Introduction to Philosophy syllabus in podcast episodes

With digital teaching and screen overload during lockdown, I am trying something new for my syllabus. I will use podcast episodes rather than readings for my introduction to philosophy class (English version of examen philosophicum), which can then be enjoyed away from the screen, while going for a walk or just taking a break. Fingers crossed that the students like it (but I also provided other options).

Turns out this syllabus in podcast idea attracted attention among philosophers on Twitter (article in Daily Nous). The list is also included in TrueSciPhi’s list of episodes selected from various philosophy & ideas podcasts.

UPDATE 10 May 2021: In the course evaluation, the students said they loved having the podcast option. Some also said it made it possible to combine studies with work or kids.

My lecture handouts for class are published here.

Week 1 Relativism


Relativism, BBC In Our Time

Relativism is a school of philosophical thought which holds to the idea that there are no absolute truths. Instead, truth is situated within different frameworks of understanding that are governed by our history, culture and critical perspective. Why has relativism so radically divided scholars and moral custodians over the centuries? How have its supporters answered to criticisms that it is inherently unethical? And if there are universal standards such as human rights, how do relativists defend culturally specific practices such as honour killings or female infanticide? Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss relativism, a philosophy of shifting sands. With Barry Smith, Jonathan Rée and Kathleen Lennon. 41 minutes


Moral relativismPhilosophy Bites

Is moral relativism a tenable position? Does it matter? Paul Boghossian argues that it isn’t and that it does matter. 17 minutes

The Socratic methodPhilosophy Bites

What is Socratic Method and does it have any present day applications? MM McCabe explains the significance of Socrates’ impertinent questioning and contrasts his approach with present day university teaching. 13 minutes

Week 2 Plato


The cave allegory of Plato’s RepublicHistory of Philosophy Without Any Gaps

The most famous work of Plato is the “Republic” and its most famous passage is the allegory of the cave. In this episode Peter Adamson looks at the allegory, along with the Form of the Good and divided line. 19 minutes

Plato’s Republic, BBC In Our Time

Is it always better to be just than unjust? That is the central question of Plato’s Republic, discussed here by Melvyn Bragg and guests. Writing in c380BC, Plato applied this question both to the individual and the city-state, considering earlier and current forms of government in Athens and potential forms, in which the ideal city might be ruled by philosophers. The Republic is arguably Plato’s best known and greatest work, a dialogue between Socrates and his companions, featuring the allegory of the cave and ideas about immortality of the soul, the value of poetry to society, and democracy’s vulnerability to a clever demagogue seeking tyranny. With Angie Hobbs, MM McCabe and James Warren. 49 minutes

Plato’s Cave and the theory of FormsThe Panpsycast

The voices in this episode are owned by Jack Symes, Andrew Horton and Ollie Marley. 1 hour


Plato’s political philosophyThe Panpsycast

This episode benchmarks the beginning of our mini-series on political philosophy. Plato provides a strong critique of democracy through his formulation of a utopian city-state. By attempting to find justice in the city, Plato prompts us to question whether or not democracy can promote the common good. In this episode we’ll be asking questions like; What is justice? Is democracy worthless? and What can we learn from Plato today? 57 minutes

Plato’s political philosophyHistory of Philosophy Without Any Gaps

In the Republic, Plato describes the ideal city and draws a parallel between this city and the just soul, with the three classes of the city mirroring the three parts of the soul. Peter Adamson discusses this parallel and the historical context that may have influenced Plato’s political thought. 20 minutes

Plato and sustainabilityPhilosophy Bites

What can the ancients teach us about sustainability? According to Melissa Lane of Princeton University, author of Eco-Republic, quite a lot. She discusses the relevance of Plato to modern environmental problems in this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast. 14 minutes

Week 3 Aristotle and Virtue Ethics


Aristotle’s basic philosophyThe Panpsycast

The voices in this episode are owned by Jack Symes, Andrew Horton and Ollie Marley. This episode fulfils the function of tackling Aristotle’s basic philosophies. Special thanks to the prime mover for your help in the production of this recording. 1 hour 6 minutes

Aristotle on substanceHistory of Philosophy Without Any Gaps

Aristotle rejects Plato’s Forms, holding that ordinary things are primary substances. But what happens when we divide such substances into matter and form? With Peter Adamson. 20 minutes


