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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: Are We All to Blame?

More at If you want to tell the truth, you shouldn’t contradict yourself—that’s just common sense. A suspect who was home on the night of the crime can’t have been elsewhere, and whatever the weapon, we can rule out the hypothesis that it was both a candlestick and not a candlestick. But there are philosophers who claim we shouldn’t overgeneralize based on murder mysteries: some contradictions are true. Could a badly written law make the dastardly deed both legal and illegal? Do mathematical paradoxes create weird things that both do and don’t exist? If we embrace contradictions, will we still be able to tell the difference between truth and falsehood? Josh and Ray embrace contradiction with Graham Priest from the City University of New York, author of "Doubt Truth to Be a Liar."


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."


Trolling, Bullying, and Flame Wars: Humility and Online Discourse

More at Open up any online comments section and you’ll find them: internet trolls, from the mildly inflammatory to the viciously bullying. It seems that the ease of posting online leads many to abandon any semblance of intellectual humility. So can we have intellectual humility on an anonymous forum with little oversight and accountability? Does current online behavior portend the end of humility in the public domain? How do we encourage greater humility and less arrogance in any public discourse? The Philosophers comment offline with Michael Lynch from the University of Connecticut, author of "The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data."


How To Humbly Disagree

More at People like to argue, especially Philosophy Talk listeners! But no matter how hard we try to resolve disputes through rational discourse, sometimes we may still disagree about important issues. One response to this predicament is simply to agree to disagree. But should the mere fact of disagreement lower our confidence in our views? Should we change how we judge our own beliefs when we realize that other people disagree? Or do we only have reason to doubt our beliefs when we learn that experts disagree with us? The Philosophy humbly welcome Nathan Ballantyne from Fordham University, author of "Knowing Our Limits" (forthcoming).


Can Speech Kill?

More at Free speech is one of the core tenets of our democracy. We’re inclined to think that more speech is always better. Although the Supreme Court has outlined some minor restrictions to our right to free speech, the most courts are willing to admit is that speech can lead to violence—it cannot itself do violence. But is it possible for speech to do both? If hate speech is used against a marginalized group, couldn’t the speech act...


Midlife and Meaning

More at At some point or another, the midlife crisis comes for us all. But what is it really about? Is it a sense of our mortality, the fear of not achieving what we hoped to, or the sinking feeling that we’ve been spending our whole adult lives chasing our tails? And what is the solution: a new car, a new life goal, or the choice to give up goals altogether? Ken and Josh entertain the possibilities with Kieran Setiya from MIT, author...


When Democracies Torture

More at Torture is prohibited under international law and is widely considered a human rights violation. But despite the fact that 157 countries ratified the UN Convention Against Torture, it is still practiced in many states to this day. Moreover, while we might associate torture with dictatorships, liberal democracies pioneered the modern techniques that leave no physical trace. So why do democracies torture? Can calling torture by...