philosophy

Philosophy Talk asks: Can we make sense of Heidegger?

Jun 26, 2015

Best known for his work Being and Time, Martin Heidegger has been hailed by many as the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century. He has also been criticized for being both nearly unreadable and a Nazi. Yet there is no disputing his seminal place in the history of Western thought. So what did Heidegger mean when he wrote about world, being, and time?

The ideal of science is objectivity in the service of advancing knowledge. We tend to assume that to be objective, scientists must keep their politics from influencing their work. But time and time again we see that science, even some of our best science, is awash in political influences. Could politics sometimes have a positive effect on objectivity in science? If so, which kinds of politics might have a positive effect and which might not? What criteria could we use to make the distinction? And does 'objectivity' still have meaning in this context?

Philosophy Talks asks: How does Propaganda work?

May 29, 2015

Governments and other political institutions employ propaganda to sway public opinion, instill ideas, and exert a degree of control over people. While totalitarian regimes have been known to do this explicitly, democratic governments often disguise their propaganda with persuasive rhetoric. So what exactly constitutes propaganda and how does it work? Does it always involve lies or falsehoods? Can propaganda ever be morally justified or is it a pernicious form of communication? John and Ken trade slogans with Jason Stanley from Yale University, author of How Propaganda Works. 

Philosophy Talk asks: How does Fiction shape us?

May 22, 2015

A good novel can do many things. It can distract us from the humdrum of daily existence, stimulate our imaginations, and delight us with its creative use of language. But isn’t there something more we gain from engaging with fictional worlds and characters? Do we, for example, use literary texts to morally improve ourselves? Is there some deeper truth we’re supposed to learn from a good novel? Or do we use fiction to fine-tune certain cognitive capacities?

Humans have an amazing capacity to communicate. By uttering sounds we are able to convey meaning to those around us. These noises we make take on properties – they mean certain things, they are true or false, etc. Some animals also use forms of language: bees, for example, use dances and pheromones to communicate with each other. What gives these signals – words and movements – their linguistic meaning? How is it possible to communicate complex propositions simply by making sound?

According to Corinthians 13, “Love is patient, love is kind and envies no one.” But is love always unconditional? Should it be? If unconditional love means that we love no matter what our beloved’s actions or traits are, doesn’t that suggest we should love everyone in this way? If not, how do we select just a few to love unconditionally? Perhaps the feeling we reserve for those we cherish most in the world is better described as selfless rather than unconditional love, in which case we are confronted with another challenge.

Philosophy Talk asks: Why believe in Reincarnation?

May 1, 2015

According to Buddhist tradition, all people must suffer illness, aging, and death. Yet the universe is seen as a vast living entity, in which cycles of individual life and death are repeated without cease. Therefore death is a necessary part of the process of life, making renewal and new growth possible. So what does this view mean about the eternality of the self? Is there a single subject or consciousness that persists through all the cycles of death and rebirth? What are the karmic consequences of one’s moral acts for future lives?

Philosophy Talk asks: Is Economics really a Science?

Apr 21, 2015

With the recent global economic crisis, many people wonder if our economic policies are built on sound principles or on dubious, unscientific claims. What kinds of assumptions does Economics make about markets and the behavior of producers and consumers? What kinds of assumptions does it make about the rationality of individuals? How, if at all, are those claims empirically verified? Or are they just speculative theories proven false by the current crisis?

Philosophy Talk asks: What can non-violence really achieve?

Apr 10, 2015

We all hope for peace. Yet in the face of violence, it often seems the only recourse is more violence. Advocates of non-violence claim it’s not necessary to respond to war in kind, and that responding violently, even in self-defense, just perpetuates the cycle of violence. So how can we practice non-violence under the direct threat of violence? Can non-violent acts be spread to stop aggression and war? And are there times when violence is, in fact, necessary?

Philosophy Talk asks: What is Wilderness?

Apr 5, 2015

Nowadays we think of wilderness as a fully natural environment that contrasts sharply with the designed and constructed environments in which we normally move. But does that vision of wilderness really exist anymore? What is natural and what is artificial about wilderness? Should humans be understood as a part of nature or distinct from it? And how should we approach conservation efforts so that we balance the needs of a growing world population with the need to preserve some aspect of the wild in our lives?

