Dylan Casey lays out Thomas Kuhn’s thesis in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
On John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice (1971), most of ch. 1-4.
Seth Paskin summarizes the John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice.
On Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science (1882, with book 5 added 1887). What is wisdom? Nietzsche gives us an updated take on the Socratic project of challenging your most deeply held beliefs. Challenge not just your belief in God (who’s “dead”), but uncover all your habits of thinking in terms of the divine. Realize how little of your life is actually a matter of conscious reflection, and the consequent limits on self-knowledge. The very act of systematization in philosophy overestimates what we can know; instead, we need a “gay” (in the sense of cheerful, carefree, and subversive) science (in the sense of organized knowledge) that chases after fleeting insights and is able to question, i.e. laugh at, the pretensions of its own activity.
In light of our ep. 83, many listeners had questions on Frithjof’s social/political/economic proposals for creating a post-job, pro-meaningful-work world.
Talking with Frithjof Bergmann, Prof. Emeritus from U. of Michigan, Ann Arbor about his book New Work, New Culture (2004, English release coming soon).
An introduction to and summary of Frithjof Bergmann’s New Work, New Culture, read by Mark Linsenmayer.
On Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations (1963), the first three essays.
What is science, and how is it different than pseudo-science? From philosophy? Is philosophy just pseudo-science, or proto-science, or what? Popper thinks that all legitimate inquiry is about solving real problems, and scientific theories are those that are potentially falsifiable: they make definitely predictions about the world that, if these fail to be true, would show that the theory is false.
A summary of the first three essays in Karl Popper’s collection Conjectures and Refutations, read by Dylan Casey.
On Carl Jung’s “Approaching the Unconscious” from Man and His Symbols, written in 1961. What’s the structure of the mind? Jung followed Freud in positing an unconscious distinct from the conscious ego, but Jung’s picture has the unconscious much more stuffed full of all sorts of stuff from who knows where, including instincts (the archetypes) that tend to give rise to behavior and dream imagery that we’d have to call religious. We neglect this part of ourselves at our psychological peril!
An introduction to Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols, read by Wes Alwan.
Excerpts of discussions about Frithjof Bergmann’s New Work, New Culture, Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, and Martin Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism.”
On Martin Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism” (1949). What’s our place in the world? What is it, really, to be human? Heidegger thought that being human hinges on having a proper relationship to Being, which is more basic than particular beings like people and tables and such, yet it being so close, Heidegger thinks it’s hardest to see, and easy to be distracted from.
A short summary of Heidegger’s “Essay on Humanism,” read by Seth Paskin.
Eva Brann discusses her book The Logos of Heraclitus (2011). What is the world like, and how can we understand it? Heraclitus thinks that the answer to both questions is found in “the logos.”
On Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1967) and “The Objectivist Ethics” (1961). First Rand grounds everyday human knowledge, largely by dismissing the concerns of other philosophers (even those whom she unknowingly parrots) as absurd. Then she uses this certainty to argue for her semi-Nietzschean vision of Great Men who master their emotions and rely only on themselves. Learn more.
On George Santayana’s The Sense of Beauty (1896). What are we saying when we call something “beautiful?” Are we pointing out an objective quality that other people (anyone?) can ferret out, or just essentially saying “yay!” without any logic necessarily behind our exclamation? The poet and philosopher Santayana thought that while aesthetic appreciation is an immediate experience–we don’t “infer” the beauty of something by recognizing some natural qualities that it has–we can nonetheless analyze the experience after the fact to uncover a number of grounds on which we might appreciate something.
On Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s What Is Philosophy? (1991). How is philosophy different from science and art? What’s the relationship between different philosophies? Is better pursued solo, or in a group? Deleuze described philosophy as the creation of new concepts, whereas science is about functions that map observed regularities and art is about creating percepts and affects. With guest Daniel Coffeen.
On Jacques Lacan’s “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter'” (1956), Jacques Derrida’s “The Purveyor of Truth” (1975), and other essays in the collection The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida, and Psychoanalytic Reading. How should philosophers approach literature? Lacan read Edgar Allen Poe’s story about a sleuth who outthinks a devious Minister as an illustration of his model of the psyche, and why we persist in self-destructive patterns. Derrida thought this reading not only imposed a bunch of psychobabble onto the story, but demonstrated that Lacan just didn’t know how to read a text.
