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New Books in Philosophy

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Interview with Philosophers about their New Books

248 Episodes
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The branch of mathematics called game theory – the Prisoners Dilemma is a particularly well-known example of a game – is used by philosophers, social scientists, and others to explore many types of social relations between humans and between nonhuman creatures. In Games in the Philosophy of Biology (Cambridge University Press, 2020), Cailin O’Connor introduces the basics of game theory and its particular branch, evolutionary game theory, and discusses how game theoretic models have helped explain the genesis of the meanings of linguistic and nonlinguistic signals, altruistic behavior, the spread of misinformation, and the origins of fair and unfair distributions of benefits in society. O’Connor, who is associate professor of logic and philosophy of science at the University of California–Irvine, also considers some of the drawbacks of game theoretic models. Her short introduction makes a major area of social scientific investigation accessible to readers without mathematical background.   Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
College courses in Ethics tend to focus on theories of the moral rightness or wrongness of actions. This emphasis sometimes obscures the fact that morality is a social project: part of what makes a decent and stable society possible is that we uphold standards of conduct. We call out bad behavior, blame wrongdoers, and praise those who do the right things. We apologize and forgive in public ways. In short, we hold one another responsible.  Again, this is all necessary. However, we are all familiar with the ways in which the acts associated with upholding morality can go wrong. For instance, blame can be excessive, apologies can be patronizing, and so on. Another way in which things can go wrong is when people wield morality opportunistically – for self-aggrandizement, or to elevate themselves in the eyes of others. In Grandstanding: The Use and Abuse of Moral Talk (Oxford University Press, 2020), Brandon Warmke and Justin Tosi call this broad type of moral breakdown grandstanding. Their book examines the different kinds of grandstanding, demonstrates why grandstanding is morally bad, and proposes some tips for avoiding it. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
How should we think about the relationship between subjectivity and experience? In Anaesthetics of Existence: Essays on Experience at the Edge (Duke University Press, 2020), Cressida J. Heyes approaches this question through interrogating the apparent limits of experience found in unconsciousness—including sleep; forms of “checking out”—including general anesthesia and a glass of wine; and childbirth. Using genealogy and critical phenomenology grounded in feminist theory, Heyes approaches the project of conceptualizing agency through an interrogation of things that affect us, that happen to us, that we fall into, and undergo, but that are at the limits of experience and what can be said about it. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Robert Pippin's book Filmed Thought: Cinema as Reflective Form (University of Chicago Press, 2020) is a work in the philosophy of film published in 2020 by the University of Chicago Press. Each chapter in Filmed Thought treats a film in-depth, including works by Hitchcock, Ray, Malick, Sirk, Almodovar, Polanski, and the Dardenne brothers. The book is written in an accessible style that does not seize upon films as merely convenient illustrations of already established philosophical ideas. Instead, Pippindevotes as much energy to analysing the expressive capacities of cinema as he does to articulating the philosophical themes and questions of social context he sees reflected in each of the films treated. This gives his writing a delicacy and sensitivity that lovers of cinema may find surprising in a professional philosopher. Nonetheless, there are plenty of ideas worked through in the text, many inspired by Pippin’s reading of Hegel and Cavell, including the limits of moral judgement, the dimensions of cinematic irony, the critical possibilities of genre films, the relation between interiority and bodily expression, and the intriguing problem of ‘unknowingness’. Robert Pippin is a philosopher known principally for his work in the area of German Idealism, particularly Hegel, although he has previously published widely in film-philosophy, including the Western genre, film noir, and Hitchcock. Bill Schaffer is a lecturer in film studies. He is currently a scholar of no fixed institution. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
As a matter of basic metaphysics, we classify individuals in terms of their relations to other things – for example, a parent is a parent of someone, a larger object is larger than a smaller object. The nature of relativity – the question of how things relate to other things – is a topic that winds its way through the history of philosophy to the present day. In Ancient Relativity: Plato, Aristotle, Stoics and Skeptics (Oxford University Press, 2020), Matthew Duncombe considers ancient views of relativity from Plato, Aristotle, the Skeptics (particularly Simplicius), and the Stoics (particularly Sextus Empiricus). Duncombe, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Nottingham, defends the view that these thinkers shared a common basic position that he calls “constitutive relativity” – the idea that relativity is a matter of the relative being a certain way, rather than having a certain predicate true of it or having a certain feature. He argues that this reading is in the background in a number of arguments in these thinkers, including Parmenides’ main objection to Plato’s Theory of the Forms, and that it comes into its own as a key element of the Skeptics’ opposition to dogmatic belief. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
