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Coming up on Philosophy Talk . . .

September 11: War, Sacrifice, and the Media

The media often present a sanitized and one sided narrative of war, torture and other forms of violence that blots out the faces and silences the voices of many of the main victims: the refugees, the victims of unjust imprisonment and torture, and the immigrants virtually enslaved by their starvation and legal disenfranchisement.  John and Ken probe the limits of the media representations of war and other forms of violence with renowned UC Berkeley professor Judith Butler, author of Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable?  This program was recorded in front of a live audience at the Marsh Theatre in San Francisco.  (First broadcast 10/03/09)

September 18: Latin-American Philosophy

Latin American Philosophy began centuries before anything of much philosophical consequence happened in North America.  Yet in our own time, Latin American Philosophy is undergoing a protracted identity crisis.  Is it just transplanted European philosophy?  A reaction to analytical philosophy?  A reflection of the themes of liberation theology?  John and Ken explore Latin America's philosophical traditions with Joesph Orosco from Oregon State University, author of Cesar Chavez and the Common Sense of Nonviolence.  This program was recorded in front of a live audience at OSU in Corvallis.

September 25: Wisdom

Philosophy is the love of wisdom – or is it?  Is this traditional definition outmoded?  Is wisdom an anachronism, an elitist concept deployed by old learned people with nothing of practical value to say?  Do the professors of philosophy around the world (or on this program) love wisdom any more or less than anyone else?  John and Ken wise up with Valerie Tiberius from the University of Minnesota, author of The Reflective Life: Living Wisely With Our Limits.

October 2: Morality and the Self

Social psychologists have discovered that our self-images play a surprising role in our thinking about everyday moral matters.  People who feel they have already proven themselves to be morally good feel less pressure to do the right thing than someone whose moral credentials are still in question.  And people often resent, rather than applaud, the morally admirable actions of others if those actions threaten their own sense of moral adequacy.  John and Ken explore the surprising ways in which our own self-images influences our moral evaluations and reasoning with Stanford psychologist Benoit Monin. This program was recorded in front of a live audience at the Marsh Theatre in San Francisco.

October 9: From the Minds of Babies

Consciousness, morality, meaning and truth have perplexed and puzzled generations upon generations of philosophers. But could it be that we have been looking in all the wrong places to solve these imponderable mysteries?  Could the minds of babies hold the key to philosophical progress?  John and Ken welcome back renowned developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik, author of The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell us about Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life, for a program recorded in front of a live audience at the Marsh theatre in San Francisco. (First broadcast 11/29/09)

October 16: Cooperation and Conflict

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a problem studied in game theory that shows how two people might not cooperate even if it is in both their best interests to do so.  It highlights the inherent tension between individual interests and a larger society.  Should you pick up your trash at the lunch table?  Should you push in your chair after getting up?  Should you take performance-enhancing drugs?  Should you preserve the earth for the next generation?  John and Ken find their mutual interests in a discussion of cooperation and conflict with Cristina Bicchieri from the University of Pennsylvania, author of The Grammar of Society: The Nature and Dynamics of Social Norms.

October 23: Thinking Inside the Box

Speaking to the National Association of Broadcasters in May 1961, FCC Chairman Newton Minow famously introduced the characterization of television as a “vast wasteland.”  And that wasteland has only become vaster – though occasionally a flower will bloom, from The Twilight Zone and Star Trek to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost.  With help from listeners, critics, and past guests, John and Ken try to tease out the thoughtful from the mindless for a thinking person's guide to TV, past and present.  Send us your suggestions at

October 30: The Occult Philosophy

The occult is routinely dismissed in our times as the province of quacks, the irrational, and the superstitious.  But during the Renaissance, many of the best minds in Europe studied the philosophy and science of the occult.  The period witnessed an outpouring of systematic philosophical and scientific treatises on the occult.  References to the occult pervade the works of Shakespeare and other literary writers of the time.  Many scholars believe that The Occult Philosophy and the Occult Sciences, with their search for hidden causes, played a decisive role in the rise of modern science.  In this special Halloween week episode, John and Ken delve into Occult Philosophy with Christopher Lehrich from Boston University, author of The Occult Mind: Magic in Theory and Practice.  (First broadcast 10/31/10)

November 6: Miracles

Religions rely on miracles to demonstrate the authenticity of figures thought to have supernatural powers.  Many people feel that key events in their lives were literally miracles.  Many even claim to have witnessed miracles.  But what counts as a miracle?  Is it true, as Hume argued, that it is always more rational to disbelieve the testimony of a miracle than to believe in the miracle itself?  John and Ken explore what miracles are, and what would constitute good reasons for believing in them, with Peter Graham from the University of California Riverside.

