Episoder

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea that some kind of consciousness is present not just in our human brains but throughout the universe, right down to cells or even electrons. This is panpsychism and its proponents argue it offers a compelling alternative to those who say we are nothing but matter, like machines, and to those who say we are both matter and something else we might call soul. It is a third way. Critics argue panpsychism is implausible, an example of how not to approach this problem, yet interest has been growing widely in recent decades partly for the idea itself and partly in the broader context of understanding how consciousness arises.

    With

    Tim CraneProfessor of Philosophy and Pro-Rector at the Central European UniversityDirector of Research, FWF Cluster of Excellence, Knowledge in Crisis

    Joanna Leidenhag,Associate Professor in Theology and Philosophy at the University of Leeds

    And

    Philip GoffProfessor of Philosophy at Durham University

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    Reading list:

    Anthony Freeman (ed.), Consciousness and Its Place in Nature: Does Physicalism Entail Panpsychism? (Imprint Academic, 2006), especially 'Realistic Monism' by Galen Strawson

    Philip Goff, Galileo's Error: Foundations for A New Science of Consciousness (Pantheon, 2019)

    Philip Goff, Why? The Purpose of the Universe (Oxford University Press, 2023)

    David Ray Griffin, Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom and the Mind-Body Problem (Wipf & Stock, 2008)

    Joanna Leidenhag, Minding Creation: Theological Panpsychism and the Doctrine of Creation (Bloomsbury, 2021)

    Joanna Leidenhag, ‘Panpsychism and God’ (Philosophy Compass Vol 17, Is 12, e12889)

    Hedda Hassel Mørch, Non-physicalist Theories of Consciousness (Cambridge University Press, 2024)

    Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge University Press, 2012), especially the chapter 'Panpsychism'

    David Skrbina, Panpsychism in the West (MIT Press, 2007) James van Cleve, 'Mind-Dust or Magic? Panpsychism versus Emergence' (Philosophical Perspectives Vol. 4, Action Theory and Philosophy of Mind, Ridgeview Publishing Company, 1990)

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Nicolas de Condorcet (1743-94), known as the Last of the Philosophes, the intellectuals in the French Enlightenment who sought to apply their learning to solving the problems of their world. He became a passionate believer in the progress of society, an advocate for equal rights for women and the abolition of the slave trade and for representative government. The French Revolution gave him a chance to advance those ideas and, while the Terror brought his life to an end, his wife Sophie de Grouchy 91764-1822) ensured his influence into the next century and beyond.

    With

    Rachel HammersleyProfessor of Intellectual History at Newcastle University

    Richard WhatmoreProfessor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Co-Director of the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History

    And

    Tom HopkinsSenior Teaching Associate in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Selwyn College

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    Reading list:

    Keith Michael Baker, Condorcet: From Natural Philosophy to Social Mathematics (University of Chicago Press, 1974)

    Keith Michael Baker, ‘On Condorcet’s Sketch’ (Daedalus, summer 2004)

    Lorraine Daston, ‘Condorcet and the Meaning of Enlightenment’ (Proceedings of the British Academy, 2009)

    Dan Edelstein, The Enlightenment: A Genealogy (Chicago University Press, 2010)

    Mark Goldie and Robert Wokler (eds), The Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Political Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2006), especially ‘Ideology and the Origins of Social Science’ by Robert Wokler

    Gary Kates, The Cercle Social, the Girondins, and the French Revolution (Princeton University Press, 1985)

    Steven Lukes and Nadia Urbinati (eds.), Condorcet: Political Writings (Cambridge University Press, 2009)

    Kathleen McCrudden Illert, A Republic of Sympathy: Sophie de Grouchy's Politics and Philosophy, 1785-1815 (Cambridge University Press, 2024)

    Iain McLean and Fiona Hewitt (eds.), Condorcet: Foundations of Social Choice and Political Theory (Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd, 1994)

    Emma Rothschild, Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet and the Enlightenment, (Harvard University Press, 2001)

    Richard Whatmore, The End of Enlightenment (Allen Lane, 2023)

