We modern humans read all sorts of things and for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes reading a densely packed text takes a lot of skill and effort. But mastering the ancient art of reading can help us to master the even more difficult art of reading the text that is the world.
What is it
Summer is here – what philosophers, philosophies, or philosophical issues do you want to read up on? Heidegger's Being and Time may not be the obvious choice to take on vacation, but there are lots of readable, beach-friendly classics and non-classics to add philosophical depth to your summer reading. Host emeritus John Perry joins Debra and Ken to think about which classics of political philosophy to dig into this summer, and Josh and Ken talk to a couple of past guests with new books, and take suggestions from the Community of Thinkers.
Ken introduces the annual summer reading list episode with the usual question: What books should thoughtful people read this summer? Debra and John join Ken’s discussion of thought-provoking reads. John asks Debra for recommended readings in political philosophy, and she explains that Enlightenment theorists were remarkably prescient of the challenges of populism and inequality that our democracy currently faces. She gives John a myriad of book suggestions — from those of 18th century thinkers like Locke and Rousseau to modern academics like Milton Friedman and Jan-Werner Muller.
Ken and co-host Josh are joined by Harvard University Psychology Professor Steven Pinker to discuss his recent, controversial book Enlightenment Now. In the book Steven claims that by any statistical measure — material progress, quality of life, extreme poverty, literacy, et cetera – the world is better off now than it ever has been due to the institutions of democracy and capitalism created by Enlightenment thinking. Ken pushes back with the common objection that there is more to life than material progress and that this progress can come at the expense of romanticism and enchantment.
Next, Josh and Ken welcome Kathleen Dean Moore, professor of philosophy from Oregon State University, to the show. Her new book Great Tide Rising encourages people to stand up for the environment in a time of widespread corporate plunder, making a philosophical argument that humans have a moral obligation to fight back. Ken points out that for a challenge as daunting as saving the environment, there is little that individuals can do to create tangible change. Kathleen maintains, however, that when individuals act collectively, they can implement great change.
In the last segment, our hosts receive a few callers with summer reading recommendations of their own. Jillian adds The Innocence of the Devil by Nawal El Saadawi to the list, a magical realist novel that explores complex questions of Good and Evil. Eliyu suggests The Overstory by Richard Powers, which tells of humans' relationship with the environment.
- Roving Philosophical Report (seek to 2:50): Liza Veale talks to two “book healers,” matchmakers who prescribe books to afflicted souls. Dr. Hannah Kingsley-Ma and Dr. Louise McHugh hear their clients’ source of trouble and choose specific readings to guide, comfort, or console them.
- 60-Second Philosopher (seek to 48:40): Ian recommends a new biography of Edward Lansdale, The Road Not Taken by Max Boot. This historical narrative of the legendary World War II spy and CIA operative provides unique insight into America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.