Episódios

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) on the education of children, as set out in his novel or treatise Emile, published in 1762. He held that children are born with natural goodness, which he sought to protect as they developed, allowing each to form their own conclusions from experience, avoiding the domineering influence of others. In particular, he was keen to stop infants forming the view that human relations were based on domination and subordination. Rousseau viewed Emile as his most imporant work, and it became very influential. It was also banned and burned, and Rousseau was attacked for not following these principles with his own children, who he abandoned, and for proposing a subordinate role for women in this scheme.

    The image above is of Emile playing with a mask on his mother's lap, from a Milanese edition published in 1805.

    With

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

    Caroline Warman
    Professor of French Literature and Thought at Jesus College, Oxford

    and

    Denis McManus
    Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) and his ideas about human experience of time passing and how that differs from a scientific measurement of time, set out in his thesis on 'Time and Free Will' in 1889. He became famous in France and abroad for decades, rivalled only by Einstein and, in the years after the Dreyfus Affair, was the first ever Jewish member of the Académie Française. It's thought his work influenced Proust and Woolf, and the Cubists. He died in 1941 from a cold which, reputedly, he caught while queuing to register as a Jew, refusing the Vichy government's offer of exemption.

    With

    Keith Ansell-Pearson
    Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick

    Emily Thomas
    Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Durham University

    And

    Mark Sinclair
    Reader in Philosophy at the University of Roehampton

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

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  • Melvyn Bragg and guests dicuss what it means to be oneself, a question explored by philosophers from Aristotle to the present day, including St Augustine, Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre. In Hamlet, Polonius said 'To thine own self be true', but what is the self, and what does it mean to be true to it, and why should you be true? To Polonius, if you are true to yourself, ‘thou canst not be false to any man’ - but with the rise of the individual, authenticity became a goal in itself, regardless of how that affected others. Is authenticity about creating yourself throughout your life, or fulfilling the potential with which you were born, connecting with your inner child, or something else entirely? What are the risks to society if people value authenticity more than morality - that is, if the two are incompatible?

    The image above is of Sartre, aged 8 months, perhaps still connected to his inner child.

    With

    Sarah Richmond
    Associate Professor in Philosophy at University College London

    Denis McManus
    Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton

    and

    Irene McMullin
    Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Essex

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the remarkable achievement of Aristotle (384-322BC) in the realm of biological investigation, for which he has been called the originator of the scientific study of life. Known mainly as a philosopher and the tutor for Alexander the Great, who reportedly sent him animal specimens from his conquests, Aristotle examined a wide range of life forms while by the Sea of Marmara and then on the island of Lesbos. Some ideas, such as the the spontaneous generation of flies, did not survive later scrutiny, yet his influence was extraordinary and his work was unequalled until the early modern period.

    The image above is of the egg and embryo of a dogfish, one of the animals Aristotle described accurately as he recorded their development.

    With

    Armand Leroi
    Professor of Evolutionary Development Biology at Imperial College London

    Myrto Hatzimichali
    Lecturer in Classics at the University of Cambridge

    And

    Sophia Connell
    Lecturer in Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the philosophy of hope. To the ancient Greeks, hope was closer to self-deception, one of the evils left in Pandora's box or jar, in Hesiod's story. In Christian tradition, hope became one of the theological virtues, the desire for divine union and the expectation of receiving it, an action of the will rather than the intellect. To Kant, 'what may I hope' was one of the three basic questions which human reason asks, while Nietzsche echoed Hesiod, arguing that leaving hope in the box was a deception by the gods, reflecting human inability to face the demands of existence. Yet even those critical of hope, like Camus, conceded that life was nearly impossible without it.

    With

    Beatrice Han-Pile
    Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex

    Robert Stern
    Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

    And

    Judith Wolfe
    Professor of Philosophical Theology at the University of St Andrews

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) and his critique of the economy as he found it in London, where private vices were condemned without acknowledging their public benefit. In his poem The Grumbling Hive (1705), he presented an allegory in which the economy collapsed once knavish bees turned honest. When republished with a commentary, The Fable of the Bees was seen as a scandalous attack on Christian values and Mandeville was recommended for prosecution for his tendency to corrupt all morals. He kept writing, and his ideas went on to influence David Hume and Adam Smith, as well as Keynes and Hayek.

    With

    David Wootton
    Anniversary Professor of History at the University of York

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

    And

    John Callanan
    Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at King’s College London


    Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas of Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755) whose works on liberty, monarchism, despotism, republicanism and the separation of powers were devoured by intellectuals across Europe and New England in the eighteenth century, transforming political philosophy and influencing the American Constitution. He argued that an individual's liberty needed protection from the arm of power, checking that by another power; where judicial, executive and legislative power were concentrated in the hands of one figure, there could be no personal liberty.

    With

    Richard Bourke
    Professor in the History of Political Thought at Queen Mary, University of London

    Rachel Hammersley
    Senior Lecturer in Intellectual History at Newcastle University

    And

    Richard Whatmore
    Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Director of the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History

    Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) and his examination of the American democratic system. He wrote De La Démocratie en Amérique in two parts, published in 1835 and 1840, when France was ruled by the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe. Tocqueville was interested in how aspects of American democracy, in the age of President Andrew Jackson, could be applied to Europe as it moved away from rule by monarchs and aristocrats. His work has been revisited by politicians ever since, particularly in America, with its analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of direct democracy and its warnings of mediocrity and the tyranny of the majority.

