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Sunday > YPR Program Guide > Program Listings > Philosophy Talk

Philosophy Talk

Thursdays, 9pm

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Philosophy Talk is a weekly, one-hour radio series hosted by Ken Taylor, Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University, and John Perry, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of California at Riverside. The program is not a lecture or college course—it's philosophy in action! Philosophy Talk is a fun opportunity to explore issues of importance in a thoughtful, friendly fashion.


December 5
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.

December 12
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's 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 with Cristina Bicchieri from the University of Pennsylvania, author of The Grammar of Society: The Nature and Dynamics of Social Norms.

December 19
Do Religions Deserve Special Status?
In most Western democracies, religions are exempt from certain rules and regulations that most other organizations have to follow. For example, in the US, religious organizations are not required to pay taxes or follow non-discrimination employment laws. Some faithful go so far as to argue that their religious freedom means they shouldn’t have to provide birth control to their employees. But does religion truly deserve this preferential treatment? Should the demands for legal exemption based on religious freedom be treated any differently than those based on moral conscience? What special status, if any, should religion have in the eyes of the law? Jon and Ken grant guest status to Brian Leiter from the University of Chicago, author of Why Tolerate Religions?

December 26
Tenth Anniversary Special
Philosophy Talk debuted on KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco in August 2003, with regular broadcasts beginning in early 2004. Over the course of a decade the Philosophers, their guests, and their listeners have discussed and debated everything from the meaning of life to pre-emptive military strikes and baseball. To celebrate ten years on the air, John and Ken listen back to some of their favorite conversations with the writers and thinkers who have joined them on the program, and they look ahead to the ongoing challenges of thinking hard on the radio.

January 2
Trust and Mistrust
If we couldn't trust each other, our lives would be very different. We trust strangers not to harm us, we trust our friends to take care of our most prized possessions, and we even trust politicians (sometimes) to come through on their campaign promises. But trust may also come at a high cost: it can leave us vulnerable to lies, deception, and blackmail. So is it reasonable for us to be so trusting? And how should we treat those who trust us? John and Ken put their trust in Stanford philosopher Jorah Dannenberg, in a program recorded live at the Marsh Theater in San Francisco.

January 9
The Examined Year: 2013
Each new year offers the opportunity to reflect on the significant events of the previous 365 days.  But what ideas and events took shape over the past twelve months that have prompted us to question our assumptions and to think about things in new ways?  What significant events – in politics, in society, and in philosophy itself – have called into question our most deeply-held beliefs?  Join John, Ken, and their special guests as they celebrate “The Examined Year” with a philosophical look back at the year that was 2013.

January 16
Moral Luck
It seems reasonable to believe that we can only be blamed or praised for actions that are under our control.  Nevertheless, in many concrete scenarios, we're inclined to base our moral assessment of people on circumstances that are ultimately beyond their control. Blind chance, or “moral luck,” as philosophers call it, may determine the difference between, say, murder and attempted murder.  But do we think that a would-be murderer whose attempts are foiled by chance is really less morally culpable than someone who happens to succeed?  How should moral luck affect our judgments of responsibility?  John and Ken welcome back Susan Wolf from UNC Chapel Hill, author of The Moral of Moral Luck.

January 23
Religions rely on miracles to demonstrate the authenticity of figures thought to have supernatural powers.  Lots of 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's 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.

January 30
Memory and the Self
Ever since John Locke, philosophers have wondered about memory and its connection to the self.  Locke believed that a continuity of consciousness and memory establish a "self" over time.  Now psychology is weighing in with new research suggesting that the relationship between memory and the self is even more complicated than that.  But what's the connection between memory and the self?  Can the self be explained strictly in terms of memory?  Or might the self be something over and above what memory suggests? John and Ken remember to welcome Stan Klein from UC Santa Barbara, author of The Two Selves: Their Metaphysical Commitments and Functional Independence.

February 6
Black Solidarity
From the abolition of slavery to the Black Power movement, African-American unity has been considered a powerful method to achieve freedom and equality.  But does Black solidarity still make sense in a supposedly post-racial era?  And how should we think about racial solidarity versus class or gender solidarity?  In honor of Black History Month, John and Ken join forces with Tommie Shelby from Harvard University, author of We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity.

February 13
The Legacy of Freud
Did you really want to eat that last piece of cake, or were you secretly thinking about your mother?  Sigmund Freud, who might have suggested the latter, established the unconscious mind as a legitimate domain for scientific research.  He was the first to seriously study dreams and slips of the tongue, and he proposed that neurotic behavior could be explained by beliefs and desires that we repress.  However, many of Freud’s theories have been rejected as unscientific, and his particular brand of psychoanalysis is all but obsolete.  So why is Freud still worth remembering?  John and Ken get Oedipal with Stanford historian Paul Robinson, author of Freud and His Critics, for a program recorded live at the Marsh Theater in Berkeley.

February 20
The Military: What Is It Good For?
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 Pulitzer Prize winning historian David Kennedy in a discussion of the military and its role in public life, recorded live at the Marsh Theater in San Francisco.

February 27
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.

March 6
Science and Gender
What does gender have to do with science? The obvious answer is ‘nothing.’ Science is the epitome of an objective, rational, and disinterested enterprise. But given the history of systemic under-representation of women in science, what does it mean that science answers almost exclusively to the methodologies of men?  Has male domination contributed certain unfounded assumptions or cognitive biases to the ‘objectivity’ of scientific inquiry? Is there any possibility of achieving a gender-neutral science, and if so, what would that look like? John and Ken make room at the table for Stanford historian Londa Schiebinger, author of Nature's Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science.

March 13
Simone de Beauvoir
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.

March 20
Acting Together
Many goals are too complex for one person to accomplish alone.  Every day, we pool together our planning abilities with those around us to get things done.  It’s clear that without shared agency, none of our familiar social institutions could exist.  However, philosophers are in disagreement about what shared agency actually entails.  What is it about collective action that's unique, and why does it come about?  How is acting together sometimes greater than the sum of its parts?  John and Ken join forces with Margaret Gilbert from UC Irvine, author of Living Together: Rationality, Sociality, and Obligation.

March 27
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, author of The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy, and the Mind. This program was recorded live at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.

April 3
Weapons of Mass Destruction
The United States recently threatened military action against Syria in response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons.  Similar threats have been made against states suspected of trying to develop nuclear arsenals such as North Korea and Iran.  Yet the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia, and China have thousands of active nuclear weapons of their own.  Is there a morally significant difference between nuclear or chemical weapons and conventional weapons?  Should we work toward total disarmament, or do we need these weapons as a deterrent to rogue states?  What steps must we take to secure peace in a world rife with weapons of mass destruction?  John and Ken go nuclear with Stanford political scientist Scott Sagan, co-author of The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate, for a program recorded live at the Marsh Theater in Berkeley.

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