In Our Time: Philosophy

In Our Time: Philosophy

www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01f0vzr
From Altruism to Wittgenstein, philosophers, theories and key themes.


Rousseau on Education
Oct 10 • 51 min
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…
Bergson and Time
May 9 • 51 min
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…
Authenticity
Mar 14 • 50 min
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…
Aristotle’s Biology
Feb 7 • 50 min
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…
Hope
Nov 22, 2018 • 53 min
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…
The Fable of the Bees
Oct 25, 2018 • 50 min
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…
Montesquieu
Jun 14, 2018 • 49 min
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…
Tocqueville: Democracy in America
Mar 22, 2018 • 50 min
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…
Augustine’s Confessions
Mar 15, 2018 • 47 min
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…
Sun Tzu and The Art of War
Mar 1, 2018 • 48 min
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…
Cicero
Jan 25, 2018 • 49 min
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…
Kant’s Categorical Imperative
Sep 21, 2017 • 49 min
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…
Plato’s Republic
Jun 29, 2017 • 48 min
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…
Roger Bacon
Apr 20, 2017 • 50 min
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…
Seneca the Younger
Feb 23, 2017 • 51 min
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…
Hannah Arendt
Feb 2, 2017 • 47 min
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…
Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality
Jan 12, 2017 • 48 min
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…
Zeno’s Paradoxes
Sep 22, 2016 • 46 min
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…
Sovereignty
Jun 30, 2016 • 47 min
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…
The Muses
May 19, 2016 • 45 min
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…
Simone de Beauvoir
Oct 22, 2015 • 46 min
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…
Utilitarianism
Jun 11, 2015 • 43 min
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…
Al-Ghazali
Mar 19, 2015 • 44 min
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,…
The Wealth of Nations
Feb 19, 2015 • 46 min
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…
Phenomenology
Jan 22, 2015 • 46 min
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…
Truth
Dec 18, 2014 • 42 min
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…
Zen
Dec 4, 2014 • 45 min
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…
The Philosophy of Solitude
Jun 19, 2014 • 47 min
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…
Weber’s The Protestant Ethic
Mar 27, 2014 • 50 min
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…
Bishop Berkeley
Mar 20, 2014 • 47 min
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…
Plato’s Symposium
Jan 2, 2014 • 42 min
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…
Ordinary Language Philosophy
Nov 7, 2013 • 41 min
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…
Pascal
Sep 19, 2013 • 41 min
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…
Epicureanism
Feb 7, 2013 • 42 min
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…
Bertrand Russell
Dec 6, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the influential British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Born in 1872 into an aristocratic family, Russell is widely regarded as one of the founders of Analytic philosophy, which is today the dominant philosophical…
Simone Weil
Nov 15, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the French philosopher and social activist Simone Weil. Born in Paris in 1909 into a wealthy, agnostic Jewish family, Weil was a precocious child and attended the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, achieving…
The Ontological Argument
Sep 27, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Ontological Argument. In the eleventh century St Anselm of Canterbury proposed that it was possible to prove the existence of God using reason alone. His argument was ridiculed by some of his contemporaries, but was…
Scepticism
Jul 5, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Scepticism, the idea that it may be impossible to know anything with complete certainty. Scepticism was first outlined by ancient Greek philosophers: Socrates is reported to have said that the only thing he knew for…
Al-Kindi
Jun 28, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the Arab philosopher al-Kindi. Born in the early ninth century, al-Kindi was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy and supervised the translation of many works by Aristotle and others into Arabic.…
Neoplatonism
Apr 19, 2012 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Neoplatonism, the school of thought founded in the 3rd century AD by the philosopher Plotinus. Born in Egypt, Plotinus was brought up in the Platonic tradition, studying and reinterpreting the works of the Greek thinker…
Moses Mendelssohn
Mar 22, 2012 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work and influence of the eighteenth-century philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. A prominent figure at the court of Frederick the Great, Mendelssohn was one of the most significant thinkers of his age. He came from a…
