Episode 2 of Wes’s new podcasting endeavor: “Is There Such a Thing as a War Story? Time and Trauma in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.” Featuring Mary from the Phi Fic podcast, who’s also the managing editor of the PEL blog.
The Cambridge/etc. prof joins Mark, Wes, and Dylan to discuss his book On Truth (2018).
What is truth? Simon’s view synthesizes deflationism and pragmatism to avoid relativism by fixing on the domain-specific procedures we actually engage in to establish the truth of a claim, whether in ethics, science, art, or whatever. A gift of clarity after two episodes threshing through the jungles of analytic philosophy!
End song: “with you/for you” from the new cold/mess EP by Prateek Kuhad, interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #79.
On two articles in the “ordinary language” tradition of philosophy called “Truth” from 1950 by J.L. Austin and P.F. Strawson.
Is truth a property of particular speech acts, or of the propositions expressed through speech acts? Does truth mean correspondence with the facts, or does the word “fact” make this definition totally uninformative? Does saying “is true” add any information content to a sentence over and above just stating that sentence?
End song: “Troof” by Shawn Phillips, as interviewed for Nakedly Examined Music #77.
A new, Wes-driven endeavor! He and Bill Youmans discuss the 1611 play about revenge, forgiveness, and authorship. Or maybe it’s about exploitation, or how we react to changes in status, or perhaps how a liberal education can give you magical powers! Listen and decide for yourself! And tell Wes if you like this kind of thing so he’ll do more.
On Tarski’s “The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics” (1944), Hartry Field’s “Tarski’s Theory of Truth” (1972), and Donald Davidson’s “The Folly of Trying to Define Truth” (1977).
What is truth? Tarski gives a technical, metaphysically neutral definition for truth within a particular, well-defined language. So how does that apply to real languages? He thought he was defining truth (a semantic concept) in terms of more primitive (physical?) concepts, but Field and Davidson think that actually, truth as a general concept is indefinable, even though it’s still helpful for Tarski to have laid out the relations among various semantic concepts.
End song: “In Vino Vertias” by Sunspot; Mark interviewed Mike Huberty on Nakedly Examined Music #64.
Wes and Dylan discuss Leo Strauss’s “Mass Education and Democracy” (1967) and Richard Rorty’s “Democracy and Philosophy” (2007). Must philosophical training, or liberal education more generally, necessarily be restricted a privileged minority? PEL Citizens get to find out!
The president of St. John’s College, Annapolis joins us to discuss Jacob Klein’s “The Idea of a Liberal Education” (1960) and “On Liberal Education” (1965), plus Sidney Hook’s “A Critical Appraisal of the St. John’s College Curriculum” (1946) and Martha Nussbaum’s “Undemocratic Vistas” (1987).
What constitutes a liberal education? Should we all read the Western canon? Klein (and our guest) think that we need to wonder at the familiar, to explore the ancestry of our current concepts in order to avoid their sedimentation.
End song: “Preservation Hill” by The Bevis Frond; Mark interviewed Nick Saloman on Nakedly Examined Music #75.
Mark, Seth, and Wes, continue on Bloom, getting into The Instruments of Last Manhood, i.e., the influence of Nietzsche (and his predecessor Rousseau) through Freud and Weber. Listen to ep. 192 first. Plus Seth on Lysistrata, since he missed that discussion.
On Allan Bloom’s 1987 best-selling polemic. What is the role of the university in our democracy? Bloom thinks that today’s students are conformist, relativistic, and nihilistic, and that great books and thinking for thinking’s sake are the cure. Watch for the follow-up recording to be released soon.
End song: “Greatness (The Aspiration Song)” by Colin Moulding as heard on Nakedly Examined Music #74.
On Davidson’s “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme” (1974) and Carnap’s “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology” (1950).
What does it mean to say that we grasp the world through a conceptual scheme? Are schemes different between cultures or even individuals, such that we can’t really understand each other? Davidson thinks that this doesn’t make sense. Carnap gives us a picture of multiple, domain-specific vocabularies and doesn’t see a problem with the concepts of one not being translatable into concepts of another.
End Song: “Shut Up” by Chandler Travis, as heard on Nakedly Examined Music #46.
