I wanted to remind you if you're a fan of the podcast to go to the iTunes store and leave us a nice rating or a review.
I noticed that we now for the first time have a 4 1/2 star overall average instead of a 5 star one. I think this is not uncommon when one's exposure gets large enough (you can't please everyone), so I am happy that this is getting to enough "normies" that not everyone gets it, but still, I see that some folks like Joe Rogan and Sam Harris have enough die-hards to still outweigh all the intense criticism, and it'd be nice if we could do the same.
Over the years, we've on occasion gotten some bad reviews, so I thought it would be fun to just bring them all out in the open and see if they hold any water, whether they affected the way we did things over time.
1. March 2013: Danny_Trappedinsidethebeltway says: Awful. If snark and sarcasm is your idea of Philosophy then this is the podcast for you.
Now, I'm not going to bother commenting on bad grammar and suspicious capitalization in these; that's just the Internet.
So, humor is polarizing. In our early episodes, I called Socrates an asshole and was otherwise "irreverent," which was fun, but mostly got old, so I do that much less now. Was I ultimately swayed by the desire to please the academics in our audience, to not alienate people? Clearly this guy is just uptight, possibly elderly, but I won't say I wasn't asking for it. Interestingly, in his review of the Adam and Dr. Drew podcast, he praises Adam but dismisses Drew, with the quote "The mind of a liberal is barely a mind at all." So it may be less the irreverence and more the constant sniping at stupid conservatives; again, now with our larger audience, I tend to paint with a much less broad brush. I also find it puzzling when people are so set off by some aspect of the show (the occasional swear or joke or political jab) that they can't even hear all the effort at actual insight that's been present in what we do from the start.
2. May 2017: NooraComan says: Help. Far too politically correct. A little too much navel gazing.
This went up shortly after our white privilege episode, and I'm taking a wild guess that like many of our less-than-stellar reviews, this person listened to just that one episode and then moved on. Per our more recent bonus Identity Politics Prelim discussion, I'm just not sure that our covering topics like this helps much of anyone, and is a bit off from our typical mission. Speaking of...
3. April 2018: K.L. Philosophy says: Too Sarcastic to be Thoughtful. The speakers began by snickering at Ayn Rand like schoolboys made uncomfortable by a sex-ed lesson. [Some directions for people to go listen to "real" lectures on objectivism.]
Our favorite pseudo-philosophers! The partisans: People who aren't really interested in philosophy per se, but have fallen in love with a particular philosopher and consider his or her work to BE philosophy, and if you dare to point out that they really need to get out more, then you just don't get it. The Randians are the most organized, but the Pirsig fanatics are nearly as loony, and of course we've had Marxists, Stoics, Lacanians, Heideggerians, and others embarrass themselves similarly. In the case of white privilege, we managed to attract mono-philosophers on both sides, making it pretty much a no-win move for us. We get regular calls to cover philosophy that's arguably pretty bad, and while we kind of want to do this out of public service, to explore what the fuss is about and maybe warn people off, I'm not sure that giving (some of) the people what they want is worth inciting the wrath of others. Ultimately, we will continue to make the call on a case-by-case basis.
4. Dec. 2011: Elliot the Creative says: What are they talking about? I hate to drop a negative review among so many positive ones, but these conversations are totally lost on me...philosophy is just a pointer...it is meant to point to something much deeper than the philosophy itself...the closest analogy I can think of... is going to church and having a sermon analyzing what schools of thought Jesus was aligned with, what led him to say what he said or do what he did...rather than looking at the teachings, and seeing what we can learn from them, how they can apply to our lives, and how we can become better people because of them... There is a whole lot of heart behind the great teachings, that seems to be somewhat lost here.
This one is interesting, because it hits at the difference between what you'd learn in a philosophy class and what often counts as philosophy in the iTunes store, i.e., self-help. I can absolutely understand someone being mystified both by why we (or any academic philosophy fans) do what they do, and (as the title seems to indicate) simply having trouble following the conversation. Steven from Philosophize This! addresses both of those issues, which is why his podcast gets many more listeners than ours. I was actually able to figure out this guy's personal web page and reached out to him. There's someone with a similar name who's currently a PEL Citizen, so it might be the same guy, but I see this review remains up there, so probably not.
