In Our Time: Philosophy

In Our Time: Philosophy

United Kingdom

From Altruism to Wittgenstein, philosophers, theories and key themes.

Episodes

Seneca the Younger  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Seneca the Younger, who was one of the first great writers to live his entire life in the world of the new Roman empire, after the fall of the Republic. He was a Stoic philosopher, he wrote blood-soaked tragedies, he was an orator, and he navigated his way through the reigns of Caligula, Claudius and Nero, sometimes exercising power at the highest level and at others spending years in exile. Agrippina the Younger was the one who called for him to tutor Nero, and it is thought Seneca helped curb some of Nero's excesses. He was later revered within the Christian church, partly for what he did and partly for what he was said to have done in forged letters to St Paul. His tragedies, with their ghosts and high body count, influenced Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and Hamlet, and Kyd's Spanish Tragedy. The image above is the so-called bust of Seneca, a detail from Four Philosophers by Peter Paul Rubens. With Mary Beard Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge Catharine Edwards Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London and Alessandro Schiesaro Professor of Classics at the University of Manchester Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Hannah Arendt  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt. She developed many of her ideas in response to the rise of totalitarianism in the C20th, partly informed by her own experience as a Jew in Nazi Germany before her escape to France and then America. She wanted to understand how politics had taken such a disastrous turn and, drawing on ideas of Greek philosophers as well as her peers, what might be done to create a better political life. Often unsettling, she wrote of 'the banality of evil' when covering the trial of Eichmann, one of the organisers of the Holocaust. With Lyndsey Stonebridge Professor of Modern Literature and History at the University of East Anglia Frisbee Sheffield Lecturer in Philosophy at Girton College, University of Cambridge and Robert Eaglestone Professor of Contemporary Literature and Thought at Royal Holloway, University London Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morality  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Nietzsche's On The Genealogy of Morality - A Polemic, which he published in 1887 towards the end of his working life and in which he considered the price humans have paid, and were still paying, to become civilised. In three essays, he argued that having a guilty conscience was the price of living in society with other humans. He suggested that Christian morality, with its consideration for others, grew as an act of revenge by the weak against their masters, 'the blond beasts of prey', as he calls them, and the price for that slaves' revolt was endless self-loathing. These and other ideas were picked up by later thinkers, perhaps most significantly by Sigmund Freud who further explored the tensions between civilisation and the individual. With Stephen Mulhall Professor of Philosophy and a Fellow and Tutor at New College, University of Oxford Fiona Hughes Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Essex And Keith Ansell-Pearson Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Zeno's Paradoxes  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Zeno of Elea, a pre-Socratic philosopher from c490-430 BC whose paradoxes were described by Bertrand Russell as "immeasurably subtle and profound." The best known argue against motion, such as that of an arrow in flight which is at a series of different points but moving at none of them, or that of Achilles who, despite being the faster runner, will never catch up with a tortoise with a head start. Aristotle and Aquinas engaged with these, as did Russell, yet it is still debatable whether Zeno's Paradoxes have been resolved. With Marcus du Sautoy Professor of Mathematics and Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford Barbara Sattler Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of St Andrews and James Warren Reader in Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Sovereignty  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the idea of Sovereignty, the authority of a state to govern itself and the relationship between the sovereign and the people. These ideas of external and internal sovereignty were imagined in various ways in ancient Greece and Rome, and given a name in 16th Century France by the philosopher and jurist Jean Bodin in his Six Books of the Commonwealth, where he said (in an early English translation) 'Maiestie or Soveraigntie is the most high, absolute, and perpetuall power over the citisens and subiects in a Commonweale: which the Latins cal Maiestatem, the Greeks akra exousia, kurion arche, and kurion politeuma; the Italians Segnoria, and the Hebrewes tomech shévet, that is to say, The greatest power to command.' Shakespeare also explored the concept through Richard II and the king's two bodies, Hobbes developed it in the 17th Century, and the idea of popular sovereignty was tested in the Revolutionary era in America and France. With Melissa Lane Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University Richard Bourke Professor in the History of Political Thought at Queen Mary University of London and Tim Stanton Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson.

The Muses  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Muses and their role in Greek mythology, when they were goddesses of poetry, song, music and dance: what the Greeks called mousike, 'the art of the Muses' from which we derive our word 'music.' While the number of Muses, their origin and their roles varied in different accounts and at different times, they were consistently linked with the nature of artistic inspiration. This raised a question for philosophers then and since: was a creative person an empty vessel into which the Muses poured their gifts, at their will, or could that person do something to make inspiration flow? With Paul Cartledge Emeritus Professor of Greek Culture and AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge Angie Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy, University of Sheffield And Penelope Murray Founder member and retired Senior Lecturer, Department of Classics, University of Warwick Producer: Simon Tillotson Image: 'Apollo and the Muses (Parnassus)', 1631-1632. Oil on canvas. Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665).