Wes and Mark try to figure out whether anyone wants us to have a full episode on identity politics, maybe reading some Francis Fukuyama or some Ta-Nehisi Coates. We’ve already talked about white privilege, Orwellian “nationalism,” free speech, electoral strategy, James Baldwin, etc. What’s left?
On Darren Aronofsky’s philosophical 2017 film about humanity’s relationship to nature. We discuss the philosophical content of the film (Gnosticism, anyone?) and explore the relation between meaning and the sensuous aspects of an artwork. Can a work be both allegorical and yet have fully fleshed out characters and the other elements that make a film feel real? This was a very polarizing film; how do the circumstances of viewing affect reception? With guest Tim Nicholas.
End song: “The Day of Wrath, That Day,” by Sarah McQuaid, as interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #72.
A bonus discussion between Mark and Wes for supporters! We give some philosophy of language context for the issues of meaning brought up in ep 189. Plus, some discussion of the critic James Wood, and analyzing T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
On four essays about how to interpret artworks: “The Intentional Fallacy” by W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley (1946), “The Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes (1967), “What Is an Author?” by Michel Foucault (1969), and “Against Theory” by Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels (1982). When you’re trying to figure out what, say, a poem means, isn’t the best way to do that to just ask the author? Most of these guys say no, and that’s supposed to reveal something about the nature of meaning.
End song: “The Auteur” by David J (2018). Listen to Mark’s interview with him in Nakedly Examined Music #73.
Also check out the follow-up discussion.
We are rejoined by actresses Lucy Lawless and Emily Perkins to discuss Aristophanes’s bawdy play. Listen to us perform it first.
Supplementary readings included Jeffery Henderson’s introduction to his 1988 translation of the play; “Sexual Humor and Harmony in Lysistrata” by Jay M. Semel (1981); and “The ‘Female Intruder’ Reconsidered: Women in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae” by Helene P. Foley (1982).
End song: “Women of Industry (ABWA Charm)” by Jill Sobule, as interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #18.
The PEL Players return to perform a “cold read” of Aristophanes’s play about using a sex strike to end war, first performed in 411 BCE. Jeffrey Henderson’s translation makes this very accessible, and it’s still really damn funny. Your hosts are joined by five real actors from TV, film, and Broadway.
Mark and Wes continue the discussion from ep. 187. We watched some Jordan Peterson, so we talk about his position a bit, and about the appropriateness of organizations encouraging certain kinds of speech, the offense principle, the difference (and overlap!) between good-faith arguments and insults, conspiracy theories, “incoherence arguments” like Fish’s (also used by Kant, Rand, and others), and “fundamental moral principles”: Does that concept even make sense given that any principle requires judgement and probably sub-principles to apply it to real situations?
End song: “Combine Man” by RHEMA, as discussed on Nakedly Examined Music #67.
A free-form discussion drawing on Stanley Fish’s “There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It’s a Good Thing, Too” (1994), Joel Feinberg’s “Limits to the Free Expression of Opinion” (1975), and other sources.
What are the legitimate limits on free speech? Feinberg delves into the harm and offense principles. Fish argues that every claim to free speech has ideological assumptions actually favoring some types of speech baked into it. A lively back and forth ensues, which Mark and Wes then continued in a supporter-only, 90-minute follow-up.
End song: “We Don’t Talk about It” by Steve Wynn, as interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #43.
On How to Do Things with Words (lectures from 1955).
What’s the relationship between language and the world? Austin says it’s not all about descriptive true-or-false statements, but also includes “performatives” like “I promise…” and “I do” (spoken in a wedding) that are actions unto themselves. They can’t be true or false, but they can be “unhappy” if social conventions aren’t fulfilled (e.g., you try to marry a pig). Austin thinks performatives will change your whole view of language and of linguistically expressed philosophical problems!
End song: “The Promise” by When In Rome. Listen to Mark interview singer/songwriter Clive Farrington on Nakedly Examined Music #40.
On the classic Greek epic poem, written ca. 750 BC and translated by our guest Emily Wilson in 2018.
Does this story of “heroes” have anything to teach us about ethics? Wilson wrote an 80-page introduction to her new translation laying out the issues, including “hospitality” as a political tool, the value for status and identity of one’s home (including your family and slaves), and the tension between strangeness and familiarity. Can time and change really be undone?
End song: “Tiny Broken Boats” by Arrica Rose, as interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #66.