    David Williams, Condorcet and Modernity (Cambridge University Press, 2004)

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the most influential work of Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929). In 1899, during America’s Gilded Age, Veblen wrote The Theory of the Leisure Class as a reminder that all that glisters is not gold. He picked on traits of the waning landed class of Americans and showed how the new moneyed class was adopting these in ways that led to greater waste throughout society. He called these conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption and he developed a critique of a system that favoured profits for owners without regard to social good. The Theory of the Leisure Class was a best seller and funded Veblen for the rest of his life, and his ideas influenced the New Deal of the 1930s. Since then, an item that becomes more desirable as it becomes more expensive is known as a Veblen good.

    With

    Matthew WatsonProfessor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick

    Bill WallerProfessor of Economics at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, New York

    And

    Mary WrennSenior Lecturer in Economics at the University of the West of England

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    Reading list:

    Charles Camic, Veblen: The Making of an Economist who Unmade Economics (Harvard University Press, 2021)

    John P. Diggins, Thorstein Veblen: Theorist of the Leisure Class (Princeton University Press, 1999)

    John P. Diggins, The Bard of Savagery: Thorstein Veblen and Modern Social Theory (Seabury Press, 1978)

    John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society (Penguin, 1999) Robert Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers (Penguin, 2000), particularly the chapter ‘The Savage Society of Thorstein Veblen’

    Ken McCormick, Veblen in Plain English: A Complete Introduction to Thorstein Veblen’s Economics (Cambria Press, 2006)

    Sidney Plotkin and Rick Tilman, The Political Ideas of Thorstein Veblen (Yale University Press, 2012)

    Juliet B. Schor, The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need (William Morrow & Company, 1999)

    Juliet B. Schor, Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture (Simon & Schuster Ltd, 2005)

    Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (first published 1899; Oxford University Press, 2009)

    Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of Business Enterprise (first published 1904; Legare Street Press, 2022)

    Thorstein Veblen, The Higher Learning in America (first published 2018; Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015)

    Thorstein Veblen, Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times: The Case of America (first published 1923; Routledge, 2017)

    Thorstein Veblen, Conspicuous Consumption (Penguin, 2005)

    Thorstein Veblen, The Complete Works (Musaicum Books, 2017)

    Charles J. Whalen (ed.), Institutional Economics: Perspective and Methods in Pursuit of a Better World (Routledge, 2021)

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Aristotle's ideas on what happiness means and how to live a good life. Aristotle (384-322BC) explored these almost two and a half thousand years ago in what became known as his Nicomachean Ethics. His audience then were the elite in Athens as, he argued, if they knew how to live their lives well then they could better rule the lives of others. While circumstances and values have changed across the centuries, Aristotle's approach to answering those questions has fascinated philosophers ever since and continues to do so.

    With

    Angie HobbsProfessor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

    Roger CrispDirector of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Professor of Moral Philosophy and Tutor in Philosophy at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford

    And

    Sophia ConnellSenior Lecturer in Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    Reading list:

    J.L. Ackrill, Aristotle the Philosopher (Oxford University Press, 1981)

    Aristotle (ed. and trans. Roger Crisp), Nicomachean Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2000)

    Aristotle (trans. Terence Irwin), Nicomachean Ethics (Hackett Publishing Co., 2019) Aristotle (trans. H. Rackham), Nicomachean Ethics: Loeb Classical Library (William Heinemann Ltd, 1962)

    Jonathan Barnes, Aristotle: Past Masters series (Oxford University Press, 1982)

    Gerard J. Hughes, Routledge Guidebook to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (Routledge, 2013)

    Richard Kraut (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005)

    Michael Pakaluk, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

    A. Rorty (ed.), Essays on Aristotle's Ethics (University of California Press, 1981)

    Nancy Sherman, The Fabric of Character: Aristotle's Theory of Virtue (Clarendon Press, 1989)

    J.O. Urmson, Aristotle’s Ethics (John Wiley & Sons, 1988)

  • In 1956 Oxford University awarded an honorary degree to the former US president Harry S. Truman for his role in ending the Second World War. One philosopher, Elizabeth Anscombe (1919 – 2001), objected strongly.

