album in all of this?

Plus, does reading philosophy make you a better conversationalist, or just get you ostracized?

End song: The soothing “Healthy Song” by The MayTricks, from the 1994 album Happy Songs Will Bring You Down.

Episode 4: Camus and the Absurd


Discussing Camus’s “An Absurd Reasoning” and “The Myth of Sisyphus” (1942).

Does our eventual death mean that life has no meaning and we might as well end it all?  Camus starts to address this question, then gets distracted and talks about a bunch of phenomenologists until he dies unreconciled.  Also, let’s all push a rock up a hill and like it, okay?  Plus, the fellas dwell on genius and throw down re. the Beatles, the beloved Robert C. Solomon and Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers.

End song: “My Friends” by Mark Lint and the Simulacra (2000).