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Philosopher's Zone

The simplest questions often have the most complex answers. The Philosopher's Zone is your guide through the strange thickets of logic, metaphysics and ethics.

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The digital dead

When we die, our digital selves sometimes live on. The line between death and life — already blurred by medical technology — is even blurrier in the digital domain. How should we prepare for our electronic afterlives?


5 Jul 2020

Rank #1

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Choosing a personal philosophy: Existentialism

Tired of having a casual, abstract flirtation with philosophy? It might be time to commit. A personal philosophy of life can be hugely helpful — but which one to choose?


31 May 2020

Rank #2

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Dangerous minds

Heidegger was an unrepentant Nazi. Nietzsche's later work contains passages that openly advocate slavery and genocide. Today, with far-right extremism on the rise around the world, how concerned should we be when reading – and teaching – the work of these canonical figures?


15 Mar 2020

Rank #3

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Time in a time of excess time

Many of us have extra time on our hands at the moment, and for many of us that time can feel like a burden. But what is this mysterious relationship between what time feels like and what it really is?


12 Apr 2020

Rank #4

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The big snore

Boredom hasn't received a lot of philosophical attention — which isn't surprising, given that it suggests a radical absence of anything to talk about. But even the most tedious things can prove on inspection to be complex, multi-layered and... well, interesting.


10 May 2020

Rank #5

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Citizens and urban planning

Consensus among citizens in the development of cities is always the goal — but it's rarely achieved. This week we explore the philosophical foundations of a more realistic model for citizen participation in urban planning.


17 May 2020

Rank #6

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AI and moral intuition: use it or lose it?

Artificial intelligence is helping us to make all sorts of decisions these days, and this can be hugely useful. But if we outsource our moral intuition to AI, do we risk becoming morally de-skilled?


29 Mar 2020

Rank #7

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LGBT elders, isolation and loneliness

As LGBT people grow old, they can become particularly vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness. Simone de Beauvoir had a keen appreciation of the challenges of ageing – “old age exposes the failure of our entire civilisation” – so can we find resources in her brand of existentialism that address some of the issues raised by LGBT elders?


22 Mar 2020

Rank #8

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The why of philosophy

Is philosophy experiencing an unprecedented crisis? And are universities becoming a hostile environment for philosophers?


1 Mar 2020

Rank #9

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Honour in the institution

Institutions shape every aspect of our lives, yet they can be strangely amorphous things, operating according to norms and conventions that often undermine each other. For women, this can result in institutional discrimination – in workplaces and public organisations, but also in less tangible institutions like the family and the law. This week we’re talking feminist institutionalism, and the need for a women’s honour code.


5 Apr 2020

Rank #10

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Is reason enough?

These days it seems that critical thinking could be failing us – and we’re not sure why. Have too many people strayed from the path of reason? Or is reason insufficient – ever overrated – as an ingredient in the formation of good citizens?


23 Feb 2020

Rank #11

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The many and the one

We casually talk about "Australia" as though it were a single entity. But what exactly is such a collective? And how can it be held responsible for its deeds - or misdeeds? This week we're talking group duties - and for International Women's Day, a conversation about gender and progress in philosophy.


8 Mar 2020

Rank #12

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Border patrol

Refugees are often spoken and written about as victims: people on the far side of a border that separates them from all the things we citizens know and love about our homeland. But what if the refugee actually knows things about Australia that we don't?


26 Apr 2020

Rank #13

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Thinking a pandemic

We're told that COVID-19 is an unprecedented event, one that's upended all our old certainties — so it's perhaps strange that we're thinking about it in very familiar ways. Considering the history, the politics and the ethics of COVID-19 can reveal fascinating and uncomfortable insights about ourselves and our society.


19 Apr 2020

Rank #14

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What can genes tell us?

Can our genes tell us if we're gay? Or intelligent? Science says the answer is complex, and that genetic determinism — the idea that we're genetically hardwired for certain outcomes — shouldn't be taken seriously. But genetic determinism has taken hold of the public imagination.


3 May 2020

Rank #15

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Race in America pt 1: George Yancy

Speaking out against racism by insisting on the collusion of white people — even well-meaning ones — in a system that's racist to the core can bring serious consequences. George Yancy knows this well.


7 Jun 2020

Rank #16

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Driverless cars, inequality and the 'trolley problem' in a high-tech world

The road has always been a great social leveller — we all get stuck in the same traffic jams. But with the advent of driverless cars, that could all be about to change, with troubling ethical consequences.


24 May 2020

Rank #17

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Science, misinformation and dissent

Science welcomes dissent. Scientific progress depends on challenging and dismantling theories as well as verifying them. But how should we deal with misinformation about science, and the ways it can erode such liberal democratic values as personal autonomy?


22 Nov 2020

Rank #18

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Refugees and moral obligation

Refugees have been with us for millennia, but the modern refugee exists under a distinctively modern set of circumstances. Moral philosophers addressing the refugee issue often fail to take these circumstances into account, and to acknowledge the ways in which the West can be responsible for refugee crises.


15 Nov 2020

Rank #19

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Philosophy in a nutshell pt 5: Ubuntu

Ubuntu is an African tradition of thought whose ethical orientation is captured in the well-known aphorism “I am, because we are”. But what gets lost when Ubuntu is framed as a philosophical discourse in the Western intellectual tradition? And where do we see its successes and failures in the reconstruction of post-colonial Africa?


1 Nov 2020

Rank #20