On Bruce Fink’s The Lacanian Subject (1996) and Lacan’s “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience” (1949). What is the self? Is that the same as the experiencing subject? Lacan says no: while the self (the ego) is an imaginative creation, cemented by language, the subject is something else, something split (at least initially) between consciousness and the unconscious. Lacan mixes this Freudian picture with semiotics–an emphasis on systems of linguistic symbols–using this to both create his picture of the psyche and explain how psychological disorders arise.
Mark, Seth, Wes, and Dylan share what drove them into philosophy and keeps them there. How is philosophy different than (or similar to) science? Than religion? Art? The consensus seems that philosophy, to us, is inevitable for the curious. It’s just inquiry, unbounded (in principle at least) by any fixed assumptions. We did no formal reading for this discussion, but did tell each other to keep in mind Plato’s “Apology.”
We’re joined by an international terrorism expert to discuss how to define terrorism and whether it can ever be ethical. With readings by Donald Black, J. Angelo Corlett, Igor Primoratz, Karl Heinzen, Bhagat Singh, and Carl von Clausewitz.
On Buber’s 1923 book about the fundamental human position: As children, and historically, we start fully absorbed in relation with another person (like mom). Before that, we have no self-consciousness, no “self” at all. It’s only by having these consuming “encounters” that we gradually distinguish ourselves from other people, and can then engage in what we’d normally consider “experience,” which Buber calls “the I-It relation.” Buber thinks that unless we can keep connected to this “I-Thou” phenomenon, through mature relationships, art, and nature. With guest Daniel Horne.
On Karl Marx’s The German Ideology, Part I, an early, unpublished work from 1846. What is human nature? What drives history? How can we improve our situation? Marx thought that fundamentally, you are what you do: you are your job, your means of subsistence. All the rest, this culture, this religion, this philosophy, is just a thin layer over our basic situation. Ideas are not primarily what changes the world; it’s economics.
Excerpts of discussions about Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, an article on emergence called “More Is Different” by Nobel Prize Winning physicist P.W. Anderson, John Searle’s Mind: A Brief Introduction, and Italo Calvino’s trippy science fantasy novel Cosmicomics.
On Plato’s Dialogue, “Gorgias” (380 BCE or so). Why philosophize? Isn’t it better to know how to persuade people in practical matters, like a successful lawyer or business leader? Plato (via Socrates) thinks that the “art” of rhetoric isn’t an art at all, in the sense of requiring an understanding of one’s subject matter, but merely a talent for saying what people want to hear.
Three podcasters and two listeners join to read Plato’s fabulous dialogue.
On David Chalmers’s book Constructing the World (2012). How are all the various truths about the world related to each other? David Chalmers, famous for advocating a scientifically respectable form of brain-consciousness dualism, advocates a framework of scrutability: if one knew some set of base truths, then the rest would be knowable from them.
Excerpts of discussions about David Chalmers’s The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, and Paul Auster’s City of Glass.
On Rudolph Carnap’s The Logical Structure of the World (1928). What can we know? Carnap thinks that all the various spheres of knowledge are logically interrelated, that you can translate sentences about any of these into sentences about sets of basic, momentary experiences. This book, aka the Aufbau, is his attempt to sketch out how this system of linguistic reduction can work (it doesn’t). With guest Matt Teichman.
On W.V.O. Quine’s “On What There Is” (1948) and “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” (1951). What kind of metaphysics is compatible with science? Quine sees science and philosophy as one and the same enterprise, and he objects to ontologies that include types of entities that science can’t, even in principle, study. Also, troubles with the concept of synonymy, i.e. “same meaning.” With guest Matt Teichman.
Our highlight reel in thanks to all you listeners who have brought us to the milestone of approximately two million downloads.
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.
On Fame: What the Classics Tell Us About Our Cult of Celebrity by Tom Payne (2010). What’s the deal with our f’ed up relationship with celebrities? Payne says that celebrities serve a social need that’s equal parts religion and and aggression. TV’s Lucy Lawless (Xena, Spartacus, Battlestar Galactica) joins us to discuss the accuracy of this thesis.
