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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


Women, the alt-right and the liberal centre

Why do women join white nationalist and other far-right movements? Misogyny is rampant on the alt-right, along with the notion that women's primary role is to be wives and child-bearers. But the liberal centre can be an ambivalent place for women too. Feminism was founded on the ideal of equality, and on the belief that women should be treated as individuals rather than undifferentiated members of a subordinate class. But have these liberal humanist ideals of of equality and individual...


Nietzsche and transfiguration

Friedrich Nietzsche engaged closely with Christian themes and concepts, re-casting them for a secular age. One of these was transfiguration, the strange alchemical process by which human brokenness and misfortune can be turned into a kind of redemption. For Nietzsche, this was an aesthetic process, and it made an art form of philosophy.


Trust, risk and experts

Public trust in experts is on the wane. And when we consider that a key role of experts is the assessment and management of risk, this mistrust becomes worrying, given that life in an industrialised technology-driven world keeps getting riskier by the day. How should experts communicate risk? and what kind of trust should we place in them?


Mathematical objects

We all use numbers every day of our lives, and most of us fail to appreciate how mysterious they are. What exactly is a number? You can't trip over the number 4, it has no physical properties, so in what sense can it be said to exist? If it's just a symbolic representation, then why are numbers and other mathematical objects so effective in the real world - in solving scientific problems, in helping cicadas to evade predators, and so on?



It's strange to think that in a supposedly egalitarian democracy like Australia, we could have a misogyny problem. But the never-ending toll of intimate partner violence, sexual assault and casual workplace sexism confirms it, as does the growing "men's rights" backlash against any attempt to foreground the problem. What light can philosophy - a notoriously male dominated profession - throw on the issue?


Analytic philosophy: the leading brand

A quick scan of leading philosophy journals reveals that what passes for "philosophy" is selectively screened, with analytic philosophy clearly the dominant style. We look at the history of this phenomenon, some of the likely consequences, and how might it be addressed.


The death of analytic philosophy?

The death of analytic philosophy has been confidently predicted for almost as long as analytic philosophy has been around. But today, with profound challenges posed by feminism, postcolonialism and critical race theory, could its long-heralded demise finally be on the horizon? And what exactly do we mean when we talk about analytic philosophy anyway – is it a science, a tradition or little more than a style?


Marxism pt 2: Black Marxism

There’s an influential critique of Marx that accuses him of failure to take sufficient account of race in his analysis of capitalism. But is this a fair assessment? What happens when we bring racial analysis to the Marxist tradition? And how “Marxist” is a contemporary liberation movement like Black Lives Matter?


Marxism pt 1: Marx the philosopher

Karl Marx's interest in philosophy took an early swerve into journalism, and he famously wrote that "philosophers have only interpreted the world - the point is to change it". On one hand he was a revolutionary who favoured getting his hands dirty in the muck of history over abstract theorising, but on the other hand he was also a man of ideas who engaged with many of the philosophers of his day, in particular Hegel. Was Marx himself a philosopher?


Ethics, philosophy and immigration

Does anti-racism require open borders? Should refugees be selected on the basis of the skills they offer? Can immigration restrictions conform to the demands of justice? Conventional wisdom says that philosophers approach these kinds of questions from a normative perspective - their job is to establish principles for how a society should be run, as distinct from the job of a historian or a sociologist. But is that really the case?


Women and the Dhamma

Buddhist teaching is radically egalitarian, and yet the need for a Buddhist feminism is pressing. Is gender irrelevant to Buddhist teaching? And for women who have been denied agency or a sense of identity, how reasonable is the doctrine of non-self?


What can David Hume teach us?

Scottish philosopher David Hume was an amiable 18th century gentleman - cultured, generous, well liked by all who knew him. And yet he's become something of a "thinker's thinker", hugely admired by academic philosophers, but never quite managing to fire the public imagination or attain the mythic status of a Socrates or a Nietzsche. Our guest this week believes it's time to embrace Hume as a philosopher who can teach us how to live.



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.