philosophy

The unexamined year is not worth reviewing:

The Year in Race and Justice with Chris Lebron, Professor of African-American Studies at Yale University and author of The Color Of Our Shame: Race and Justice In Our Time

The Year in Academic Freedom with Katherine Franke, Professor of Law at Columbia University and Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law

Philosophy Talk asks: What's wrong with selling sex?

Dec 26, 2014

Some consider the commodification of sexual services inherently wrong, something that ought to be abolished outright. Others claim that prostitution is a legitimate form of commerce and that changing its legal status would reduce or eliminate most harms to sex workers. So in a just society, are there any conditions under which buying and selling sex are morally acceptable? Does the sex trade inevitably involve coercion of some kind, or can becoming a sex worker ever be a free, fully autonomous choice?

People tend to treat other people who differ from them, even in seemingly small and insignificant ways, as less than fully human. Our tendency to dehumanize the "other" has sometimes led to great atrocities like the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda, and the slave trade. It is arguably responsible for such widespread social ills as racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Where does our tendency to dehumanize others come from? Is it based on bad arguments hat can be rationally refuted, or are its origins deeper in the human psyche? Are we bound to see the "other" as less than fully human?

Philosophy Talk asks: Would you want to live forever?

Dec 5, 2014

Would you like to live forever? It is a tempting notion that has been explored and imagined for centuries. Perhaps immortality is desirable, but it might also be that death is a significant part of what gives meaning to life. So what would a society of immortal individuals look like? What might some of the challenges or rewards of an immortal life be? How would living forever affect our relationships with one another, our life goals, or simply the way we perceive time? Would the impacts of immortality ultimately be beneficial or detrimental to us?

Philosophy Talk asks: Is hypocrisy a vice or a virtue?

Nov 28, 2014

Hypocrites believe one thing, but do another. Jefferson opposed slavery, but owned slaves. Jesus professed universal love, but cursed an innocent fig tree. Jerry Brown opposes the death penalty, but as governor of California will be responsible for executions. Hypocrites all – but vile hypocrites? Surely it was better that Jefferson was a hypocrite, and articulated the case against slavery, than not opposing it at all. Does it take courage to defend a view that you, yourself, don't have the courage or the character to follow through on?

Philosophy Talk asks: What's wrong with favoritism?

Oct 31, 2014

Imagine that your eight-year-old son arrives home boasting that he won the race that day in gym class. Right as your heart begins to swell with pride, he reveals that he wasn’t the only winner—the whole class won the race. The gym teacher, it turns out, thought that naming just one winner would be unfair. If our obsession with fairness leads to absurdities like this, why should we be so committed to being fair? Why not reserve the best we have to offer for those who actually deserve it? Can there be justice, kindness, and compassion in a world without fairness?

Can Philosophy be therapeutic?

Oct 23, 2014

From Plato and Sextus Empiricus to Wittgenstein, many important thinkers have thought of philosophy as a type of therapy. But can philosophy really help those who experience mental anguish? Don’t we have shrinks and medication for that? Isn't philosophy more likely to raise more questions than it offers answers? John and Ken seek solace with David Konstan from NYU, author of The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks: Studies in Aristotle and Classical Literature.  Join the conversation live this Sunday, 10/26 by calling 1-800-525-9917.

Philosophy Talk asks: why do we blame and resent others?

Oct 17, 2014

When someone acts without regard for our feelings or needs, a natural response is to feel resentment toward that person. But is that a rational response? What if there's no such thing as free will? Is blame still appropriate in a deterministic universe? Or are we simply genetically programmed to respond emotionally to perceived injuries? John and Ken talk freely with Pamela Hieronymi from UCLA, author of Reflection and Responsibility.  Philosophy Talk with John Perry and Ken Taylor ~ Sunday, 10/19 at 10 am and Tuesday, 10/21 at 12 noon.

Whether for counterterrorism measures, street level crime, or immigration, racial profiling of minorities occurs frequently. However, racial profiling is illegal under many jurisdictions and many might say ineffective. Is racial profiling ever moral or is it always an unjustified form of racism? Is there any evidence that certain races or ethnic groups have a tendency to behave in particular ways? Or is racial stereotyping a result of deeply-held biases we're not even aware of?

Philosophy Talk asks: When should we second-guess ourselves?