Heraclitus
Dec 8, 2011 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Writing in the 5th century BC, Heraclitus believed that everything is constantly changing or, as he put it, in flux. He expressed this thought in a famous epigram: “No man ever…
The Continental-Analytic Split
Nov 10, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Continental-Analytic split in Western philosophy. Around the beginning of the last century, philosophy began to go down two separate paths, as thinkers from Continental Europe explored the legacy of figures…
David Hume
Oct 6, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of the philosopher David Hume. A key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, Hume was an empiricist who believed that humans can only have knowledge of things they have themselves…
Malthusianism
Jun 22, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Malthusianism.In the eighteenth century, as expanding agriculture and industry resulted in a rapid increase in the European population, a number of writers began to consider the implications of this rise in numbers.…
Cogito Ergo Sum
Apr 28, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss one of the most famous statements in philosophy: “Cogito ergo sum”.In his Discourse on the Method, published in 1637, the French polymath Rene Descartes wrote a sentence which remains familiar today even to many people…
Free Will
Mar 10, 2011 • 42 min
In the 500th edition of the programme, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophical idea of free will.Free will - the extent to which we are free to choose our own actions - is one of the most absorbing philosophical problems, debated by almost…
Maimonides
Feb 15, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work and influence of Maimonides.Widely regarded as the greatest Jewish philosopher of the medieval period, Maimonides was also a physician and rabbinical authority. Also known as Rambam, his writings include a…
Aristotle’s Poetics
Jan 27, 2011 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Aristotle’s Poetics. The Poetics is, as far as we know, the first ever work of literary theory. Written in the 4th century BC, it is the work of a scholar who was also a biologist, and treats literary works with the…
Daoism
Dec 15, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Daoism. An ancient Chinese tradition of philosophy and religious belief, Daoism first appeared more than two thousand years ago. For centuries it was the most popular religion in China; in the West its religious aspects…
Logic
Oct 21, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of logic. Logic, the study of reasoning and argument, first became a serious area of study in the 4th century BC through the work of Aristotle. He created a formal logical system, based on a type of argument…
Edmund Burke
Jun 3, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of the eighteenth-century philosopher, politician and writer Edmund Burke.Born in Dublin, Burke began his career in London as a journalist and made his name with two works of philosophy before entering…
William James’s ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’
May 13, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’ by William James. The American novelist Henry James famously made London his home and himself more English than the English. In contrast, his psychologist brother, William, was deeply…
William Hazlitt
Apr 8, 2010 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and works of William Hazlitt. Hazlitt is best known for his essays, which ranged in subject matter from Shakespeare, through his first meeting with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to a boxing match. What is less…
Ibn Khaldun
Feb 4, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests Robert Hoyland, Robert Irwin and Hugh Kennedy discuss the life and ideas of the 14th-century Arab philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun.Ibn Khaldun was a North African statesman who retreated into the desert in 1375. He emerged having…
The Frankfurt School
Jan 14, 2010 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests Raymond Geuss, Esther Leslie and Jonathan Rée discuss the Frankfurt School.This group of influential left-wing German thinkers set out, in the wake of Germany’s defeat in the First World War, to investigate why their country had…
Mary Wollstonecraft
Dec 31, 2009 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests John Mullan, Karen O’Brien and Barbara Taylor discuss the life and ideas of the pioneering British Enlightenment thinker Mary Wollstonecraft.Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759 into a middle-class family whose status steadily sank…
Pythagoras
Dec 10, 2009 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests Serafina Cuomo, John O’Connor and Ian Stewart discuss the ideas and influence of the Greek mathematician Pythagoras and his followers, the Pythagoreans.The Ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras is probably best known for the…
Schopenhauer
Oct 29, 2009 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests AC Grayling, Beatrice Han-Pile and Christopher Janaway discuss the dark, pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer.As a radical young thinker in Germany in the early 19th century, Schopenhauer railed against the dominant ideas…
