Given how many episodes we've done, even we lose track of where we've been. We aim (among other things) to present the equivalent of an introductory course in all the major areas of philosophy, and in some areas get you to an intermediate level. Here's where I'll periodically comment on our progress. Feel free to weigh in on our direction or suggest additional topics as comments to this page. Where there's both a Citizen version and a public version, I'm linking to part 1 of the public version below.
We've covered the equivalent of an introductory ethics course and most of a 300-level one, too. We first covered the three main divisions:
- Consequentialism: episode 9 on Bentham and Mill, which starts ethics by determining what's the optimal state of affairs. (We covered a contemporary version of this by interviewing Peter Singer for episode 150 on the ethics of famine specifically.)
- Deontology: episode 10 on Kant, which starts ethics by determining principles for right action.
- Virtue ethics: episodes 5, 147, and 148 on Aristotle, and also episode 40 on Plato.
With those basics out of the way, our next step was meta-ethics: How can moral commands exist in a natural universe? We covered Nietzsche (episodes 11, 84, and 178) and one on moral sense theory (episode 45, Hume and Adam Smith). Owen Flanagan spoke to us about naturalistic ethics in episode 53. For the sake of completeness, I'll include Spinoza's deterministic ethics (episode 25) in this context.
On the flip side, Plato in the Euthyphro (episode 46) argues that morality can't just be reducible to the attitudes of God, and G.E. Moore (episode 58) argues that morality can't be reducible to any factual claims, whether natural or supernatural. Also in the Moore episode, C.L. Stevenson argues that ethical claims just express emotions; they aren't claims at all. Alasdair MacIntyre (covered more fully in episode 59) argues that without something like Aristotle's notion of teleology, all ethical claims will be groundless. MacIntyre's challenge was prefigured by G.E.M. Anscombe (episode 88), who argued that all our modern moral language presupposed some kind of divine command theory, so we either need to throw it away completely or return to something more like Aristotle's teleology. Simone de Beauvoir (episode 140), explicating and elaborating on Sartre (episode 87), argued that despite a denial of teleology or morality otherwise written into nature, we're still bound just by our own will and what it means to really be free to treat others morally. Emmanuel Levinas (in episode 145) gives us a phenomenology of ethics (and we got more into this along with the phenomenology of self in episode 146).
Related to this is moral psychology: how do we smooth-skinned animals come to think about moral considerations? We interviewed Pat Churchland in episode 41 about the neurobiology of ethics, and discussed moral development patterns according to Carol Gilligan in episode 42. We considered "situationism" in episode 176 on Milgram and Zimbardo, and thinking justly while in an unjust society in episode 181 on Hannah Arendt. Looking back in history, we get an interesting Christian take on moral psychology from Augustine (episode 121), and more on Augustine's (and Aquinas's, and Nietzsche's) emphasis on "will" from our interview with Eva Brann (episode 120).
Moral responsibility is the primary concern of any discussion of free will, and in episode 93, we considered Galen Strawson's claim that moral responsibility is impossible given that free will doesn't make sense, and his father P.F. Strawson's counter-claim that we simply have to treat each other as morally responsible regardless of our metaphysical convictions about free will. For a very different take on this, see episode 87 for Sartre's views on freedom and self-deception.
More broadly, the fundamental question of philosophy, "How should I approach the world?" yields approaches that aren't quite ethics but are closer to that than to epistemology. Though you'll get some of this in many of our readings, those most conforming to this picture that we discussed are:
- Plato's Apology and the unexamined life (episode, 1 part 1 and part 2), with more detail about how philosophy (as opposed to rhetoric) pursues the good life in Plato's Gorgias (episode 69).
- We explored Stoicism's take on how to approach life wisely (avoid negative emotions!) by looking first at Epictetus (episode 124), and then at Seneca (episode 132).
- Boethius (episode 158) considers the "consolations of philosophy," mainly why bad things happen to good people.
- Emerson (episode 102) and Thoreau (episode 103) tell us how to be an individual and live deliberately.
- Schopenhauer tells us how to be philosophers: to think, read, and write (episode 94).
- Confucianism (episode 159)
- Taoism (episode 12 on Chuang Tzu)
- Ethical ideals in Homeric Greece (episode 185)
- Montaigne (episode 33)
- Heidegger on our proper relation to Being (episode 80)
- Camus on existentialism (episode 4). We got another glimpse of existentialist-type approaches to ethics in our discussion of Cormac McCarthy's novel No Country for Old Men (episode 63), and a variation of this when in Rand's ethical egoism (episode 78), which professed to give a whole life-approach based on observation of facts and contemplation of the concepts that she thinks are adduced from such facts.
