Cover image of The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast

The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast

The Partially Examined Life is a podcast by some guys who were at one point set on doing philosophy for a living but then thought better of it. Each episode, we pick a short text and chat about it with some balance between insight and flippancy. You don't have to know any philosophy, or even to have read the text we're talking about to (mostly) follow and (hopefully) enjoy the discussion. For links to the texts we discuss and other info, check out www.partiallyexaminedlife.com.We also feature episodes from other podcasts by our hosts to round out your partially examined life, including Pretty Much Pop (prettymuchpop.com, covering all media), Nakedly Examined Music (nakedlyexaminedmusic.com, deconstructing songs), Philosophy vs. Improv (philosophyimprov.com, fun with performance skills and philosophical ideas), and (sub)Text (subtextpodcast.com, looking deeply at lit and film). Learn about more network podcasts at partiallyexaminedlife.com.

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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).

2hr 46mins

6 Jul 2015

Rank #1

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Ep. 242: Stanley Cavell on Tragedy via King Lear (Part One)

On Cavell's essay "The Avoidance of Love: A Reading of King Lear" (1969). Can money buy you love? What is tragedy? With guest Erin O'Luanaigh. Don't wait for part two; get the full Citizen Edition now. Please support PEL!


27 Apr 2020

Rank #2

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Ep. 218: The Hard Problem of Consciousness (Chalmers et al) (Part One)

On "Consciousness and Its Place in Nature" by David Chalmers (2003), with special guest Gregory Miller from the Panpsycast Philosophy Podcast. 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.  Please support PEL!


17 Jun 2019

Rank #3

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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. (For Wes Alwan's summary of this book, go here). 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? Please support PEL!


4 Dec 2017

Rank #4

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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. Please support PEL!


26 Aug 2019

Rank #5

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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! Please support PEL!


15 Apr 2019

Rank #6

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Ep. 233: Plato's "Protagoras" on Virtue (Part One)

On the Platonic dialogue written around 380 BCE about an encounter between Socrates and one of the leading Sophists of his day. What is virtue ("the political art" according to Protagoras), and can it be taught? What are the relations of the various virtues to each other? Do they really amount ultimately to one and the same thing, i.e. wisdom? In this entertaining dialogue, Socrates and Protagoras swap positions, and Socrates seems to parody the Sophists' style. Don't wait for part two; get the full, ad-free Citizen Edition now. Please support PEL! Sponsor: Visit thegreatcoursesplus.com/PEL for a free trial of The Great Courses Plus Video Learning Service.


6 Jan 2020

Rank #7

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PREMIUM-Episode 32: Heidegger: What is “Being?”

Discussing Martin Heidegger's Being and Time (1927), mostly the intro and ch. 1 and 2 of Part 1.


8 Feb 2011

Rank #8

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PREMIUM-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. Get Wes Alwan's guide to Nietzsche's essay here.


15 Aug 2012

Rank #9

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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).

2hr 8mins

21 Sep 2015

Rank #10

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PREMIUM-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.


30 Jan 2013

Rank #11

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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. Continued on part 2, or get the unbroken, ad-free Citizen Edition plus an exclusive follow-up discussion. Please support PEL!


11 Jun 2018

Rank #12

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Episode 171: Buddhism vs. Evolution with Guest Robert Wright (Part One)

Bob joins the PEL four to discuss his new book Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. Bob applies his expertise in evolutionary psychology to corroborate Buddhism's claims that we are deluded: about our desires, emotions, the unity of our selves, and the "essences" we project on things and people. And he thinks meditation can instill in the diligent the ability to see things more clearly. But does it really? Continue with part 2, or get the full, ad-free Citizen Edition now. Please support PEL!


4 Sep 2017

Rank #13

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Episode 2: Descartes’s Meditations: What Can We Know?

On Descartes's Meditations 1 and 2.

1hr 39mins

14 May 2009

Rank #14

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Episode 170: Guy Debord's "Society of the Spectacle" (Part One)

What is culture? In modern capitalism, Debord’s 1967 book describes it as all about the economy. It’s not just our jobs that keep us trapped, but our life outside of working hours is also demanded by “the system” via our activity as consumers, and this commoditization infiltrates every corner of our lives. Debord wants us to WAKE UP, break our chains, and live lives of immediacy, vitality, and authenticity. Continue with part 2 or get your unbroken, ad-free Citizen Edition now. Please support PEL!


14 Aug 2017

Rank #15

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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. Continue on part 2, or get the full, ad-free Citizen Edition now along with the Citizen-only follow-up discussion getting more into the text of Marcus. Please support PEL!


22 Oct 2018

Rank #16

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Episode 116: Freud on Dreams

On Sigmund Freud's On Dreams (1902) and other stuff. Are dreams just random, or our best key to understanding the mind? For Wes Alwan's Freud summaries, go here: https://www.philosophysummaries.com. After you listen to this, check out the Aftershow. End song: "Sleep" by Mark Lint. Read about it.

2hr 25mins

25 May 2015

Rank #17

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Episode 174: Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" (Part One)

On the foundational, 1776 text of modern economics. How does the division of labor and our instinct to exchange lead to the growth of wealth? Is the economy sufficiently machine-like to enable us to manipulate its output, or at least to tell us how not to screw it up? Please support PEL!


16 Oct 2017

Rank #18

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PREMIUM-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.


27 Oct 2012

Rank #19

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PREMIUM-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. Looking for the full Citizen version?


11 Nov 2013

Rank #20