Virtue ethicsPhilosophy Bites

Julia Annas outlines the key features of Virtue Ethics, the approach to living well derived from Aristotle’s writings, and explains what she thinks the purpose of this ethical approach is. 15 minutes

Virtue, BBC In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of virtue. When Socrates asked the question ‘How should man live?’ Plato and Aristotle answered that man should live a life of virtue. Plato claimed there were four great virtues – Temperance, Justice, Prudence and Courage and the Christian Church added three more – Faith, Hope and Love. But where does the motivation for virtue come from? Do we need rules to tell us how to behave or can we rely on our feelings of compassion and empathy towards other human beings? Shakespeare’s Iago says “Virtue! A fig! ‘tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens to the which our wills are gardeners.” So is virtue a character trait possessed by some but not others? Is it derived from reason? Or does it flow from the innate sympathies of the human heart? For the last two thousand years philosophers have grappled with these ideas, but now in the twenty first century a modern reappraisal of virtue is taking the argument back to basics with Aristotle. With Galen Strawson, Miranda Fricker and Roger Crisp. 45 minutes

Week 4 Descartes and Astell


Descartes’ CogitoPhilosophy Bites

Anthony Grayling, author of a recent biography of René Descartes, explores Descartes’ Cogito argument, the pivotal argument of the Meditations, in conversation with Nigel Warburton. 12 minutes

Descartes on innate knowledgePhilosophy Bites

Where do our ideas come from? According to René Descartes at least some of them are innate, acquired indpendently of experience. In this episode Colin McGinn explains why he thinks that Descartes’ view of the mind has something to be said for it, particularly when combined with Leibniz’s insight that innate ideas must be initially unconscious. 15 minutes


Mary Astell, BBC In Our Time

The philosopher Mary Astell (1666 – 1731) has been described as “the first English feminist”. Born in Newcastle in relatively poor circumstances in the aftermath of the upheaval of the English Civil War and the restoration of the monarchy, she moved to London as a young woman and became part of an extraordinary circle of intellectual and aristocratic women. In her pioneering publications, she argued that women’s education should be expanded, that men and women’s minds were the same and that no woman should be forced to marry against her will. Perhaps her most famous quotation is: “If all Men are born Free, why are all Women born Slaves?” With Hannah Dawson, Mark Goldie and Teresa Bejan. 51 minutes

Week 5 Hume and Wollstonecraft


David Hume, BBC In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of the philosopher David Hume. A key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, Hume was an empiricist who believed that humans can only have knowledge of things they have themselves experienced. Hume made a number of significant contributions to philosophy. He saw human nature as a manifestation of the natural world, rather than something above and beyond it. He gave a sceptical account of religion, which caused many to suspect him of atheism. He was also the author of a bestselling History of England. His works, beginning in 1740 with A Treatise of Human Nature, have influenced thinkers from Adam Smith to Immanuel Kant and Charles Darwin, and today he is regarded by some scholars as the most important philosopher ever to write in English. With Peter Millican, Helen Beebee and James Harris. 42 minutes

Hume’s significancePhilosophy Bites

(Contrasting the mechanistic world-view with the teleological Aristotelian one.) David Hume is one of the great philosophers. Hume expert Peter Millican explains his significance. He also provides textual evidence for Hume’s atheism. 14 minutes

The problem of induction, BBC The Philosopher’s Arms

This week, the problem of induction: are we justified in predicting the future on the basis of what’s happened in the past? How do we know that the sun will rise tomorrow? In the snug with Matthew is philosopher Helen Beebee, discussing a conundrum which faces all of us in our daily life – and which raises profound questions about the nature of science. 27 minutes


Mary Wollstonecraft, BBC In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests John Mullan, Karen O’Brien and Barbara Taylor discuss the life and ideas of the pioneering British Enlightenment thinker Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759. Her career took a dizzying trajectory through a bleak period as a governess to becoming a writer, launching a polemical broadside against the political star of the day, witnessing the bloodshed of the French Revolution up close, rescuing her lover’s stolen ship in Scandanavia, then marrying one of the leading philosophers of the day, William Godwin, and with him having a daughter who – though she never lived to see her grow up – would go on to write Frankenstein. But most importantly, in 1792, she published her great work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which marks her out as one of the great thinkers of the British Enlightenment, with a much stronger, more lasting influence than Godwin. The Vindication was an attempt to apply the Enlightenment logic of rights and reason to the lives of women. Yet it was not a manifesto for the extension of the vote or the reform of divorce law, but a work of political philosophy. And surprisingly, as recent scholarship has highlighted, it was infused with Rational Dissenting Christianity, which Wollstonecraft had absorbed during her time as a struggling teacher and writer in north London. With John Mullan, Karen O’Brien and Barbara Taylor. 43 minutes

