What exactly is this Partially Examined Life podcast about?
Philosophy, philosophers and philosophical texts. The format is an informal roundtable discussion, with each episode loosely focused on a short reading that introduces at least one “big” philosophical question, concern, or idea.
Is it just one podcast? What are these other “new episodes” I’m seeing on the front page?
The Partially Examined Life is a podcast that’s been running since 2009. In 2016, we expanded into a podcast network to offer Nakedly Examined Music (run by PEL host Mark Linsenmayer) and Phi Fic (which grew out of one of PEL’s Not School groups). More podcasts will be added in 2017!
What are you guys trying to do here?
The Partially Examined Life podcast is our attempt to recreate the good old days when we’d meet up after a seminar to drink beer and talk shop or get some teaching yas out where students couldn’t talk back. We’re recording it to share our joy in “doing” philosophy with all who care to listen (and occasionally ranting bitterly about the profession that we so long ago escaped).
What makes you guys more qualified to talk about this stuff than all those University professors?
Absolutely nothing. But we have been reading and interpreting widely now with heavy public scrutiny for over a decade, and there’s a certain appeal to witnessing non-experts trying to figure something out as a group.
Why are your episodes so long? Why don’t you just tell us what the philosophers said?
We believe the joy of doing philosophy is in grappling with difficult texts and ideas yourself. Having us (or a qualified “expert”) simply tell you the “right” answers intolerably oversimplifies things and does not lead to us (or presumably, the listeners) learning as much.
Who is this aimed at? Do I have to know anything about philosophy? Will I feel insulted by this if I already know a lot about philosophy?
We aim to to assume no knowledge (of anything, even, like, basic facts of arithmetic or… like… hygiene), and we believe that even the most withered old Socrates-clone will find the proceedings very entertaining and thought-provoking, even if perhaps not always actually informative. Hint for the initiated: Don’t just look up the topics that you already know a lot about; use our breadth to dive into an area you’re less familiar with.
Do we have to do the reading before listening to the individual episodes?
No, but reading the texts before listening will make the podcasts more entertaining and informative. Also, the texts happen to be interesting, intellectually stimulating, fun, and really important parts of the cultural history into which you were born (most of you anyway). If you follow us on Twitter, we tend to announce what we’re reading some weeks before the episode comes out.
Should people listen to the podcast episodes in order, or does that matter?
Each episode is self-contained, but we invariably make some references to things said in previous episodes, so if you just want to hear about a few particular topics, sure, go listen to those episodes, but if you will likely eventually slog through them all, you’re best off starting with the first episode.
Where are the old episodes?
However, we’ve redacted many of our old episodes so that they only appear to the public as a half-hour “preview.” Have no fear! You can acquire all those in full for a simple $5 investment by becoming a PEL Citizen or $5 Patreon supporter (a lower level of support will still get you some), or purchase them à la carte from our Store page. (Some are also available in the music section of the iTunes store). Read for more information.
OK, I’m intrigued, how do I get and listen to this digital stream of wisdom?
You can click on the “play” button underneath each episode on the main page, download the mp3 files directly to your computer and play them on your PC/Mac (you may have to right-click or shift-click on the “download” link and choose “save link as” or “save target as” to download them, depending on your browser). You can then transfer them to a portable music player, or if you have Apple Podcasts, click here and subscribe. You can also simply open our page on your mobile device and play them from there; we recommend an app like Downcast that lets you store files from a URL on your device and play them at variable speeds/remember your position/etc.
If you use an RSS reader, we have two feeds: one which contains all of our blog material including podcast episode announcements and postings, and one which has only the podcast episodes. (Note that if you’re a PEL Citizen, you can also get that bonus content through its own feed; see our “How Do I” page for Citizens. Likewise, Patreon gives you a user-specific feed address.)
How do you choose topics?
There’s no simple answer to this, but in general we’re trying to cover the full range of material that professors tend to cover in philosophy classes. If there’s enough buzz about a non-academic topic, we may look into it, but that’s the exception. Really, anything one of us is interested in is fair game. By all means, if you have any (specific) suggestions, let us know. Chances are, anything that gets requested enough will eventually be covered, but it could take a while.