Simone de Beauvoir  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Simone de Beauvoir. "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman," she wrote in her best known and most influential work, The Second Sex, her exploration of what it means to be a woman in a world defined by men. Published in 1949, it was an immediate success with the thousands of women who bought it. Many male critics felt men came out of it rather badly. Beauvoir was born in 1908 to a high bourgeois family and it was perhaps her good fortune that her father lost his money when she was a girl. With no dowry, she pursued her education in Paris to get work and in a key exam to allow her to teach philosophy, came second only to Jean Paul Sartre. He was retaking. They became lovers and, for the rest of their lives together, intellectual sparring partners. Sartre concentrated on existentialist philosophy; Beauvoir explored that, and existentialist ethics, plus the novel and, increasingly in the decades up to her death in 1986, the situation of women in the world. With Christina Howells Professor of French and Fellow of Wadham College at the University of Oxford Margaret Atack Professor of French at the University of Leeds And Ursula Tidd Professor of Modern French Literature and Thought at the University of Manchester Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Utilitarianism  

A moral theory that emphasises ends over means, Utilitarianism holds that a good act is one that increases pleasure in the world and decreases pain. The tradition flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, and has antecedents in ancient philosophy. According to Bentham, happiness is the means for assessing the utility of an act, declaring "it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong." Mill and others went on to refine and challenge Bentham's views and to defend them from critics such as Thomas Carlyle, who termed Utilitarianism a "doctrine worthy only of swine." With Melissa Lane The Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University Janet Radcliffe Richards Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Oxford and Brad Hooker A Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Al-Ghazali  

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Al-Ghazali, a major philosopher and theologian of the late 11th century. Born in Persia, he was one of the most prominent intellectuals of his age, working in such centres of learning as Baghdad, Damascus and Jerusalem. He is now seen as a key figure in the development of Islamic thought, not just refining the theology of Islam but also building on the existing philosophical tradition inherited from the ancient Greeks. With: Peter Adamson Professor of Late Ancient and Arabic Philosophy at the LMU in Munich Carole Hillenbrand Professor of Islamic History at Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities Robert Gleave Professor of Arabic Studies at the University of Exeter Producer: Victoria Brignell.

The Wealth of Nations  

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Adam Smith's celebrated economic treatise The Wealth of Nations. Smith was one of Scotland's greatest thinkers, a moral philosopher and pioneer of economic theory whose 1776 masterpiece has come to define classical economics. Based on his careful consideration of the transformation wrought on the British economy by the Industrial Revolution, and how it contrasted with marketplaces elsewhere in the world, the book outlined a theory of wealth and how it is accumulated that has arguably had more influence on economic theory than any other. With: Richard Whatmore Professor of Modern History and Director of the Institute of Intellectual History at the University of St Andrews Donald Winch Emeritus Professor of Intellectual History at the University of Sussex Helen Paul Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton Producer: Thomas Morris.

Phenomenology  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss phenomenology, a style of philosophy developed by the German thinker Edmund Husserl in the first decades of the 20th century. Husserl's initial insights underwent a radical transformation in the work of his student Martin Heidegger, and played a key role in the development of French philosophy at the hands of writers like Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Phenomenology has been a remarkably adaptable approach to philosophy. It has given its proponents a platform to expose and critique the basic assumptions of past philosophy, and to talk about everything from the foundations of geometry to the difference between fear and anxiety. It has also been instrumental in getting philosophy out of the seminar room and making it relevant to the lives people actually lead. GUESTS Simon Glendinning, Professor of European Philosophy in the European Institute at the London School of Economics Joanna Hodge, Professor of Philosophy at Manchester Metropolitan University Stephen Mulhall, Professor of Philosophy and Tutor at New College at the University of Oxford Producer: Luke Mulhall.

Truth  

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophy of truth. Pontius Pilate famously asked: what is truth? In the twentieth century, the nature of truth became a subject of particular interest to philosophers, but they preferred to ask a slightly different question: what does it mean to say of any particular statement that it is true? What is the difference between these two questions, and how useful is the second of them? With: Simon Blackburn Fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge, and Professor of Philosophy at the New College of the Humanities Jennifer Hornsby Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London Crispin Wright Regius Professor of Logic at the University of Aberdeen, and Professor of Philosophy at New York University Producer: Victoria Brignell and Luke Mulhall.

Zen  

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Zen. It's often thought of as a form of Buddhism that emphasises the practice of meditation over any particular set of beliefs. In fact Zen belongs to a particular intellectual tradition within Buddhism that took root in China in the 6th century AD. It spread to Japan in the early Middle Ages, where Zen practitioners set up religious institutions like temples, monasteries and universities that remain important today. GUESTS Tim Barrett, Emeritus Professor in the Department of the Study of Religions at SOAS, University of London Lucia Dolce, Numata Reader in Japanese Buddhism at SOAS, University of London Eric Greene, Lecturer in East Asian Religions at the University of Bristol Producer: Luke Mulhall.

