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In Our Time: Philosophy

In Our Time: Philosophy

From Altruism to Wittgenstein, philosophers, theories and key themes.

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Bergson and Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) and his ideas about human experience of time passing and how that differs from a scientific measurement of time, set out in his thesis on 'Time and Free Will' in 1889. He became famous in France and abroad for decades, rivalled only by Einstein and, in the years after the Dreyfus Affair, was the first ever Jewish member of the Académie Française. It's thought his work influenced Proust and Woolf, and the Cubists. He died in 1941 from a cold which, reputedly, he caught while queuing to register as a Jew, refusing the Vichy government's offer of exemption. With Keith Ansell-Pearson Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick Emily Thomas Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Durham University And Mark Sinclair Reader in Philosophy at the University of Roehampton Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-05-09
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Authenticity

Melvyn Bragg and guests dicuss what it means to be oneself, a question explored by philosophers from Aristotle to the present day, including St Augustine, Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre. In Hamlet, Polonius said 'To thine own self be true', but what is the self, and what does it mean to be true to it, and why should you be true? To Polonius, if you are true to yourself, ?thou canst not be false to any man? - but with the rise of the individual, authenticity became a goal in itself, regardless of how that affected others. Is authenticity about creating yourself throughout your life, or fulfilling the potential with which you were born, connecting with your inner child, or something else entirely? What are the risks to society if people value authenticity more than morality - that is, if the two are incompatible? The image above is of Sartre, aged 8 months, perhaps still connected to his inner child. With Sarah Richmond Associate Professor in Philosophy at University College London Denis McManus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton and Irene McMullin Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Essex Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-03-14
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Aristotle's Biology

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the remarkable achievement of Aristotle (384-322BC) in the realm of biological investigation, for which he has been called the originator of the scientific study of life. Known mainly as a philosopher and the tutor for Alexander the Great, who reportedly sent him animal specimens from his conquests, Aristotle examined a wide range of life forms while by the Sea of Marmara and then on the island of Lesbos. Some ideas, such as the the spontaneous generation of flies, did not survive later scrutiny, yet his influence was extraordinary and his work was unequalled until the early modern period. The image above is of the egg and embryo of a dogfish, one of the animals Aristotle described accurately as he recorded their development. With Armand Leroi Professor of Evolutionary Development Biology at Imperial College London Myrto Hatzimichali Lecturer in Classics at the University of Cambridge And Sophia Connell Lecturer in Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
2019-02-07
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Hope

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the philosophy of hope. To the ancient Greeks, hope was closer to self-deception, one of the evils left in Pandora's box or jar, in Hesiod's story. In Christian tradition, hope became one of the theological virtues, the desire for divine union and the expectation of receiving it, an action of the will rather than the intellect. To Kant, 'what may I hope' was one of the three basic questions which human reason asks, while Nietzsche echoed Hesiod, arguing that leaving hope in the box was a deception by the gods, reflecting human inability to face the demands of existence. Yet even those critical of hope, like Camus, conceded that life was nearly impossible without it. With Beatrice Han-Pile Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex Robert Stern Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield And Judith Wolfe Professor of Philosophical Theology at the University of St Andrews Producer: Simon Tillotson
2018-11-22
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The Fable of the Bees

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) and his critique of the economy as he found it in London, where private vices were condemned without acknowledging their public benefit. In his poem The Grumbling Hive (1705), he presented an allegory in which the economy collapsed once knavish bees turned honest. When republished with a commentary, The Fable of the Bees was seen as a scandalous attack on Christian values and Mandeville was recommended for prosecution for his tendency to corrupt all morals. He kept writing, and his ideas went on to influence David Hume and Adam Smith, as well as Keynes and Hayek. With David Wootton Anniversary Professor of History at the University of York Helen Paul Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton And John Callanan Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at King?s College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
2018-10-25
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Montesquieu

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas of Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755) whose works on liberty, monarchism, despotism, republicanism and the separation of powers were devoured by intellectuals across Europe and New England in the eighteenth century, transforming political philosophy and influencing the American Constitution. He argued that an individual's liberty needed protection from the arm of power, checking that by another power; where judicial, executive and legislative power were concentrated in the hands of one figure, there could be no personal liberty. With Richard Bourke Professor in the History of Political Thought at Queen Mary, University of London Rachel Hammersley Senior Lecturer in Intellectual History at Newcastle University And Richard Whatmore Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Director of the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2018-06-14
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Tocqueville: Democracy in America

