50 Podcasts and Videos on the History of Philosophy

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If you want to learn about the history of philosophy, your best options are probably to pick up a book (Nigel Warburton’s A Little History of Philosophy is short, easy, and good for beginners while Anthony Kenny’s A New History of Philosophy is excellent if you want something more comprehensive and academic) or you could listen to Peter Adamson’s History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast (although it is very long and still a work in progress). You could also try Arthur Holmes’ Lecture series on the History of Philosophy which I have heard good things about but haven’t yet listened to. This page aims to create an alternative to these options by taking the best philosophy podcasts and videos from across the internet and using them to create a free online course on the history of philosophy. Featuring episodes from top podcasts and Youtube channels like Philosophy Bites, BBC’s In Our Time, Wireless Philosophy, The Philosopher’s Zone, and more, each link will take you to world class academics discussing some of history’s greatest thinkers.

The main advantages to this approach are: Firstly, it’s entirely free. Secondly, the resources are all high quality, aimed at a general audience, and feature top academics. Thirdly, it’s much shorter and more focused than say Adamson’s History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps (which is a great resource but not everyone wants to listen to 100 episodes solely focusing on Medieval Philosophy). Finally, each episode is independent and self-contained meaning you can listen to them in any order (or skip any that don’t interest you). Ultimately, the aim is to create the best free introduction to the history of philosophy and to make learning about the history of philosophy as easy as possible.

Quick links to all episodes are listed below. Descriptions of each episode are listed further below if you want more information. The philosophers are listed in roughly chronological order.

Quick links:

  1. Daoism
  2. Confucianism
  3. Buddhism
  4. The Presocratics
  5. Socrates
  6. Plato
  7. Aristotle
  8. Epicurus
  9. The Stoics
  10. Plotinus
  11. Augustine
  12. Boethius
  13. Avicenna
  14. St. Thomas Aquinas
  15. Niccolò Machiavelli
  16. Francis Bacon
  17. Thomas Hobbes
  18. René Descartes
  19. Baruch Spinoza
  20. Blaise Pascal
  21. John Locke
  22. Gottfried Leibniz
  23. George Berkeley
  24. David Hume
  25. Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  26. Immanuel Kant
  27. Jeremy Bentham
  28. Mary Wollstonecraft
  29. G. W. F. Hegel
  30. Arthur Schopenhauer
  31. John Stuart Mill
  32. Charles Darwin
  33. Soren Kierkegaard
  34. Karl Marx
  35. Friedrich Nietzsche
  36. Pragmatism
  37. Gottlob Frege
  38. Sigmund Freud
  39. Phenomenology
  40. Bertrand Russell
  41. Ludwig Wittgenstein
  42. Karl Popper
  43. Jean-Paul Sartre
  44. Hannah Arendt
  45. Simone de Beauvoir
  46. Albert Camus
  47. Critical Theory
  48. Michel Foucault
  49. John Rawls
  50. Peter Singer

The entire history of philosophy is a lot to take in at once. If you want to go through the full list, you might want to bookmark this page for later use. Alternatively, if you like these kinds of resources and want to get a bit more philosophy in your life, you can sign up below to get a link to a beginner friendly article, video, or podcast delivered to your inbox each day along with a related quote/passage from a classic work of philosophy. The resources in this list are included in the daily emails (among many others and not in this order). Again, the goal is to make learning about philosophy as easy as possible by giving everyone the opportunity to learn about philosophy each day. Simply enter your email below to get started.

 

Links with descriptions:

For more information on each episode, check out the descriptions (provided by the creators) below:

01 – Daoism

Episode Description: An ancient Chinese tradition of philosophy and religious belief, Daoism first appeared more than two thousand years ago. For centuries it was the most popular religion in China; in the West its religious aspects are not as well known as its practices, which include meditation and Feng Shui, and for its most celebrated text, the Daodejing. The central aim in Daoism is to follow the ‘Dao’, a word which roughly translates as ‘The Way’. Daoists believe in following life in its natural flow, what they refer to as an ‘effortless action’. This transcendence can be linked to Buddhism, the Indian religion that came to China in the 2nd century BC and influenced Daoism – an exchange which went both ways. Daoism is closely related to, but has also at times conflicted with, the religion of the Chinese Imperial court, Confucianism. The spirit world is of great significance in Daoism, and its hierarchy and power often take precedence over events and people in real life. But how did this ancient and complex religion come to be so influential?