How should we understand the pervasiveness – and virulence – of anti-Black violence in the United State? Why and how is anti-Black racism different from other forms of racism? How does it permeate our moral and political ideals? Frank Wilderson III combines memoir and works of political theory, critical theory, literature, and film to offer a philosophy of Blackness. In his new book Afropessimism (Liveright, 2020), Wilderson insists that the social construct of slavery – as seen through pervasive anti-Black subjugation and violence – permeates our principled and practical assumptions. It is not a relic but a worldview that supports our conception of, for example, what it means to be human. For Wilderson, Blacks remain slaves in the human world because “at every scale of abstraction, violence saturates Black life.” To define what it means to be human, we require people who are slaves. While the podcast highlights the theory, the book uses accessible autobiographical stories as examples of the philosophical claims. Wilderson’s remarkable life – from his childhood in mid-century Minneapolis to his work with the African National Congress during apartheid – serves to demonstrate that there are no easy solutions (thus his afropessimism) given the level of hatred and violence. Susan Liebell is associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She is the author of Democracy, Intelligent Design, and Evolution: Science for Citizenship (Routledge, 2013). Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Brian Greene is a Professor of Mathematics and Physics at Columbia University in the City of New York, where he is the Director of the Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics, and co-founder and chair of the World Science Festival. He is well known for his TV mini-series about string theory and the nature of reality, including the Elegant Universe, which tied in with his best-selling 2000 book of the same name. In this episode, we talk about his latest popular book Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe (Random House, 2020) Until the End of Time gives the reader a theory of everything, both in the sense of a “state of the academic union”, covering cosmology and evolution, consciousness and computation, and art and religion, and in the sense of showing us a way to apprehend the often existentially challenging subject matter. Greene uses evocative autobiographical vignettes in the book to personalize his famously lucid and accessible explanations, and we discuss these episodes further in the interview. Greene also reiterates his arguments for embedding a form of spiritual reverie within the multiple naturalistic descriptions of reality that different areas of human knowledge have so far produced. John Weston is a University Teacher of English in the Language Centre at Aalto University, Finland. His research focuses on academic communication. He can be reached at john.weston@aalto.fi and @johnwphd. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
When we think of democracy, we typically think of voting; and when we think of voting, we ordinarily have elections and campaigns in minds. In this intuitive sense, voting is a matter of casting a ballot. After Election Day, votes are counted, and, typically, the majority rules. But things really aren’t so simple. For one thing, citizens bring differing levels of information and ignorance into the voting booth. What’s more, famous mathematical analyses cast doubt on the very idea of a majority will. Given this, what are we to make of democracy? In Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom (Oxford University Press, 2020), Ilya Somin defends the idea that foot voting is an essential element of political freedom and democratic governance. Foot voting is the capacity of individuals to move to the jurisdiction or nation whose government most suits their preferences, or to select their favoured providers of various services. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In recent years, questions around the nature of ​truth ​and ​facts have reentered public debate, often in discussions around journalistic bias, and whether politically neutral reporting is possible, or even desirable. Many pundits have tried to place blame for the increasingly slippery and fickle nature of truth in reporting on the ideas developed in much 20th-century philosophy, particularly postmodern theory. Santiago Zabala, however, argues that this is to mistake a diagnosis with the condition itself, and makes the case in his recent book, ​Being at Large: Freedom in the Age of Alternative Facts (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2020),​ that much of the hermeneutic and postmodern philosophical traditions can help us navigate these times out of joint. Santiago Zabala is a philosopher and cultural critic and ICREA Research Professor of Philosophy at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. He is author of many books, including Why Only Art Can Save Us: Aesthetics and the Absence of Emergency (Columbia University Press, 2017). His opinion articles have appeared in the Guardian, the New York Times, and Al-Jazeera among other international media outlets. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
This ground-breaking work on Indian philosophical doxography examines the function of dialectical texts within their intellectual and religious milieu. In Dialogue and Doxography in Indian Philosophy: Points of View in Buddhist, Jaina, and Advaita Vedānta Traditions (Routledge, 2020), Karl-Stéphan Bouthillette examines the Madhyamakahṛdayakārikā of the Buddhist Bhāviveka, the Ṣaḍdarśanasamuccaya of the Jain Haribhadra, and the Sarvasiddhāntasaṅgraha attributed to the Advaitin Śaṅkara, focusing on each of their representation of Mīmāṃsā, to arguing that each of these doxographies represent forms of spiritual exercise. We refer to Bouthillette's Instragram account in the interview. You can find it here. For information on your host Raj Balkaran’s background, see rajbalkaran.com/scholarship. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In the contemporary philosophical landscape, a variety of materialist ontologies have appeared, all wrestling with various political and philosophical questions in light of a post-God ontology. Entering into this discussion is Adrian Johnston, with his 3-volume ​Prolegomena to Any Future Materialism​, an attempt to develop a systematic and thoroughly atheistic material ontology of the subject. The first volume, subtitled ​The Outcome of Contemporary French Philosophy (Northwestern University Press, 2013) looks at three recent French theorists, Jacques Lacan, Alain Badiou and Quentin Meillasoux, arguing that all three ultimately fail to maintain a consistent atheism, regularly relying on various supramaterial elements to hold their systems together. In doing so, the book attempts to clear the ground for a consistently materialist ontology to be pursued in the latter two volumes. Adrian Johnston is chair and distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of New Mexico and a faculty member at the Emory Psychoanalytic Institute. He is the author of close to a dozen books, including among others ​Time Driven: Metapsychology and the Splitting of the Drive (Northwestern 2005) and ​Adventures in Transcendental Materialism: Dialogues with Contemporary Thinkers (Edinburgh 2014). He is also a co-editor of Northwestern University Press’ book series ​"Diaeresis​," of which this trilogy is a contribution. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Consider a couple with an infant (or two) whose lives have become so harried and difficult the marriage is falling apart. Would it be ethical for them to take oxytocin to help them renew their emotional bonds, or would this be an unethical evasion of the hard work that keeping a marriage going requires? What if someone has sexual desires that they consider immoral – should they be able to take a drug to suppress those desires, or alternatively can society force them to? Debates about the ethics of using drugs for enhancement rather than treatment usually focus on the individual, such as doping in sports. In Love Drugs: The Chemical Future of Relationships (Stanford University Press, 2020), Brian Earp and Julian Savulescu consider the case for using drugs to alter our love relationships. Earp, who is Associate Director of the Yale-Hastings Program in Ethics and and Health Policy at Yale University, and Savulescu, the Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, note that drugs that alter sexual desire and attachment are already available, although are restricted or illegal. What is needed, they argue, is more research into the interpersonal effects of drugs, and more discussion of the ethics of their use for non-medical purposes. Let’s turn to a fascinating interview on a complex topic with no easy answers. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
How are we to conceive of acts that suddenly expose the injustice of the current order? This is a question that has puzzled philosophers for centuries, and it’s the question that animates Dominik Finkelde’s book ​Excessive Subjectivity: Kant, Hegel, Lacan, and the Foundation of Ethics (Columbia University Press, 2017). The book looks at these three major thinkers, and the ways they saw subjects as being immersed in a particular set of ethical orientations, but also always with a subtle but profound potential to do something beyond what they might’ve thought possible. Dominik Finkelde is a professor of contemporary political philosophy and epistemology at the Munich School of Philosophy, and is also the author of ​Zizek Between Lacan and Hegel and Benjamin Reads Proust.​ Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Travel has been a topic lurking in the background (at least) of a lot of philosophy. Socrates was keen to remind his jury as well as his interlocutor Phaedrus that he had spent nearly his entirely life within the city of Athens. For another example, Descartes saw fit to take the intellectual journey of his Meditations from a room in a foreign country. But that’s not all: many great philosophical works comment on the value of travel: think here of the reflections that close Rousseau’s Emile. In The Meaning of Travel: Philosophers Abroad (Oxford University Press, 2020), Emily Thomas picks up this longstanding, though now generally overlooked, philosophical concern with travel. This fascinating book not only reflects on the philosophical significance of travel, but is also a philosophical travelogue in its own right. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In The Phenomenology of a Performative Knowledge System: Dancing with Native American Epistemology (Palgrave Macmillian, 2019), Shay Welch investigates the phenomenological ways that dance choreographing and dance performance exemplify both Truth and meaning-making within Native American epistemology, from an analytic philosophical perspective. Given that within Native American communities dance is regarded both as an integral cultural conduit and “a doorway to a powerful wisdom,” Welch argues that dance and dancing can both create and communicate knowledge. She explains that dance―as a form of oral, narrative storytelling―has the power to communicate knowledge of beliefs and histories, and that dance is a form of embodied narrative storytelling. Welch provides analytic clarity on how this happens, what conditions are required for it to succeed, and how dance can satisfy the relational and ethical facets of Native epistemology. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In Classical Indian Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2020), Peter Adamson and Jonardon Ganeri survey both the breadth and depth of Indian philosophical traditions. Their odyssey touches on the earliest extant Vedic literature, the Mahābhārata, the Bhagavad-Gīta, the rise of Buddhism and Jainism, the sūtra traditions encompassing logic, epistemology, the monism of Advaita Vedānta, and the spiritual discipline of Yoga. They even include textual traditions typically excluded from overviews of Indian philosophy, e.g., the Cārvāka school, Tantra, and Indian aesthetic theory. They address various significant themes such as non-violence, political authority, and the status of women, and the debate on the influence of Indian thought on Greek philosophy. Interestingly, this publication stems from a podcast series, which we also discuss in this podcast. Peter Adamson received his BA from Williams College and PhD in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame. He worked at King's College London from 2000 until 2012. He subsequently moved to the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen, where he is Professor of Late Ancient and Arabic Philosophy. He has published widely in ancient and medieval philosophy, and is the host of The History of Philosophy without Any Gaps podcast. Jonardon Ganeri is a Fellow of the British Academy. He is the author of Attention, Not Self (2017), The Self (2012), The Lost Age of Reason (2011), and The Concealed Art of the Soul (2007). Ganeri's work draws on a variety of philosophical traditions to construct new positions in the philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and epistemology. He became the first philosopher to win the Infosys Prize in the Humanities in 2015. For information on your host Raj Balkaran’s background, see rajbalkaran.com. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Slavery and the University: Histories and Legacies (University of Georgia Press, 2019), edited by Leslie M. Harris, James T. Campbell, and Alfred L. Brophy, is the first edited collection of scholarly essays devoted solely to the histories and legacies of this subject on North American campuses and in their Atlantic contexts. Gathering together contributions from scholars, activists, and administrators, the volume combines two broad bodies of work: (1) historically based interdisciplinary research on the presence of slavery at higher education institutions in terms of the development of proslavery and antislavery thought and the use of slave labor; and (2) analysis on the ways in which the legacies of slavery in institutions of higher education continued in the post–Civil War era to the present day. The collection features broadly themed essays on issues of religion, economy, and the regional slave trade of the Caribbean. It also includes case studies of slavery’s influence on specific institutions, such as Princeton University, Harvard University, Oberlin College, Emory University, and the University of Alabama. Though the roots of Slavery and the University stem from a 2011 conference at Emory University, the collection extends outward to incorporate recent findings. As such, it offers a roadmap to one of the most exciting developments in the field of U.S. slavery studies and to ways of thinking about racial diversity in the history and current practices of higher education. Today I spoke with Leslie Harris about the book. Dr. Harris is a professor of history at Northwestern University. She is the coeditor, with Ira Berlin, of Slavery in New York and the coeditor, with Daina Ramey Berry, of Slavery and Freedom in Savannah (Georgia). Adam McNeil is a History PhD student at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Do nonhuman animals have phenomenally conscious mental states? For example, do they have the types of conscious experiences we have when, in our case, we experience the smell of cinnamon or the redness of a ripe tomato? In Human and Animal Minds: The Consciousness Questions Laid to Rest (Oxford University Press, 2019), Peter Carruthers argues that there is no fact of the matter as to whether they do or not. On Carruthers’ view, nonhuman animals have those types of consciousness identified as being awake and being aware. Moreover, he agrees the mental lives of humans and nonhumans share quite a lot based in recent empirical research, and he adopts a reductive theory of phenomenal consciousness that identifies it with globally broadcast nonconceptual content. What is indeterminate is whether nonhumans have the all-or-nothing what-it’s-like quality that our first-personal concept of phenomenal consciousness appears to pick out. Nevertheless, Carruthers – who is Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland College Park – argues that this indeterminacy really doesn’t matter much – in particular, it does not follow that we should not be concerned about animal welfare. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In 2016, Jordan Peterson, a relatively obscure professor of psychology, released several videos on YouTube making critical remarks on political correctness and related political legislation. This would kick off a meteoric rise in fame, with sold-out live shows, podcasts, television interviews and a worldwide bestselling book. Along with his newfound fame, however, came a ​lot of criticism, much of it from progressive commentators, most recently in the form of ​Myth and Mayhem: A Leftist Critique of Jordan Peterson​ (Zero Books, 2020) The book features several contributions from four authors, as well as an introduction by Slavoj Zizek, who debated Peterson in 2019. It engages with Peterson’s core ideas, while offering critical analysis from leftist perspectives. Ben Burgis has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Miami. He is a science fiction writer whose work has appeared in publications such as Tor.com and in Prime Books. Burgis now teaches at Rutgers University. He is also the author of ​Give Them an Argument: Logic for the Left.​ Conrad Hamilton is a doctoral student at Paris 8 University, currently developing a thesis on the relationship between social agency and the value form in the works of Marx under the supervision of Catherine Malabou. He is also a contributor to Zero Books' What Is Post-Modern Conservatism: Essays On Our Hugely Tremendous Times. Matthew McManus is Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Tec de Monterrey, Mexico, where he teaches political science and theory. Before assuming this position McManus worked for the Committee for International Justice and Accountability. He completed his PhD in 2017. He is the editor of What Is Post-Modern Conservatism: Essays On Our Hugely Tremendous Times, publishing by Zero Books in 2020, as well as being the author of ​The Rise of Postmodern Conservatism: Neoliberalism, Post-Modern Culture, and Reactionary Politics.​ Marion Trejo is Professor of Politics and International Relations at Tec de Monterrey, Mexico. She completed her Bachelors in International Relations at Tec de Monterrey and her Masters in Philosophy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Stephen Dozeman is a freelance writer. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Paradox is a sophisticated kind of magic trick. A magician's purpose is to create the appearance of impossibility, to pull a rabbit from an empty hat. Yet paradox doesn't require tangibles, like rabbits or hats. Paradox works in the abstract, with words and concepts and symbols, to create the illusion of contradiction. There are no contradictions in reality, but there can appear to be. In Sleight of Mind: 75 Ingenious Paradoxes in Mathematics, Physics, and Philosophy (MIT Press, 2020), Matt Cook and a few collaborators dive deeply into more than 75 paradoxes in mathematics, physics, philosophy, and the social sciences. As each paradox is discussed and resolved, Cook helps readers discover the meaning of knowledge and the proper formation of concepts―and how reason can dispel the illusion of contradiction. The journey begins with “a most ingenious paradox” from Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. Readers will then travel from Ancient Greece to cutting-edge laboratories, encounter infinity and its different sizes, and discover mathematical impossibilities inherent in elections. They will tackle conundrums in probability, induction, geometry, and game theory; perform “supertasks”; build apparent perpetual motion machines; meet twins living in different millennia; explore the strange quantum world―and much more. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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Comments (2)

Toya Mccall

fix your actions

Feb 12th
Reply

Toya Mccall

how long has this importnat thought travel because i had these questions on back back burner. i never went to school i educated myselef. i went towards a spritaul awaking because i felt i was a bad aspect in this world so when i fixed all my wrong ways my life would finally recieve success.so i had to get rid of all these questions i would be confession. and plus i had karama becuse i question every unervisal law. so l put myself on top so many people challenged that. and only thing i have left is diginty. there is no wrong answers until all my questions or my conffession i must bring up. but i wont speak until i see someone else belief is on my level.because i dont want to hurt any more people and im stilll stuck were i should go next. its like my elders tech me i tecah them then i go back to the young or who ever is not capable understanding becuse i can understand so many people on so many level. so i just want my world to be a better. so if i help u and u help someone else but that pearson helps someone they way it started. way to look at life no one gets left behind.if your Ahead then keep striving or u go back an help others and diffrent areas but only help to where u capable like full rested full sleep full engerized u take care your house then on free time help but me i have nothing left to fight for.

Feb 12th
Reply
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