    She argued that although dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have ended the fighting, it amounted to the murder of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. It was therefore an irredeemably immoral act. And there was something fundamentally wrong with a moral philosophy that didn’t see that.

    This was the starting point for a body of work that changed the terms in which philosophers discussed moral and ethical questions in the second half of the twentieth century.

    A leading student of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Anscombe combined his insights with rejuvenated interpretations of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas that made these ancient figures speak to modern issues and concerns. Anscombe was also instrumental in making action, and the question of what it means to intend to do something, a leading area of philosophical work.

    With

    Rachael Wiseman, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Liverpool

    Constantine Sandis, Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hertfordshire, and Director of Lex Academic

    Roger Teichmann, Lecturer in Philosophy at St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford

    Producer: Luke Mulhall

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Solon, who was elected archon or chief magistrate of Athens in 594 BC: some see him as the father of Athenian democracy.

    In the first years of the 6th century BC, the city state of Athens was in crisis. The lower orders of society were ravaged by debt, to the point where some were being forced into slavery. An oppressive law code mandated the death penalty for everything from murder to petty theft. There was a real danger that the city could fall into either tyranny or civil war.

    Solon instituted a programme of reforms that transformed Athens’ political and legal systems, its society and economy, so that later generations referred to him as Solon the Lawgiver.

    With

    Melissa LaneClass of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University

    Hans van WeesGrote Professor of Ancient History at University College London

    and William AllanProfessor of Greek and McConnell Laing Tutorial Fellow in Greek and Latin Languages and Literature at University College, University of Oxford

    Producer Luke Mulhall

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, between the 16th and 18th centuries, Europe was dominated by an economic way of thinking called mercantilism. The key idea was that exports should be as high as possible and imports minimised.

    For more than 300 years, almost every ruler and political thinker was a mercantilist. Eventually, economists including Adam Smith, in his ground-breaking work of 1776 The Wealth of Nations, declared that mercantilism was a flawed concept and it became discredited. However, a mercantilist economic approach can still be found in modern times and today’s politicians sometimes still use rhetoric related to mercantilism.

    With

    D’Maris CoffmanProfessor in Economics and Finance of the Built Environment at University College London Craig MuldrewProfessor of Social and Economic History at the University of Cambridge and a Member of Queens’ College

    and

    Helen Paul, Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton.

    Producer Luke Mulhall

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the pioneering Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546 – 1601) whose charts offered an unprecedented level of accuracy.

    In 1572 Brahe's observations of a new star challenged the idea, inherited from Aristotle, that the heavens were unchanging. He went on to create his own observatory complex on the Danish island of Hven, and there, working before the invention of the telescope, he developed innovative instruments and gathered a team of assistants, taking a highly systematic approach to observation. A second, smaller source of renown was his metal prosthetic nose, which he needed after a serious injury sustained in a duel.

    The image above shows Brahe aged 40, from the Atlas Major by Johann Blaeu.

    With

    Ole GrellEmeritus Professor in Early Modern History at the Open University

    Adam Mosley Associate Professor of History at Swansea University

    and

    Emma PerkinsAffiliate Scholar in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge.

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss A Theory of Justice by John Rawls (1921 - 2002) which has been called the most influential book in twentieth century political philosophy. It was first published in 1971. Rawls (pictured above) drew on his own experience in WW2 and saw the chance in its aftermath to build a new society, one founded on personal liberty and fair equality of opportunity. While in that just society there could be inequalities, Rawls’ radical idea was that those inequalities must be to the greatest advantage not to the richest but to the worst off.

    With

    Fabienne PeterProfessor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick

    Martin O’NeillProfessor of Political Philosophy at the University of York

    And

    Jonathan WolffThe Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford and Fellow of Wolfson College

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Plato's account of the once great island of Atlantis out to the west, beyond the world known to his fellow Athenians, and why it disappeared many thousands of years before his time. There are no sources for this story other than Plato, and he tells it across two of his works, the Timaeus and the Critias, tantalizing his readers with evidence that it is true and clues that it is a fantasy. Atlantis, for Plato, is a way to explore what an ideal republic really is, and whether Athens could be (or ever was) one; to European travellers in the Renaissance, though, his story reflected their own encounters with distant lands, previously unknown to them, spurring generations of explorers to scour the oceans and in the hope of finding a lost world.