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Daoism on the In Our Time podcast


02 – Confucianism

Episode Description: In the 5th century BC a wise man called Kung Fu Tzu said, ‘study the past if you would divine the future’. This powerful maxim helped form the body of ideas, which more than Buddhism, more than Daoism, more even than Communism has defined what it is to be Chinese. It is a philosophy that we call Confucianism, and as well as asserting the importance of learning from the past it embodies a respect for hierarchy, ritual and parents. But who was Confucius, what were his ideas and how did they succeed in becoming the bedrock for a civilisation?

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Confucianism on the In Our Time podcast


03 – Buddhism

Episode Description: Robert Wright argues that some aspects of Buddhism, particularly those parts that deal with the self and the mind, are both compatible with contemporary evolutionary theory and profound about our nature. In this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast he discusses why he thinks Buddhism is essentially true with Nigel Warburton.

Listen to Robert Wright on Why Buddhism is True on the Philosophy Bites podcast


04 – The Presocratics

Episode Description: In this episode Dr. Kelli Rudolph talks about the Presocratics, and argues that they are relevant to contemporary philosophy. Dr. Rudolph (AB Princeton, MPhil and PhD Cantab.) is a Lecturer in Classics and Philosophy at the University of Kent. She has previously been a Research Fellow in Philosophy at Oxford and Assistant Professor at Grand Valley State University. Her main research interests are in Presocratic and Hellenistic philosophy.

Listen to Kelli Rudolph discuss the Presocratics on the Minerva podcast


05 – Socrates

Episode Description: Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Greek philosopher Socrates, acknowledged as one of the founders of Western philosophy. Born in 469 BC into the golden age of the city of Athens, he has profoundly influenced philosophy ever since. In fact, his impact is so profound that all the thinkers who went before are simply known as pre-Socratic.In person Socrates was deliberately irritating, he was funny and he was rude; he didn’t like democracy very much and spent quite a lot of time in shoe shops. He claimed he was on a mission from God to educate his fellow Athenians but has left us nothing in his own hand because he refused to write anything down.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Socrates on the In Our Time podcast


06 – Plato

Episode Description: Simon Blackburn, Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University, has recently published Plato’s Republic: A Biography . We launch Philosophy Bites with an interview with him on the topic of Plato’s image of the cave – one of the most famous images in philosophy.

Listen to Simon Blackburn discuss Plato’s Cave on the Philosophy Bites podcast


07 – Aristotle

Episode Description: Chris Surprenant (University of New Orleans) discusses the account of human well-being and the good life presented by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics and Politics. He explains why Aristotle believes that a human being lives well when he acts rightly and possesses all virtues, both intellectual and those relating to good character.

Watch Chris Surprenant discuss Aristotle’s account of the good life


08 – Epicurus

Episode Description: In this video, Monte Johnson (University of California, San Diego) discusses the “tetrapharmakos” or “four-part remedy” developed by the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) and his followers to treat unhappiness and anxiety. The tetrapharmakos consists of four maxims which encapsulate the Epicurean outlook on god, life, death, pleasure, and pain. The maxims can be meditated upon in order to alleviate worries and concerns that continue to plague us as much as they did the ancients.

Watch Monte Johnson discuss Epicurus’ Cure for Unhappiness


09 – The Stoics

Episode Description: How to change your life for the better by practicing ancient Greco-Roman philosophy as a way of life. Massimo Pigliucci has a PhD in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Tennessee. He currently is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. His research interests include the philosophy of biology, the science philosophy relationship, pseudoscience and the philosophy of Stoicism.

Watch Missimo Pigliucci discuss Stoicism as a philosophy for ordinary life


10 – Plotinus

Episode Description: He believed in the One, a fundamental principle of the universe. He believed in the Intellect and the Soul. He also thought that matter was evil. This week, the Philosopher’s Zone enters the strange world of Plotinus, a great philosopher who kept the pagan flame alight at a time when the Roman empire was about to give itself up to Christianity.

Listen to Peter Adamson discuss Plotinus on The Philosopher’s Zone podcast


11 – Augustine

Episode Description: Augustine’s life story is related in the Confessions, a work that combines autobiography, theology, and metaphysical discussions of the nature of time.

