What Is It
Summer is the perfect time to dig in to deep reading. Heidegger's Being and Time may be a bit much to take to the beach, but there are lots of readable classics that could make your summer reading a transformative experience. John and Ken ask a few of their past guests about the book that most transformed their life and thinking. And the hosts also take book recommendations for philosophically-rich summer reading from listeners around the country.
John and Ken start the show by telling us about the books that changed the way they see philosophy. John recommends David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, a series of short essays that John believes really show off the power of philosophy. Ken says that Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason absolutely changed the way he thought about philosophy and the world.
The hosts then welcome their first guest, Joshua Landy. They ask him what philosophical work had a profound effect on his philosophy. The book he gives is actually a work of fiction: Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Though it isn’t a philosophical treatise, Josh claims it is a meditation on topics like memory and selfhood. It explores these topics through stories, but has things to say about them philosophically. Josh lauds the book for its beautiful sentences and complex perspectives.
After a break, Alison Gopnik comes on the show to answer the same question. She chooses a Socratic dialogue, Plato’s Meno. She believes it poses a question central to so much modern thought, important to fields from developmental psychology to artificial intelligence: how do we come to know anything? Gopnik doesn’t agree with Plato’s nativism, that we already know things when we are born, but is very interested by his question and the way he goes about thinking of it.
The last guest, Julie Napolin, recommends Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. She appreciates Descartes’ style, through which he calls everything into doubt before building back up to his beliefs. Julie claims his rhetoric is as important as his philosophy in this work.
Some listeners call in to recommend books as well. The first is The City & The City, a mystery novel wherein the detective thinks through some philosophical problems. The next is I Am an Executioner, a book of short stories. The title story deals with an executioner coping with his wife discovering his work. The last suggestion is Answers for Aristotle, which applies modern science and psychology to questions raised by ancient Greek philosophy.
- Roving Philosophical Reporter (seek to 2:25): Caitlin explores the elements of fiction that make stories so real for readers, and what goes on in our brains when we engage with fictions.
- 60-Second Philosopher (49:57): Ian Shoales waxes philosophical on what it means to own a book, and how people read nowadays.