The Philosophy of Solitude  

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophy of solitude. The state of being alone can arise for many different reasons: imprisonment, exile or personal choice. It can be prompted by religious belief, personal necessity or a philosophical need for solitary contemplation. Many thinkers have dealt with the subject, from Plato and Aristotle to Hannah Arendt. It's a philosophical tradition that takes in medieval religious mystics, the work of Montaigne and Adam Smith, and the great American poets of solitude Thoreau and Emerson. With: Melissa Lane Professor of Politics at Princeton University Simon Blackburn Professor of Philosophy at the New College of the Humanities and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge John Haldane Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews Producer: Thomas Morris.

Weber's The Protestant Ethic  

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Max Weber's book the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Published in 1905, Weber's essay proposed that Protestantism had been a significant factor in the emergence of capitalism, making an explicit connection between religious ideas and economic systems. Weber suggested that Calvinism, with its emphasis on personal asceticism and the merits of hard work, had created an ethic which had enabled the success of capitalism in Protestant countries. Weber's essay has come in for some criticism since he published the work, but is still seen as one of the seminal texts of twentieth-century sociology. With: Peter Ghosh Fellow in History at St Anne's College, Oxford Sam Whimster Honorary Professor in Sociology at the University of New South Wales Linda Woodhead Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University. Producer: Thomas Morris.

Bishop Berkeley  

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of George Berkeley, an Anglican bishop who was one of the most important philosophers of the eighteenth century. Bishop Berkeley believed that objects only truly exist in the mind of somebody who perceives them - an idea he called immaterialism. His interests and writing ranged widely, from the science of optics to religion and the medicinal benefits of tar water. His work on the nature of perception was a spur to many later thinkers, including David Hume and Immanuel Kant. The clarity of Berkeley's writing, and his ability to pose a profound problem in an easily understood form, has made him one of the most admired early modern thinkers. With: Peter Millican Gilbert Ryle Fellow and Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford Tom Stoneham Professor of Philosophy at the University of York Michela Massimi Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Science at the University of Edinburgh. Producer: Thomas Morris.

Plato's Symposium  

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Plato's Symposium, one of the Greek philosopher's most celebrated works. Written in the 4th century BC, it is a dialogue set at a dinner party attended by a number of prominent ancient Athenians, including the philosopher Socrates and the playwright Aristophanes. Each of the guests speaks of Eros, or erotic love. This fictional discussion of the nature of love, how and why it arises and what it means to be in love, has had a significant influence on later thinkers, and is the origin of the modern notion of Platonic love. With: Angie Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield Richard Hunter Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Cambridge Frisbee Sheffield Director of Studies in Philosophy at Christ's College, University of Cambridge. Producer: Thomas Morris.

Ordinary Language Philosophy  

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Ordinary Language Philosophy, a school of thought which emerged in Oxford in the years following World War II. With its roots in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ordinary Language Philosophy is concerned with the meanings of words as used in everyday speech. Its adherents believed that many philosophical problems were created by the misuse of words, and that if such 'ordinary language' were correctly analysed, such problems would disappear. Philosophers associated with the school include some of the most distinguished British thinkers of the twentieth century, such as Gilbert Ryle and JL Austin. With: Stephen Mulhall Professor of Philosophy at New College, Oxford Ray Monk Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton Julia Tanney Reader in Philosophy of Mind at the University of Kent Producer: Thomas Morris.

Pascal  

Melvyn Bragg and his guests begin a new series of the programme with a discussion of the French polymath Blaise Pascal. Born in 1623, Pascal was a brilliant mathematician and scientist, inventing one of the first mechanical calculators and making important discoveries about fluids and vacuums while still a young man. In his thirties he experienced a religious conversion, after which he devoted most of his attention to philosophy and theology. Although he died in his late thirties, Pascal left a formidable legacy as a scientist and pioneer of probability theory, and as one of seventeenth century Europe's greatest writers. With: David Wootton Anniversary Professor of History at the University of York Michael Moriarty Drapers Professor of French at the University of Cambridge Michela Massimi Senior Lecturer in the Philosophy of Science at the University of Edinburgh. Producer: Thomas Morris.

Epicureanism  

Angie Hobbs, David Sedley and James Warren join Melvyn Bragg to discuss Epicureanism, the system of philosophy based on the teachings of Epicurus and founded in Athens in the fourth century BC. Epicurus outlined a comprehensive philosophical system based on the idea that everything in the Universe is constructed from two phenomena: atoms and void. At the centre of his philosophy is the idea that the goal of human life is pleasure, by which he meant not luxury but the avoidance of pain. His followers were suspicious of marriage and politics but placed great emphasis on friendship. Epicureanism became influential in the Roman world, particularly through Lucretius's great poem De Rerum Natura, which was rediscovered and widely admired in the Renaissance. With: Angie Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield David Sedley Laurence Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge James Warren Reader in Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge Producer: Thomas Morris.

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