Looking ahead, we hope to get to more of the classical ethical schools (Epicurus, the Cynics, more Stoicism), have a long-planned episode on error theory in ethics, and will continue to delve into the relationship between ethics and politics.
We've provided a decent historical survey:
- Plato's Republic (episode 40), the original utopian vision that asks us what would be the optimal society? (Less importantly, episode 149 on Plato's "Crito" on why we should obey the state.)
- Aristotle (episode 60)
- Machiavelli (episode 14)
- Hobbes on the social contract (episode 3)
- Locke on the social contract (episode 37)
- Rousseau on the social contract (episode 23)
- Spinoza on the relationship between ethics and political power (episode 166)
- Madison and Hamilton in the Federalist Papers on the challenges of organizing government (episode 65)
- Edmund Burke on political conservatism (episode 151)
- We talked about J.S. Mill's take on liberty, including free speech, in episode 183.
- Alexis de Tocqueville on the state of democracy in America (episode 152)
- With Hegel, we got both a wide-angle view with his account of the progression of history (episode 15) a close-up of the "master-slave" dialectic, which is his version of the social contract, in episodes 35 and 36.
- Marx (episode 70) elaborated a specifically materialist version of this progression through history, describing human nature as best described by describing how we make a living at any given point in history, and governments and philosophy itself as driven ultimately by economics.
And we've delved into modern issues:
- We read John Rawls's Theory of Justice (episode 85). This was followed up in considering some counter-proposals to Rawls, via Robert Nozick's libertarianism in episode 104 and Michael Sandel's communitarianism in episode 97.
- We also talked in episode 98 to Michael Sandel himself about how markets have increasingly taken over society.
- For more on the relation of the individual to society, we discussed Freud's Civilization and its Discontents in episode 26.
- We spoke to Martha Nussbaum about the proper relationship between anger and public life in episode 144.
- A feminist utopian vision came out in our discussion in episode 42 of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's novel Herland.
- Some reflections on what to do about historical sexism and racism came out of episode 139 on bell hooks, and we then considered de Beauvoir's take on oppression and political commitment in episode 141.
- We got into some realpolitik discussion in episode 52 on race.
- We confronted the rhetoric of "white privilege" (reading Mills, McIntosh, Yancy, etc.) in episode 161.
- We talked about the subtleties of political power in episode 49 on Foucault on punishment.
- We gave James Baldwin's observations on racism in episode 162.
- We got into contemporary electoral politics with Richard Rorty for episode 157, and gave our own commentary (among other places) in episode 156.
- We also talked some applied political policy in episode 72 on terrorism.
- We talked political speech in episode 160 on Orwell and totalitarianism
- We considered modern arguments from Fish and Feinberg about free speech in episode 183.
- We made some attempt to discuss the cross section of politics and religion in episode 44 on the new atheists (e.g., Christopher Hitchens's view of the religious character of totalitarianism and Sam Harris on how religion leads to violence).
- Our episode 64 on fame with Lucy Lawless featured discussion of the political dynamics of fame, including its quasi-religious nature.
- We considered the relation between science advisers and politics in episode 96 on Oppenheimer and others.
We have started studying economics:
- We delved into the foundational text on economics, Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, in episode 174, and (with guest Russ Roberts) on episode 177.
- We looked more generally into economics—covering some F.A. Hayek and Amartya Sen—in episode 123.
- We delved into the job system with Frithjof Bergmann in episode 83; how can we change the way work is structured? An overlapping critique of modern society came from Hannah Arendt (episode 125).
- A Marxist cultural critique of our economic lives came from Guy Debord (episode 170).
We'd like to get more into anarchism, socialism, and other contemporary movements, with more economics and sociology.
We've put out the basic array of views:
- Empiricism (episode 17 on Hume and episode 89 on Berkeley, plus we get a good idea of Bertrand Russell's view in episode 38)
- Rationalism (episode 18 on Plato as well as episode 2 on Descartes; we got a more rationalist/Platonist take on math in episode 95 on Gödel)
- Skepticism (episode 106, about Sextus Empiricus's writings on the tradition that started with Pyrrho)
- Pragmatism (episode 20 on C.S. Peirce and William James, continued on episode 22, came back to the topic with John Dewey in epiosde 127, plus ventured into contemporary pragmatism with episode 28's Nelson Goodman discussion), episodes 153 and 155 on Richard Rorty, and (focusing on "truth") episode 196 interviewing Simon Blackburn.
