Philosophy Talk The program that questions everything... except your intelligence.
Philosophy Talk

Philosophy Talk


The program that questions everything... except your intelligence.

Most Recent Episodes

528: Referring to the World — Ken's Final Work

More at On December 2, 2019, Ken Taylor announced that he finally had "an almost complete draft" of a book he had been writing for years. "I think I'll pour a glass of wine to mark the occasion, before plunging back into the work that is still to be done," he wrote. Tragically and unexpectedly, he died later that same day. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of some colleagues, his book, "Referring to the World: An Opinionated Introduction to the Theory of Reference," has just been published. In this special episode, Josh and Ray discuss Ken's ideas about reference with USC philosopher Robin Jeshion, who helped bring the book to fruition.

527: Your Brain on Literature

More at Cognitive science has revolutionized our understanding of the brain and how it functions. Researchers have even used fMRI to detect differences in the way people engage with literature. But can contemporary science really teach us anything about how novels, poems, and movies work? Do new understandings of the unconscious help us appreciate the brilliant magic tricks that writers pull off? And could a better picture of mental imagery inspire novelists to write differently? Josh and Ray pick the brain of Stanford neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of "Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain."

526: Summer Reading List 2021

More at As some parts of our lives return to a kind of normal, Josh and Ray ask authors and philosophers about what's on their summer reading lists. • Cory Doctorow on "Making Hay," his short story in "Make Shift: Dispatches from the Post-Pandemic Future" • Helen De Cruz from Saint Louis University, co-editor of "Philosophy Through Science Fiction Stories: Exploring the Boundaries of the Possible" Plus a post-pandemic update from Stanford English colleague Michaela Bronstein and her thoughts on Richard Wright's newly-published "The Man Who Lived Underground."

467: Can Reason Save Us?

More at To an optimist, things are constantly getting better: disease and extreme poverty are down; life expectancy, literacy, and equality are up; and it's all thanks to the glory of human reason. But a pessimist would point to the continuing presence of injustice, oppression, and war, and the dangers of global warming and nuclear annihilation. So who's right? Are we really living in an age of progress? And can reason really save us? Josh and Ken try to reason with renowned cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, author of "Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress."

525: Nonduality and the Oneness of Being

More at Some branches of Hindu philosophy propose that reality is nondual in nature. Such schools of thought—called advaita schools, from a Sanskrit word meaning "not two"—see the material world either as an aspect of ultimate reality ("Brahman") or as a mere illusion. So how do we make sense of the appearance of variety in a metaphysics of oneness? Is there room for individual selves within advaita philosophy? What can be known? And what possible sources of knowledge are there in a nondual epistemology? Josh and Ray become one with Elisa Freschi from the University of Toronto, author of "Duty, Language, and Exegesis in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā."

465: The Psychology of Cruelty

More at Throughout history, people have committed all kinds of cruel, degrading, and evil acts toward other people. Many believe that for evil acts like genocide to be even possible, the victims must first be dehumanized by the perpetrators, starting with dehumanizing language or propaganda. But is this lack of empathy always at the heart of human cruelty? When we call others "vermin," "roaches," or "animals" are we thereby denying their humanity? Or can human cruelty and violence sometimes rely on actually recognizing the other's humanity? Josh and guest host Alison Gopnik welcome back Paul Bloom from Yale University, author of "Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion."

524: The Lives and Ideas of the Vienna Circle

More at The Vienna Circle was a group of early twentieth-century philosophers, mathematicians, logicians, and scientists, best known for developing the theory of scientific knowledge called logical positivism. Although positivism as a project has been largely abandoned, the group's ideas continue to have profound influence on contemporary philosophy of science. So what philosophical theories were proposed by the Vienna Circle? How might the socio-political circumstances of their time have shaped their radical ideas? And how did their ideas aim to shape politics? Josh and Ray ask David Edmonds from the University of Oxford, author of "The Murder of Professor Schlick: The Rise and Fall of the Vienna Circle."

523: Disinformation and the Future of Democracy

More at The 2020 election and startling events that followed show that the US is as polarized as ever. Not only is there fundamental disagreement over values and goals, but people can't seem to agree on the most basic, easily verifiable facts, like who actually won. With so many seemingly living in an alternative reality, how do we continue the business of democracy together? Should we adopt paternalistic policies towards fellow citizens who are so profoundly divorced from truth? And does our current plight suggest that the project of liberal democracy is failing? Ray and guest co-host (emeritus) John Perry stay informed about their guest, attorney and political analyst Dean Johnson, co-host of KALW's Your Legal Rights.

522: Montaigne and the Art of the Essay

More at French thinker Michel de Montaigne invented a whole new genre in which to do philosophy: the essay. But in his use of that form, Montaigne repeatedly digresses and contradicts himself. So why did he think the essay was a good medium for philosophy? What impact did Montaigne's invention have on his own philosophical work, and on the centuries of thought that followed? Are there particular forms of writing that help us live a more philosophical life? The philosophers live their best life with Cécile Alduy from Stanford University, author of "The Politics of Love: Poetics and Genesis of the "Amours" in Renaissance France (1549-1560)."

521: The 2021 Dionysus Awards

More at After a year in which "entertainment" took on a whole new meaning, what were the movies that challenged our assumptions and made us think about things in new ways? Josh and guest co-host Jeremy Sabol talk to philosophers and listeners as they present our eighth annual Dionysus Awards for the most thoughtful films of the past year, including: • Best Film Painting a World Without Men • Best Picture That Packs All of American History Into One Room • Trippiest Investigation of Identity (That Probably Should Have Ended Sooner)