Week 6 Kant and Duty Ethics


Kant’s metaphysicsPhilosophy Bites

Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is a great but difficult work. In this interview for Philosophy Bites A.W. Moore gives an accessible account of the main themes of the book and explains what might have been motivating Kant’s approach to metaphysics (no mean feat in under 20 minutes!).


Kant on the categorical imperative, BBC In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests (Alison Hills, David Oderberg and John Callanan) discuss how Kant sought to define the difference between right and wrong by applying reason, looking at the intention behind actions rather than at consequences. Kant argued that when someone was doing the right thing, that person was doing what was the universal law for everyone, a formulation that has been influential on moral philosophy ever since and is known as the Categorical Imperative. Arguably even more influential was one of his reformulations, echoed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which he asserted that humanity has a value of an entirely different kind from that placed on commodities. Kant argued that simply existing as a human being was valuable in itself, so that every human owed moral responsibilities to other humans and was owed responsibilities in turn. 49 minutes

The categorical imperative and its three formulations, The Panpsycast

Welcome to Episode 6 (Part II of III), Kantian Ethics. The voices in this episode are owned by Jack Symes, Andrew Horton and Ollie Marley. 48 minutes

Week 7 Utilitarianism and Arendt


Utilitarianism, BBC In Our Time

A moral theory that emphasises ends over means, Utilitarianism holds that a good act is one that increases pleasure in the world and decreases pain. The tradition flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, and has antecedents in ancient philosophy. According to Bentham, happiness is the means for assessing the utility of an act, declaring “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” Mill and others went on to refine and challenge Bentham’s views and to defend them from critics such as Thomas Carlyle, who termed Utilitarianism a “doctrine worthy only of swine.” With Melissa Lane, Janet Radcliffe Richards and Brad Hooker. 43 minutes

John Stuart Mill and UtilitarianismThe Panpsycast

Welcome to Episode 5 (Part II) of The Panpsycast, Utilitarianism. The voices in this episode are owned by Jack Symes, Andrew Horton and Ollie Marley. 1 hour and 12 minutes

Peter Singer on using animalsPhilosophy Bites

How should we treat animals? Peter Singer, perhaps the best know living moral philosopher addresses this question in conversation with Nigel Warburton in this bonus episode. This  was produced in association with The Open University as part of podcast Ethics Bites. 16 minutes


Hannah Arendt, BBC In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt. She developed many of her ideas in response to the rise of totalitarianism in the C20th, partly informed by her own experience as a Jew in Nazi Germany before her escape to France and then America. She wanted to understand how politics had taken such a disastrous turn and, drawing on ideas of Greek philosophers as well as her peers, what might be done to create a better political life. Often unsettling, she wrote of ‘the banality of evil’ when covering the trial of Eichmann, one of the organisers of the Holocaust. With Lyndsey Stonebridge, Frisbee Sheffield and Robert Eaglestone. 47 minutes

Samantha Hill on Hannah Arendt on PluralismPhilosophy Bites

Hannah Arendt’s experience of the Eichmann trial in 1961 and of the reaction to her book about this, Eichmann in Jerusalem, led her to think deeply about politics, truth, and plurality. In this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast Samantha Rose Hill, author of a biography of Arendt, explains the context, and outlines the key features of Arendt’s approach. 20 minutes

Serena Parekh on Refugees, The Unmute Podcast

Myisha Cherry chats with Serena Parekh about refugees and statelessness, the harms of statelessness, our ethical obligations, and so much more. 39 minutes

Week 8 Philosophical Bias in Science


Scientific disagreement and philosophy, NMBU PedPod

Elena Rocca and her colleague piloted a new philosophy course in June 2020. Their course examines how expert disagreement in science research might find resolutions in philosophy. Elena discusses the importance of modern philosophical thinking and its ramifications for how students and professional scientists can think about their research. She explains how science cannot avoid making assumptions of a philosophical nature, what they call ‘philosophical bias in science‘. Such philosophical biases are often sources of scientific controversy and expert disagreement, which means that they might agree on all the scientific data, but still disagree over how to interpret or use them. Scientific uncertainty does thus not only stem from limited evidence, but also from the different way such evidence is evaluated. Since decades, philosophers of science and ethicists point out that the non-evidential component of science is mostly unscrutinised, despite its essential role.