- Logical Positivism, an early-mid-twentieth-century development of empiricism and pragmatism, is discussed in episode 8 on Wittgenstein and Carnap, with the details of Carnap's constructional system outlined in episode 67. Quine, often cited as the "undertaker of logical positivism" was discussed in episode 66.
- Kantianism (episode 19, with even more detail on Kant's view in episode 20 on Schopenhauer). While the early Nietzsche (episode 61) appears to be saying something radical about truth, he's basically echoing Schopenhauer and Kant's epistemology, while making a new point about the strangeness of our "will to truth."
- If you think epistemology is basically unnecessary because science just obviously gives us objective truth, you might want to listen to our critique of Ayn Rand (episode 78) on this subject.
- Contemporary philosopher John Searle (episode 138) also gives us a form of direct realism that says that perception puts us directly in contact with reality, though he eschews the phenomenologists starting with Hegel (episode 134) who also seem to hold this view.
Much of our reading in continental philosophy is following up on Kantianism, retaining Kant's view that perception is not a mind apprehending an independent reality while getting rid of his notion of the "thing-in-itself" independent of our experience.
- In episode 35, we provided an overview of Hegel's view (further elaborated in episode 134), which I think established the view that persisted through most more recent continental philosophy
- Edmund Husserl (episode 31) established the modern enterprise of phenomenology that attempts to describe "the structures of experience," i.e., doing empiricism in a way that corresponds with what we actually experience.
- Heidegger (episode 32) similarly thinks that skepticism is a non-issue; we're already indubitably engaged with the world prior to any kind of inquiry.
- We get into some of the details given this starting point in considering the phenomenology of Sartre (episode 47) and Merleau-Ponty (episode 48).
- The other epistemic response within the continental tradition is linguistic: phenomenology is impossible because our experience is tainted by concepts, and concepts can't be referred back directly to perceptions, but are part of an insular culturally produced structure. We discussed this a bit in episode 51 on Derrida and others, episode 74 on Lacan, and episode 75 on Lacan and Derrida.
- In episodes 55 and 56, we considered a similar strain in the analytic philosophy tradition by reading Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. A related view, also from analytic philosophy, came from episode 154 on Wilfrid Sellars vs. the "myth of the given." The point was also made in a different context by Cornel West (episode 52).
What else is ahead? More philosophy of science. Yet more phenomenology, existentialism, and postmodernism.
We've been comparatively scattershot but have made several forays into this area:
- Leibniz's Monadology (episode 6), which actually laid out a full metaphysical system.
- Berkeley (episode 89) argued that "matter" as a concept doesn't make sense, that everything is instead "idea."
- Spinoza's attempt (episode 24) to reconcile naturalism and the existence of God (by defining God as nature itself). A primary question of metaphysics is the existence of God; we considered the classical arguments in favor of this in episode 43.
- We get glimpses of a classical Christian take on metaphysics with Augustine in episode 122.
- We covered the early Wittgenstein picture (in episode 7) on "facts" as the ultimate logical components of the universe. For an analytic philosopher, discussions of metaphysics often turn on what metaphysical commitments are supposedly made by our practices in language and logic/math. We discussed Gottlob Frege's view in episode 34 that the referents of even terms like unicorn refer to something that our ontology (list of things that exist) has to take into account. Carnap (episode 67), following in this tradition, tried to fill out the details of something like Wittgenstein's project, while Quine (episode 66) challenged it in favor of a minimal, naturalist ontology, where philosophy is seen as continuous with science. We saw a more overtly metaphysical take updating Carnap's project with David Chalmers (episode 68).
- For a phenomenologist, metaphysics gets more or less replaced by descriptions of the world of our experience. In this vein, we discussed proto-phenomenologist Henri Bergson (episode 92), and Heidegger on "Being" (episode 32). Whitehead (episode 110) also tries to explain how what we experience ("events") can be analyzed to yield the entities that science needs (objects, motion, space, and time).
- Our episode 13 on quantum mechanics (Werner Heisenberg, with some discussion of Einstein) gave a quick overview of the Presocratics ("Everything is water!" "No, everything is fire!").