5. May 2012: tooearly says: 5 stars for this? I confess I only listened to the most recent two podcasts, dealing with Wittgenstein's Investigations. Perhaps I am missing the point of this series: Is it trying to be a Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of Philosophy for novices? If so, I would have to say it fails based on its sophomoric humor. As explication it also fails miserably, mostly because the hosts are A) woefully ignorant of the material and B) too arrogant to even begin to acknowledge that they might be missing the real significance of the work... [more of the same]
As a huge MST3K fan, I really like the characterization of us as doing that to philosophy, though of course, we don't usually have a funny guy like Philosophy Bro on, and also, see #1. I found this one interesting enough that I wrote a blog post on it at the time, which I still stand behind, though, again, I think my softening of tone over the years precludes some of this type of critique nowadays. This guy might have "got it" had he listened to more episodes (maybe he did!), and might have wanted to listen to more had we not been so cheeky. Dylan has certainly served as a moderating influence!
6. Aug. 2013: Steve Allen says: Well... No doubt these guys know their stuff. The podcast is too long and sonically intolerable.
And voila! We started breaking episodes (well, not immediately) into two parts. This ironically gave us license to keep talking longer, so instead of a one-part two-hour experience, we've occasionally veered toward 70 min for part one and 90 min for part two.
We figured out some technical things early on, and replaced all of our mics within the first years, so clearly this guy listened to an early ep. or two and gave up. To that I say: Well...
7. Sep. 2013: awyzguy says: Humorous and conversational, but sadly misguided. After listening to 10 episodes or so I have to unsubscribe as these guys drive me crazy. The uninflected monotone of Mark and his friends is so grating, the cliff note nature of their conversations so unenlightening. I was also amazed listening to an old episode on Nietche at how quickly they dismissed the very notion of a geneology of philosophy, representative I think of their general dislike for actual life and events. But overall it is their enthrallment with contemporary American legal philosophy which is too much for me to handle... [complains specifically about Rawls/Sandel.] One could hardly find a better example of one having their head in the clouds than this discussion... completely devoid of content, as if America is nothing more then an idea, not a place where something happens. No discussions of inequality of justice, or the limits of rule... If they did an episode on the constitution they would argue about what was meant by the words "equal" and "created", rather than the contradictions inherent in "all men are created equal". For all their talk of being down to earth, they philosophize from the point of view of the administrator not the individual. Unless you already know about what they talk about you won't really understand a thing.
I find that one really interesting, though of course sadly misguided. Seriously, I took the whole "disengaged from actual human life" critique from this guy and others seriously, which is why we've had these current politics episodes, gotten into some literature, etc. I mean, that's not going to correct for my "uninflected monotone," but what would?
8. Mar. 2015: Klondike Queen says: Disappointing. I was hoping for a sharing of knowledge; these podcasts are mostly a few guys vying to be entertaining and falling quite flat. A good idea in theory, but in reality an unengaging unfortunate waste of time.
This one makes me laugh. I'm intrigued! What does she think the good idea is that should have been better executed? Is it just a waste of the listeners' time, or is she concerned about it being a waste of our time too? I am honored that we're only one of three things on the iTunes store that she reviewed: She panned one app, but highly approved of one called Drum School. Based on her recommendation, I downloaded this and enjoyed it quite a lot. Thanks, KQ!
9. Oct 2016: Plzdestroyme says: One of you doesn't belong in this podcast. All three of you know who I mean. I would love to be able to listen to the other two, but that guy just says the stupidest stuff. He's a liability to the show.
So, this is one of two things: Either we have yet another humorless person who didn't like that I kept interrupting early episodes with jokes and other questionable bits of performance art. That seems most likely. But what I'd like to think is that this is someone trolling us: Trying to make us each paranoid that we are are the weak link. Of course, boo on this person for claiming in 2016 that there are only three of us when Dylan was a full host by 2011.
That's all of our bad iTunes reviews! I mean, we've gotten other negative feedback, but those folks weren't mean enough to put it on record. Since 9 is not a round number, I want to add one more, received as a comment on the blog, that is recent and especially relevant to me right now:
This is a comment on our ep. 124 on Epictetus:
10. Mark (a different Mark than your host, obviously) says: A awkwardly long rambling conversation with the stoic purpose of some of Epictetus’s instructions missed. Also there was no broader discussion of Stoic principles, no historic context, and nothing about its subsequent influence. Discussing passages from so many different translations of the manual was also a mistake, especially the poor one. If you’re reading about and learning about stocism, this puerile podcast will add little and could be missed without much loss. A guy that also couldn’t be described as a comedian: 1/5
I see I actually deleted this one from the post, it so stuck in my craw, largely because, like #3, it came years after the episode, and is so clearly just a partisan looking around for more on the web about his favorite thing. Plus, we promptly recorded ep. 132 to give Stoicism a second, more charitable look, with a brilliant adherent for a guest.