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) and his examination of the American democratic system. He wrote De La Démocratie en Amérique in two parts, published in 1835 and 1840, when France was ruled by the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe. Tocqueville was interested in how aspects of American democracy, in the age of President Andrew Jackson, could be applied to Europe as it moved away from rule by monarchs and aristocrats. His work has been revisited by politicians ever since, particularly in America, with its analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of direct democracy and its warnings of mediocrity and the tyranny of the majority. With Robert Gildea Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford Susan-Mary Grant Professor of American History at Newcastle University and Jeremy Jennings Professor of Political Theory and Head of the School of Politics & Economics at King's College London Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2018-03-22
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Augustine's Confessions

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss St Augustine of Hippo's account of his conversion to Christianity and his life up to that point. Written c397AD, it has many elements of autobiography with his scrutiny of his earlier life, his long relationship with a concubine, his theft of pears as a child, his work as an orator and his embrace of other philosophies and Manichaeism. Significantly for the development of Christianity, he explores the idea of original sin in the context of his own experience. The work is often seen as an argument for his Roman Catholicism, a less powerful force where he was living in North Africa where another form of Christianity was dominant, Donatism. While Augustine retells many episodes from his own life, the greater strength of his Confessions has come to be seen as his examination of his own emotional development, and the growth of his soul. With Kate Cooper Professor of History at the University of London and Head of History at Royal Holloway Morwenna Ludlow Professor of Christian History and Theology at the University of Exeter and Martin Palmer Visiting Professor in Religion, History and Nature at the University of Winchester Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2018-03-15
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Sun Tzu and The Art of War

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas attributed to Sun Tzu (544-496BC, according to tradition), a legendary figure from the beginning of the Iron Age in China, around the time of Confucius. He may have been the historical figure Sun Wu, a military adviser at the court of King Helu of Wu (who reigned between about 514 and 496 BC), one of the kings in power in the Warring States period of Chinese history (6th - 5th century BC). Sun Tzu was credited as the author of The Art of War, a work on military strategy that soon became influential in China and then Japan both for its guidance on conducting and avoiding war and for its approach to strategy generally. After The Art of War was translated into European languages in C18th, its influence spread to military academies around the world. The image above is of a terracotta warrior from the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor, who unified China after the Warring States period. With Hilde De Weerdt Professor of Chinese History at Leiden University Tim Barrett Professor Emeritus of East Asian History at SOAS, University of London And Imre Galambos Reader in Chinese Studies at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2018-03-01
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Cicero

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas developed by Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43BC) to support and reinvigorate the Roman Republic when, as it transpired, it was in its final years, threatened by civil wars, the rule of Julius Caesar and the triumvirates that followed. As Consul he had suppressed a revolt by Catiline, putting the conspirators to death summarily as he believed the Republic was in danger and that this danger trumped the right to a fair trial, a decision that rebounded on him. While in exile he began works on duty, laws, the orator and the republic. Although left out of the conspiracy to kill Caesar, he later defended that murder in the interests of the Republic, only to be murdered himself soon after. With Melissa Lane The Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University and 2018 Carlyle Lecturer at the University of Oxford Catherine Steel Professor of Classics at the University of Glasgow And Valentina Arena Reader in Roman History at University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2018-01-25
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Kant's Categorical Imperative

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) sought to define the difference between right and wrong by applying reason, looking at the intention behind actions rather than at consequences. He was inspired to find moral laws by natural philosophers such as Newton and Leibniz, who had used reason rather than emotion to analyse the world around them and had identified laws of nature. Kant argued that when someone was doing the right thing, that person was doing what was the universal law for everyone, a formulation that has been influential on moral philosophy ever since and is known as the Categorical Imperative. Arguably even more influential was one of his reformulations, echoed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which he asserted that humanity has a value of an entirely different kind from that placed on commodities. Kant argued that simply existing as a human being was valuable in itself, so that every human owed moral responsibilities to other humans and was owed responsibilities in turn. With Alison Hills Professor of Philosophy at St John's College, Oxford David Oderberg Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading and John Callanan Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at King's College, London Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-09-21
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Plato's Republic

Is it always better to be just than unjust? That is the central question of Plato's Republic, discussed here by Melvyn Bragg and guests. Writing in c380BC, Plato applied this question both to the individual and the city-state, considering earlier and current forms of government in Athens and potential forms, in which the ideal city might be ruled by philosophers. The Republic is arguably Plato's best known and greatest work, a dialogue between Socrates and his companions, featuring the allegory of the cave and ideas about immortality of the soul, the value of poetry to society, and democracy's vulnerability to a clever demagogue seeking tyranny. With Angie Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield MM McCabe Professor of Ancient Philosophy Emerita at King's College London and James Warren Fellow of Corpus Christi College and a Reader in Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-06-29
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Roger Bacon