Belief in God is thought by many to be the only possible source of morality, such that without a God, “everything is permitted.” Yet godlessness is on the rise in the West, with figures like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Lawrence Krauss leading the “New Atheism” movement. But if atheism is defined by its lack of belief, where do these non-believers find guiding principles? Are there any positive beliefs or values that atheists have in common? If so, are they based on a rational, scientific framework, or must non-believers, like believers, ultimately rely on faith?

Democratic systems of government are supposed to reflect the interests of ordinary citizens, and not some shadowy political elite. But more and more, we see the influence of big money and special interest groups in so-called democratic politics, while income inequality and voter suppression grow. With millions convinced that politicians don’t speak for them, is there a "crisis of representation" in the US? Are these problems a result of political decay in our institutions, or is democracy in trouble everywhere?

Philosophy Talk asks: Should hurtful words be forbidden?

Mar 14, 2015

Some words, like n****r, ch*nk, and c*nt, are so forbidden that we won't even spell them out here. Decent people simply don't use these words to refer to others; they are intrinsically disrespectful. But aren't words just strings of sounds or letters? Words have life because they express ideas. But in a free society, how can we prohibit the expression of ideas? How can we forbid words? Where does the strange power of curses, epithets, and scatological terms come from?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is the primary reference catalog for mental health illnesses. But whereas a medical textbook will show you the picture of a broken bone or a tumor, leaf through the DSM and you will find just one thing: lists of symptoms. Who creates these lists, and based on what criteria? Do such lists really capture the nature of a mental illness? What does it mean to be a disease of the mind versus a disease of the body? Does our classification system construct mental illness, or does it reveal underlying facts from genetics or neuroscience?

Albert Camus is most famous for his existential works of fiction including The Stranger as well as his philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus. He led the French resistance press during Nazi Occupation and became one of the youngest Nobel laureates in literature. His contemporary, Hannah Arendt, described him as “head and shoulders above the other intellectuals.” How does Camus' philosophy of Absurdism compare and contrast with Sartre’s popular existentialism, especially in their conceptions of freedom?

Whether it's making donations and signing petitions online, or using social media to highlight political causes, cyber-activism has never been easier. With a few clicks, we can make our voices heard around the globe. But who's listening, and is anything actually changing? Does cyber-activism mobilize real-world action on the ground, or does it reduce political engagement to simple mouse-clicking and ultimately threaten the subversive nature of change?

Whether it's making donations and signing petitions online, or using social media to highlight political causes, cyber-activism has never been easier. With a few clicks, we can make our voices heard around the globe. But who's listening, and is anything actually changing? Does cyber-activism mobilize real-world action on the ground, or does it reduce political engagement to simple mouse-clicking and ultimately threaten the subversive nature of change?

Philosophy Talk asks: Who (else) has a right to your body?

Feb 6, 2015

Most countries allow their citizens to smoke cigarettes, get intoxicated, and eat unhealthy food – despite the harms that such behaviors may bring to the individual's health and to the social and economic interests of the state. Yet taking certain narcotics, selling one's organs, and driving without a seat-belt are often prohibited by law. Is this an arbitrary distinction, or is there a principled reason for these diverging attitudes? What can government legitimately prohibit its citizens from doing to their own bodies -- and what can it legitimately compel them to do?

The number of chronically hungry people in the world is over 800 million, yet developed countries are facing health challenges from rising rates of obesity. The growing problems of food security and water scarcity seem an issue of distribution rather than availability. But other factors also influence the status of food and water security worldwide. So where does the problem with food and water security lie? Do developed countries – or any other entities or individuals – have any moral obligations to ensure a global network of water and food security?

Philosophy Talk asks: Why be moral?

Jan 16, 2015

Morality tells us how we ought to behave, if we want to do the right thing. But is there a reason why we ought to be moral in the first place? Both Plato and Kant believed that morality is dictated by reason and so a fully rational person is automatically a moral person too. But how can we derive morality from reason? Isn’t it possible to be a rational but amoral or even immoral person?

Philosophy Talk asks: Why (not) believe in an afterlife?

Jan 9, 2015

The question of what happens to us after we die remains as mysterious now as it always was. Some think that death amounts to total annihilation of the self; others adhere to certain religious traditions, which teach that the immaterial soul (and, in some traditions, the resurrected body) can ultimately survive death. So how are we to judge between these radically different views of what happens to us in death? What would it mean for the self to persist beyond the destruction of the body? Is there room in a scientific account of the mind for the existence of an immaterial soul?

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?

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