Why don’t you cover more philosophers who aren’t dead white males?
We’re generally most interested in the ideas that form the way that we currently see the world, which means exploring history, which doesn’t just refer to what happened, but what was very influential. Tragically, the contributions of minorities and women were mostly squashed at the time of their production and so didn’t become influential. We recognize this injustice as something we’re obligated to help rectify, but that worthy goal is only one of many, and does not dominate our interests and hence our agenda.
What about non-Western philosophy?
We recognize the enormous richness of non-Western traditions, but again, are most interested in them insofar as they’ve actually had an impact on Western thinkers and hence us. We have dabbled in these areas and expect to continue to grow in this area over time, but it will always likely be a small portion of what we do.
Um, I notice that on Apple Podcasts the podcast is labelled “Explicit.” I thought this was about Philosophy and great ideas…?
The podcast covers great ideas, thinkers, and texts, and while the subject matter is for mature and rational minds, it is not “adult.” It’s just difficult to talk passionately about philosophy (and for at least one of us, drink beer) and not drop an f-bomb once in a while. Hence the label: you are now officially warned.
How am I meant to listen to this podcast?
Strange question, but OK. First off, don’t just sit there at your computer listening to the whole thing, unless you’re at work and want to burn time, in which case, we’re your men. Go get a portable listening device of some sort and listen while driving cross country, while exercising, or while on a stake-out. I personally like to listen while lying in bed, so that I then fall asleep somewhere in the middle and it gives me awfully strange dreams (like maybe dreaming that I’m in fact dreaming and not really perceiving this keyboard!). Better yet, listen to this instead of your loved ones.
Why are there strange-looking episodes about music, TV, or other things in my feed? Those aren’t philosophy! What is the PEL Podcast Network?
Over time, we or our listeners/associations/friends have ventured into creating additional podcasts. These leverage our philosophical chops to explore issues in the arts. We encourage you to subscribe to Mark Linsenmayer’s Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast and Nakedly Examined Music, as well as Wes Alwan’s subText (coming soon) via their own feeds if you’re into those things, and check our home page for the current list of network podcasts. If you’d like your podcast to be considered for inclusion in our network, please contact us.
So why do we do we put some episodes of these other podcasts into the PEL feed? To increase their listenership (we’ve worked hard for over a decade building the PEL subscriber base; nothing new can compete with that), pump up the overall download numbers for The Partially Examined Life (which keeps us high in the rankings on Apple Podcasts and other places and hence more likely to be discovered by new listeners), and because we think that more people will be curious about PEL if they see not just forbidding Plato and Nietzsche among the topics we cover, but also Spider-Man and Quentin Tarantino.
If seeing these other properties distracts from the purity of your philosophy experience, please subscribe at the $1 level to our Patreon feed. People who enjoy free entertainment maybe shouldn’t be so picky about getting something extra in their order.
What’s with this blog?
The blog is intended to provide supplemental information to the podcast and provide a forum for us podcasters (and guests) to share interesting philosophy resources and things we’re thinking about that for whatever reason don’t make it on the show. On occasion, we also use it to show off our other projects (e.g., Mark’s music). It’s also a prime way for you to participate, by replying to these blog entries. You can initiate new discussions and share resources with our readers yourself through the Facebook group. If you’ve got some philosophy writing chops and want to contribute to the blog, look here.
What is a PEL Citizen?
This is anyone who sets up a recurring donation of $5 or more to us (or $50 for a year) here. Citizens get access to all the vintage, redacted episodes and a lot of other bonus audio. For regular, new episodes, Citizens get to hear the whole thing ad-free and unbroken, whereas regular listeners have to wait a week to get the second part of the discussion. In some cases, we never make the second half available to the wider public, and there’s new Citizen-only content coming out all the time.
Sign up and use the “Members” menu at partiallyexaminedlife.com to log in to the member portion of the site, and bonus audio is on the Free Stuff page (Read here for instructions on installing our Citizen feed onto your mobile device.)
How does Patreon connect to Citizenship?