Listen to Peter Adamson discuss Augustine on the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast


12 – Boethius

Episode Description: In the 6th century AD, a successful and intelligent Roman politician called Boethius found himself unjustly accused of treason. Trapped in his prison cell, awaiting a brutal execution, he found solace in philosophical ideas – about the true nature of reality, about injustice and evil and the meaning of living a moral life. His thoughts did not save him from death, but his ideas lived on because he wrote them into a book. He called it The Consolation of Philosophy. The Consolation of Philosophy was read widely and a sense of consolation is woven into many philosophical ideas, but what for Boethius were the consolations of philosophy, what are they more generally and should philosophy lead us to consolation or lead us from it?

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Boethius’ Consolations of Philosophy on the In Our Time podcast


13 – Avicenna

Episode Description: Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Persian Islamic philosopher, Avicenna. In the city of Hamadan in Iran, right in the centre, there is a vast mausoleum dedicated to an Iranian national hero. Built in 1952, exactly 915 years after his death, it’s a great conical tower with twelve supporting columns. It’s dedicated not to a warrior or a king but to a philosopher and physician. His name is Ali Al Husayn Ibn-Sina, but he is also known as Avicenna and he is arguably the most important philosopher in the history of Islam.  In a colourful career Avicenna proved the existence of god, amalgamated all known medical knowledge into one big book and established a mind body dualism 600 years before Descartes and still found time to overindulge in wine and sex.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Avicenna on the In Our Time podcast


14 – St. Thomas Aquinas

Episode Description: An introduction to Thomas Aquinas, his views on faith and reason, and his famous “five ways” of proving God’s existence.

Listen to Peter Adamson discuss Aquinas on the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast


15 – Niccolò Machiavelli

Episode Description: In this episode of the podcast Philosophy Bites Quentin Skinner discusses Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, one of the most notorious works of political philosophy. Skinner sets the book in its historical context and explains its key themes.

Listen to Quentin Skinner on Machiavelli’s The Prince on the Philosophy Bites podcast


16 – Francis Bacon

Episode Description: Francis Bacon was a lawyer and political schemer who climbed the greasy pole of Jacobean politics and then fell down it again. But he is most famous for developing an idea of how science should be done – a method that he hoped would slough off the husk of ancient thinking and usher in a new age. It is called Baconian Method and it has influenced and inspired scientists from Bacon’s own time to the present day.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Francis Bacon on the In Our Time podcast


17 – Thomas Hobbes

Episode Description: What is the state and how should it be organised? Quentin Skinner sheds light on Thomas Hobbes’ answers to these fundamental questions in political philosophy in this latest episode of Philosophy Bites.

Listen to Quentin Skinner on Hobbes on the Philosophy Bites podcast


18 – René Descartes

Episode Description: “I think, therefore I am” – almost everyone has heard of René Descartes’ famous cogito argument. But what is this argument about? What does it show, and why are so many philosophers excited about it – even today, more than 350 years after Descartes first presented this argument? In this Wireless Philosophy video, Stephan Schmid (Humboldt) explores these questions.

Watch Stephan Schmid discuss Cogito Ergo Sum argument in this Wireless Philosophy video


19 – Baruch Spinoza

Episode Description: In July 1656, Baruch Spinoza was expelled from the Jewish community of Amsterdam for his ‘evil opinions and acts’ and his ‘abominable heresies’. But what had he done or said that was so bad, and did it have anything to do with the ideas that were later to make him one of the greatest philosophers in history? This week on The Philosopher’s Zone, we explore a three hundred and fifty year old mystery.

Listen to Steven Nadler discuss Spinoza on The Philosopher’s Zone podcast


20 – Blaise Pascal

Episode Description: Blaise Pascal’s Pensées is renowned as a great book. Yet few philosophers know much more about it than that it contains Pascal’s famous ‘Wager’ in which he purports to demonstrate that a rational agnostic should gamble on God’s existence. Here Ben Rogers explains the context in which the book was written and outlines its key themes.

Listen to Ben Rogers on Pascal’s Pensées on the Philosophy Bites podcast


21 – John Locke

Episode Description: John Locke was an important advocate of religious toleration. John Dunn gives an overview of his writing on this topic for this episode of Philosophy Bites.

Listen to John Dunn on Locke on Toleration on the Philosophy Bites podcast


22 – Gottfried Leibniz

Episode Description: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is known as the last ‘universal genius’. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, he made important contributions to the fields of metaphysics, epistemology, logic, philosophy of religion, as well as mathematics, physics, geology, jurisprudence, and history. He is also famous for saying that this is the best of all possible worlds. This week, we talk to a couple of experts about the subtle and strange ideas of this great philosopher.