For my ep. 201 preparations, I read not only Marcus Aurelius (the third and final great Stoic philosopher), but also works by our guest for this episode: Ryan Holiday. I listened to some Stoic podcasts and am actually making some attempt at meditating over the various ideas, to do (at least in miniature) the self-help thing being recommended. I'm interested in this connection between a group of people who avowedly appreciate philosophy, in fact need philosophy, but for the most part seem to think that they already have the main answers figured out in advance. To me, philosophy is inquiry. It's not just reminding yourself of "truth" that you claim to know. That would be religion, and while modern Stoics often take pride in the fact that their view is compatible with science, is perhaps even free of metaphysical claims, I feel very much like Nietzsche looking at Kant: You can take the most scientifically objectionable part out of religion, but if you retain the attitude, have you really escaped from what's objectionable about being religious?
I'm struck, per this review, with the difference between actually exploring a text as we do, considering all its warts and speculating about its motives, vs. Ryan's practice of taking the most modern-seeming elements, interpreting them so they seem more modern and are most useful for life, and laying it all out as Good News that he's sharing with the people. As with any religion, there are more Nietzsche-friendly—creative, open-minded, energetic—versions of it and more uptight, closed-minded, dogmatic versions. Ryan definitely seems among the former, this commenter maybe not so much so.
I hope you've enjoyed this navel-gazing trip down memory lane! If we're going to get through 200 more recordings, I think all four of us will need to become Stoic sages. I guess we'll see...
Luke T says
It’s a pretty diverse audience you have to try to please. And, although the maintenance costs for this website cannot be trivial (hence, the blended subscription-based and ad-based sponsorship), I’ve always taken PEL to be sort of a private-club project with a public-facing character.
I admire the ‘collective learning’ conceit of the hosts, and observing their views and approaches to content naturally change over time. My only modest gripe, or wish really, is that there possibly be a little more interaction with PEL’s regular audience, especially those that have forked over the (admittedly, modest) price to be part of the PEL Citizenry.
Well, then, how many Citizens do you have? – I don’t know – and of course there are only four of you. Notwithstanding the fact that the precise number of us who consistently have something to say is fairly modest, maybe if you started engaging every Citizen Edition comment, this ceases to be a fun hobby and instead becomes a full-time (and unremunerated) job.
I could honestly side both ways on that score. Suffice to say though, that – in the absence of greater substantive to-and-fro – I’ve personally been pushed to looked elsewhere (on iTunes) to fill in the cognitive gaps.
And perhaps that should be completely reasonable and expected, as well. For me, it makes PEL just one more (if exceptional) philosophy-content podcast to choose from. Another valuable source of insight and explanation, but not the totalizing experience I was once (unrealistically?) hoping for.
For all that, I’m in five years now and have grown intellectually and rationally from the engagement. Keep up the good work, guys, and to many more years of PEL meditation!
Mark Linsenmayer says
We currently have no one at all managing Not School, so this is something we’d be wiling to pay someone (a bit) to do if it’s something you’re interested in. Feel free to email me (any of you) if this is something you’d be potentially interested in.
Luke T says
Considering this, and Avi’s comment below, I definitely overlooked the Citizen-to-Citizen access piece, which serves as a decent proxy for direct interaction with PEL’s hosts, each otherwise obligated by their own commitments. I think I will probably have to engage this aspect of the site a little more earnestly, therefore, before delivering additional critique.
‘Not School’ management is not within my personal bandwidth right now, but I would definitely consider as much if I am successful in taking up this corner of PEL more regularly.
Frank Levi says
I’ve tried many different podcasts over the years and this isn’t just the best podcast I’ve heard, but it’s the most interesting thing I’ve found on the internet, period. I’m about to begin my third complete listen through of every episode from the beginning. Keep up the great work! Also, keep (sub)Text going because that’s been blowing my mind too. Thanks guys!
Yeah, (sub)text is killing it. More please!
Seeking out constructive critique is admirable. However, Mark, I wonder if this exercise veers into digital self-harm… (phrase stolen from Contrapoints)
Here is a critique that I think as a little more constructive.
In line with what Luke said, I think citizen-to-citizen and citizen-to-PEL-podcaster engagement could both be improved. Citizens want to engage in discussions like those they hear on the podcast, but the study-group system doesn’t seem (at least, these days) to be succeeding as a fertile ground for such discussions. For instance, looking at the most recent forum-posts for those groups ranked as “most recently active” (not sure how that metric is calculated), most groups’ forum topics have not had activity in years (though perhaps they’re organizing elsewhere, or privately). I’ve tried to make a couple myself, but I found it hard to keep people engaged (my fault, probably, for trying to tackle Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason online).