November 13: Is Nothing Sacred Anymore?

Tribal societies lived in a world of the sacred and profane, ritual and taboo.  Is there anything left of this structure in the modern world?  Is anything really taboo, or are things just inadvisable, problematic, unhealthy, unwise, and less than optimal under the circumstances?  John and Ken consider what, if anything, is still sacred with Cora Diamond from the University of Virginia.  This program was recorded in front of a live audience at Pacific University's 15th annual undergraduate philosophy conference in Forest Grove, Oregon.

November 20: Kierkegaard

Philosophy usually suggests a striving for rationality and objectivity.  But the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard advocated subjectivity and the leap of faith – his conception of how an individual would believe in God or act in love.  Kierkegaard, whose best-known work is Fear and Trembling, is often considered the father of Existentialism.  John and Ken explore the life and thought of this passionate philosopher with Lanier Anderson from Stanford University.  (First brodcast 1/10/10)

November 27: Military Service and Public Life

Is the military draft a natural expression of democratic values, or a challenge to our most basic concepts of individual rights and liberties?  Are the values that make for an effective military consistent with the values that make for a free and democratic republic? If the government must have the power to defend the nation, does it follow that it must have the power to control events around the entire world?  John and Ken enlist themselves in a discussion of military service and public life with Pulitzer Prize winning historian David Kennedy.  This program was recorded in front of a live audience at the Marsh theatre in San Francisco.

December 4: Anonymity

Plato claimed that anonymity is the enemy of morality, that our public identity is all that holds us accountable for our actions.  Any internet forum provides more than enough evidence of how drastically human behavior changes without a public identity.  But anonymity can also protect the right to free speech.  How should we navigate between the temptations of anonymity, and the protections it affords from tyrannical bosses and governments?  John and Ken talk openly with George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen, author of The Naked Crowd: Reclaiming Security and Freedom in an Anxious Age.

December 11: Forgive and Forget

At least forgive OR forget.  Get things behind you.  All good advice for those who don't want their life dominated by the bad things that have happened to them at the hands of others. This advice has also been applied to aggrieved populations following liberating reforms and revolutions, as in South Africa.  But what is forgiveness?  What are its limits?  Does it make sense to forgive those who attempt genocide, for example?  Does forgiveness entail a sacrifice of pride and dignity?  John and Ken let bygones be bygones with their guest, Paul Hughes from the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

December 18: Is It Wrong to Wreck the Earth?

There are too many people, doing too much damage to the ecosystem, essentially guaranteeing that future generations will have a damaged Earth, and will have to invest incredible amounts of time, money and labor to repairing what can be repaired.  But future generations are made up of people who don't yet exist – what obligations do we have to them?  And what obligations, if any, do we have to our fellow fauna and the flora we all depend on?  John and Ken welcome environmental ethicist and celebrated author Kathleen Moore for a program recorded in front of a live audience at Oregon State University in Corvallis.  (First broadcast 1/3/10)

December 25: How Relevant Is Jesus?

Some people think Jesus was the son of God, though many who are skeptical about that still think he was a great moral teacher.  But if we really knew what Jesus would think about moral issues that he didn't confront while he lived – abortion, terrorism, euthanasia, gay marriage or the destruction of old-growth redwoods – would it be that helpful?  Would his moral vision have any implications for these issues?  John and Ken discuss the moral philosophy of Jesus and its contemporary relevance with Andrew Fiala, Director of the Ethics Center at Fresno State University and author of What Would Jesus Really Do? The Power and Limits of Jesus' Moral Teachings.  This program was recorded in front of a live audience at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California.  (First broadcast 12/20/09)

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