Summer Reading List 2014

Sunday, June 8, 2014

What Is It

What philosophers, philosophies, or philosophical issues would you like to read up on over the summer? John and Ken discuss one of this year's most talked-about books, Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty, with political scientist Shannon Stimson. They also get summer reading suggestions from author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, whose new book is Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away, and Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley, author of the forthcoming Why Propaganda Matters. Plus recommendations from our Community of Thinkers.

Listening Notes

The show begins with Ken asking John what reading experience first gripped him philosophically, and John explains that it was the book The Story of Philosophy, by Will Durant, which he read in high school. Among the philosophers profiled in the book, John was most fascinated by Schopenhauer, whose view of human life echoed John’s teenage angst. John asks Ken the same question, and Ken explains that while he came across many philosophical works in university, the one that enthralled him most was Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.  

John and Ken introduce guest Shannon Stimson, Professor of Political Science at UC Berkeley and co-author of After Adam Smith: A century of Transformation in Politics and Political Economy, to talk about the book of the moment: Capital in the 21st Century, by Thomas Piketty. Ken asks Shannon whether she thinks Piketty’s book is worth reading this summer, and Shannon says that it is a controversial book that is definitively worth reading. The book, Shannon explains, can be widely read, as it does not require mathematical or technical background and is historically sophisticated. John asks Shannon whether the message of Piketty’s book is at all similar to Marx’s Das Kapital, and Shannon points out that while the message is not too similar, the approach to look at the internal logic of capital is. Then, Ken asks Shannon why it matters how concentrated wealth is in our society, and Shannon talks about the wealthy using money to manipulate politics. The conversation with Shannon leads to a discussion of Piketty as a social democrat but also a firm believer in the market and to a discussion of Piketty’s views.

In a second segment, John and Ken welcome author of Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. Ken asks Rebecca why philosophy won’t go away, a question negatively posed by the likes of Lawrence Krauss and Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Rebecca explains that it is regrettable that philosophy is being put into question by scientists and by religion, but that when scientists say that philosophy will not exist in the future, they are engaging in the very philosophical thought they dispute. The conversation with Rebecca ranges from why live philosophers are disliked more than those deceased to why Rebecca chose to write her book in a dialogue form based on Plato’s work. Ken expresses his desire for philosophy, and for philosophical writing in particular, to go back to its roots of artistry rather than the technical, often tedious treatises that are being composed nowadays, this being the main reason why he considers Rebecca one of his favorite modern philosophers. Rebecca then offers her reading suggestions, as do guests from Community of Thinkers.

John and Ken welcome Jason Stanley, Professor of Philosophy at Yale University and author of the forthcoming Why Propaganda Matters. Jason first discussed how propaganda is not a common topic in philosophy given that it is not a property of the ideal state. The conversation with Jason also centers around concerns such as the distinction between marketing and propaganda, whether something is only propaganda is an official body enforces it, and indirect propaganda. Jason and members from the Community of Thinkers provide summer reading suggestions.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 3:22): Philosophy Talk's Reporter Shuka Kalantari talks with Jana Mohr Lone, Director of the University of Washington’s Center for Philosophy for Children, about the idea that children can learn to think philosophically. The philosophical merit of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is discussed, as are the benefits of being introduced to philosophy at a young age.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (Seek to 47:18): Ian Shoales speeds through the distinctions between books written by conservatives and books written by liberals and in the meantime reviews Bill Gates’ ‘reading list.’