Philosophy Talk Starters
Philosophy Talk Starters
Philosophy Talk Starters
Bite-size episodes from the program that questions everything... except your intelligence. Learn more and access complete episodes at
195: Lincoln as a Philosopher
More at More than any other President, Abraham Lincoln is known for his words, from the Lincoln-Douglass debates to the second inaugural address, as well as his deeds. What was Lincoln's basic philosophy, and did it change over the course of his Presidency? Ken and John welcome back Chicago Public Radio's Resident Philosopher, Al Gini, to celebrate the bicentennial of Lincoln, the man and his ideas.
Feb 10
10 min
582: Can A.I. Help Us Understand Babies?
More at Artificial intelligence is everywhere in our day-to-day lives and our interactions with the world. And it's made impressive progress at a variety of visual, linguistic, and reasoning tasks. Does this improved performance indicate that computers are thinking, or is it just an engineering artifact? Can it help us understand how children acquire knowledge and develop language skills? Or are humans fundamentally different from machines? Josh and Ray decode the babble with Michael Frank, Professor of Human Biology at Stanford University and Director of the Symbolic Systems Program.
Jan 31
9 min
581: 20th Anniversary Quiz Night
More at Philosophy Talk made its radio debut on August 20, 2003 with a live pilot on KALW San Francisco and weekly broadcasts beginning in January 2004. To celebrate two decades on the air, in November 2023 we held our first-ever Quiz Night. Longtime listeners and first-time fans filled KALW's popup space in downtown San Francisco as Director of Research Laura Maguire ran eight teams through the gauntlet of a philosophical pub quiz. In this special 20th anniversary episode, Josh and Ray (who participated in the quiz as regular contestants) revisit the drama and intellectual derring-do from that evening with their guest quiz-taker, host emeritus John Perry.
Jan 24
17 min
531: The Mysterious Timelessness of Math
More at Math is a really useful subject—at least, that's what your parents and teachers told you. But math also leads to scenarios, like Zeno's paradoxes, that seem to inspire skepticism. So why do we believe in math and rely on it to build bridges and spaceships? How can anyone discover the secrets of the universe by simply scribbling numbers on a piece of paper? Is math some kind of magic, or does it have a more ordinary explanation? And could math be culturally relative, or are its concepts timeless and universal? Josh and Ray add things up with Arezoo Islami from SF State University.
Jan 19
10 min
533: Frege and the Language of Reason
More at At the end of the 19th Century, the German philosopher Gottlob Frege invented a new language, based on mathematics, designed to help people reason more logically. His ideas have had a lasting impact on philosophy, math, computer science, and the study of artificial intelligence. And many of the questions that influenced his thinking are still hotly debated today: How much does language influence the thoughts you can think? Could there be a way of speaking that taps into deep philosophical insights about the nature of reality? What's the relationship between math and logic? Josh and Ray try to make sense of Frege with host emeritus John Perry, author of "Frege's Detour: An Essay on Meaning, Reference, and Truth."
Jan 13
10 min
337: Simone de Beauvoir
More at Simone de Beauvoir is often cast as only a novelist or a mere echo of Jean-Paul Sartre. But she authored many philosophical texts beyond The Second Sex, and the letters between her and Sartre reveal that both were equally concerned with existentialist questions of radical ontological freedom, the issue of self-deception, and the dynamics of desire. This episode explores the evolution of de Beauvoir's existential-ethical thinking. In what sense did she find that we are all radically free? Are we always to blame for our self-deception or can social institutions be at fault? John and Ken sit down at the café with Shannon Mussett from Utah Valley University, co-editor of "Beauvoir and Western Thought from Plato to Butler."
Jan 6
9 min
580: American Futures (Ken Taylor Memorial Episode)
More at When Philosophy Talk co-founder Ken Taylor passed away in 2019, he was working on a manuscript titled Farewell to the Republic We Once Dreamed of. Was Ken right to think the American experiment is on the verge of collapse? Are we heading for authoritarian rule, a national divorce, or even a civil war? Or could better days be on the horizon? In Ken’s honor, Josh and Ray devote their end-of-year special to probing the future of the American republic with Barbara Walter from UC San Diego, Tamsin Shaw from New York University, and Rob Reich from Stanford University.
Dec 31, 2023
16 min
579: Impossible Worlds
More at Philosophers often speculate about possible worlds: ways that things could be. Some of them also believe in impossible worlds: ways that things couldn't be. Are impossible worlds places where strange things happen, or descriptions, or abstract objects, or something else entirely? How can you describe an impossibility without contradicting yourself? Could we imagine worlds where even the laws of logic are different? Josh and Ray imagine the unimaginable with Koji Tanaka from the Australian National University, author of "Logically Impossible Worlds."
Dec 14, 2023
10 min
525: Nonduality and the Oneness of Being
More at Some branches of Hindu philosophy propose that reality is nondual in nature. Such schools of thought—called advaita schools, from a Sanskrit word meaning “not two”—see the material world either as an aspect of ultimate reality (“Brahman”) or as a mere illusion. So how do we make sense of the appearance of variety in a metaphysics of oneness? Is there room for individual selves within advaita philosophy? What can be known? And what possible sources of knowledge are there in a nondual epistemology? Josh and Ray become one with Elisa Freschi from the University of Toronto, author of "Duty, Language, and Exegesis in Prābhākara Mīmāṃsā."
Dec 9, 2023
10 min
578: In Awe of Wonder
More at René Descartes said that the purpose of wonderment is “to enable us to learn and retain in our memory things of which we were formerly unaware.” He also said that those who are not inclined to wonder are “ordinarily very ignorant.” So what exactly is wonder, and how is it different from awe? Is wonder at the core of what drives us to search for novel insights? And can we suffer from an excess of wonderment? Josh and Ray stand in awe of Helen de Cruz from St. Louis University, author of "Wonderstruck: How Wonder and Awe Shape the Way We Think" (forthcoming).
Nov 30, 2023
11 min
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