Listen to Paul Redding and Simon Duffy discuss Leibniz on The Philosopher’s Zone podcast


23 – George Berkeley

Episode Description: George Berkeley is famous for the counterintuitive position that objects are just ideas. In this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast Tom Stoneham clarifies what Berkeley actually believed and his grounds for believing it.

Listen to Tom Stoneham on George Berkeley’s Immaterialism on the Philosophy Bites podcast


24 – David Hume

Episode Description: David Hume is one of the great philosophers. For this episode of Philosophy Bites, Hume expert Peter Millican explains his significance. He also provides textual evidence for Hume’s atheism.

Listen to Peter Millican on Hume’s Significance on the Philosophy Bites podcast


25 – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Episode Description: Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a prolific writer in a number of genres. His insights into moral psychology, and particularly what he had to say about human needs for approval from others, have continuing resonance. In this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast Chris Bertram discusses this aspect of his work with Nigel Warburton.

Listen to Chris Bertram on Rousseau’s Moral Psychology on the Philosophy Bites podcast


26 – Immanuel Kant

Episode Description: In this Wireless Philosophy video, Chris Surprenant (University of New Orleans) discusses the account of human well-being and the good life presented by Immanuel Kant in the his moral, political, and religious writings. He explains why Kant believes that the highest good for a human being is the conjunction of happiness and complete virtue and how it is possible for an individual to attain these two things at the same time.

Watch Chris Surprenant explain Kant’s account of the good life


27 – Jeremy Bentham

Episode Description: Jeremy Bentham was one of the earliest Utilitarians as well as a dynamic law reformer. In this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast Philip Schofield, head of the Bentham Project, discusses Bentham’s contribution to moral theory.

Listen to Philip Schofield on Jeremy Bentham’s Utilitarianism on the Philosophy Bites podcast


28 – Mary Wollstonecraft

Episode Description: Melvyn Bragg and guests John Mullan, Karen O’Brien and Barbara Taylor discuss the life and ideas of the pioneering British Enlightenment thinker Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759 into a middle-class family whose status steadily sank as her inept, brutal, drunken father frittered away the family fortune. She did what she could to protect her mother from his aggression; meanwhile, her brother was slated to inherit much of the remaining fortune, while she was to receive nothing. From this unpromising but radicalising start, Wollstonecraft’s career took a dizzying trajectory through a bleak period as a governess to becoming a writer, launching a polemical broadside against the political star of the day, witnessing the bloodshed of the French Revolution up close, rescuing her lover’s stolen ship in Scandanavia, then marrying one of the leading philosophers of the day, William Godwin, and with him having a daughter who – though she never lived to see her grow up – would go on to write Frankenstein. But most importantly, in 1792, she published her great work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which marks her out as one of the great thinkers of the British Enlightenment, with a much stronger, more lasting influence than Godwin. The Vindication was an attempt to apply the Enlightenment logic of rights and reason to the lives of women. Yet it was not a manifesto for the extension of the vote or the reform of divorce law, but a work of political philosophy. And surprisingly, as recent scholarship has highlighted, it was infused with Rational Dissenting Christianity, which Wollstonecraft had absorbed during her time as a struggling teacher and writer in north London.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Mary Wollstonecraft on the In Our Time podcast


29 – G. W. F. Hegel

Episode Description: In this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast Robert Stern gives a lucid overview of a key idea from a notoriously difficult writer, Hegel.

Listen to Robert Stern on Hegel on Dialectic on the Philosophy Bites podcast


30 – Arthur Schopenhauer

Episode Description: Melvyn Bragg and guests AC Grayling, Beatrice Han-Pile and Christopher Janaway discuss the dark, pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. As a radical young thinker in Germany in the early 19th century, Schopenhauer railed against the dominant ideas of the day. He dismissed the pre-eminent German philosopher Georg Hegel as a pompous charlatan, and turned instead to the Enlightenment thinking of Immanuel Kant for inspiration. Schopenhauer’s central idea was that everything in the world was driven by the Will – broadly, the ceaseless desire to live. But this, he argued, left us swinging pointlessly between suffering and boredom. The only escape from the tyranny of the Will was to be found in art, and particularly in music. Schopenhauer was influenced by Eastern philosophy, and in turn his own work had an impact well beyond the philosophical tradition in the West, helping to shape the work of artists and writers from Richard Wagner to Marcel Proust, and Albert Camus to Sigmund Freud.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Schopenhauer on the In Our Time podcast


31 – John Stuart Mill

Episode Description: What are the acceptable limits of individual freedom? John Stuart Mill addressed this question in his classic defence of liberalism, On Liberty (1859). In this episode of Philosophy Bites, Richard Reeves, author of a recent biography of Mill (recently shortlisted for the James Tait Black biography prize), discusses this powerful book.

