Rank #1: Episode 119: Nietzsche on Tragedy and the Psychology of Art
On Friedrich Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy (1872). Nietzsche thought that you could tell how vital or decadent a civilization was by its art, and said that ancient Greek tragedy was so great because it was a perfect synthesis of something highly formal/orderly/beautiful with the intuitive/unconscious/chaotic. But then Socrates ruined everything! With guest John Castro.
Includes a preview of the Aftershow feat. Greg Sadler.
End song: "Some Act" by Mark Lint and the Fake from "So Whaddaya Think?" (2000).
Jul 06 2015
Rank #2: Ep. 224: Kierkegaard Critiques The Present Age (Part One)
On Soren Kierkegaard's essay "The Present Age" (1846) and Hubert Dreyfus’s "Nihilism on the Information Highway: Anonymity vs. Commitment in the Present Age" (2004).
What's wrong with our society? Kierkegaard saw the advent of the press and gossip culture as engendering a systematic passivity and shallowness in his fellows, and Dreyfus thinks this is an even more apt description of the Internet Age. With guest John Ganz.
Sponsor: Try the OmniFocus to-do list manager at omnifocus.com.
Aug 26 2019
Rank #3: Episode 213: Nietzsche's Zarathustra (Part One)
On Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, books 1 and 2 (1883).
What is wisdom? In this text whose style parodies the Bible, we get pithy advice and allegorical imagery to guide us away from self-defeating, life-denying attitudes and orient us towards creative self-overcoming (i.e. exertion of the Will to Power). The Last Man who no longer knows how to give birth to a dancing star is a rotten egg!
Apr 15 2019
Rank #4: Ep. 229: Descartes's Rules for Thinking (Part One)
On René Descartes's Rules for Direction of the Mind (1628).
Is there a careful way to approach problems that will ensure that you'll always be right? What if you just never assert anything you can't be sure of? This is Descartes's strategy, modeled on mathematics. We likewise carefully move step-by-step through this text.
Sponsor: Visit HempFusion.com for CBD supplements and use code PEL at check-out for 20% off/free shipping.
Nov 04 2019
Rank #5: Ep. 218: The Hard Problem of Consciousness (Chalmers et al) (Part One)
Can we explain human experience using the terms of brain physiology? Chalmers thinks not, and lays out the arguments against this and the range of positions philosophers have taken in response to these objections.
Sponsor: Visit thegreatcoursesplus.com/PEL for a free trial of The Great Courses Plus Video Learning Service.
Jun 17 2019
Rank #6: PREVIEW-Episode 32: Heidegger: What is “Being?”
Feb 08 2011
Rank #7: Episode 192: "The Closing of the American Mind": Allan Bloom on Education (Part One)
On Allan Bloom's 1987 best-selleing polemic. What is the role of the university in our democracy? Bloom thinks that today's students are conformist, relativistic, and nihilistic, and that great books and thinking for thinking's sake are the cure.
Sponsor: Visit thegreatcoursesplus.com/PEL for a one-month free trial of The Great Courses Plus Video Learning Service.
Jun 11 2018
Rank #8: Episode 124: The Stoic Life with Epictetus
On the Manual of Epictetus, aka The Enchiridion (135 CE). What's a wise strategy for life? Stoicism says that the secret is mastering yourself. Nothing external can break your spirit unless you let it. So, how weird and misguided is that advice? With guest Alex Fossella.
End song: "But I Won't" by Mark Lint from Spanish Armada: Songs of Love and Related Neuroses (1993).
Sep 21 2015
Rank #9: PREVIEW-Episode 61: Nietzsche on Truth and Skepticism
On Friedrich Nietzsche's "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense" (1873). What is truth? This essay, written early in Nietzsche's career, is taken by many to make the extreme claim that there is no truth, that all of the "truths" we tell each other are just agreements by social convention. WIth guest Jessica Berry, who argues that that Nietzsche is a skeptic: our "truths" don't correspond with the world beyond our human conceptions; all knowledge is laden with human interests. Get the full discussion at partiallyexaminedlife.com.
