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Philosophy Talk: Select Episodes

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"The program that questions everything -- except your intelligence." Philosophy on the radio? You've got to be kidding? Well, sometimes we do (kid, that is). Mostly we look at today's important ideas with an eye to thinking them through. Philosophy Talk is a weekly, one-hour radio series. The hosts' down-to-earth and no-nonsense approach brings the richness of philosophic thought to everyday subjects. Topics are lofty (Truth, Beauty, Justice), arresting (Terrorism, Intelligent Design, Suicide), and engaging (Baseball, Love, Happiness). This is not a lecture or a college course; it's philosophy in action! Philosophy Talk is a fun opportunity to explore issues of importance to your audience in a thoughtful, friendly fashion, where thinking is encouraged.


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"The program that questions everything -- except your intelligence." Philosophy on the radio? You've got to be kidding? Well, sometimes we do (kid, that is). Mostly we look at today's important ideas with an eye to thinking them through. Philosophy Talk is a weekly, one-hour radio series. The hosts' down-to-earth and no-nonsense approach brings the richness of philosophic thought to everyday subjects. Topics are lofty (Truth, Beauty, Justice), arresting (Terrorism, Intelligent Design, Suicide), and engaging (Baseball, Love, Happiness). This is not a lecture or a college course; it's philosophy in action! Philosophy Talk is a fun opportunity to explore issues of importance to your audience in a thoughtful, friendly fashion, where thinking is encouraged.




This Week: In Awe of Wonder

More at Descartes said that the purpose of wonderment is “to enable us to learn and retain in our memory things of which we were formerly unaware.” He also said that those who are not inclined to wonder are “ordinarily very ignorant.” So what exactly is wonder, and how is it different from awe? Is wonder at the core of what drives us to search for novel insights? And can we suffer from an excess of wonderment? Josh and Ray stand in awe of Helen De Cruz from St. Louis University, author of "Wonderstruck: How Wonder and Awe Shape the Way We Think" (forthcoming).


Mary Astell

More at Mary Astell (1666–1731) was an English philosopher and writer who advocated for equal rights for women. While she described marriage as a type of “slavery,” she was also a staunch conservative who claimed that women who did marry should accept subordination to their husbands. So what was Astell's vision for the education of women? How did she reconcile her seemingly conflicting views on marriage? And why did philosopher John Locke criticize her views on natural law? Josh and Ray explore her life and thought with Allauren Forbes from McMaster University, author of the Oxford Bibliography on Mary Astell. Part of the "Wise Women" series, supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Elisabeth of Bohemia

More at Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia (1618–1680) is best known for her correspondence with René Descartes. In her letters, she articulated a devastating critique of his dualist theory of mind, in particular on the impossibility of mind-body interaction. So what was Elisabeth's own position on the nature of mind? What can we ascertain about her moral and political concerns based on her various correspondences? And how are her ideas still relevant to current debates in philosophy? Josh and Ray explore Elisabeth's life and thought with Lisa Shapiro from McGill University, editor of "The Routledge Handbook of Women and Early Modern European Philosophy."


Can Architecture Be Political?

More at It’s common to judge a piece of architecture based on its functional and aesthetic values, and how the two might complement or compete with one other. It’s less common to judge architecture based on its political values. But can’t a building’s design also express a political viewpoint? Why are different styles of architecture associated with different ideologies? And can a historical edifice's social purpose change over time? Josh and Ray build a foundation with Vladimir Kulić from Iowa State University, editor of "Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980." This episode is generously sponsored by the Stanford Global Studies program.


Hypatia of Alexandria

More at Hypatia of Alexandria, late antiquity public figure and scholar, made significant contributions to mathematics, philosophy, and astronomy. Her embrace of Neoplatonism was seen as such a threat to the political elite in Alexandria that she was murdered by a mob of Christians. So what made her ideas so dangerous and revolutionary for her time? As a woman in Ancient Egypt, how did she exert power over her own narrative? And should she really be considered a "martyr" for philosophy? Josh and Ray explore Hypatia's life and thought with Edward Watts, Professor of History at UCSD and author of "Hypatia: The Life and Legend of an Ancient Philosopher."


Can Art Save Us?