It doesn’t; integration between Patreon and our member site has not proven feasible, so Patreon supporters should not expect access to Not School and the Citizen feed. Still, we do make the Citizen-only content available to Patreon supporters, and Patreon is a great option for folks who can only afford $1 per month. See patreon.com/partiallyexaminedlife for details on what you get for the various support levels.
Who does all the art on this site?
Much of the rest of the art on the site, including the pictures of philosophers from ep 58 through 100 and a few after that, is by Genevieve Arnold; we made the 2015 wall calendar out of this, and have subsequently featured Sterling Bartlett for 2016, Existential Comics‘ Corey Mohler for 2017, Solomon Grundy for 2018, and Charles Valsechi for 2019. Olle Halvars and Shane Wood have also done several. If you’re an artist who’d like to draw some philosophers, contact us!
And the music?
Host Mark is a long-time musician with more than a dozen albums (listen at marklint.com), and most of the first 149 episodes feature one of his songs. Since ep. 150, PEL episodes have largely featured songs by the artists Mark features on the Nakedly Examined Music podcast.
The theme song (“Cheerio!“) and alternate theme song (untitled, used for non-standard episodes) were repurposed from clips created (very quickly) as part of Mark’s day job producing communication products for state transportation research departments.
How do you guys do this and make it sound like you are sitting together when you live all over the US?
We do a conference call (through Skype or more recently Zoom) and each one of us records our audio on our local computer, using either Audacity (freeware), Sound Forge, Adobe Audition, or (when using macs) Garageband. After we are done, we all submit our files to our main sound editor using dropbox, and he combines them together, adds the music, and then a team of listener-editors (as of 2020, this is mostly one guy, Tyler Hislop) spends WAY too long removing some of the verbal ticks and pauses and particularly dumb comments. Mark then does a final editing pass, adds a bunch of metadata to make it look right in mp3 players, and posts the finished file. Do you have audio editing experience? If you’d like to explore joining our team, please contact Mark.
Is that expensive or something?
Yes, we definitely have expenses in housing our audio files, hosting this very popular site, paying our tech people. We’re also trying to do more live shows as well.
Mostly, this takes A LOT of time that we’re not giving to, e.g., doing our jobs, and so do accept donations, sign up Citizens, and use advertising to make this worth our while. There’s nothing we’d like more than to spend even more time on this, and your contributions help make that possible.
Can I hang out with you?
Uh, sure… you know, time permitting, of course. We always welcome your comments, all of which get read and (often) responded to, except maybe when they’re really long. You can go join our Facebook group or post comments on these here blog posts, and we may well respond. Respond to comments by your fellow listeners! Better yet, become a PEL Citizen to join us in Not School online discussion groups. Follow us on Twitter and retweet our blog posts! Have our blog e-mails sent to you on a near-daily basis and forward them around! Start a community! Have PEL listening parties! Oh, and go on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher or Google Play and give us a nice review, OK? Thanks.
Can I be a guest on the show?
Well, maybe. We’d love to have all of our knowledgeable listeners come on as guests, but by design we only have guests half (or less) of the time.
Feel free to drop us a line to introduce yourself, tell us about what areas of philosophy you’ve read a lot in, and it helps if you make a specific pitch re. what you think we should read with you. Look at what we’ve already covered and find an important gap you think you can help us fill. I advise you to participate in the discussions on this blog and demonstrate to us how clear and insightful you can be, and what resources you’d bring to the table in participating on an episode.
Guests can be professors, or grad students, or eager undergrads, or self-taught folks altogether unconnected to the world of professional philosophy. We especially love having other podcasters on. Note that we very seldom use our episodes to discuss books with the author, and when we do, it’s usually with very well-known authors whose books are taught in philosophy classes.
Note that we schedule episodes pretty far out, and perpetually have a long list of topics that we’d like to cover, so if we end up leaving you in limbo for months and months, or don’t get around to including you at all, please don’t feel bad.
Also, songwriters and entertainment-industry folks should contact Mark about appearing on the Nakedly Examined Music and/or Pretty Much Pop podcasts, and Wes has started having conversations with guests about films, literature, and psychoanalysis, so you can contact us about that too. Also don’t forget the Phi Fic podcast, which may need guest participants.