On philosophical issues in McCarthy’s 2005 novel about guys running around with drug money and shooting each other, and about fiction as a form for exploring philosophical ideas. What can morality mean for people who have witnessed the “death of God,” i.e. a loss in faith in light of the horrors of war? Who knows what McCarthy himself thinks? With guest Eric Petrie.
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!
On Friedrich Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense” (1873). What is truth? This essay, written early in Nietzsche’s career, is taken by many to make the extreme claim that there is no truth, that all of the “truths” we tell each other are just agreements by social convention. WIth guest Jessica Berry, who argues that that Nietzsche is a skeptic: our “truths” don’t correspond with the world beyond our human conceptions; all knowledge is laden with human interests.
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.
On Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (1981), mostly ch. 3-7 and 14-17. What justifies ethical claims? MacIntyre claims that no modern attempt to ground ethics has worked, and that’s because we’ve abandoned Aristotle. We see facts and values as fundamentally different: the things science discovers vs. these weird things that have nothing to do with science. In Aristotle’s teleological view, everything comes with built-in goals, so just as a plant will aim grow green and healthy, people have a definite kind of virtue towards which we do and should naturally strive.
On G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica, ch. 1 (1903); Charles Leslie Stevenson’s “The Emotive Meaning of Ethical Terms” (1937), and Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, ch. 1-2. Is there such a thing as moral intuition? Is “good” a simple property that we all recognize but can’t explain like yellow? Or are moral terms just tools we use to convince other people to like things that we like?
On Bergson’s Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (1900). What is humor? Bergson says that, fundamentally, we laugh as a form of social corrective when others are slow to adapt to society’s demands. Other types of humor are derivative from this. With guest Jennifer Dziura.
Continuing discussion of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, Part I, sections 1-33 and 191-360. With guest Philosophy Bro. On “family resemlances” in concepts, dismissing philosophical puzzles as grammatical mistakes, and the private language argument.
On Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, Part I, sections 1-33 and 191-360 (written around 1946). What is linguistic meaning? Wittgenstein argues that it’s not some mysterious entity in the mind, but that it is a public matter: you understand a word if you can use it appropriately, and you know the context in which it’s appropriate to use it and how to react when you hear it in that context. W. calls such a context a “language game,” and sees language as big heap of these games, spanning a wide range of human activity. With guest Philosophy Bro.
Continuing our discussion of Owen Flanagan’s The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized (2011). Are the basic tenets of Buddhism compatible with a respect for science? We talk (eventually) about talk about karma, nirvana, emptiness, no-self, and the four noble truths.
Discussing The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized (2011) with Owen Flanagan. What philosophical insights can we modern folks with our science and naturalism (i.e. inclination against super-natural explanations) glean from Buddhisim? Flanagan says plenty: We can profitably put Buddhist ethics in dialogue with familiar types of virtue ethics. However, we need to be skeptical of any claims to scientific support the superior happiness of Buddhists.
On W.E.B. DuBois’s “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” (1903), Cornel West’s “A Genealogy of Modern Racism” (1982), and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963) and “The Black Power Defined” (1967), plus Malcolm X’s “The Black Revolution” (1963). With guest Lawrence Ware.
On Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics (1916) (Part I and Part II, Ch. 4), Claude Levi-Strauss’s “The Structural Study of Myth” (1955), and Jacques Derrida’s “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” (1966). What is language? What is the relation between language and reality? With guest C. Derick Varn.
On Robert M. Pirsig’s philosophical, autobiographical novel from 1974. What’s the relationship between science and values? Pirsig thinks that modern rationality, by insisting on the fundamental distinction between objects (matter) and subjects (people), labels value judgments as irrational. Society therefore largely ignores aesthetic considerations in the buildings and machines that litter our landscape. With guest David Buchanan.
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. With guest Katie McIntyre.
Discussing Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s “Primacy of Perception” (1946) and The World of Perception (1948). What is the relation of perception to knowledge? In M-P’s phenomenology, perception is primary: even our knowledge of mathematical truths is in some way conditioned by and dependent on the fact that we are creatures with bodies and senses that work the way they do. Science is great, but it doesn’t discover the truth of things hiding behind perception: it is an abstraction from certain kinds of perceptions. Other modes of approaching things, e.g. art, can equally well give us knowledge, though of a different kind.