Listen to Richard Reeves on Mill’s On Liberty on the Philosophy Bites podcast


32 – Charles Darwin

Episode Description: For 160 years now, Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection has been baffling and blowing minds with its “strange inversion of reasoning” – i.e. that a mindless, uncomprehending process can give rise to minds and comprehension, along with skyscrapers and space programs and violin sonatas. And it’s not done yet. Evolution is still evolving, carrying us into an age of post-intelligent design – which brings danger as well as opportunity.

Listen to Daniel Dennett discuss Darwin’s theories on The Philosopher’s Zone podcast


33 – Soren Kierkegaard

Episode Description: Soren Kierkegaard was born 200 years ago on the precipice of the modern world. He didn’t like it much then; what would he make of it now?

A swelling public sphere fuelled by an ascendant press wasn’t doing much for his nerves. Kierkegaard looked around to see an age, “…devoid of passion,.. which flies into enthusiasm for a moment only to decline back into indolence.” A criticism of the online age is that we skim the surface of things, never to commit with existential depth. So, is it natural to assume that Kierkegaard wouldn’t log on with the moderns?

Listen to Patrick Stokes, Hubert Dreyfus, and Tim Rayner discuss Kierkegaard on The Philosopher’s Zone podcast


34 – Karl Marx

Episode Description: Karl Marx thought that industrial capitalism had an in-built self-destructive tendency. Capitalism would lead to great technological progress, which would in turn lead to more menial and repetitive careers being replaced by automation processes. Remember how in Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin develops a twitch in his wrists from doing nothing but tightening pairs of bolts for months on end? Why not have a robot do that? The idea was that after the technological boom, we’d be able to get robots to do this type of stuff for us. But then what? It seems we’ll get a big vacuum in the job market for people without elite educational degrees. And if we don’t do anything about that, presumably, we’ll get mass unemployment. And if there’s mass unemployment, no one will be able to buy anything, which will tank the entire economy, including the fortunes of the one percenters, who rely on people purchasing things to continue turning a profit.

But according to our guest, when people read Karl Marx today, they often lose sight of two important things. One is that he’s actually kind of a fan of capitalism, in the sense that he thinks capitalism and technological process will lead to the elimination of menial labor. Communism can only gets going once that process is finished. The second thing is that the purpose of communism isn’t for us to altruistically spread the wealth around. The purpose of communism is just to prevent the world economy from imploding! So in a way, it’s just as easy to pitch communism as a project driven by self-interest/self-preservation.

Sound familiar? It should. As our guest observes, Donald Trump tapped into these exact worries during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Listen to Brian Leiter discuss Karl Marx on the Elucidations podcast


35 – Friedrich Nietzsche

Episode Description: Friedrich Nietzsche is famous for many things, including the idea of the Übermensch, The Will to Power and his sceptical beliefs about truth that make him a precursor of much postmodern thinking. But according to Nietzsche expert Brian Leiter (the man behind the Leiter Reports Weblog) close reading of his work tells a different story.

Listen to Brian Leiter on Nietzsche Myths on the Philosophy Bites podcast


36 – Pragmatism

Episode Description: ‘Truth is what works’. So does Pragmatism work? Robert B. Talisse talks about this important philosophical movement and some of the differences between the ideas of its founders James, Peirce and Dewey in this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast.

Listen to Robert Talisse on Pragmatism on the Philosophy Bites podcast


37 – Gottlob Frege

Episode Description: Gottlob Frege was one of the founders of the movement known as analytic philosophy. In this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast Frege expert Michael Dummett explains why he is so important for philosophy.

Listen to Michael Dummett on Frege on the Philosophy Bites podcast


38 – Sigmund Freud

Episode Description: Sigmund Freud was born 150 years ago this year. He was, of course, the father of psychoanalysis, but was he in any sense a philosopher? This week, we look at what he had to say about a philosophical question: what is civilisation and what do we need to do to keep it going?