Here is an idea that I think would encourage both Citizen-to-Citizen and Citizen-to-PEL-Host dialogue: a twitch stream episode, or something like it.
That is, the PEL podcasters could be on voice-chat, maybe on camera, talking to each other about some new topic or some past episode. Meanwhile, citizens (or anyone) are active in the text-chat, asking questions of the hosts, or talking to each other about the topic at hand. If there is a question/topic/sub-discussion of interest happening in the chat, the PEL-hosts could incorporate it into their discussion, or discuss it at a different time after reviewing the chat (as an episode post-notes or something). All of this would form the unedited content for a new episode, which, when it came out, would come pre-loaded with listener feedback and PEL-hosts’ responses.
Twitch might not be the best platform for this though, as you can’t exclude non-citizens from joining the stream via a password protection. Also, i am not sure if people in different locations can even speak to each other on the same stream, so maybe a google hangout is a better idea.
Anyway, happy 200! Hope all is well
I do think that there is a central tension in the PEL project that this circles around but doesn’t really address which is that the guys (and occasional guest) are wrestling with the texts and the audience tends to focus instead on what is said in the podcast and not on the texts, I for one would hate to have them stray away from the texts as this is one of the few podcasts that really tries something like a close reading but I’m sure there are more numbers in going social.
Reflections on Heidegger’s Discussion on “Idle Talk” by Robert Solomon
“To preface, I would like to point out the danger of understanding the following concepts too quickly. That kind of understanding, according to Heidegger, is a mere semblance, and not the real grasp that comes from struggling with something in order to make it one’s own.”
Jennifer Tejada says
This is hysterical. I remember reading, long ago, the review which was “One of you doesn’t belong in this podcast. All three of you know who I mean. I would love to be able to listen to the other two, but that guy just says the stupidest stuff. He’s a liability to the show.”, and thinking – wow, which one is it?
From an outsider perspective I really think none of these can be taken seriously because they haven’t invested the time into the podcast as a whole. I mean, what exactly are people expecting? You are some guys who thought about doing philosophy for a living but then thought better of it. It’s not as though you started off as professional podcasters with perfect equipment yet here you are ten years later with such an extensive overview of philosophy such that someone like me, who knows zero, now has a vague but ever increasing clarity regarding philosophy that I have gotten almost solely from listening to this podcast. And the editing – it’s top notch IMO! Still – the fuzzy sounding first episodes remain some of my favorites.
As far as interacting with the audience, I have a different take. I’m an avid commenter, for better or worse, and I choose to do it online for all to see simply because I don’t want the hosts to feel the need to comment when they don’t have time, but want to let you all know that people are here listening, and that it’s meaningful. However, I hear you often speak of comments that people give and I assume that it’s via email, facebook, and twitter – because I don’t see them here online. There aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with that AND produce this level of work every couple of weeks.
I also think that the Not School program is simply one of the most valuable resources you provide to your citizens. I participated in a discussion just this past Sunday in the Freud and Other Fun Stuff Not School group. We discussed how it was so nice to be able to do this. All of us agreed that we enjoy reading difficult texts and trying to figure them out AND then also articulate what it is we have learned. In this process we have realized that it’s no small task to actually read, understand AND be well versed enough to have any kind of meaningful discussion about a particular piece of writing. It’s very different than just reading on one’s own and thinking about it. It’s also intensely vulnerable. I have found a group that is very patient with me as I stumble through something challenging. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to participate because I really just struggle mightily with these texts. It’s been so great to be able to be in that vulnerable position of feeling not-quite-enough when it comes to philosophy but to still be able to participate and grow starting from the ground floor. I would be happy to help facilitate this in any way I can but not for money. Money to do a job indicates that I have some kind of ability to do the job that I am not sure I do, but I would love to see it more utilized as it’s one of the best features of your whole project. I’m a reliable and hard worker if nothing else.
I have criticized you all in the past but I have always done some from love – which I hope comes across. We listeners imagine that we know you personally and perhaps feel a little too free to just share our opinions! Maybe just me. 🙂
Basically I think these itunes critics suck. And to them I will say this:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
You guys are awesome and I personally support this podcast, not because it’s perfect, but because at the end of the day I want more of this in the world. More reading and learning and growing out loud and over time. Plus, you have some of the kindest commenters on the internet.
I will leave you with another favorite quote because it’s how I roll – AND I am fairly certain I am in the low-brow-crowd.