Sep 26, 2014

We like to think of ourselves as self-aware, reflective beings, but psychological studies demonstrate that we’re usually overconfident in the accuracy of our own beliefs. Memory, for example, can be extremely unreliable, even when we feel certain we know what happened. Surprisingly, when we’re made aware of this, we adjust our level of confidence in ourselves only slightly. How, then, can we doubt ourselves in a rational and efficient manner to bring our beliefs closer to reality?

Babies and the Birth of Morality

Sep 11, 2014

Doing the right thing is often an extremely difficult task. Yet psychological research indicates that infants as young as 21 months old have a crude sense of what is right and wrong. This capacity is reflected by infants' decisions to reward or punish characters in social scenarios. But surely a genuine, robust, mature moral compass is much more complicated than that. So what can babies tell us about adult morality? How much of morality is innate, and how much must we develop as moral thinkers?

Recent advances in neuroscience have revealed that certain neurological disorders, like a brain tumor, can cause an otherwise normal person to behave in criminally deviant ways. Would knowing that an underlying neurological condition had caused criminal behavior change the way we assign moral responsibility and mete out justice? Should it? Is committing a crime with a "normal" biology fundamentally different from doing so with an identifiable brain disorder?

Philosophy Talk asks What Might Have Been

Aug 21, 2014

When we make claims about things that could have been—what philosophers call counterfactual statements—we are, in some sense, sliding between different worlds. We all use counterfactual statements frequently. But what would make our speculations about what might have been in a different scenario true or false? When I say things could have gone differently than they did, I am speaking of a possible world in which things did, in fact, go differently. But how do we make sense of this talk of possible worlds? How can there be facts other than facts about the actual world?

Remixing Reality on Philosophy Talk

Aug 16, 2014

For decades, literary critics have been questioning the relevance of the novel as a literary form, with some going so far as to declare its death. But if the novel is dead, it’s not clear what new form can take its place. Should we treat the popularity of the memoir as a sign that what readers want is more truth, less fiction? Or is the memoir, like ‘reality TV,’ mostly just fiction dressed up as fact? In these fragmented times, when everything has already been said or done before, can there be any truly original innovations in art and literature?

The Ethics of Captivity on Philosophy Talk

Aug 9, 2014

Whether it's people incarcerated in prisons, or animals confined in zoos, aquariums, laboratories, farms, and in our own homes, millions of upon millions of sentient creatures live in captivity. To be held captive, some might say, is to be denied basic rights of autonomy. But physical captivity, others might say, can have significant social benefits. So under what conditions could it be morally justified to hold a creature in captivity? Should we think of humans and animals differently? And in a civil society, is captivity a necessary harm, or should we work towards eradicating it?

What books should thoughtful people be reading this summer?

Jul 31, 2014

What philosophers, philosophies, or philosophical issues would you like to read up on over the summer? John and Ken discuss one of this year's most talked-about books, Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty, with political scientist Shannon Stimson. They also get summer reading suggestions from author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, whose new book is Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away, and Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley, author of the forthcoming Why Propaganda Matters.

Imagine discovering that your grandfather was a serial killer. Would you feel guilty about it? Would you be at all tempted to contact the families of his victims? Philosophers have long thought that we can only be responsible for what is under our voluntary control, but sometimes we feel guilty about events we didn’t bring about, simply because we are connected in some way to those who did. Many Germans, for instance, feel guilty about their ancestors' participation in the Nazi regime. Can we really be responsible for things outside of our control?

Philosophy Talk asks: What are Leaders made of?

Jul 10, 2014

There seems to be a paradox in leadership: the qualities of ruthlessness and opportunism necessary to attain power and become a leader are not necessarily the qualities of morality and a sense of justice that make for a good leader. Do the traits that make it likely that someone will become a leader correlate positively or negatively with the traits that make a good and effective leader? Do our democratic institutions lead to better leaders than, say, a lottery like the Athenians used?

Philosophy Talk asks: What is Love?

Jul 4, 2014

It may seem doubtful that philosophers have much to tell us about love (beyond their love of wisdom). Surely it is the poets who have the market cornered when it comes to deep reflection on the nature of love. John and Ken question the notion that love cannot be captured by the light of reason by turning their attention to the philosophy of love with philosopher-poet Troy Jollimore from CSU Chico.

Philosophy Talk examines the Anatomy of a Terrorist

Jun 26, 2014

Since George W. Bush first declared a "war on terror," the US has been engaged in a global campaign to rid the world of terrorists. But what exactly is a “terrorist,” and how do we distinguish illicit terrorist organizations from legitimate freedom fighters? Do terrorists exhibit particular psychological patterns of behavior, or are there some tactics that only terrorists use? And what is the most effective way to combat terrorism – by waging war, engaging in "de-radicalization" processes, or some other means?