Listen to David Tuckett discuss Freud on The Philosopher’s Zone podcast


39 – Phenomenology

Episode Description: Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss phenomenology, a style of philosophy developed by the German thinker Edmund Husserl in the first decades of the 20th century. Husserl’s initial insights underwent a radical transformation in the work of his student Martin Heidegger, and played a key role in the development of French philosophy at the hands of writers like Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Phenomenology has been a remarkably adaptable approach to philosophy. It has given its proponents a platform to expose and critique the basic assumptions of past philosophy, and to talk about everything from the foundations of geometry to the difference between fear and anxiety. It has also been instrumental in getting philosophy out of the seminar room and making it relevant to the lives people actually lead.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Phenomenology on the In Our Time podcast


40 – Bertrand Russell

Episode Description: Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the influential British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Born in 1872 into an aristocratic family, Russell is widely regarded as one of the founders of Analytic philosophy, which is today the dominant philosophical tradition in the English-speaking world. In his important book The Principles of Mathematics, he sought to reduce mathematics to logic. Its revolutionary ideas include Russell’s Paradox, a problem which inspired Ludwig Wittgenstein to pursue philosophy. Russell’s most significant and famous idea, the theory of descriptions, had profound consequences for the discipline.

In addition to his academic work, Russell played an active role in many social and political campaigns. He supported women’s suffrage, was imprisoned for his pacifism during World War I and was a founder of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He wrote a number of books aimed at the general public, including The History of Western Philosophy which became enormously popular, and in 1950 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Russell’s many appearances on the BBC also helped to promote the public understanding of ideas.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Bertrand Russell on the In Our Time podcast


41 – Wittgenstein

Episode Description: Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, work and legacy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. There is little doubt that he was a towering figure of the twentieth century; on his return to Cambridge in 1929 Maynard Keynes wrote, “Well, God has arrived. I met him on the 5:15 train”. Wittgenstein is credited with being the greatest philosopher of the modern age, a thinker who left not one but two philosophies for his descendents to argue over: The early Wittgenstein said, “the limits of my mind mean the limits of my world”; the later Wittgenstein replied, “If God looked into our minds he would not have been able to see there whom we were speaking of”. Language was at the heart of both. Wittgenstein stated that his purpose was to finally free humanity from the pointless and neurotic philosophical questing that plagues us all. As he put it, “To show the fly the way out of the fly bottle”. How did he think language could solve all the problems of philosophy? How have his ideas influenced contemporary culture? And could his thought ever achieve the release for us that he hoped it would?

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Wittgenstein on the In Our Time podcast


42 – Karl Popper

Episode Description: Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, Karl Popper whose ideas about science and politics robustly challenged the accepted ideas of the day. He strongly resisted the prevailing empiricist consensus that scientists’ theories could be proved true. Popper wrote: “The more we learn about the world and the deeper our learning, the more conscious, specific and articulate will be our knowledge of what we do not know, our knowledge of our ignorance”. He believed that even when a scientific principle had been successfully and repeatedly tested, it was not necessarily true. Instead it had simply not proved false, yet! This became known as the theory of falsification. He called for a clear demarcation between good science, in which theories are constantly challenged, and what he called “pseudo sciences” which couldn’t be tested. His debunking of such ideologies led some to describe him as the “murderer of Freud and Marx”. He went on to apply his ideas to politics, advocating an Open Society. His ideas influenced a wide range of politicians, from those close to Margaret Thatcher, to thinkers in the Eastern Communist bloc and South America. So how did Karl Popper change our approach to the philosophy of science? How have scientists and philosophers made use of his ideas? And how are his theories viewed today? Are we any closer to proving scientific principles are “true”?

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Karl Popper on the In Our Time podcast


43 – Jean-Paul Sartre

Episode Description: Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Jean-Paul Sartre, the French novelist, playwright, and philosopher who became the king of intellectual Paris and a focus of post war politics and morals. Sartre’s own life was coloured by jazz, affairs, Simone de Beauvoir and the intellectual camaraderie of Left Bank cafes. He maintained an extraordinary output of plays, novels, biographies, and philosophical treatises as well as membership of the communist party and a role in many political controversies. He produced some wonderful statements: “my heart is on the left, like everyone else’s”, and “a human person is what he is not, not what he is”, and, most famously “we are condemned to be free”. Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how Sartre’s novels and plays express his ideas and what light Sartre’s life brings to bear on his philosophy and his philosophy on his life.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Sartre on the In Our Time podcast