The 13th-century English philosopher Roger Bacon is perhaps best known for his major work the Opus Maius. Commissioned by Pope Clement IV, this extensive text covered a multitude of topics from mathematics and optics to religion and moral philosophy. He is also regarded by some as an early pioneer of the modern scientific method. Bacon's erudition was so highly regarded that he came to be known as 'Doctor Mirabilis' or 'wonderful doctor'. However, he is a man shrouded in mystery. Little is known about much of his life and he became the subject of a number of strange legends, including one in which he allegedly constructed a mechanical brazen head that would predict the future. With: Jack Cunningham Academic Coordinator for Theology at Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln Amanda Power Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Oxford Elly Truitt Associate Professor of Medieval History at Bryn Mawr College Producer: Victoria Brignell.
2017-04-20
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Seneca the Younger

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Seneca the Younger, who was one of the first great writers to live his entire life in the world of the new Roman empire, after the fall of the Republic. He was a Stoic philosopher, he wrote blood-soaked tragedies, he was an orator, and he navigated his way through the reigns of Caligula, Claudius and Nero, sometimes exercising power at the highest level and at others spending years in exile. Agrippina the Younger was the one who called for him to tutor Nero, and it is thought Seneca helped curb some of Nero's excesses. He was later revered within the Christian church, partly for what he did and partly for what he was said to have done in forged letters to St Paul. His tragedies, with their ghosts and high body count, influenced Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and Hamlet, and Kyd's Spanish Tragedy. The image above is the so-called bust of Seneca, a detail from Four Philosophers by Peter Paul Rubens. With Mary Beard Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge Catharine Edwards Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London and Alessandro Schiesaro Professor of Classics at the University of Manchester Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-02-23
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Hannah Arendt

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. With Lyndsey Stonebridge Professor of Modern Literature and History at the University of East Anglia Frisbee Sheffield Lecturer in Philosophy at Girton College, University of Cambridge and Robert Eaglestone Professor of Contemporary Literature and Thought at Royal Holloway, University London Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-02-02
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Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morality

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Nietzsche's On The Genealogy of Morality - A Polemic, which he published in 1887 towards the end of his working life and in which he considered the price humans have paid, and were still paying, to become civilised. In three essays, he argued that having a guilty conscience was the price of living in society with other humans. He suggested that Christian morality, with its consideration for others, grew as an act of revenge by the weak against their masters, 'the blond beasts of prey', as he calls them, and the price for that slaves' revolt was endless self-loathing. These and other ideas were picked up by later thinkers, perhaps most significantly by Sigmund Freud who further explored the tensions between civilisation and the individual. With Stephen Mulhall Professor of Philosophy and a Fellow and Tutor at New College, University of Oxford Fiona Hughes Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Essex And Keith Ansell-Pearson Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2017-01-12
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Zeno's Paradoxes

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Zeno of Elea, a pre-Socratic philosopher from c490-430 BC whose paradoxes were described by Bertrand Russell as "immeasurably subtle and profound." The best known argue against motion, such as that of an arrow in flight which is at a series of different points but moving at none of them, or that of Achilles who, despite being the faster runner, will never catch up with a tortoise with a head start. Aristotle and Aquinas engaged with these, as did Russell, yet it is still debatable whether Zeno's Paradoxes have been resolved. With Marcus du Sautoy Professor of Mathematics and Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford Barbara Sattler Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of St Andrews and James Warren Reader in Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2016-09-22
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Sovereignty

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the idea of Sovereignty, the authority of a state to govern itself and the relationship between the sovereign and the people. These ideas of external and internal sovereignty were imagined in various ways in ancient Greece and Rome, and given a name in 16th Century France by the philosopher and jurist Jean Bodin in his Six Books of the Commonwealth, where he said (in an early English translation) 'Maiestie or Soveraigntie is the most high, absolute, and perpetuall power over the citisens and subiects in a Commonweale: which the Latins cal Maiestatem, the Greeks akra exousia, kurion arche, and kurion politeuma; the Italians Segnoria, and the Hebrewes tomech shévet, that is to say, The greatest power to command.' Shakespeare also explored the concept through Richard II and the king's two bodies, Hobbes developed it in the 17th Century, and the idea of popular sovereignty was tested in the Revolutionary era in America and France. With Melissa Lane Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University Richard Bourke Professor in the History of Political Thought at Queen Mary University of London and Tim Stanton Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2016-06-30
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The Muses