    The image above is from an engraving of the legendary island of Atlantis after a description by Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680).

    With

    Edith HallProfessor of Classics at Durham University

    Christopher GillEmeritus Professor of Ancient Thought at the University of Exeter

    And

    Angie HobbsProfessor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss ideas of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 - 1831) on history. Hegel, one of the most influential of the modern philosophers, described history as the progress in the consciousness of freedom, asking whether we enjoy more freedom now than those who came before us. To explore this, he looked into the past to identify periods when freedom was moving from the one to the few to the all, arguing that once we understand the true nature of freedom we reach an endpoint in understanding. That end of history, as it's known, describes an understanding of freedom so far progressed, so profound, that it cannot be extended or deepened even if it can be lost.

    With

    Sally SedgwickProfessor and Chair of Philosophy at Boston University

    Robert SternProfessor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

    And

    Stephen HoulgateProfessor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Czech educator Jan Amos Komenský (1592-1670) known throughout Europe in his lifetime under the Latin version of his name, Comenius. A Protestant and member of the Unity of Brethren, he lived much of his life in exile, expelled from his homeland under the Catholic Counter-Reformation, and he wanted to address the deep antagonisms underlying the wars that were devastating Europe especially The Thirty Years War (1618-1648). A major part of his plan was Universal Education, in which everyone could learn about everything, and better understand each other and so tolerate their religious differences and live side by side. His ideas were to have a lasting influence on education, even though the peace that followed the Thirty Years War only entrenched the changes in his homeland that made his life there impossible.

    The image above is from a portrait of Comenius by Jürgen Ovens, 1650 - 1670, painted while he was living in Amsterdam and held in the Rikjsmuseum

    With

    Vladimir UrbanekSenior Researcher in the Department of Comenius Studies and Early Modern Intellectual History at the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences

    Suzanna IvanicLecturer in Early Modern European History at the University of Kent

    And

    Howard HotsonProfessor of Early Modern Intellectual History at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Anne’s College

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea of charismatic authority developed by Max Weber (1864-1920) to explain why people welcome some as their legitimate rulers and follow them loyally, for better or worse, while following others only dutifully or grudgingly. Weber was fascinated by those such as Napoleon (above) and Washington who achieved power not by right, as with traditional monarchs, or by law as with the bureaucratic world around him in Germany, but by revolution or insurrection. Drawing on the experience of religious figures, he contended that these leaders, often outsiders, needed to be seen as exceptional, heroic and even miraculous to command loyalty, and could stay in power for as long as the people were enthralled and the miracles they had promised kept coming. After the Second World War, Weber's idea attracted new attention as a way of understanding why some reviled leaders once had mass support and, with the arrival of television, why some politicians were more engaging and influential on screen than others.

    With

    Linda WoodheadThe FD Maurice Professor and Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King's College London

    David BellThe Lapidus Professor in the Department of History at Princeton University

    And

    Tom WrightReader in Rhetoric at the University of Sussex

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ancient Sanskrit text the Arthashastra, regarded as one of the major works of Indian literature. Written in the style of a scientific treatise, it provides rulers with a guide on how to govern their territory and sets out what the structure, economic policy and foreign affairs of the ideal state should be. According to legend, it was written by Chanakya, a political advisor to the ruler Chandragupta Maurya (reigned 321 – 297 BC) who founded the Mauryan Empire, the first great Empire in the Indian subcontinent. As the Arthashastra asserts that a ruler should pursue his goals ruthlessly by whatever means is required, it has been compared with the 16th-century work The Prince by Machiavelli. Today, it is widely viewed as presenting a sophisticated and refined analysis of the nature, dynamics and challenges of rulership, and scholars value it partly because it undermines colonial stereotypes of what early South Asian society was like.

