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?

Acting Together on Philosophy Talk

Mar 13, 2014

Many goals are too complex for one person to accomplish alone. Every day, we pool together our planning abilities with those around us to get things done. It’s clear that without shared agency, none of our familiar social institutions could exist. However, philosophers are in disagreement about what shared agency actually entails. What is it about collective action that's unique, and why does it come about? How is acting together sometimes greater than the sum of its parts?

What does gender have to do with science? The obvious answer is ‘nothing.’ Science is the epitome of an objective, rational, and disinterested enterprise. But has male dominance in science contributed certain unfounded assumptions or cognitive biases to the ‘objectivity’ of scientific inquiry? Is there any possibility of achieving a gender-neutral science, and if so, what would that look like?

Philosophy Talk Live at the Marsh Berkeley 2/16

Feb 14, 2014

This Sunday, join John Perry and Ken Taylor, along with Ian Shoales the Sixty-Second Philosopher, the Roving Philosophical Reporter, and musical guests The Plāto'nes, for two brand-new live recordings of Philosophy Talk.

Stanford professors of philosophy John Perry and Ken Taylor with Mark Rowlands from the University of Miami, author of "Can Animals Be Moral?" - Tuesday at Noon.


Feb 26, 2012

On this week's Philosophy Talk, the subject is pantheism: the doctrine that the world is either identical with God or an expression of His nature.