44 – Hannah Arendt

Episode Description: Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt. She developed many of her ideas in response to the rise of totalitarianism in the C20th, partly informed by her own experience as a Jew in Nazi Germany before her escape to France and then America. She wanted to understand how politics had taken such a disastrous turn and, drawing on ideas of Greek philosophers as well as her peers, what might be done to create a better political life. Often unsettling, she wrote of ‘the banality of evil’ when covering the trial of Eichmann, one of the organisers of the Holocaust.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Hannah Arendt on the In Our Time podcast


45 – Simone de Beauvoir

Episode Description: Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Simone de Beauvoir. “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” she wrote in her best known and most influential work, The Second Sex, her exploration of what it means to be a woman in a world defined by men. Published in 1949, it was an immediate success with the thousands of women who bought it. Many male critics felt men came out of it rather badly. Beauvoir was born in 1908 to a high bourgeois family and it was perhaps her good fortune that her father lost his money when she was a girl. With no dowry, she pursued her education in Paris to get work and in a key exam to allow her to teach philosophy, came second only to Jean Paul Sartre. He was retaking. They became lovers and, for the rest of their lives together, intellectual sparring partners. Sartre concentrated on existentialist philosophy; Beauvoir explored that, and existentialist ethics, plus the novel and, increasingly in the decades up to her death in 1986, the situation of women in the world.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Simone de Beauvoir on the In Our Time podcast


46 – Albert Camus

Episode Description: Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Algerian-French writer and Existentialist philosopher Albert Camus. Shortly after the new year of 1960, a powerful sports car crashed in the French town of Villeblevin in Burgundy, killing two of its occupants. One was the publisher Michel Gallimard; the other was the writer Albert Camus. In Camus’ pocket was an unused train ticket and in the boot of the car his unfinished autobiography The First Man. Camus was 46. Born in Algeria in 1913, Camus became a working class hero and icon of the French Resistance. His friendship with Sartre has been well documented, as has their falling out; and although Camus has been dubbed both an Absurdist and Existentialist philosopher, he denied he was even a philosopher at all, preferring to think of himself as a writer who expressed the realities of human existence. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, Camus’ legacy is a rich one, as an author of plays, novels and essays, and as a political thinker who desperately sought a peaceful solution to the War for Independence in his native Algeria.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Albert Camus on the In Our Time podcast


47 – Critical Theory

Episode Description: Melvyn Bragg and guests Raymond Geuss, Esther Leslie and Jonathan Rée discuss the Frankfurt School. This group of influential left-wing German thinkers set out, in the wake of Germany’s defeat in the First World War, to investigate why their country had not had a revolution, despite the apparently revolutionary conditions that spread through Germany in the wake of the 1918 Armistice. To find out why the German workers had not flocked to the Red Flag, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin and others came together around an Institute set up at Frankfurt University and began to focus their critical attention not on the economy, but on culture, asking how it affected people’s political outlook and activities. But then, with the rise of the Nazis, they found themselves fleeing to 1940s California. There, their disenchantment with American popular culture combined with their experiences of the turmoil of the interwar years to produce their distinctive, pessimistic worldview. With the defeat of Nazism, they returned to Germany to try to make sense of the route their native country had taken into darkness. In the 1960s, the Frankfurt School’s argument – that most of culture helps to keep its audience compliant with capitalism – had an explosive impact. Arguably, it remains influential today.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Critical Theory on the In Our Time podcast


48 – Michel Foucault

Episode Description: Michel Foucault was a prolific and original thinker. In this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast Susan James discusses some of the ways in which he explored questions about knowledge in his writing.

Listen to Susan James on Michel Foucault and Knowledge on the Philosophy Bites podcast


49 – John Rawls

Episode Description: Rawls’ A Theory of Justice is one of the most important works of political philosophy of the Twentieth Century. In this podcast interview Nigel Warburton interviews Jonathan Wolff about Rawls’ main ideas and their limitations.

Listen to Jonathan Wolff on John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice on the Philosophy Bites podcast


50 – Peter Singer

Episode Description: You’d help a drowning child. Why then aren’t you doing more to help the children you know are starving and sick in various parts of the world? Peter Singer discusses the issue of the life you can save with Nigel Warburton in this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast.

Listen to Peter Singer on the Life You Can Save on the Philosophy Bites podcast


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