St Thomas Aquinas
Sep 17, 2009 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg discusses the life, works and enduring influence of the medieval philosopher and theologian St Thomas Aquinas with Martin Palmer, John Haldane and Annabel Brett. St Thomas Aquinas’ ideas remain at the heart of the official doctrine of the…
Logical Positivism
Jul 2, 2009 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg discusses Logical Positivism, the eye-wateringly radical early 20th century philosophical movement. The Logical Positivists argued that much previous philosophy was built on very shaky foundations, and they wanted to go right back to the…
Baconian Science
Apr 2, 2009 • 42 min
Patricia Fara, Stephen Pumfrey and Rhodri Lewis join Melvyn Bragg to discuss the Jacobean lawyer, political fixer and alleged founder of modern science Francis Bacon.In the introduction to Thomas Spratt’s History of the Royal Society, there is a poem…
The School of Athens
Mar 26, 2009 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The School of Athens – the fresco painted by the Italian Renaissance painter, Raphael, for Pope Julius II’s private library in the Vatican. The fresco depicts some of the most famous philosophers of ancient times, including…
Thoreau and the American Idyll
Jan 15, 2009 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 19th century American writer and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau. Anti-slavery activist and passionate environmentalist, Thoreau was above all a champion of self-reliance and individualism. He was also a champion of…
The Consolations of Philosophy
Jan 1, 2009 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the consolation of Philosophy. In the 6th century AD, a successful and intelligent Roman politician called Boethius found himself unjustly accused of treason. Trapped in his prison cell, awaiting a brutal execution, he…
Aristotle’s Politics
Nov 6, 2008 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most important works of political philosophy ever written - Aristotle’s ‘Politics’. Looking out across the city states of 4th century Greece Aristotle asked what made a society good and developed a language of…
Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems
Oct 9, 2008 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss an iconic piece of 20th century maths - Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems. In 1900, in Paris, the International Congress of Mathematicians gathered in a mood of hope and fear. The edifice of maths was grand and ornate but its…
The Translation Movement
Oct 2, 2008 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the greatest intellectual projects in history - the mass translation of Greek ideas into Arabic from the 9th century onwards.One night in Baghdad, the 9th century Caliph Al-Mamun was visited by a dream. The…
Miracles
Sep 25, 2008 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the parting of the Red Sea, the feeding of the five thousand and the general subject of miracles. Miracles have been part of human culture for thousands of years. From St Augustine in the 4th century through the medieval…
Materialism
Apr 24, 2008 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Materialism in Philosophy – the idea that matter and the interactions between matter account for all that exists and all that happens. We trace the descent of materialism from the ancient Greek philosophers Democritus and…
Kierkegaard
Mar 20, 2008 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rich and radical ideas of Soren Kierkegaard, often called the father of Existentialism.In 1840 a young Danish girl called Regine Olsen got engaged to her sweetheart – a modish and clever young man called Søren…
The Social Contract
Feb 7, 2008 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Social Contract and ask a foundational question of political philosophy – by what authority does a government govern? “Man was born free and he is everywhere in chains”. So begins Jean Jacques Rousseau’s great work on…
Camus
Jan 3, 2008 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Algerian-French writer and Existentialist philosopher Albert Camus. Shortly after the new year of 1960, a powerful sports car crashed in the French town of Villeblevin in Burgundy, killing two of its occupants. One was…
Avicenna
Nov 8, 2007 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Persian Islamic philosopher, Avicenna. In the city of Hamadan in Iran, right in the centre, there is a vast mausoleum dedicated to an Iranian national hero. Built in 1952, exactly 915 years after his death, it’s a great…
Guilt
Nov 1, 2007 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss morality by taking a long hard look at the idea of guilt. The 18th century politician and philosopher Edmund Burke was once moved to comment: “Guilt was never a rational thing; it distorts all the faculties of the human…
Socrates
Sep 27, 2007 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Greek philosopher Socrates, acknowledged as one of the founders of Western philosophy. Born in 469 BC into the golden age of the city of Athens, he has profoundly influenced philosophy ever since. In fact, his impact is…
Common Sense Philosophy
Jun 21, 2007 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg looks at an unexpected philosophical subject - the philosophy of common sense. In the first century BC the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero claimed “There is no statement so absurd that no philosopher will make it”. Indeed, in the…