Aug 15 2012
Rank #10: Episode 178: Nietzsche as Social Critic: "Twilight of the Idols" (Part One)
On Friedrich Nieztsche's 1888 book summarizing his thought and critiquing the founding myths of his society. He defends "spiritualized" instinct and frenzied creativity, but also Napoleon and war. We try to figure out what kind of social critic he'd be today. Would we actually like him?
Dec 04 2017
Rank #11: PREVIEW-Episode 70: Marx on the Human Condition
On Karl Marx's The German Ideology, Part I, an early, unpublished work from 1846. What is human nature? What drives history? How can we improve our situation? Marx thought that fundamentally, you are what you do: you are your job, your means of subsistence. All the rest, this culture, this religion, this philosophy, is just a thin layer over our basic situation. Ideas are not primarily what changes the world; it's economics. Get the full discussion at partiallyexaminedlife.com.
Jan 30 2013
Rank #12: Episode 189: Authorial Intent (Barthes, Foucault, Beardsley, et al) (Part One)
On four essays about how to interpret artworks: “The Intentional Fallacy” by W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley (1946), "The Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes (1967), "What is an Author?" by Michel Foucault (1969), and “Against Theory” by Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels (1982). When you're trying to figure out what, say, a poem means, isn't the best way to do that to just ask the author? Most of these guys say no, and that's supposed to reveal something about the nature of meaning.
May 07 2018
Rank #14: PREVIEW-Episode 65: The Federalist Papers
On Alexander Hamilton/James Madison's Federalist Papers (1, 10-12, 14-17, 39, 47-51), published as newspaper editorials 1787-8, plus Letters III and IV from Brutus, an Anti-Federalist. What constitutes good government? These founding fathers argued that the proposed Constitution, with its newly centralized (yet also separated-by-branch) powers would be a significant improvement on the Articles of Confederation, which had left states as the ultimate sovereigns. Get the full discussion at partiallyexaminedlife.com.
Oct 27 2012
Rank #15: PREVIEW-Episode 84: Nietzsche’s “Gay Science”
On Friedrich Nietzsche's The Gay Science (1882, with book 5 added 1887).
What is wisdom? Nietzsche gives us an updated take on the Socratic project of challenging your most deeply held beliefs. Challenge not just your belief in God (who's "dead"), but uncover all your habits of thinking in terms of the divine. Realize how little of your life is actually a matter of conscious reflection, and the consequent limits on self-knowledge. The very act of systematization in philosophy overestimates what we can know; instead, we need a "gay" (in the sense of cheerful, carefree, and subversive) science (in the sense of organized knowledge) that chases after fleeting insights and is able to question, i.e. laugh at, the pretensions of its own activity.
Nov 11 2013
Rank #16: Episode 201: Marcus Aurelius's Stoicism with Ryan Holiday (Part One)
On The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (ca. 180 C.E.) plus Ryan's The Daily Stoic (2016).
What does Stoicism look like in practice, in both ancient and modern contexts? You might think that eschewing the shallow, out-of-our-control trappings of fame and wealth in favor of personal cultivation would make one unambitious, but Ryan uses Marcus as a prime example of how to be a Stoic while trying to accomplish great things.
Oct 22 2018
Rank #17: Episode 197: Parmenides on What There Is (Part One)
On the fragments referred to as "On Nature" from ca. 475 BCE, featuring guest Peter Adamson from the History of Philosophy without Any Gaps podcast.
Parmenides gives "the Way of Truth," which is that there is only Being, and talking of Non-Being is nonsense. So everything you experience is wrong!
Aug 20 2018
Rank #18: PREVIEW-Episode 35: Hegel on Self-Consciousness
Apr 02 2011
Rank #19: Episode 2: Descartes’s Meditations: What Can We Know?
May 14 2009
Rank #20: Episode 85: Rawls on Social Justice
Dec 07 2013