    With

    Robert Gildea
    Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford

    Susan-Mary Grant
    Professor of American History at Newcastle University

    and

    Jeremy Jennings
    Professor of Political Theory and Head of the School of Politics & Economics at King's College London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss St Augustine of Hippo's account of his conversion to Christianity and his life up to that point. Written c397AD, it has many elements of autobiography with his scrutiny of his earlier life, his long relationship with a concubine, his theft of pears as a child, his work as an orator and his embrace of other philosophies and Manichaeism. Significantly for the development of Christianity, he explores the idea of original sin in the context of his own experience. The work is often seen as an argument for his Roman Catholicism, a less powerful force where he was living in North Africa where another form of Christianity was dominant, Donatism. While Augustine retells many episodes from his own life, the greater strength of his Confessions has come to be seen as his examination of his own emotional development, and the growth of his soul.

    With

    Kate Cooper
    Professor of History at the University of London and Head of History at Royal Holloway

    Morwenna Ludlow
    Professor of Christian History and Theology at the University of Exeter

    and

    Martin Palmer
    Visiting Professor in Religion, History and Nature at the University of Winchester

    Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas attributed to Sun Tzu (544-496BC, according to tradition), a legendary figure from the beginning of the Iron Age in China, around the time of Confucius. He may have been the historical figure Sun Wu, a military adviser at the court of King Helu of Wu (who reigned between about 514 and 496 BC), one of the kings in power in the Warring States period of Chinese history (6th - 5th century BC). Sun Tzu was credited as the author of The Art of War, a work on military strategy that soon became influential in China and then Japan both for its guidance on conducting and avoiding war and for its approach to strategy generally. After The Art of War was translated into European languages in C18th, its influence spread to military academies around the world.

    The image above is of a terracotta warrior from the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor, who unified China after the Warring States period.

    With

    Hilde De Weerdt
    Professor of Chinese History at Leiden University

    Tim Barrett
    Professor Emeritus of East Asian History at SOAS, University of London

    And

    Imre Galambos
    Reader in Chinese Studies at the University of Cambridge

    Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas developed by Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43BC) to support and reinvigorate the Roman Republic when, as it transpired, it was in its final years, threatened by civil wars, the rule of Julius Caesar and the triumvirates that followed. As Consul he had suppressed a revolt by Catiline, putting the conspirators to death summarily as he believed the Republic was in danger and that this danger trumped the right to a fair trial, a decision that rebounded on him. While in exile he began works on duty, laws, the orator and the republic. Although left out of the conspiracy to kill Caesar, he later defended that murder in the interests of the Republic, only to be murdered himself soon after.

    With

    Melissa Lane
    The Class of 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University
    and 2018 Carlyle Lecturer at the University of Oxford

    Catherine Steel
    Professor of Classics at the University of Glasgow

    And

    Valentina Arena
    Reader in Roman History at University College London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) sought to define the difference between right and wrong by applying reason, looking at the intention behind actions rather than at consequences. He was inspired to find moral laws by natural philosophers such as Newton and Leibniz, who had used reason rather than emotion to analyse the world around them and had identified laws of nature. Kant argued that when someone was doing the right thing, that person was doing what was the universal law for everyone, a formulation that has been influential on moral philosophy ever since and is known as the Categorical Imperative. Arguably even more influential was one of his reformulations, echoed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which he asserted that humanity has a value of an entirely different kind from that placed on commodities. Kant argued that simply existing as a human being was valuable in itself, so that every human owed moral responsibilities to other humans and was owed responsibilities in turn.

    With

    Alison Hills
    Professor of Philosophy at St John's College, Oxford

    David Oderberg
    Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading

    and

    John Callanan
    Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at King's College, London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Is it always better to be just than unjust? That is the central question of Plato's Republic, discussed here by Melvyn Bragg and guests. Writing in c380BC, Plato applied this question both to the individual and the city-state, considering earlier and current forms of government in Athens and potential forms, in which the ideal city might be ruled by philosophers. The Republic is arguably Plato's best known and greatest work, a dialogue between Socrates and his companions, featuring the allegory of the cave and ideas about immortality of the soul, the value of poetry to society, and democracy's vulnerability to a clever demagogue seeking tyranny.

    With

    Angie Hobbs
    Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

    MM McCabe
    Professor of Ancient Philosophy Emerita at King's College London

    and

    James Warren
    Fellow of Corpus Christi College and a Reader in Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge

    Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • The 13th-century English philosopher Roger Bacon is perhaps best known for his major work the Opus Maius. Commissioned by Pope Clement IV, this extensive text covered a multitude of topics from mathematics and optics to religion and moral philosophy. He is also regarded by some as an early pioneer of the modern scientific method. Bacon's erudition was so highly regarded that he came to be known as 'Doctor Mirabilis' or 'wonderful doctor'. However, he is a man shrouded in mystery. Little is known about much of his life and he became the subject of a number of strange legends, including one in which he allegedly constructed a mechanical brazen head that would predict the future.

    With:

    Jack Cunningham
    Academic Coordinator for Theology at Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln

    Amanda Power
    Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Oxford

    Elly Truitt
    Associate Professor of Medieval History at Bryn Mawr College

    Producer: Victoria Brignell.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).