Ockham’s Razor
May 31, 2007 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the philosophical ideas of William Ockham including Ockham’s Razor. In the small village of Ockham, near Woking in Surrey, stands a church. Made of grey stone, it has a pitched roof and an unassuming church tower but parts…
Spinoza
May 3, 2007 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg discusses the Dutch Jewish Philosopher Spinoza. For the radical thinkers of the Enlightenment, he was the first man to have lived and died as a true atheist. For others, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he provides perhaps the most profound…
Popper
Feb 8, 2007 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, Karl Popper whose ideas about science and politics robustly challenged the accepted ideas of the day. He strongly resisted the prevailing empiricist consensus that…
Anarchism
Dec 7, 2006 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Anarchism and why its political ideas became synonymous with chaos and disorder. Pierre Joseph Proudhon famously declared “property is theft”. And perhaps more surprisingly that “Anarchy is order”. Speaking in 1840, he was…
Altruism
Nov 23, 2006 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss altruism. The term altruism was coined by the 19th century sociologist Auguste Comte and is derived from the Latin “alteri” or “the others”. It describes an unselfish attention to the needs of others. Comte declared that…
Averroes
Oct 5, 2006 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the philosopher Averroes who worked to reconcile the theology of Islam with the rationality of Aristotle achieving fame and infamy in equal measure In The Divine Comedy Dante subjected all the sinners in Christendom to a…
Mill
May 18, 2006 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great nineteenth century political philosopher John Stuart Mill. He believed that, ‘The true philosophy is the marriage of poetry and logic’. He was one of the first thinkers to argue that a social theory must engage…
Friendship
Mar 2, 2006 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the concept of friendship. In Greek and Roman times, friendship was thought of as being an essential constituent of both a good society and a good life; a good society because it lay at the heart of participative civic…
Relativism
Jan 19, 2006 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss relativism, a philosophy of shifting sands. “Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of educating is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive,…
The Oath
Jan 5, 2006 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the importance of the oath in ancient Greece and Rome, The importance of oaths in the Classical world cannot be overstated. Kings, citizens, soldiers, litigants all swore oaths, inviting divine retribution if they proved…
Hobbes
Dec 1, 2005 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great 17th century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes who argued: “During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every…
Pragmatism
Nov 17, 2005 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the American philosophy of pragmatism. A pragmatist “turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad apriori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and…
Cynicism
Oct 20, 2005 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Cynics, the performance artists of philosophy. Eating live octopus with fresh lupins, performing intimate acts in public places and shouting at passers by from inside a barrel is behaviour not normally associated with…
Marx
Jul 14, 2005 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Karl Marx. “Workers of the World Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains”, “Religion is the opium of the people”, and “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”. That should be enough for…
Beauty
May 19, 2005 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss beauty and its qualities.”Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”That was John Keats’ emphatic finale to his Ode on a Grecian Urn. It seems to express Plato’s theory of…
Abelard and Heloise
May 5, 2005 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the story of Abelard and Heloise, a tale of literature and philosophy, theology and scandal, and above all love in the high Middle Ages. They were two of the greatest minds of their time and Abelard, a famous priest and…
Stoicism
Mar 4, 2005 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Stoicism, the third great philosophy of the Ancient World. It was founded by Zeno in the fourth century BC and flourished in Greece and then in Rome. Its ideals of inner solitude, forbearance in adversity and the acceptance…
The Mind/Body Problem
Jan 13, 2005 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the mind/body problem in philosophy. At the start of René Descartes’ Sixth Meditation he writes: “there is a great difference between mind and body, inasmuch as body is by nature always divisible, and mind is entirely…
Machiavelli and the Italian City States
Dec 9, 2004 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. In The Prince, Machiavelli’s great manual of power, he wrote, “since men love as they themselves determine but fear as their ruler determines, a wise prince must rely upon what…