- We looked at Presocratic Heraclitus in particular (usually but mistakenly described as the metaphysics of flux) in episode 79.
- A more modern version of this kind of metaphysics focusing on process rather than substance was elaborated (with much math!) by Whitehead, described in episode 110.
- Hegel gives us a different, post-Kantian approach to metaphysics by looking at the logic of metaphysical concepts in episode 135.
- A Buddhist challenge to metaphysics is presented in episode 27 on Nagarjuna. A different approach to Buddhism using a naturalist metaphysics is briefly discussed in episode 53 with Owen Flanagan.
- Schopenhauer's metaphysics of Will, covered in episode 114, combines elements of Heraclitus, Spinoza, and Buddhism.
- The mind-body problem is arguably metaphysical: if "mind" isn't a substance like Descartes thought, then how can we best understand it? We discussed this in episode 21 on Turing, Ryle, Nagel, Searle, and Dennett.
- A basic metaphysical question is "What is life?," which we looked into with episode 130 on Aristotle's De Anima.
- We covered Darwin's Origin of Species in episode 168.
- We explored contemporary views of the theory of natural kinds on episode 163 with guest Stuart Umphrey.
We still have plenty to do to fill in the gaps here (e.g., Aristotle's metaphysics, Neoplatonists, modern approaches), and we'd like to look more at the findings of recent science.
- Arthur Danto (whose ideas about modern art are discussed in episode 16) has personally prohibited me from calling this category "aesthetics."
- We also covered Nelson Goodman (#28 on art as a symbol system).
- Kant on beauty (#105), which is of course mostly about Kant and not so much about beauty.
- Edmund Burke on the sublime (#107)
- Schopenhauer on music and other arts (with our first rock star guest, Jonathan Segel) (#115)
- George Santayana on beauty (#77)
- Pierre Bourdieu on the differing tastes of social classes (#137)
- We've considered ancient storytelling through a discussion of Homer's Odyssey (#185).
- We've dipped specifically into theater by covering Sophocles's tragedy Antigone (#117), Aristophanes's comedy Lysistrata (#188), and looking at Nietzsche's take on Greek tragedy (#119).
We're planning one on the romantics (e.g., Herder), pragmatist views of art (Dewey), critical theory (Walter Benjamin), and we'd like to go into more specific areas of art: film, poetry, etc.
Relatedly, we've covered Henri Bergson's philosophy of humor and will do another episode or two on humor, since we're now making more contact with comedians to have on as guests, though we've been lucky that some of these comedians like Paul Provenza and Danny Lobell also like to talk about other philosophical topics.
Also related to this is philosophy of literature, which we introduced with our discussion of Saussure and Levi-Strauss (episode 51), which gives some of the groundwork for what is now called "critical theory." We followed up on this by looking at Lacan and Derrida's take on a story by Edgar Allan Poe (episode 75). We talked about authorial intent (episode 189), covering Barthes, Foucault, and the "new critics." During episode 63 on Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, we talked about how philosophy can be conveyed through fiction, including science fiction, for which we spoke with David Brin about his novel Existence for episode 90 (followed up by more in 91).
We've read some other philosophical novels: Charlotte Perkins-Gilman's Herland (episode 42), Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (episode 50), and Voltaire's Candide (episode 62). (No, philosophical dialogues don't really count as fiction.)
We've recently started covering philosophical films, with Hitchcock's Vertigo (#169) and Philip K. Dick's Blade Runner (#175, covering the book and the films).
- Episode 43 considers the major historical arguments for the existence of God (Aquinas, Anselm, Paley, with some discussion of Plantinga and Swinburne; we read a book by J.L. Mackie.
- In Episode 167, Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion presents arguments primarily surrounding intelligent design from three competing viewpoints.
- Episode 184 on Pascal includes his famous "wager" regarding faith as well as some interesting psychological observations.
- Episode 101 on Maimonides considers some logical puzzles surrounding the notion of God and the view that God can't have any properties at all.
- Episode 165 on Spinoza considered how to interpret the Bible, how to understand prophecy, and religious toleration.
- Episode 129 brought on two Christian guests to discuss several contemporary articles on the rationality of faith.
- Episode 39 on Freidrich Schleiermacher gives a picture of faith that is largely non-cognitivist: it doesn't make claims that could conflict with those of science.
- Episode 71 on Martin Buber gives another phenomenologically grounded picture of religion.
- Episode 22 covers William James's "The Will to Believe."
- Episode 44 discusses "new atheist" critiques of religion.
- Episode 46 considers the relationship between religion and ethics according to Plato.
- Episode 27 presents the fundamentals of Mahayana Buddhism.
- Episode 53 with guest Owen Flanagan emphasizes different aspects of Buddhism (particularly modern forms primarily influenced by early Therevadan sources).
- Episode 171 with guest Robert Wright delved more about Buddhist psychology (its relation to evolutionary psychology) and meditation.
- Episode 12 on the Chuang Tzu goes into the fundamentals of Taoism.
- Episode 173 considers commonalities among historical American Indian religions.
- Our episode 29 on Kierkegaard focuses more on psychology than faith per se, but still gives a vivid picture of an existentialist breed of religion.
- Episode 112 on Paul Ricoeur's "hermeneutics of suspicion" talks about how to charitably interpret the Bible.
- We then tried to apply this to Jesus's Parables in episode 113, which also gives interpretations by Paul Tillich and John Dominic Crossan.
- Episode 62 on Voltaire's Candide delves a bit into the Problem of Evil, but doesn't go into a lot of depth.
We plan to do more non-Western religion (on the Upanishads and Zen, at least).
In the area of philosophy of mind, we had a general introduction with episode 21, jumped back to Aristotle's creation of this subject in episode 131, and Augustine's take in episode 122, then considered the dangers of artificial intelligence in our interview with Nick Bostrom for episode 108).
Relatedly, we've delved a bit into the philosophy of the emotions, covering Plato on love in both Symposium (episode 100) and Phaedrus (episode 142). Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm weighs in on love as an art in episode 133. We got Spinoza's general theory of the emotions in episode 25.
We've done a lot of exploration of the psychology of self, starting with Hegel (episodes 35 and 36), whose analysis is carried through Kierkegaard (29), Sartre (47), Levinas (146), Buber (71), and several others, including the psychologists (James, Lacan, Freud) listed above. We talked about the contemporary science of the self with Drew Pinsky (172) and with Robert Wright.
We've done a lot of moral psychology too; see the "ethics" page.
In the area of philosophy of language, we did some foundational work with Gottlob Frege's logicism (episode 34) and Ferdinand de Saussure's semiotics (episode 51). These two trends roughly mark out how philosophy of language works in analytic and continental philosophy respectively.
In analytic philosophy, we got into more logicism with Alfred Tarski (episode 194), and another key piece of the puzzle is Bertrand Russell's theory of definite descriptions (which we never dedicated an episode too, but which we explain in the context of introducing W.V.O. Quine (episode 66).
This discussion of how language refers to the world straddles the line in analytic philosophy between philosophy of language and metaphysics: Does using a word necessarily indicate that there's something in the world corresponding to that word? This issue goes all the way back to Plato (see episode 143 on "The Sophist") and has been treated by modern analytic philosophers Saul Kripke (episode 126) and Hilary Putnam (episode 128). See also Rudolf Carnap (episode 191).
The other main trend in analytic philosophy of language is ordinary language philosophy, kicked off by the later Wittgenstein (episodes 55 and 56) and elaborated in our episodes on J.L. Austin (episode 186), P.F. Strawson (episode 195, which has more Austin too), and Donald Davidson (episode 191). Some of these discussions focused specifically on the concept of truth, and that series concluded with our interviewing Simon Blackburn (episode 196).
Following the thread in continental philosophy, we delved into hermeneutics (how to interpret texts and other things) with Gadamer (episode 111) and applied this with Paul Ricoeur (episode 112). Also relevant here is Gilles Deleuze's take on the difference between philosophy, science, and art (episode 76).
In the related area of rhetoric and media critique (an area of shared concern between analytic and continental philosophy), we covered Plato's critique of sophistry in Gorgias (episode 69), and Phaedrus (episode 143), and then looked at more modern views by the "new critics" (e.g. Monroe Beardsley), Roland Barthes, and Michel Foucault (episode 189). This was related specifically back to analytic philosophy (e.g. Paul Grice) in the follow-up discussion to #189.
Finally, we explored issues related to speech and politics, talking about the rhetoric of totalitarianism in episodes 160 and 181, and the rhetoric used by science advisors in episode 96. We got started on a Marxist critique of popular media with Adorno (episode 136). (For more, see the "politics" tab.)