We’ve had some nice things to say about plenty of philosophy podcasts on the web, and we salute anyone who makes the attempt, however informally, to record and distribute discussions of philosophical matters.
I’m also very proud that P.E.L. has gained some visibility on the web and in the iTunes store such that anyone with a deep desire to find philosophy podcasts will likely stumble across us.
However, due to peculiarities in iTunes podcast categorization and what to many is a vagueness in the term “philosophy,” we will likely never be at the very top of the iTunes store philosophy podcast rankings. Here are some of the fascinating cultural events that recurrently kick P.E.L.’s collective ass in those rankings:
The Survival Podcast. Featuring recent topics such as “producing your own food,” “gardening solutions for transitional or harsh environments,” and “bat conservation and habitat management.” Yes, you fans of Descartes will flock to this one.
Stuff Mom Never Told You, from HowStuffWorks.com. This consistently #1 show addresses questions like “Is there a link between semen and happiness?” and “Should you sell or donate your breast milk?” Occasionally a topic approaches something philosophical: “Why are more people enslaved than ever before?”
Tariq Elite’s Mack Lessons Radio. Most episodes have topics like “New Rules for Men/Dating Rules for Women” and “Blacks suffering from White Daddy Syndrome.” I did listen to portions of one called “spirit vs. Knowledge” hoping to have the secrets of the epistemology of religion revealed to me, but instead it was about how being in jail kills your spirit and can make you a para-intellectual. I couldn’t get my head around how one could want to listen to a 40 minute recording entirely underlied by the same repetitive music riff… OK, it actually changes to a different riff at around 34 minutes.
“Cast On” by Brenda Dayne. This is a knitting podcast, with occasional musings–I think mostly towards the end of episodes–about issues such as how pleasant it is to be sitting and knitting. I scanned through a couple of episodes with not-obviously-about-knitting titles like “how to be a poet” and “the phantom menace,” and I guess those titles are merely metaphorical, because nothing I heard bore any direct relation to them.
The Grandma’s Virginity Podcast. This comedy podcast just had “Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman on it, so I for one was excited about that, but you may as well call the David Letterman or Howard Stern shows “philosophy” is this one counts as philosophy. Haven’t you heard? Philosophy = random amusing topics! And celebrities!
The History of Rome. As with the previous entry, the category hierarchy that comes up for this isn’t philosophy, but I guess the person who set up the podcast entered philosophy as a secondary descriptor or something, so it gets included when calculating the rankings for philosophy.
Modern Manners Guy Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Polite Life. I guess I feel for these guys, as it’s not like people are going to be browsing an “etiquette” category even if there were one, and you have to assign some category. And the rules of playground or elevator etiquette are in some way philosophical, just as Seinfeld was essentially a series of Platonic dialogues exploring unwritten social mores.
There’s much more of course, such as our ever-close-competitor “Something in Chinese Having to Do with the Number 3,” a variety of straight-up religion podcasts that I doubt would have much appeal to someone studying religious issues through philosophy, other political talk shows (I see the “Ron Paul 2012 Podcast” is an up-n-comer!), podcasts on the paranormal, technology, yoga, parenting, business management, etc. Scanning through the list, a small minority seem to have anything to do with philosophy even given the most generously wide possible meaning of the term, and of those, the connection to the kind of academic philosophy that we read about is often tenuous at best.
The lesson of this whole exercise is that the general public doesn’t have much of an idea what philosophy is or have clearly in mind examples of present-day philosophers. It also seems like a reductio ad absurdum against my own definition of philosophy: raw inquiry in all its forms. As certain kinds of inquiry get formalized into hard sciences or social sciences or theology or the like, they no longer need to be called “philosophy,” but any random, uncategorized thinking can remain lumped in the philosophy stew. Perhaps a better approach to the definition of the term is just pointing to the mass of stuff that we do podcasts on and say “philosophy is like that,” with no further elaboration necessary or possible. That might not work too well for informing a categorization system like that used by iTunes, but clearly, the current lack of a system is no better.