Philosophy Talk asks: Is it Art... or mere Obscenity?

Jun 12, 2014

What do Marcel Duchamp, Damien Hirst, and Andres Serrano have in common? They’ve all created modern works of art that have shocked and outraged the general public, causing many to question whether these works have any artistic value at all. But isn’t it the purpose of art to incite inquiry and question conventional moral wisdom? If so, then a strong public reaction would seem to prove the artistic merit of these works. So, is there a clear line to be drawn between genuine art and mere obscenity? Or has shock value simply replaced cultural value in the world of contemporary art?

Deep Summer Reading on Philosophy Talk

Jun 5, 2014

What philosophers, philosophies, or philosophical issues would you like to read up on over the summer? John and Ken discuss one of this year's most talked-about books, Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty, with political scientist Shannon Stimson. They also get summer reading suggestions from author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, whose new book is Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away, and Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley, author of the forthcoming Why Propaganda Matters.

Philosophy Talk asks: Is Democracy a Universal Value?

May 23, 2014

Americans value democracy, and expect others to value it. But is it a universal value? Does God, or rationality, or something very basic about human sensibility, dictate that states should be organized democratically? What if there were empirical evidence that some non-democratic form of government is more likely to produce human happiness, cultural achievement, and sound money?

The Reality of Time on Philosophy Talk

May 15, 2014

St. Augustine suggested that when we try to grasp the idea of time, it seems to evade us: "What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know." So is time real or merely an artificial construct? Is time a fundamental or emergent property of our universe or a part of our cognitive apparatus? Do we live in a continuum with a definite past and present, or do we live in a succession of ‘Nows’, and if the latter is the case, how does it affect our perception of memory or recollection?

Epicurus and the Good Life on Philosophy Talk

May 8, 2014

Though his name is often misleadingly associated with indulgence in sensual pleasures, the Greek philosopher Epicurus developed a far-reaching system of thought that incorporated an empiricist theory of knowledge, a description of nature based on atomistic materialism, and views about the importance of friendship. His notions of what constitutes a good life have preserved the relevance of Epicurean philosophy for contemporary life. A diverse array of thinkers, including Thomas Jefferson, Diderot, and Jeremy Bentham, have considered themselves Epicureans.

Seeing Red: The World in Color on Philosophy Talk

May 1, 2014

Is the red you see indeed the very same red that anyone else does? What is the redness of red even like? These sorts of questions are not just amusing, if worn-out, popular philosophical ponderings. Thinkers in the philosophy of perception take such questions as serious windows into the nature of the world and of the mind. Although we are constantly surrounded by colors, the experience of perceiving them – what it is like to see red, for example - remains a mysterious phenomenon. Where are colors: in objects, or in our minds?

Conspiracy Theories on Philosophy Talk

Apr 17, 2014

Some claim that the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 was actually caused by a controlled demolition orchestrated by the U.S. government. Dramatic conspiracy theories of this kind are all over the place, but they are often dismissed as crazy. Sometimes, however, they turn out to be true: the NSA, as we have learned, conducted secret surveillance of millions of people for more than ten years. Does this show that we shouldn’t be so dismissive of conspiracy theories after all, or that we simply refuse to accept the existence of coincidence?

Philosophy Talk is back at The Marsh Theater in Berkeley on Sunday April 13 for the next two live recordings in our 2013-14 season.

National Poetry Month on Philosophy Talk

Apr 3, 2014

April is National Poetry Month, so a philosopher might ask: what is poetry? Mere word play? A pretty, or at any rate striking, way of expressing thought and emotion? Or does great poetry involve an approach to the world that provides insight and information not available in other ways? John and Ken explore how poetry can illuminate what we know with award-winning poet Jane Hirshfield, author of Come, Thief and other poetic works of philosophical richness.

The Ethics of WMDs on Philosophy Talk

Mar 27, 2014

The United States recently threatened military action against Syria in response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons. Similar threats have been made against states suspected of trying to develop nuclear arsenals such as North Korea and Iran. Yet the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia, and China have thousands of active nuclear weapons of their own. Is there a morally significant difference between nuclear or chemical weapons and conventional weapons? Should we work toward total disarmament, or do we need these weapons as a deterrent to rogue states?

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