Jung
Dec 2, 2004 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the extraordinary mind of the psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. In 1907 Sigmund Freud met a young man and fell into a conversation that is reputed to have lasted for 13 hours. That man was the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav…
Rhetoric
Oct 14, 2004 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses rhetoric. Gorgias, the great sophist philosopher and master of rhetoric said, “Speech is a powerful lord that with the smallest and most invisible body accomplished most godlike works. It can banish fear and remove grief,…
The Han Synthesis
Oct 14, 2004 • 27 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Han Synthesis philosophies of China. In The Analects the Chinese sage Confucius says of statecraft: “He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and…
Sartre
Oct 7, 2004 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Jean-Paul Sartre, the French novelist, playwright, and philosopher who became the king of intellectual Paris and a focus of post war politics and morals. Sartre’s own life was coloured by jazz, affairs, Simone de Beauvoir…
Politeness
Sep 30, 2004 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea of Politeness. A new idea that stalked the land at the start of the eighteenth century in Britain, Politeness soon acquired a philosophy, a literature and even a society devoted to its thrall. It may seem to…
Empiricism
Jun 10, 2004 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Empiricism, England’s greatest contribution to philosophy. At the end of the seventeenth century the philosopher John Locke wrote in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding: “All ideas come from sensation or reflection.…
Heroism
May 6, 2004 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what defines a hero and what place they had in classical society. On the fields of Troy a fallen soldier pleaded with Achilles, the great hero of the Greeks, to spare his life. According to Homer, Achilles replied, “Do you…
Wittgenstein
Dec 4, 2003 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, work and legacy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. There is little doubt that he was a towering figure of the twentieth century; on his return to Cambridge in 1929 Maynard Keynes wrote, “Well, God has arrived. I met him on…
Duty
Nov 13, 2003 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the concept of duty. George Bernard Shaw wrote in his play Caesar and Cleopatra, “When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty”. But for Horatio Nelson and so many others,…
Bohemianism
Oct 9, 2003 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 19th century Parisian philosophy of life lived for art. In 1848 the young Parisian Henri Murger wrote of his bohemian friends: Their daily existence is a work of genius…they know how to practise abstinence with all the…
The Art of War
Jun 12, 2003 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history and philosophy of warfare. The British historian Edward Gibbon wrote: “Every age, however destitute of science or virtue, sufficiently abounds with acts of blood and military renown.” War, it seems, is one of…
Originality
Mar 20, 2003 • 41 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests explore the creative force of originality. How far is it to do with origins, how far with the combination of the discoveries of others, which were themselves based on the thoughts of others, into an ever-receding and replicating…
Redemption
Mar 13, 2003 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss redemption. In St Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he wrote: “Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”. This conception of Redemption as freedom from bondage is crucial for…
The Enlightenment in Scotland
Dec 5, 2002 • 27 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century. In 1696 the Edinburgh student, Thomas Aitkenhead, claimed theology was “a rhapsody of feigned and ill invented nonsense”. He was hanged for his trouble - just one victim of a…
Freedom
Jul 4, 2002 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg considers what it is to be free and how freedom became such a powerful value. Freedom has been a subject of enquiry for philosophers, theologians and politicians who have attempted to define the conditions required for humans to be free, not…
The Soul
Jun 6, 2002 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Soul. In his poem ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ WB Yeats wrote:An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unlessSoul clap its hands and sing, and louder singFor every tatter in its mortal dress. For Plato…
The Examined Life
May 9, 2002 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss self-examination. Socrates, the Greek philosopher of the 4th century BC, famously declared that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” His drive towards rigorous self-enquiry and his uncompromising questioning of…
Virtue
Feb 28, 2002 • 42 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of virtue. When Socrates asked the question ‘How should man live?’ Plato and Aristotle answered that man should live a life of virtue. Plato claimed there were four great virtues - Temperance, Justice, Prudence…
