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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


Driverless cars, inequality and the 'trolley problem' in a high-tech world

The road has always been a great social leveller — we all get stuck in the same traffic jams. But with the advent of driverless cars, that could all be about to change, with troubling ethical consequences.


Citizens and urban planning

Consensus among citizens in the development of cities is always the goal — but it's rarely achieved. This week we explore the philosophical foundations of a more realistic model for citizen participation in urban planning.


The big snore

Boredom hasn't received a lot of philosophical attention — which isn't surprising, given that it suggests a radical absence of anything to talk about. But even the most tedious things can prove on inspection to be complex, multi-layered and... well, interesting.


What can genes tell us?

Can our genes tell us if we're gay? Or intelligent? Science says the answer is complex, and that genetic determinism — the idea that we're genetically hardwired for certain outcomes — shouldn't be taken seriously. But genetic determinism has taken hold of the public imagination.


Border patrol

Refugees are often spoken and written about as victims: people on the far side of a border that separates them from all the things we citizens know and love about our homeland. But what if the refugee actually knows things about Australia that we don't?


Thinking a pandemic

We're told that COVID-19 is an unprecedented event, one that's upended all our old certainties — so it's perhaps strange that we're thinking about it in very familiar ways. Considering the history, the politics and the ethics of COVID-19 can reveal fascinating and uncomfortable insights about ourselves and our society.


Time in a time of excess time

Many of us have extra time on our hands at the moment, and for many of us that time can feel like a burden. But what is this mysterious relationship between what time feels like and what it really is?


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.


AI and moral intuition: use it or lose it?

Artificial intelligence is helping us to make all sorts of decisions these days, and this can be hugely useful. But if we outsource our moral intuition to AI, do we risk becoming morally de-skilled?


LGBT elders, isolation and loneliness

As LGBT people grow old, they can become particularly vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness. Simone de Beauvoir had a keen appreciation of the challenges of ageing – “old age exposes the failure of our entire civilisation” – so can we find resources in her brand of existentialism that address some of the issues raised by LGBT elders?


Dangerous minds

Heidegger was an unrepentant Nazi. Nietzsche's later work contains passages that openly advocate slavery and genocide. Today, with far-right extremism on the rise around the world, how concerned should we be when reading – and teaching – the work of these canonical figures?


The many and the one

We casually talk about "Australia" as though it were a single entity. But what exactly is such a collective? And how can it be held responsible for its deeds - or misdeeds? This week we're talking group duties - and for International Women's Day, a conversation about gender and progress in philosophy.


The why of philosophy

Is philosophy experiencing an unprecedented crisis? And are universities becoming a hostile environment for philosophers?


Is reason enough?

These days it seems that critical thinking could be failing us – and we’re not sure why. Have too many people strayed from the path of reason? Or is reason insufficient – ever overrated – as an ingredient in the formation of good citizens?


Plato's woman problem

In The Republic, Plato outlines a role for women in his ideal society that seems revolutionary, i.e. that they should occupy the highest position in public life. In Athenian society at the time, women were completely excluded from politics, so this is a radical proposal. But elsewhere, Plato expresses doubt about women’s natural abilities. What did he really think? And how does this tension persist today for women in philosophy?


In praise of mortality

Ever since we humans became conscious of the fact that we’re all going to die, we’ve dreamed of immortality. Life is good, so wouldn't eternal life be even better? Today's guest offers a robust critique of the ideal of immortality - and one that takes a fascinating turn to politics.


Remembering Roger Scruton

An avowed conservative of a kind mistrusted by both modern-day left and right, Scruton remained steadfast in his first principles. He pitted his intellect against what he saw as the encroachments of modernity on human life, including the overreach of science and technology. Wishful thinker, or beacon in a sea of error?


Uluru and the heart of the liberal state

The fundamental challenges for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia are systemic, they run much deeper than any single issue – education, health, rates of incarceration – can capture. But the Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for a series of reforms that could address the key issue for all Indigenous Australians.


Disability and dignity

Philosophers have been slow to address disability - which is odd, because disability raises a host of fascinating and challenging issues around justice, rights and fairness.


Politics and the sacred

According to Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, modern secular politics is theological from the ground up – which may come as a nasty surprise to the many people who believe, often for very good reasons, that religion and politics should be kept as far from each other as possible.