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Muses and their role in Greek mythology, when they were goddesses of poetry, song, music and dance: what the Greeks called mousike, 'the art of the Muses' from which we derive our word 'music.' While the number of Muses, their origin and their roles varied in different accounts and at different times, they were consistently linked with the nature of artistic inspiration. This raised a question for philosophers then and since: was a creative person an empty vessel into which the Muses poured their gifts, at their will, or could that person do something to make inspiration flow? With Paul Cartledge Emeritus Professor of Greek Culture and AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge Angie Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy, University of Sheffield And Penelope Murray Founder member and retired Senior Lecturer, Department of Classics, University of Warwick Producer: Simon Tillotson Image: 'Apollo and the Muses (Parnassus)', 1631-1632. Oil on canvas. Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665).
2016-05-19
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Simone de Beauvoir

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. With Christina Howells Professor of French and Fellow of Wadham College at the University of Oxford Margaret Atack Professor of French at the University of Leeds And Ursula Tidd Professor of Modern French Literature and Thought at the University of Manchester Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2015-10-22
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Utilitarianism

A moral theory that emphasises ends over means, Utilitarianism holds that a good act is one that increases pleasure in the world and decreases pain. The tradition flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, and has antecedents in ancient philosophy. According to Bentham, happiness is the means for assessing the utility of an act, declaring "it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong." Mill and others went on to refine and challenge Bentham's views and to defend them from critics such as Thomas Carlyle, who termed Utilitarianism a "doctrine worthy only of swine." With Melissa Lane The Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University Janet Radcliffe Richards Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Oxford and Brad Hooker A Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading Producer: Simon Tillotson.
2015-06-11
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Al-Ghazali

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Al-Ghazali, a major philosopher and theologian of the late 11th century. Born in Persia, he was one of the most prominent intellectuals of his age, working in such centres of learning as Baghdad, Damascus and Jerusalem. He is now seen as a key figure in the development of Islamic thought, not just refining the theology of Islam but also building on the existing philosophical tradition inherited from the ancient Greeks. With: Peter Adamson Professor of Late Ancient and Arabic Philosophy at the LMU in Munich Carole Hillenbrand Professor of Islamic History at Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities Robert Gleave Professor of Arabic Studies at the University of Exeter Producer: Victoria Brignell.
2015-03-19
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The Wealth of Nations

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Adam Smith's celebrated economic treatise The Wealth of Nations. Smith was one of Scotland's greatest thinkers, a moral philosopher and pioneer of economic theory whose 1776 masterpiece has come to define classical economics. Based on his careful consideration of the transformation wrought on the British economy by the Industrial Revolution, and how it contrasted with marketplaces elsewhere in the world, the book outlined a theory of wealth and how it is accumulated that has arguably had more influence on economic theory than any other. With: Richard Whatmore Professor of Modern History and Director of the Institute of Intellectual History at the University of St Andrews Donald Winch Emeritus Professor of Intellectual History at the University of Sussex Helen Paul Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton Producer: Thomas Morris.
2015-02-19
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Phenomenology

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. GUESTS Simon Glendinning, Professor of European Philosophy in the European Institute at the London School of Economics Joanna Hodge, Professor of Philosophy at Manchester Metropolitan University Stephen Mulhall, Professor of Philosophy and Tutor at New College at the University of Oxford Producer: Luke Mulhall.
2015-01-22
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Truth

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophy of truth. Pontius Pilate famously asked: what is truth? In the twentieth century, the nature of truth became a subject of particular interest to philosophers, but they preferred to ask a slightly different question: what does it mean to say of any particular statement that it is true? What is the difference between these two questions, and how useful is the second of them? With: Simon Blackburn Fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge, and Professor of Philosophy at the New College of the Humanities Jennifer Hornsby Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London Crispin Wright Regius Professor of Logic at the University of Aberdeen, and Professor of Philosophy at New York University Producer: Victoria Brignell and Luke Mulhall.
2014-12-18
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Zen

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Zen. It's often thought of as a form of Buddhism that emphasises the practice of meditation over any particular set of beliefs. In fact Zen belongs to a particular intellectual tradition within Buddhism that took root in China in the 6th century AD. It spread to Japan in the early Middle Ages, where Zen practitioners set up religious institutions like temples, monasteries and universities that remain important today. GUESTS Tim Barrett, Emeritus Professor in the Department of the Study of Religions at SOAS, University of London Lucia Dolce, Numata Reader in Japanese Buddhism at SOAS, University of London Eric Greene, Lecturer in East Asian Religions at the University of Bristol Producer: Luke Mulhall.
2014-12-04
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The Philosophy of Solitude

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophy of solitude. The state of being alone can arise for many different reasons: imprisonment, exile or personal choice. It can be prompted by religious belief, personal necessity or a philosophical need for solitary contemplation. Many thinkers have dealt with the subject, from Plato and Aristotle to Hannah Arendt. It's a philosophical tradition that takes in medieval religious mystics, the work of Montaigne and Adam Smith, and the great American poets of solitude Thoreau and Emerson. With: Melissa Lane Professor of Politics at Princeton University Simon Blackburn Professor of Philosophy at the New College of the Humanities and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge John Haldane Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews Producer: Thomas Morris.
2014-06-19
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Weber's The Protestant Ethic