Physics, reality, and lost in math, EconTalk

Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder talks about her book Lost in Math with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Hossenfelder argues that the latest theories in physics have failed to find empirical confirmation. Particles that were predicted to be discovered by the mathematics have failed to show up. Whether or not there is a multiverse has no observable consequences. Hossenfelder argues that physicists have become overly enamored with the elegance and aesthetics of their theories and that using beauty to evaluate a model is unscientific. The conversation includes a discussion of similar challenges in economics.

Week 9 Scientific Methods and Progress


The scientific method, BBC In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the evolution of the Scientific Method, the systematic and analytical approach to scientific thought. In 1620 the great philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon published the Novum Organum, a work outlining a new system of thought which he believed should inform all enquiry into the laws of nature. Philosophers before him had given their attention to the reasoning that underlies scientific enquiry; but Bacon’s emphasis on observation and experience is often seen today as giving rise to a new phenomenon: the scientific method. The scientific method, and the logical processes on which it is based, became a topic of intense debate in the seventeenth century, and thinkers including Isaac Newton, Thomas Huxley and Karl Popper all made important contributions. Some of the greatest discoveries of the modern age were informed by their work, although even today the term ‘scientific method’ remains difficult to define. With Simon Schaffer, John Worrall and Michela Massimi. 43 minutes

Baconian science (Bacon’s inductive method), BBC In Our Time

Patricia Fara, Stephen Pumfrey and Rhodri Lewis join Melvyn Bragg to discuss the Jacobean lawyer, political fixer and alleged founder of modern science Francis Bacon. Bacon was a lawyer and political schemer who climbed the greasy pole of Jacobean politics and then fell down it again. But he is most famous for developing an idea of how science should be done – a method that he hoped would slough off the husk of ancient thinking and usher in a new age. It is called Baconian Method and it has influenced and inspired scientists from Bacon’s own time to the present day. 45 minutes

Karl Popper (falsification, pseudo-science),  BBC In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, Karl Popper whose ideas about science and politics robustly challenged the accepted ideas of the day. He strongly resisted the prevailing empiricist consensus that scientists’ theories could be proved true. Popper wrote: “The more we learn about the world and the deeper our learning, the more conscious, specific and articulate will be our knowledge of what we do not know, our knowledge of our ignorance”. He believed that even when a scientific principle had been successfully and repeatedly tested, it was not necessarily true. Instead it had simply not proved false, yet! This became known as the theory of falsification. He called for a clear demarcation between good science, in which theories are constantly challenged, and what he called “pseudo sciences” which couldn’t be tested. His debunking of such ideologies led some to describe him as the “murderer of Freud and Marx”. He went on to apply his ideas to politics, advocating an Open Society. His ideas influenced a wide range of politicians, from those close to Margaret Thatcher, to thinkers in the Eastern Communist bloc and South America. So how did Karl Popper change our approach to the philosophy of science? How have scientists and philosophers made use of his ideas? And how are his theories viewed today? Are we any closer to proving scientific principles are “true”? With John Worrall, Anthony O’Hear and Nancy Cartwright. 45 minutes


The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas KuhnContext with Brad Harris

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is a classic in the history of science, and one of the most cited books of the twentieth century. Thomas Kuhn insightfully challenged our assumptions about how science works, but his opaque style ignited a cultural movement energized around the misinterpretations that objective truth was an illusion and that scientific progress was just a conceit of western civilization. These ideas became pillars of postmodernism, and no one was more frustrated by the folly of their development than Thomas Kuhn himself. 24 minutes

Week 10 Data and Theory, Scientific Anarchism and Democracy


Sabina Leonelli: Science in the world of Big Data, The Dissenter with Ricardo Lopes

In this episode, we talk about science and Big Data, based mostly on Dr. Leonelli’s book, Data-Centric Biology. We discuss the relationship between data and science; data classification; bio-ontologies; what are curators, their role, and their relationship with scientists and researchers. We also talk about the processes of decontextualizing and recontextualizing data, and data travels; and how political and financial powers might interfere with the production of scientific knowledge. Toward the end, we also talk about the role that model organisms have played in Biology, and the potential of synthetic biology. 54 minutes


Science and technology in societyHow to think about science series, CBC Radio

Technological science exerts a pervasive influence on contemporary life. It determines much of what we do, and almost all of how we do it. Yet science and technology lie almost completely outside the realm of political decision. No electorate ever voted to split atoms or splice genes; no legislature ever authorized the iPod or the internet. Our civilization, consequently, is caught in a profound paradox: we glorify freedom and choice, but submit to the transformation of our culture by technoscience as a virtual fate. In this episode we explore the relations between politics and scientific knowledge. David Cayley talks to Brian Wynne of the University of Lancaster in the north of England. He’s the associate director of an institute that studies the social and economic aspects of genetic technologies, and one of Britain’s best-known writers and researchers on the interplay of science and society. 54 minutes

Speaking truth to power, by Edward Said, BBC The Reith Lectures

This year’s Reith lecturer is the Palestinian American academic, political activist, and literary critic Edward Said. He joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1963 where he is now Professor of English and Comparative Literature. Regarded as one of the founders of post-colonial theory, his 1978 book Orientalism is one of the most influential scholarly books of the 20th century. In his fifth lecture, Edward Said considers the basic question for the intellectual: how does one speak the truth? Is there some universal and rational set of principles that can govern how one speaks and writes? He examines the difficulties and sometimes loneliness of questioning authority, and argues that intellectuals should present a more principled stand in speaking the truth to power. 30 minutes

Against modern superstition about scienceHow to think about science series, CBC Radio

Wendell Berry is known to the reading public mainly for his poems, essays and novels, not his commentaries on science. But in the year 2,000 he published a surprising book called Life Is A Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition. The superstition the book denounces is the belief that science will one day give us a complete account of things. Science is admirable, Wendell Berry says, but it can only be deployed wisely when we recognize the limits to our knowledge. Science must submit to the judgment of Nature. In this episode, Wendell Berry unfolds this philosophy to Ideas producer David Cayley.

Some philosophy podcast links

In Our Time Philosophy podcast, by Melvyn Bragg for BBC

From Altruism to Wittgenstein, philosophers, theories and key themes.

Philosophy Bites, by Nigel Warburton

A podcasts of top philosophers interviewed on bite-sized topics…

The Philosopher’s Arms, by Matthew Sweet for BBC

Matthew Sweet examines philosophical problems with a live audience in a pub…

History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, by Peter Adamson

Peter Adamson takes listeners through the history of philosophy, “without any gaps.” The series looks at the ideas, lives and historical context of the major philosophers as well as the lesser-known figures of the tradition.

How to Think About Science, by David Cayley for CBC Radio

If science is neither cookery, nor angelic virtuosity, then what is it?

Modern societies have tended to take science for granted as a way of knowing, ordering and controlling the world. Everything was subject to science, but science itself largely escaped scrutiny. This situation has changed dramatically in recent years. Historians, sociologists, philosophers and sometimes scientists themselves have begun to ask fundamental questions about how the institution of science is structured and how it knows what it knows. David Cayley talks to some of the leading lights of this new field of study.

The UnMute Podcast, by Myisha Cherry

Where Philosophy & Real World Issues Collide…

The UnMute podcast is a monthly podcast hosted and produced by Myisha Cherry. It is called UnMute because we want to provide a platform to people and topics that have not been given much attention in mainstream philosophy. UnMute is focused on providing informal and accessible conversations about social, political, and ethical issues from a fresh, fun, and philosophical perspective. We talk with a diverse group of philosophers as they give their take on controversial issues, pop culture, and the political and ethical dramas of our day. The UnMute experience is philosophical hip-hop and unapologetic intellectual jazz. It’s a home-cooked meal made for the everyday citizen. Don’t know what philosophy is? This podcast is for you. Want to get a fresh perspective about politics? This podcast is for you. Want to go deep, but keep your head above water? This podcast is for you.

New Narratives in the History of Philosophy

A series of short interviews with people interested in women philosophers. Learn something, get excited, find out how to learn more. Developed by the New Narratives in the History of Philosophy Project.