More at The world is facing an unprecedented environmental crisis, and we urgently need good ways to address it. Courageous politicians would help, of course, as might scientific innovations. But how much of the problem is a failure of imagination? Could the arts help us see our way out of the problem? How can literature, painting, and movies redraw the landscape in our minds? Josh and Ray imagine a conversation with Harriet Hawkins, Professor of Human Geography and Co-Director of the Centre for GeoHumanities at Royal Holloway, University of London.


The Philosophy of Smell

More at When philosophers think about human perception, they tend to focus on vision and turn their noses up at olfaction, the sense of smell. So what insights can we gain about perception, thought, and language by focusing on olfaction? How culturally variable is the ability to distinguish one scent from another? Do we need to learn certain concepts before we can detect certain odors, or can our noses pick up things we can’t yet name? And why do we have so many words to describe what we see, yet so few to describe what we smell? Josh and Ray sniff out the details with experimental psychologist and olfaction expert Asifa Majid from the University of Oxford.


Liberty and Justice For Who?

More at Many democracies are founded on the ideals of 18th- and 19th-Century British Liberalism: the idea that human beings deserve the right to self-government because we are born free, equal, and capable of rationality. Yet Liberalism was used to justify colonialism, which deprived people around the world of the right to govern themselves. How could a political philosophy that claims to be pro-freedom be used to take freedom away from so many people? Was Liberalism misunderstood, or were its moral flaws built-in from the beginning? How can we design a political philosophy that liberates everyone, not just the citizens of a few wealthy and powerful nations? Josh and Ray talk liberally with Uday Singh Mehta from the CUNY Graduate Center, author of "Liberalism and Empire: A Study in Nineteenth-Century British Liberal Thought," for an episode generously sponsored by the Stanford Global Studies program.


The Changing Face of Antisemitism

More at Antisemitism is an old problem with roots that reach back to medieval Europe. While earlier forms focused more on religious bigotry, antisemitism in the modern period became increasingly racialized and politicized. So what is the connection between older ideas about Jews and Judaism, and contemporary antisemitic tropes and stereotypes? How are conspiratorial fears about Jewish invisibility and global control related to the emergence of finance capitalism? And what can history teach us about how to confront antisemitism today? Josh and Ray ask historian Francesca Trivellato from the Institute for Advanced Study, editor of "Jews in Early Modern Europe" (forthcoming), in a program recorded live at the Stanford Humanities Center.


Could Robot Be Persons?

More at As we approach the advent of autonomous robots, we must decide how we will determine culpability for their actions. Some propose creating a new legal category of “electronic personhood” for any sufficiently advanced robot that can learn and make decisions by itself. But do we really want to assign artificial intelligence legal—or moral—rights and responsibilities? Would it be ethical to produce and sell something with the status of a person in the first place? Does designing machines that look and act like humans lead us to misplace our empathy? Or should we be kind to robots lest we become unkind to our fellow human beings? Josh and Ray do the robot with Joanna Bryson, Professor of Ethics and Technology at the Hertie School of Governance, and author of "The Artificial Intelligence of the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence: An Introductory Overview for Law and Regulation."


What Can Virtual Reality (Actually) Do?

More at VR transports users into all kinds of different realities, some modeled on the real world, others completely invented. Though still in its infancy, the technology has become so sophisticated, it can trick the brain into treating the virtual experience as real and unmediated. So what is the most prudent way to employ this cutting edge technology going forward? Could VR help solve real world problems, like implicit bias or the climate crisis? And as the technology becomes more widely available, are there potential dangers we ought to be seriously thinking about? Josh and Ray strap on their headsets with Jeremy Bailenson, Director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford, and author of "Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do."


The Social Lives of Robots

More at Machines might surpass humans in terms of computational intelligence, but when it comes to social intelligence, they’re not very sophisticated. They have difficulty reading subtle cues—like body language, eye gaze, or facial expression—that we pick up on automatically. As robots integrate more and more into human life, how will they figure out the codes for appropriate behavior in different contexts? Can social intelligence be learned via an algorithm? And how do we design socially smart robots to be of special assistance to children, older adults, and people with disabilities? Josh and Ray read the room with Elaine Short from Tufts University, co-author of more than 20 papers on human-robot interaction, including "Robot moderation of a collaborative game: Towards socially assistive robotics in group interactions."


