Celebrating Our 500th Episode

22 June 2020

Philosophy Talk just celebrated our 500th episode. Quite an accomplishment from the point of view of the 1st episode.

Let me reminisce for a bit. Long a fan of public radio’s Car Talk, I had the idea of something similar based on philosophy. After all, most philosophical problems are more interesting than spark plug problems or transmission problems. 

So I tried to get a couple of philosophy friends at Stanford interested. David Israel wasn’t interested. Michael Bratman wasn’t interested. But then after Ken Taylor arrived at Stanford and I got to know him, he seemed perfect. So I gave it a try. And he liked the idea.

That was the very beginning of Philosophy Talk, back in 2002. Ken took the idea and ran with it. Within a week or two he had persuaded Provost John Etchemendy to give us some seed money to prepare a pilot episode. 

We eventually took that episode to the public radio conference in Portland, where we got longtime San Francisco broadcaster and radio producer Ben Manilla interested. Now there were two powerhouses, Ken and Ben, running down the field, while I struggled to keep up. 

We tried to get picked up by KQED, where I had some friends. No interest there. But then Ben talked to the station managers at KALW and OPB and convinced them to pick up the show. Our first episode of Philosophy Talk was aired in January, 2004. And now—500 episodes later—the program has been broadcast on over 100 stations nationwide.

In 2006, Ben recruited Devon Strolovich to the team. If Ben was the senior producer, Devon became responsible for the day-to-day production of the show. A few years later, Laura Maguire joined us and we had the core team that still continues with the important work of producing Philosophy Talk, with help from many others over the years, now especially Cindy Prince Baum.

Except for Ken and me. When I turned 75 a couple of years ago, I told Ken it was time to find a younger co-host. That turned out well, with the wonderful Josh Landy and Debra Satz taking over my duties, mainly Josh once Debra became a dean last year. But then Ken died unexpectedly in December.

Philosophy Talk without Ken Taylor? It seems unthinkable. Like breakfast without coffee, or Paris without the Eiffel Tower. But then Josh was joined by Ray Briggs as co-host, who is doing a masterful job. The two of them make a great team. I’m very proud of the present program, and I think it will go on for at least another 500 episodes.

The 500th episode is on the topic of time. Given my age and years in the business, I think I am permitted to vent a little bit about this problem. The philosophy of time is one of my favorite topics, but also one of the most irritating. The main problem is that physicists can’t quite figure out what time is. A fair percentage of them get philosophical in their old age, and announce that the problem isn’t with them but with time: there is no such thing. It’s just an illusion humans find useful in scheduling.

Accordingly, our first guest is physicist Carlo Rovelli, author of The Order of Time and many other popular physics books, to talk about the different things we mean when we talk about “time.” Then Josh and Ray are joined by political scientist Elizabeth Cohen to talk about her fascinating book, The Political Value of Time, from election cycles to criminal justice. Prolific poet and essayist (and one of Philosophy Talk’s favorite guests) Jane Hirshfield discusses the various ways poetry can play with time, reading a couple of poems from her new book, Ledger. In the last segment, Josh talks to philosopher Jorah Danenberg about one of their favorite Ted Chiang sci-fi stories, “Story of Your Life,” which explores the concept of time from the perspective of an alien life form that visits Earth. 

We hope you enjoy our 500th episode and continue to listen for another 500—at least.


Image by Monoar Rahman Rony from Pixabay 

Comments (5)

sminsuk's picture


Monday, June 22, 2020 -- 2:50 PM

Great post! "...just an

Great post! "...just an illusion humans find useful in scheduling", hah! Great episode too. I particularly enjoyed the segments on physics and on the short story. John, I don't know if you remember me among your many thousands of former students (first name has changed but last name might ring a bell), but I much enjoyed your Philosophy 1, "God, Self, and World", freshman seminar, fall quarter '78-'79 school year, and a year or two later, "Mind, Matter, and Meaning". Those classes, and you as a teacher, were highlights of my undergrad years that I still remember to this day.

I stumbled upon Philosophy Talk in 2006 or 2007 and was tickled to discover it, and to be hearing from you again. I haven't been able to keep up with all the episodes but have been enjoying the ones I could catch ever since. I was sorry to hear you retired from the show, but of course, it's a well deserved rest. Glad you are keeping connected to the show, though, and hope you're having a marvelous retirement!

Sharon Minsuk

John Perry's picture

John Perry

Tuesday, June 23, 2020 -- 4:41 PM

Well I kind of think do

Well I kind of think do remember you. Scientist. Sat off to my left near the front in the auditorium in building 320, with some other bright kids who laughed at my jokes? Thanks for the post! jp

sminsuk's picture


Sunday, June 13, 2021 -- 3:11 PM

This website needs to send

This website needs to send notification emails when one receives replies to their comments, because I'm only seeing your reply now, a year later, John! But yes, that sounds like me! The other bright kids were other members of your freshman seminar. They used to put all the members of a freshman seminar together in the same dorm, so they'd all become buddies. And of course since it was a freshman seminar it meant our discussion section was led by you instead of one of your teaching assistants.

Our laughing at your jokes was memorable? That suggests we were the only ones laughing! Sorry to hear that!

MJA's picture


Wednesday, June 24, 2020 -- 8:30 PM

Thanks for the memories! (Isn

Thanks for the memories! (Isn't that from "All in the Family"?) And to you and Ken and the entire team, Thanks
This is my favorite philosophy blog because I have been writing here for so long and have yet to be banned! I guess you teach patience at Stanford.

If you don't mind, this is my definition of time: Time is a measure of human construct of a nature that is truly immeasurable.

To the next 500,


Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Thursday, July 9, 2020 -- 9:35 PM

Carlo Ravelli is fantastic.

Carlo Ravelli is fantastic. Past PTs on Time are some of my favorite. There is no topic more worthy of thought. Great show... and I too am irritated by the physics of time. But the philosophy is magnificent. The literature profound. In the end it's best left to philosophers perhaps.