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Max Weber's book the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Published in 1905, Weber's essay proposed that Protestantism had been a significant factor in the emergence of capitalism, making an explicit connection between religious ideas and economic systems. Weber suggested that Calvinism, with its emphasis on personal asceticism and the merits of hard work, had created an ethic which had enabled the success of capitalism in Protestant countries. Weber's essay has come in for some criticism since he published the work, but is still seen as one of the seminal texts of twentieth-century sociology. With: Peter Ghosh Fellow in History at St Anne's College, Oxford Sam Whimster Honorary Professor in Sociology at the University of New South Wales Linda Woodhead Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University. Producer: Thomas Morris.
2014-03-27
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Bishop Berkeley

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of George Berkeley, an Anglican bishop who was one of the most important philosophers of the eighteenth century. Bishop Berkeley believed that objects only truly exist in the mind of somebody who perceives them - an idea he called immaterialism. His interests and writing ranged widely, from the science of optics to religion and the medicinal benefits of tar water. His work on the nature of perception was a spur to many later thinkers, including David Hume and Immanuel Kant. The clarity of Berkeley's writing, and his ability to pose a profound problem in an easily understood form, has made him one of the most admired early modern thinkers. With: Peter Millican Gilbert Ryle Fellow and Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford Tom Stoneham Professor of Philosophy at the University of York Michela Massimi Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Science at the University of Edinburgh. Producer: Thomas Morris.
2014-03-20
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Plato's Symposium

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Plato's Symposium, one of the Greek philosopher's most celebrated works. Written in the 4th century BC, it is a dialogue set at a dinner party attended by a number of prominent ancient Athenians, including the philosopher Socrates and the playwright Aristophanes. Each of the guests speaks of Eros, or erotic love. This fictional discussion of the nature of love, how and why it arises and what it means to be in love, has had a significant influence on later thinkers, and is the origin of the modern notion of Platonic love. With: Angie Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield Richard Hunter Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Cambridge Frisbee Sheffield Director of Studies in Philosophy at Christ's College, University of Cambridge. Producer: Thomas Morris.
2014-01-02
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Ordinary Language Philosophy

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Ordinary Language Philosophy, a school of thought which emerged in Oxford in the years following World War II. With its roots in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ordinary Language Philosophy is concerned with the meanings of words as used in everyday speech. Its adherents believed that many philosophical problems were created by the misuse of words, and that if such 'ordinary language' were correctly analysed, such problems would disappear. Philosophers associated with the school include some of the most distinguished British thinkers of the twentieth century, such as Gilbert Ryle and JL Austin. With: Stephen Mulhall Professor of Philosophy at New College, Oxford Ray Monk Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton Julia Tanney Reader in Philosophy of Mind at the University of Kent Producer: Thomas Morris.
2013-11-07
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Pascal

Melvyn Bragg and his guests begin a new series of the programme with a discussion of the French polymath Blaise Pascal. Born in 1623, Pascal was a brilliant mathematician and scientist, inventing one of the first mechanical calculators and making important discoveries about fluids and vacuums while still a young man. In his thirties he experienced a religious conversion, after which he devoted most of his attention to philosophy and theology. Although he died in his late thirties, Pascal left a formidable legacy as a scientist and pioneer of probability theory, and as one of seventeenth century Europe's greatest writers. With: David Wootton Anniversary Professor of History at the University of York Michael Moriarty Drapers Professor of French at the University of Cambridge Michela Massimi Senior Lecturer in the Philosophy of Science at the University of Edinburgh. Producer: Thomas Morris.
2013-09-19
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Epicureanism

Angie Hobbs, David Sedley and James Warren join Melvyn Bragg to discuss Epicureanism, the system of philosophy based on the teachings of Epicurus and founded in Athens in the fourth century BC. Epicurus outlined a comprehensive philosophical system based on the idea that everything in the Universe is constructed from two phenomena: atoms and void. At the centre of his philosophy is the idea that the goal of human life is pleasure, by which he meant not luxury but the avoidance of pain. His followers were suspicious of marriage and politics but placed great emphasis on friendship. Epicureanism became influential in the Roman world, particularly through Lucretius's great poem De Rerum Natura, which was rediscovered and widely admired in the Renaissance. With: Angie Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield David Sedley Laurence Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge James Warren Reader in Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge Producer: Thomas Morris.
2013-02-07
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Bertrand Russell

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. With: AC Grayling Master of the New College of the Humanities and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford Mike Beaney Professor of Philosophy at the University of York Hilary Greaves Lecturer in Philosophy and Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford Producer: Victoria Brignell.
2012-12-06
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Simone Weil

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the French philosopher and social activist Simone Weil. Born in Paris in 1909 into a wealthy, agnostic Jewish family, Weil was a precocious child and attended the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, achieving the top marks in her class (Simone de Beauvoir came second). Weil rejected her comfortable background and chose to work in fields and factories to experience the life of the working classes at first hand. She was acutely sensitive to human suffering and devoted her life to helping those less fortunate than herself. Despite her belief in pacifism she volunteered on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War and later joined the French Resistance movement in England. Her philosophy was both complex and intense. She argued that the presence of evil and suffering in the world was evidence of God's love and that Man has no right to ask anything of God or of anyone whom they love. Love which expects reward was not love at all in Weil's eyes. Weil died of TB in Kent at the age of only 34. Her strict lifestyle and self-denial may have contributed to her early death. T.S Eliot said "she was not just a woman of genius, but was a genius akin to that of a saint"; Albert Camus believed she was "the only great spirit of our time." With: Beatrice Han-Pile Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex Stephen Plant Runcie Fellow and Dean of Trinity Hall at the University of Cambridge David Levy Teaching Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
2012-11-15
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The Ontological Argument

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Ontological Argument. In the eleventh century St Anselm of Canterbury proposed that it was possible to prove the existence of God using reason alone. His argument was ridiculed by some of his contemporaries, but was analysed and improved by later thinkers including Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. Other philosophers have been less kind, with the Enlightenment thinker David Hume offering one possible refutation. But the debate continued, fuelled by interventions from such heavyweights as Immanuel Kant and Kurt Gödel; and it remains one of the most discussed problems in philosophy. With: John Haldane Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews Peter Millican Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford Clare Carlisle Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion at King's College London Producer: Thomas Morris.
2012-09-27
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Scepticism

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Scepticism, the idea that it may be impossible to know anything with complete certainty. Scepticism was first outlined by ancient Greek philosophers: Socrates is reported to have said that the only thing he knew for certain was that he knew nothing. Later, Scepticism was taught at the Academy founded by Plato, and learnt by students who included the Roman statesman Cicero. The central ideas of Scepticism were taken up by later philosophers and came to the fore during the Renaissance, when thinkers including Rene Descartes and Michel de Montaigne took up its challenge. A central plank of the philosophical system of David Hume, Scepticism had a powerful influence on the religious and scientific debates of the Enlightenment. With: Peter Millican Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford Melissa Lane Professor of Politics at Princeton University Jill Kraye Professor of the History of Renaissance Philosophy and Librarian at the Warburg Institute, University of London. Producer: Thomas Morris.
2012-07-05
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Al-Kindi

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the Arab philosopher al-Kindi. Born in the early ninth century, al-Kindi was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy and supervised the translation of many works by Aristotle and others into Arabic. The author of more than 250 works, he wrote on many different subjects, from optics to mathematics, music and astrology. He was the first significant thinker to argue that philosophy and Islam had much to offer each other and need not be kept apart. Today al-Kindi is regarded as one of the greatest scholars of the medieval Islamic world. With: Hugh Kennedy Professor of Arabic at SOAS, University of London James Montgomery Sir Thomas Adams's Professor of Arabic Elect at the University of Cambridge Amira Bennison Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge. Producer: Thomas Morris.
2012-06-28
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Neoplatonism

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Neoplatonism, the school of thought founded in the 3rd century AD by the philosopher Plotinus. Born in Egypt, Plotinus was brought up in the Platonic tradition, studying and reinterpreting the works of the Greek thinker Plato. After he moved to Rome Plotinus became the most influential member of a group of thinkers dedicated to Platonic scholarship. The Neoplatonists - a term only coined in the nineteenth century - brought a new religious sensibility to bear on Plato's thought. They outlined a complex cosmology which linked the human with the divine, headed by a mysterious power which they called the One. Neoplatonism shaped early Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious scholarship, and remained a dominant force in European thought until the Renaissance. With:Angie HobbsAssociate Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of WarwickPeter AdamsonProfessor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King's College LondonAnne SheppardProfessor of Ancient Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of LondonProducer: Thomas Morris.
2012-04-19
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Moses Mendelssohn

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work and influence of the eighteenth-century philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. A prominent figure at the court of Frederick the Great, Mendelssohn was one of the most significant thinkers of his age. He came from a humble, but culturally rich background and his obvious intelligence was recognised from a young age and nurtured by the local rabbi where he lived in the town of Dessau in Prussia. Moses's learning earned him the sobriquet of the 'German Socrates' and he is considered to be one of the principal architects of the Haskala, the Jewish Enlightenment, and widely regarded as having helped bring Judaism into the mainstream of European culture. Mendelssohn is perhaps best remembered today for his efforts to bring Jewish and German culture closer together and for his plea for religious toleration.With:Christopher ClarkProfessor of Modern European History at the University of CambridgeAbigail GreenTutor and Fellow in History at the University of OxfordAdam SutcliffeSenior Lecturer in European History at King's College, London Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
2012-03-22
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Heraclitus

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Writing in the 5th century BC, Heraclitus believed that everything is constantly changing or, as he put it, in flux. He expressed this thought in a famous epigram: "No man ever steps into the same river twice." Heraclitus is often considered an enigmatic thinker, and much of his work is complex and puzzling. He was critical of the poets Homer and Hesiod, whom he considered to be ignorant, and accused the mathematician Pythagoras (who may have been his contemporary) of making things up. Heraclitus despaired of men's folly, and in his work constantly strove to encourage people to consider matters from alternative perspectives. Donkeys prefer rubbish to gold, he observed, pointing out that the same thing can have different meanings to different people.Unlike most of his contemporaries he was not associated with a particular school or disciplinary approach, although he did have his followers. At times a rationalist, at others a mystic, Heraclitus is an intriguing figure who influenced major later philosophers and movements such as Plato and the Stoics.With:Angie HobbsAssociate Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of WarwickPeter AdamsonProfessor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King's College LondonJames WarrenSenior Lecturer in Classics and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, University of CambridgeProducer: Natalia Fernandez.
2011-12-08
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The Continental-Analytic Split

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Continental-Analytic split in Western philosophy. Around the beginning of the last century, philosophy began to go down two separate paths, as thinkers from Continental Europe explored the legacy of figures including Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger, while those educated in the English-speaking world tended to look to more analytically-inclined philosophers like Bertrand Russell and Gottlob Frege. But the divide between these two schools of thought is not clear cut, and many philosophers even question whether the term 'Continental' is accurate or useful.The Analytic school favours a logical, scientific approach, in contrast to the Continental emphasis on the importance of time and place. But what are the origins of this split and is it possible that contemporary philosophers can bridge the gap between the two? With:Stephen MulhallProfessor of Philosophy at New College, University of OxfordBeatrice Han-PileProfessor of Philosophy at the University of EssexHans Johann-Glock Professor of Philosophy at the University of ZurichProducer: Natalia Fernandez.
2011-11-10
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David Hume

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of the philosopher David Hume. A key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, Hume was an empiricist who believed that humans can only have knowledge of things they have themselves experienced. Hume made a number of significant contributions to philosophy. He saw human nature as a manifestation of the natural world, rather than something above and beyond it. He gave a sceptical account of religion, which caused many to suspect him of atheism. He was also the author of a bestselling History of England. His works, beginning in 1740 with A Treatise of Human Nature, have influenced thinkers from Adam Smith to Immanuel Kant and Charles Darwin, and today he is regarded by some scholars as the most important philosopher ever to write in English.With:Peter MillicanProfessor of Philosophy at the University of OxfordHelen BeebeeProfessor of Philosophy at the University of BirminghamJames HarrisSenior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of St AndrewsProducer: Thomas Morris.
2011-10-06
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Malthusianism

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Malthusianism.In the eighteenth century, as expanding agriculture and industry resulted in a rapid increase in the European population, a number of writers began to consider the implications of this rise in numbers. Some argued it was a positive development, since a larger population meant more workers and thus more wealth. Others maintained that it placed an intolerable strain on natural resources.In 1798 a young Anglican priest, the Reverend Thomas Malthus, published An Essay on the Principle of Population. Malthus argued that the population was increasing exponentially, and that food production could not keep pace; eventually a crisis would ensue. He suggested that famine, disease and wars acted as a natural corrective to overpopulation, and also suggested a number of ways in which humans could regulate their own numbers. The work caused a furore and fuelled a public debate about the size and sustainability of the British population which raged for generations. It was a profoundly influential work: Charles Darwin credited Malthus with having inspired his Theory of Natural Selection.With:Karen O'BrienPro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at the University of BirminghamMark PhilpLecturer in Politics at the University of OxfordEmma GriffinSenior Lecturer in History at the University of East Anglia Producer: Thomas Morris.
2011-06-22
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Cogito Ergo Sum

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss one of the most famous statements in philosophy: "Cogito ergo sum".In his Discourse on the Method, published in 1637, the French polymath Rene Descartes wrote a sentence which remains familiar today even to many people who have never heard of him. "I think", he wrote, "therefore I exist". Although the statement was made in French, it has become better known in its Latin translation; and philosophers ever since have referred to it as the Cogito Argument.In his first Meditation, published ten years after the Discourse, Descartes went even further. He asserted the need to demolish everything completely and start right again from the foundations, arguing, for instance, that information from the senses cannot be trusted. The only thing he could be sure of was this: because he was thinking, he must exist. This simple idea continues to stir up enormous interest and has attracted comment from thinkers from Hobbes to Nietzsche and Sartre. With:Susan JamesProfessor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of LondonJohn CottinghamProfessor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Reading and Professorial Research Fellow at Heythrop College, University of LondonStephen MulhallProfessor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford.Producer: Thomas Morris.
2011-04-28
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Free Will

In the 500th edition of the programme, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophical idea of free will.Free will - the extent to which we are free to choose our own actions - is one of the most absorbing philosophical problems, debated by almost every great thinker of the last two thousand years. In a universe apparently governed by physical laws, is it possible for individuals to be responsible for their own actions? Or are our lives simply proceeding along preordained paths? Determinism - the doctrine that every event is the inevitable consequence of what goes before - seems to suggest so.Many intellectuals have concluded that free will is logically impossible. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza regarded it as a delusion. Albert Einstein wrote: "Human beings, in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free agents but are as causally bound as the stars in their motion." But in the Enlightenment, philosophers including David Hume found ways in which free will and determinism could be reconciled. Recent scientific developments mean that this debate remains as lively today as it was in the ancient world.With: Simon BlackburnBertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at the University of CambridgeHelen BeebeeProfessor of Philosophy at the University of BirminghamGalen StrawsonProfessor of Philosophy at the University of ReadingProducer: Thomas Morris.
2011-03-10
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Maimonides

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work and influence of Maimonides.Widely regarded as the greatest Jewish philosopher of the medieval period, Maimonides was also a physician and rabbinical authority. Also known as Rambam, his writings include a 14-volume work on Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, which is still widely used today, and the Guide for the Perplexed, a central work of medieval philosophy. Although undoubtedly a titan of Jewish intellectual history, Maimonides was also profoundly influenced by the Islamic world. He exerted a strong influence on later Islamic philosophy, as well as on thinkers ranging from Thomas Aquinas to Leibniz and Newton.With:John HaldaneProfessor of Philosophy at the University of St AndrewsSarah StroumsaAlice and Jack Ormut Professor of Arabic Studies and currently Rector at the Hebrew University of JerusalemPeter AdamsonProfessor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King's College London.Producer: Thomas Morris.
2011-02-15
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Aristotle's Poetics

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Aristotle's Poetics. The Poetics is, as far as we know, the first ever work of literary theory. Written in the 4th century BC, it is the work of a scholar who was also a biologist, and treats literary works with the detached analytical eye of a scientist. Aristotle examines drama and epic poetry, and how they achieve their effects; he analyses tragedy and the ways in which it plays on our emotions. Many of the ideas he articulates, such as catharsis, have remained in our critical vocabulary ever since. The book also contains an impassioned defence of poetry, which had been attacked by other thinkers, including Aristotle's own teacher Plato.Translated by medieval Arab scholars, the Poetics was rediscovered in Europe during the Renaissance and became a playwriting manual for many dramatists of the era. Today it remains a standard text for would-be Hollywood screenwriters.With:Angie HobbsAssociate Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of WarwickNick LoweReader in Classical Literature at Royal Holloway, University of LondonStephen HalliwellProfessor of Greek at the University of St AndrewsProducer: Thomas Morris.
2011-01-27
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Daoism

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Daoism. 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?With:Tim Barrett Professor of East Asian History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of LondonMartin PalmerDirector of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and CultureHilde De WeerdtFellow and Tutor in Chinese History at Pembroke College, University of Oxford Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
2010-12-15
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Logic

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of logic. Logic, the study of reasoning and argument, first became a serious area of study in the 4th century BC through the work of Aristotle. He created a formal logical system, based on a type of argument called a syllogism, which remained in use for over two thousand years. In the nineteenth century the German philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege revolutionised logic, turning it into a discipline much like mathematics and capable of dealing with expressing and analysing nuanced arguments. His discoveries influenced the greatest mathematicians and philosophers of the twentieth century and considerably aided the development of the electronic computer. Today logic is a subtle system with applications in fields as diverse as mathematics, philosophy, linguistics and artificial intelligence.With:A.C. GraylingProfessor of Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of LondonPeter MillicanGilbert Ryle Fellow in Philosophy at Hertford College at the University of OxfordRosanna KeefeSenior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Sheffield.Producer: Thomas Morris.
2010-10-21
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En liten tjänst av I'm With Friends. Finns även på engelska.
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