Time for Summer Reading

More at When John and Ken began shopping around their idea for a philosophy-on-the-radio show nearly 20 years ago, many believed it would never work, let alone stay on the air. Nearly two decades later, the program that questions everything (except your intelligence) has hit 500 episodes -- just in time for current co-hosts Josh and Ray to spend our annual summer reading show thinking about time and books about time: • Physicist Carlo Rovelli, author of "The Order of Time" • Political scientist Elizabeth Cohen, author of "The Political Value of Time" • Poet and essayist Jane Hirshfield, author of "Ledger" Plus philosopher Jorah Dannenberg on Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life."


Ken Taylor Tribute

More at The Philosophy Talk team is deeply saddened by Ken Taylor's untimely passing this month. Ken was the show's co-founder, longtime co-host, chief cheerleader, and guiding light. In this special episode, co-hosts Josh Landy and Debra Satz, along with host emeritus and co-creator John Perry, remember their colleague and friend. They also hear from past guests, former students, and others touched by Ken's life and work. We're also touched and honored that Ken's family has requested that donations in his memory be made to


Foreign Aid – or Injury?

More at Many of us might think that developed nations should lead the effort to end global poverty. But decades of foreign aid—from governments and non-governmental organizations—has failed to produce sustainable growth in the developing world. How can we empower local actors to become self-sufficient rather than dependent on foreign aid? Is there a way to help those in the developing world without inadvertently giving more power to corrupt dictators? Do developed nations have an obligation to fight global poverty the right way? Debra and Ken enlist the aid of Dartmouth economist John Welborn.


Does Science Over-reach?

More at We've all heard the phrase, "You can't argue with science." Appealing to scientific fact as a way to settle a question makes sense given the amazing advancements science has brought us in understanding how the world works. But should we take the accomplishments of science as evidence for scientism—the view that science is the best and only way to acquire genuine knowledge? Does faith in science require that we disregard all non-scientific viewpoints? Are there important questions that science cannot answer? Josh and Ken collect their data with Massimo Pugliucci from CUNY, editor of "Science Unlimited?: The Challenges of Scientism."


Radical Markets: Solutions for a Gilded Age?

7/14/2018 Many people think that growing inequality, the rise of populism and nativism, and the decay of democratic institutions all have the same cause—the overreach of markets. The solution, they believe, is to limit the market through regulation. But what if rather than shrinking the market, the answer lies in expanding the market? Is it possible that we haven't let markets go far enough? Do our current regulations lead to too many monopolies? And could turning more things into assets that are for sale to the highest bidder actually be the solution to our new gilded age? Debra and Ken buy and sell with Glen Weyl from Yale University, co-author of "Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society."


Repugnant Markets: Should Everything Be For Sale?

More at We might ban buying or selling horse meat in the US not for the protection of horses, but because we find it morally repugnant. Yet this moral repugnance is clearly not universal, and on some level may even be arbitrary, given France's attitude toward horse meat. What role, if any, should moral repugnance play in determining the rules of our marketplaces? Even if we want to eliminate the influence of moral repugnance, can we? Debra and Ken hold their noses with Al Roth from Stanford University, author of "Who Gets What ― and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design."


Faith and Humility

More at Some would argue that faith requires that one blindly—rather than rationally— believe. Faith in one ‘true’ religion often entails rejection of all others. Given this, can there ever be humility when it comes to religious faith? How unwavering should the faithful be when it comes to their religious convictions, attitudes, and actions? Should we encourage religious humility, or would it taint the very concept of faith? Can religious faith and intellectual humility ever be reconciled? The Philosophers humbly believe in talking to Joshua Hook from the University of North Texas, co-author of "Cultural Humility: Engaging Diverse Identities in Therapy."


Are We Alone?

More at News that life might exist or have existed on Mars or somewhere else in our universe excites many. But should we really be happy to hear that news? What are the philosophical implications of the possibility of extraterrestrial life? If life can blossom in our own cosmic backyard, then that means that the universe is most likely saturated with life forms. And if that’s the case, why haven’t we found any evidence of other civilizations? Is it because all civilizations are prone to suicidal destruction at a certain point in their development? If so, how might we avoid this fate? The Philosophers search for life with Paul Davies from Arizona State University, author of "The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence."