THE BLOG @ PHILOSOPHERS' CORNER

Why Read Proust in 2022?


The world is literally on fire; authoritarianism threatens multiple countries; racism and xenophobia are rampant; women’s and LGBTQ rights are under threat—why on earth would anyone spend time reading a 3,000-page novel by a man who’s been dead (exactly) a hundred years?

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Do Good People Make Good Leaders?

We sure could use leaders who accept basic science and legislate effectively. But do we need our leaders to be good people on top of all that? Isn't asking them to be virtuous people kind of a high bar?

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Liberalism and Self-Government

Classical Liberal thinkers held that we're all born free, equal, and capable of rationality. So how does that square with a British Empire that denied people around the globe their autonomy for centuries?

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Climate as a Collective Action Problem

With floods and fires getting more frequent and intense, and the summer just ended shattering heat records around the globe, we clearly need to do something—collectively—about climate change.

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Culture, Appropriated

How can anyone own a culture? The British Museum is full of artifacts that the UK stole from all around the world, but mostly when we talk about cultural appropriation, we’re talking about borrowing an idea.

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Doing Good, Effectively

Effective Altruism is the idea that you should do the most good you can, and you should do research to figure out the best way to give. But if we were all effective altruists, wouldn't we end up ignoring people in need in our own communities?

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Political vs. Economic Inequality

Political Inequality is when some people don’t get an equal voice in society, because they’re not represented in government, or they’re not allowed to vote, or their ballots are just ignored. Of course, that’s not all that matters—in fact it may not even be the main issue.

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Humans, the Optimistic Animal?

Is optimism rational? If you've been paying attention to the news lately, then pessimism about issues like climate change, women’s rights, the future of democracy seems more appropriate. But don't we need optimism to even tackle those problems?

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Antisemitism, Then and Now

Antisemitism is a big problem these days and it's hard to see it getting any better; both the FBI and the Anti-Defamation League reporting massive increases in incidents over the past several years. But antisemitism is also a really old problem.

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Memoir, Truth, and Self

Many of us love reading memoirs, but how many of us could write one? It might be fun for everybody to know the truth about our sordid lives—assuming those lives were interesting enough. Chances are many of us would have to make half of it up.

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Ideology and Belief

Is ideology just a system of false beliefs, like Fascism or Scientology, that’s opposed to reason? Or do belief systems like liberal democracy—the belief that everybody deserves the same freedoms, a say in their government, and the protection of the law, also count as ideology?

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Kant's Guide to Morality

Can you reason your way into being a good person? Or are your feelings a better guide for doing the right thing? This week we’re thinking about German enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant and his view of a universal morality based on reason.

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The Staying Power of Poetry

I was delighted when Louise Glück, one of the great poets of our age, won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I wrote about one of my all-time favorite poems, "Ithaca," for this week's episode, "Why Poetry Matters," with Louise as guest!

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Mourning a Lost Culture

When we are grieving, is it a good idea or a bad idea to engage with art that takes grief to be its subject? Does this help us to cope, or does it rip out whatever stitches we have managed to sew in while we try to bear an unbearable loss?

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Tackling Sexual Violence

How do we achieve justice for victims of sexual assault? Can we change the legal system to make it more effective? Or should we turn to social media instead? This week, we're thinking about the #MeToo movement and the criminal justice system.

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The Value of Anger

Shouldn’t we get angry at injustice? Don’t some things deserve our rage? Or will rage just beget more rage? These are some of the questions we're thinking about on this week's show, "Righteous Rage."

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Who Wants to Be a Stoic?

What can we learn from the Stoics about living a good life? Should we all try to become indifferent to pain, suffering, and death? This week we’re thinking about the Stoic philosophy of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.

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Digital Persons?

Could robots ever have feelings that we could hurt? Should we hold them responsible for their actions? Or would that just be a way to let humans off the hook? This week, we’re asking “Could Robots Be Persons?”

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2021: The Year in Sound

Every once in a while I like to step out from behind the mixing board to give a behind-the-scenes look at some aspect of the program. For our annual end-of-year special, we tried something a bit different, though not unprecedented.

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Virtual Reality, Real Feelings

Can virtual reality make people more empathetic, train students in the scientific method, and help people overcome their fears? This week’s episode asks whether VR is a force for good, a force for ill, or not much of a force at all.

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Age, Ageism, and Equality

Is age discrimination always wrong? Or it is fair to treat different ages differently? How do we take people's age into account without being ageist? These are the questions we’re asking this week, in an episode called “Should All Ages Be Equal?”

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Socially Intelligent Robots

Would you like a robot to assist you with tasks around the home? What kinds of jobs would you be comfortable leaving a robot to do? Would you trust one to take care of your child or an elderly parent? This week's show is "The Social Lives of Robots."

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A Question of Frege

Frege believed that math is analytic, meaning that the definitions of mathematical terms like “2” and “4” guarantee the truth of sentences like “2+2=4”. Frege’s theory explains how we know about math; as long as we can understand what we mean by mathematical terms, and can reason logically, our mathematical knowledge is guaranteed. But in order to work, the theory has to rely on Frege’s definition of a number.

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Persons, Community, and the Akan

Is your inner life what makes you, you? Or is your identity about connecting to your community? How can West African philosophy help us think about the self? This week, we’ll be thinking about Akan Philosophy, specifically its conception of personhood.

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Why Is Math So Useful?

Is math a realm of timeless, universal truths? Or are mathematicians just making it up as they go? If equations are made up, why are they so useful? We’ll be discussing these questions, and more on this week’s episode, “The Mysterious Timelessness of Math.”

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