    With

    Jessica FrazierLecturer in the Study of Religion at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies

    James HegartyProfessor of Sanskrit and Indian Religions at Cardiff University

    And

    Deven PatelAssociate Professor of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Looking for the latest episode? New episodes of In Our Time will now be available first on BBC Sounds for four weeks before other podcast apps.

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  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most celebrated thinkers of the twentieth century. Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was a German Jewish philosopher, critic, historian, an investigator of culture, a maker of radio programmes and more. Notably, in his Arcades Project, he looked into the past of Paris to understand the modern age and, in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, examined how the new media of film and photography enabled art to be politicised, and politics to become a form of art. The rise of the Nazis in Germany forced him into exile, and he worked in Paris in dread of what was to come; when his escape from France in 1940 was blocked at the Spanish border, he took his own life.

    With

    Esther LeslieProfessor of Political Aesthetics at Birkbeck, University of London

    Kevin McLaughlinDean of the Faculty and Professor of English, Comparative Literature and German Studies at Brown University

    And

    Carolin DuttlingerProfessor of German Literature and Culture at the University of Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Plato's most striking dialogues, in which he addresses the real nature of power and freedom, and the relationship between pleasure and true self-interest. As he tests these ideas, Plato creates powerful speeches, notably from Callicles who claims that laws of nature trump man-made laws, that might is right, and that rules are made by weak people to constrain the strong in defiance of what is natural and proper. Gorgias is arguably the most personal of all of Plato's dialogues, with its hints of a simmering fury at the system in Athens that put his mentor Socrates to death, and where rhetoric held too much sway over people.

    With

    Angie HobbsProfessor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

    Frisbee SheffieldUniversity Lecturer in Classics and Fellow of Downing College, University of Cambridge

    And

    Fiona LeighAssociate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at University College London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the author and philosopher Iris Murdoch (1919 - 1999). In her lifetime she was most celebrated for her novels such as The Bell and The Black Prince, but these are now sharing the spotlight with her philosophy. Responding to the horrors of the Second World War, she argued that morality was not subjective or a matter of taste, as many of her contemporaries held, but was objective, and good was a fact we could recognize. To tell good from bad, though, we would need to see the world as it really is, not as we want to see it, and her novels are full of characters who are not yet enlightened enough to do that.

    With

    Anil GomesFellow and Tutor in Philosophy at Trinity College, University of Oxford

    Anne RoweVisiting Professor at the University of Chichester and Emeritus Research Fellow with the Iris Murdoch Archive Project at Kingston University

    And

    Miles LeesonDirector of the Iris Murdoch Research Centre and Reader in English Literature at the University of Chichester

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the insight into our relationship with the world that Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) shared in his book The Critique of Pure Reason in 1781. It was as revolutionary, in his view, as when the Polish astronomer Copernicus realised that Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the Sun around Earth. Kant's was an insight into how we understand the world around us, arguing that we can never know the world as it is, but only through the structures of our minds which shape that understanding. This idea, that the world depends on us even though we do not create it, has been one of Kant’s greatest contributions to philosophy and influences debates to this day.

    The image above is a portrait of Immanuel Kant by Friedrich Wilhelm Springer

    With

    Fiona HughesSenior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Essex

    Anil GomesAssociate Professor and Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at Trinity College, Oxford

    And

    John CallananSenior Lecturer in Philosophy at King’s College London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the man who, according to Machiavelli, was the last of the Five Good Emperors. Marcus Aurelius, 121 to 180 AD, has long been known as a model of the philosopher king, a Stoic who, while on military campaigns, compiled ideas on how best to live his life, and how best to rule. These ideas became known as his Meditations, and they have been treasured by many as an insight into the mind of a Roman emperor, and an example of how to avoid the corruption of power in turbulent times.

    The image above shows part of a bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.

    With

    Simon GoldhillProfessor of Greek Literature and Culture and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge

    Angie HobbsProfessor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

    And

    Catharine EdwardsProfessor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson