Not School Study Groups In July

Not School

We’ve got a number of attractive reading groups going this month, a couple of which are entirely new.  It looks like almost every group will be starting fresh with a new text, so this should be a good month for members new and old who’ve never joined a group to try it out.  If you’re […]

Topic for #85: John Rawls’s Theory of Justice

Listen now to Seth’s Precognition for this episode. On the evening of 11/10, we’re discussing John Rawls. What is justice? Rawls interpreted this question as asking what basic social rules and structures would result in a society that we’d consider fair. Justice is fairness, on a social level. Fairness, of course, is an intuitive notion, […]

Not School Discussion of Zizek Now Available

I and four Citizens took a first crack at discussing The Year of Dreaming Dangerously yesterday (read more about our Not School group here). Since Freud and Jung, psychotherapy has been used to try to make sense of group behavior, and Lacan himself applied his insights to the political realm (among other places). Zizek follows […]

Not School: Slavoj Zizek’s “The Year of Dreaming Dangerously”


Featuring Mark Linsenmayer, Khari Robertson, Philip Cherny, Matt Cole, and Steve Robinson. Recorded October 22, 2013.

Zizek gives a Marxist analysis of the events of 2011 using Lacanian language: Capital is the “real” behind all of these various conflicts that seem to be between individual groups. Capitalism is never itself confronted as a system, but serves as the underlying force and the principle by which this force itself is made invisible to us.

The Moral Uselessness of Moral Outrage


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

Andrew Sullivan’s Incoherence on Radical Islam


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

Topic for #70: Karl Marx’s “German Ideology”

On 1/13 we recorded a discussion of an early work of Karl Marx, from about 20 years before the publication of his famous Das Capital, The German Ideology. Listen to the episode. We read just part 1 of the work, which was written in 1845-6 but not published until 1932 (with some portions of it […]

What Would You Change?

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

PEL’s Presidential Endorsement: Naked Political Partisanship

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

Mary Webster on Paul Revere Radio

As part of the run-up to our Federalist Papers episode, I listened to this interview on the Paul Revere Radio podcast interviewing Mary E. Webster, who published a couple of volumes of The Federalist Papers in “modern English.” I can think of few texts with which this podcast is in contact which is less in […]

Episode 65: The Federalist Papers

James Madison and Alexander Hamilton

On Alexander Hamilton/James Madison’s Federalist Papers (1, 10-12, 14-17, 39, 47-51), published as newspaper editorials 1787-8, plus Letters III and IV from Brutus, an Anti-Federalist. What constitutes good government? These founding fathers argued that the proposed Constitution, with its newly centralized (yet also separated-by-branch) powers would be a significant improvement on the Articles of Confederation, which had left states as the ultimate sovereigns. Learn more.

End song: “Feeling Time” by Madison Lint (2002).

Topic for #65: Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers (originally published as just The Federalist) are a collection of essays published in newspapers in 1787-1788 arguing for the ratification of the American Constitution. Each was published under the pseudonym “Publius” though most were written by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. (There are a few written by John Jay.) They were collected […]

Episode 62: Voltaire’s Novel “Candide”


On Candide: or, Optimism, the novel by Voltaire (1759). Is life good? Popular Enlightenment philosopher Leibniz argued that it’s good by definition. God is perfectly good and all-powerful, so whatever he created must have been as good as it can be; we live in the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire loads this satirical adventure story up with horrific violence to demonstrate that Leibniz’s position is just silly. Life is filled with suffering, and human nature is such that even in peace and prosperity, we’re basically miserable. Yet we still love life despite this. Tend your garden! Learn more.

End song: “Woe Is Me,” from from Mark Lint & the Fake Johnson Trio (1998).

Episode 60: Aristotle: What’s the Best Form of Government?


On Aristotle’s Politics (350 BCE), books 1 (ch 1-2), 3, 4 (ch 1-3), 5 (ch 1-2), 6 (ch 1-6), and 7 (ch. 1-3, 13-15). Aristotle provides both a taxonomy of the types of government, based on observations of numerous constitutions of the states of his time, and prescriptions on how to best order a state. Learn more.

End song: “Don’t Forget Where You Are,” from the Mark Linsenmayer album Spanish Armada, Songs of Love and Related Neuroses (1993)

Topic for #60: Aristotle’s Politics

Aristotle’s Politics (from around 350 B.C.E.) is presented as a follow-up to his Nichomachean Ethics (which we discussed in a previous episode). Actually, we’re not sure in what order these were composed, and the Politics is internally repetitious enough that it is probably itself mashed together from different original sources; those that are into that […]

Stokely Carmichael’s Sartrean Influences

One of the names dropped during the Race and Philosophy episode was that of Stokely Carmichael. Below is a famous recording of one Carmichael’s “Black Power” speeches, given after Carmichael was appointed Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC: Watch on YouTube.

Episode 49: Foucault on Power and Punishment

Michel Foucault

Discussing Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (1975), parts 1, 2 and section 3 of part 3.

Are we really free? Kings no longer exert absolute and arbitrary power over us, but Foucault’s picture of the evolution from torture and public executions to rehabilitative, medical-style incarceration is not so much a triumph of liberty but a shift to more subtle but more pervasive exertions of power. Read more about the topic and get the book.

Topic for #49: Foucault on Power and Punishment

We don’t live in a totalitarian state, we’re not slaves, and most of us are not so desperately poor that our power of choice has been effectively snuffed out, so we’re free, right? Michel Foucault says no. In his book, Discipline and Punish, he tells a story reminiscent in style of Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals […]

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

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

Being Old in a Democracy: Peter Lawler on Plato and Us

Why is oldness found so repulsive in our culture today? Why do old people feel so compelled to make themselves look like worse versions of young people through plastic surgery? The easy answer is ‘it’s natural’, i.e., youth gives a competitive Darwinian advantage, so if we have the bio-technology available to keep ourselves younger we […]

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.

Roger Scruton on Religion and Politics

The recent interest here in Roger Scruton (who I’d really only known due to his Kant scholarship)led me to this interview with him from 2002 from The London Times in light of his book The West and the Rest: Globalization and the Terrorist Threat.His conservative political philosophy is outlined as such: …He rejects the western […]

Roger Scruton on Religion and Politics

The recent interest here in Roger Scruton (who I’d really only known due to his Kant scholarship)led me to this interview with him from 2002 from The London Times in light of his book The West and the Rest: Globalization and the Terrorist Threat.His conservative political philosophy is outlined as such: …He rejects the western […]

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.

Are The Smurfs Based on Plato’s Republic?

Apparently The Smurfs have been accused of being anti-semitic communists living in a totalitarian utopia. It bears mentioning — since we’re reading Plato’s Republic for the next podcast — that each Smurf is named for what they do best. — Wes

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 […]

“The Nation” on Brooks on Cognitive Neuroscience

We’ve bashed NY Times columnist David Brooks before on this blog for his attempts at philosophy, and I absolutely feel for the guy from a logistical perspective: he’s not an academic that can take a sabbatical and hole up to write and revise. He’s more or less a blogger who has to fumble around every […]

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 […]

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.

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 […]

More on Bergmann’s “New Work”

Here are the main elements of Frithjof’s Bergmann’s idea of “New Work” (introduced in this post) as he taught it back at U. of Michigan. 1. Developing a calling. Work can sap our will to live, but the right kind of work can be invigorating. If it’s an enterprise you can identify with, that’s meaningful […]

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 3: Hobbes’s Leviathan: The Social Contract


Discussing Hobbes’s Leviathan, Chapters 13-15. Have we implicitly signed a social contract whereby our native right to punch other people in the face is given to the President? Hobbes does things that eventually result in the U.S. Constitution and makes Wes nauseous. Plus: Star Trek and the Bible!