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.” Anton Ego from Ratatouille
Jennifer Tejada says
I just realized that my compliment may not be one – that my understanding of philosophy which comes from this podcast is ANY indication of the quality of your work.
I’m sure that goes without saying – but just felt the need to clarify! Of course this can’t replace rigorous study! But that’s the point – it’s an inroad for which I am truly thankful!
Tim Mallace says
You will never please everyone. Defending your podcast against sporadic cranky pants comments is counter productive. Do what you do well and what you have a passion for. “If you build it, they will come.” That said, I hope your podcasts never become self-help sessions. I get the most from your shows when I hear all of you together struggling your way through a tough text.
Yes! Totally agreed
I use that phrase “when you build it…” But only to a select few
I see this podcast as a process, like a raw crystal not a tumbled stone.
Hence “partially examined”..
Erik Salvia Impersonator says
I feel like you’re giving the reviews more credit than they deserve. Most 1 star reviews are people just venting or trolling. It can be pretty funny as a spectator sport: that one comment about “One of you doesn’t belong in this podcast” was a work of hilarious genius- there’s no way that comment wasn’t specifically workshopped to poke at your insecurities.
They’re funny, but don’t legitimize them by addressing them as rational argument or as honest feedback. You get plenty of that here, in these very comments. The stuff here is both positive and negative, but what they all have in common is they’re about the *work*, the content itself. That’s the difference: all the ridiculous ones from iTunes are about that commenter and how right they are, the show is an afterthought.
those reviews remind me of Youtube comments, except these tried to sound legitimate.
Mark Linsenmayer says
We just got a sweet one!
Seth’s voice (two stars)
So incredibly inconsistent. Immature to say the least. Host disrespectful to guest. Seth ruined this show for me. Too analytical
This is presumably about the new Fukuyama interview. WTF?? Who dares diss the Seth? (The person probably meant me.)
These critiques are mind blowingly different than how I experience the podcasts.
I won’t say how I experienced the Fukuyama except I respected the fact no one did any arse-kissing.
Seth’s voice is complex and that critique requires too much deconstruction and cleaning up to hone on on what they meant to evoke by these vague terms.
These evaluations can be used for any POV and are not specific or contextual. Maybe iTunes would develop a less fatuous and more trustworthy review platform with a few good-faiDE guidelines for how to express constructive feedback that doesn’t solely rely on personal outrage or projections of character traits, which, incidentally, I do not experience.
I have experienced them initially, having my own antipathy and prejudice to wry snarky vocal sounds and philosophical mastications, but I got past that initial border control mechanism and made it to the other side, where I hear much more nuance and can follow along with the rhythm specific to PEL. It takes effort to follow critical dialogic conversation, as it departs from the everyday fare of buzzy bite size bulletpoint keynote productivity bullshit.
If anyone has a tone of being offended and has to resort to affect-laden slights, likely they are a “slave to their passions” and unaware of what motivations they have for posting, and think again.
I write a lot of reviews but I have yet to write a single one for a podcast because I take it that seriously.
If ITunes can institute a response feature like with Rate Your Professor, this would promote a better product and maybe even civil discourse, but I guess that would reduce their profit margin, which depends on a short reward network (dopamine) and atomised individuals (aka internet)
First and last time I’ll use Caps:
YOU GUYS ROCK PLEASE KEEP THE FAITH (OR WHATEVER!!))
My perspective as an formerly-subscribed listener – and fellow uncompleted-post-grad-thesis-writing-deserter-of-philosophy-as-a-vocation – who wandered off. I listened to around a 100 episodes.. At first I loved the format, But after a while it stopped being enjoyable enough to continue for two reasons:
1) Opportunity cost – the episodes were just too long, and there were plenty of other podcasts vying for my weekly listening-time budget.
2) After a while I grew a bit tired of (what seemed to me to be) a bias towards virtue ethics and individualism in general. To be fair, that was always an (occasionally) acknowledged, well-bracketed, and decently suspended bias. (Everyone has a position after all – even nihilists). But the “genius loci” of The Partially Examined Life” began to feel a bit parochial – despite the breadth of topics discussed.
The thing is though, even while I no longer listen, this is still the first one I suggest when people ask me if I know any philosophy podcasts I could recommend them.
The world is a better place for having PEL in it. Thanks.
This is an honest and useful critique
I myself see the ideological strain as leaning away individualism, imo.
David Rois says
Very Interesting. I’m about to begin my third complete listen through of every episode from the beginning. Keep up the great work!