Happiness
Jan 24, 2002 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss whether ‘happiness’ means living a life of pleasure, or of virtue. It is an old question, and the Roman poet Horace attempted to answer it when he wrote; ‘Not the owner of many possessions will you be right to call happy:…
Confucius
Nov 1, 2001 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg examines the philosophy of Confucius. In the 5th century BC a wise man called Kung Fu Tzu said, ‘study the past if you would divine the future’. This powerful maxim helped form the body of ideas, which more than Buddhism, more than Daoism,…
Democracy
Oct 18, 2001 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of democracy. In the Gettysburg Address Abraham Lincoln called it “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”, but the word democracy appears nowhere in the American Constitution; the French…
Existentialism
Jun 28, 2001 • 27 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss existentialism. Imagine being back inside the bustling cafes on the Left Bank of Paris in the 1930s, cigarette smoke, strong coffee and the buzz of continental voices philosophising about human responsibility and freedom.…
Evil
May 3, 2001 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the concept of evil. When Nietzsche killed off God he had it in for evil as well: In Beyond Good and Evil, he constructed an argument against what he called the “herd morality” of Christianity, and he complained “everything…
The Philosophy of Love
Mar 29, 2001 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the philosophy of love. In Plato’s Symposium a character called Aristophanes tells a story about Love. He says that once, near the beginning of time, there were three types of human, one male, one female and one that was…
Humanism
Feb 8, 2001 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Humanism. On the 3rd January 106 BC Marcus Tullius Cicero, lawyer, politician, Roman philosopher and the founding father of Humanism was born. His academy, the Studia Humanitas taught ‘the art of living well and blessedly…
Nihilism
Nov 16, 2000 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of Nihilism. The nineteenth-century philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote, “There can be no doubt that morality will gradually perish: this is the great spectacle in a hundred acts reserved for the next two…
Laws of Nature
Oct 19, 2000 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Laws of Nature. Since ancient times philosophers and physicists have tried to discover simple underlying principles that control the Universe: In the 6th Century BC Thales declared “Everything is water”, centuries later…
Economic Rights
Jan 27, 2000 • 27 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss economic rights. Is democracy the truest conduit of capitalism, or do the forces that make us rich run counter to the democratic institutions that safeguard our rights? The economist Milton Friedman once said, “If freedom…
Consciousness
Nov 25, 1999 • 27 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the problems of consciousness, one of the greatest mysteries facing science and philosophy today. The frustrations, the stubborn facts and the curiosities of today’s thinkers, philosophers, physicists and psychologists,…
Progress
Nov 18, 1999 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss progress. As man has grown in years and knowledge, has he also progressed in terms of happiness and a true understanding of the human condition? It was the Enlightenment which gave birth to the idea of the possibility of…
The Individual
Oct 21, 1999 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the concept of the individual. The Renaissance gave birth to the concept of the individual. Shakespeare defined this individual in language which accepted the primacy of the male gender: “What a piece of work…
Utopia
Oct 7, 1999 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the concept of Utopia. Both the idea of, and the longing for a perfect society have been in our imagination for centuries, even millennia. Utopian dreams have driven fantasy, Fascism and fine feeling.Utopias, by definition,…
Just War
Jun 3, 1999 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea of a just war. There were theories about a justified or noble war before the birth of Christ, but it was his reported teachings and a powerful influence, particularly on the Emperor Constantine, which set the…
Good and Evil
Apr 1, 1999 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss whether religion can still be seen as a way of interpreting and judging good and evil in modern western civilisation and examines what the discoveries of Darwin and our knowledge of the true physiological nature and history…
Feminism
Jan 7, 1999 • 28 min
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most important events of the 20th century - the rise of Feminism and the subsequent empowerment of women. What have been the most important and lasting changes for women in the last 100 years and what is there…
Cultural Rights in the 20th Century
Dec 10, 1998 • 28 min
On the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations in New York, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the current status of that original declaration. Is it possible for any sort of rights to be ‘universal’? What…