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Philosopher's Zone

ABC (Australia)

The simplest questions often have the most complex answers. The Philosopher's Zone is your guide through the strange thickets of logic, metaphysics and ethics.

The simplest questions often have the most complex answers. The Philosopher's Zone is your guide through the strange thickets of logic, metaphysics and ethics.


Melbourne, VIC


The simplest questions often have the most complex answers. The Philosopher's Zone is your guide through the strange thickets of logic, metaphysics and ethics.




Philosopher's Zone ABC Radio National GPO Box 9994 Sydney 2001 (02) 8333 1411



Going from one country to another is mostly thought of as a movement in space - a change of one physical location for another. But migration can also make profound changes in the everyday experience of time, and this is especially acute in cases where migration status is uncertain - on a temporary visa, say, or in immigration detention.


Logic in Indian philosophy

Logic in Western philosophy can have formal perfection, but limited epistemic value. "All chairs are 50 feet tall, my mother is a chair, therefore my mother is 50 feet tall" is a sound piece of logical deduction, but it doesn't tell us anything true or useful about the world. In Indian intellectual tradition, logic is more like scientific reasoning - its aim is to increase knowledge. This week we're looking at logic in one of the classical schools of Indian philosophy.


Ecocultural identity

Each of us is made up of a mix of identities - political, sexual, class, gender and so on. But how often do we stop to think of our ecocultural identity? This week we hear from the co-editors of a new book whose message is that in order to arrest the slide into ecological calamity, we urgently need to de-throne our species and embrace a new humility.


Philosophy and ecology

What happens when we recognise non-human animals as sentient beings with rights? Why do women have a particular stake in environmental justice? What exactly do we mean when we talk about sustainability? Anyone looking for a way into these important contemporary questions could start by exploring the work of Val Plumwood, the pioneering Australian eco-feminist philosopher who died in 2008.



Feeling a little distracted lately? Most of us are, and not just lately. We tend to view withering attention spans and the compulsion to seek change for its own sake as curses of the social media era, but restless dissatisfaction has been the subject of philosophical inquiry for centuries.


Neurophenomenology and embodied sensemaking

“Making sense” of something is often understood as a rational, purely mental process – an understanding based on the Cartesian separation of mind and body. But what about the role of the senses in sensemaking? This week we’re looking at sensemaking as an embodied phenomenon in such highly rational, technocratic environments as seafaring and air control.


The problem with "moral machines"

There’s a lot of talk these days about building ethics into artificial intelligence systems. From a philosophical perspective, it’s a daunting challenge – and this has to do with the nature of ethics, which is more than just a set of principles and instructions. Can machines ever really be moral agents?


Honour in the institution

Institutions shape every aspect of our lives, yet they can be strangely amorphous things, operating according to norms and conventions that often undermine each other. For women, this can result in institutional discrimination – in workplaces and public organisations, but also in less tangible institutions like the family and the law. This week we’re talking feminist institutionalism, and the need for a women’s honour code.


Identity politics

Identity politics is grounded in the appeal to a stable, unified self and the authority of testimony. But this week we’re asking whether that foundation is solid, and if deconstructing it might allow for a more flexible approach to social justice.


Living like a Stoic

What does it mean to live according to Stoic philosophical principles - and what do the ancient Greeks and Romans have to tell us in the modern world?


What we talk about when we talk about race

The 19th century notion of race as something rooted in biology and genetics is a well-debunked idea whose time has passed. But the more recent liberal conception of race as a social construct fails to acknowledge the ways in which race is lived in and through the body (something the COVID pandemic has thrown into sharp relief). This week we’re talking about race as theory and experience, and how best to increase racial literacy.


Cultural appropriation

In an increasingly connected, globalised world, borrowing freely between cultures can draw moral condemnation. Cultures have fuzzy edges, and it can be hard for the unwary artist to know exactly when and where respectful homage tips into cultural appropriation. This week we’re looking at where the moral lines are drawn, and asking if “cultural appropriation” might be a term that obscures more than it reveals.


Civilisation and the salon

What is civilisation? A place, an ideal, a culture? Is civilisation under threat - and if so, who are the barbarians? Also, the art of the salon, a refined 18th century tradition that bridged the gap between high intellectual culture and practical everyday life. Is the salon due for a revival?


Derrida and difficulty

In the late 1960s Michel Foucault, on being asked to grade an undergraduate dissertation written by Jacques Derrida, remarked “Well, it’s either an F or an A+” The philosophy community’s verdict on Derrida has changed little in the decades since. This week we’re talking with the author of a new biography of this enigmatic philosopher.


Free will, retribution and just deserts

Is free will an illusion? If so, it’s a very useful one. Belief in moral responsibility can keep us from behaving in ways that are anti-social or criminal. But if free will and moral responsibility can’t be justified philosophically, how should we deal with wrongdoers?


Philosophy in the wake of Empire part 5: Tracks of thought

As a young girl, Aileen Moreton-Robinson learned to track in the bush, and this was the beginning of her philosophical education, as she learned how all things are connected. Today she sees Western thought as disconnected, disjointed, and badly in need of a relational approach that might get us talking properly about race and power.


Philosophy in the wake of Empire part 4: Africa

Africa has a history of rich and ancient philosophical traditions. Those traditions were rendered invisible by European colonisers, who sought to overlay Africa's past with the values of the Enlightenment. Today, African philosophy is being uncovered and introduced to the West - but is the West listening?


Philosophy in the wake of Empire pt. 3: Missionary feminism

Feminist arguments in the West have been used to advance imperialist projects that inflict suffering on women in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the Western feminist focus on individual rights can be disastrous when played out in non-Western contexts. Is it time to rethink “missionary feminism”?


Philosophy in the wake of Empire pt. 2: Migrants and other Others

As refugees from the former colonies make their way to Europe, notions of “European life” and “European values” are facing unprecedented challenges. As postcolonial subjects, how should these migrants be received and understood?


Philosophy in the wake of Empire pt. 1: The white way to think

The West has a history of colonisation and empire-building. How has this shaped the discipline of philosophy? This week – first in a five-part series – we look at racism and the unfortunate legacy of Immanuel Kant, who believed the non-white races were incapable of philosophical reflection.