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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.


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


On being a minority in philosophy

What challenges come with being a minority in philosophy?


Skilled performance and cognition

When a tennis pro lunges for a difficult drop volley, or a concert cellist rips through the difficult section of a Bach suite, are they thinking about what they're doing? Some would say that elite physical performance is essentially a mindless phenomenon, and that thinking is counterproductive to success. But the reality is more complex - and more interesting.


China, Confucius and the courtyard

For more than three millennia, most buildings in China were configured around a central courtyard. This week's guest believes that the courtyard helps us to understand Chinese society and culture, as well as Confucian philosophy. Today, with increasing numbers of people living in urban apartment buildings, the courtyard has become something of a period piece. What does this tell us about Chinese thought and identity in the modern world?


Values and goals

The recipe for living well is simple: develop a morally sound set of values, formulate goals rooted in those values, and achieve those goals. But beneath this basic formula there lurks a number of tricky questions.


Pop, philosophy and politics

When philosophy turns its attention to music, it's traditionally an exercise in high culture. Questions about the nature and function of music are often explored with reference to an established canon of "serious" music – while pop finds itself relegated to the margins. This week we're getting serious about pop, and exploring the ways that the compositional and sonic structures of pop music reflect the social and political structures of the broader culture.


Conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism and fun

You don’t have to be stupid to be a conspiracy theorist. Many people who buy into paranoid fantasies about stolen Presidential elections and global Satanic cabals are perfectly sane, well-educated individuals. So why do they fall for these myths? This week we consider the possibility that the attraction is primarily aesthetic, and that the experience is fun. But why the perennial focus on Jews?


Efficiency, productivity and excess

These days we’re constantly pushed to be more efficient – at work, of course, but also in our leisure pursuits and even while we sleep. How did we get here? And how can we get back to a state that’s governed by principles other than accumulation and profit? This week, a story of two key figures in the history of modern industrial capitalism: F.W. Taylor, the father of “scientific management” theory, and French thinker Georges Bataille, whose economic philosophy was predicated on the notion...


Philosophy and children

Children can teach adults a thing or two when it comes to the getting of wisdom. But does this mean that children are philosophers? And if the answer is Yes, then what kind of philosophers are they?


Power, domination and the ethics of global philanthropy

When billionaires want to make a positive difference in the world, many of them turn to philanthropy. Which is fine in principle, but this week we're asking if giving away money via huge global philanthropic foundations is really an unalloyed good.


Bilingual parenting, home and the mother tongue

Standard philosophical accounts of language present it as a kind of home – a place that we inhabit, and that shapes our sense of self. But what happens when we're not quite "at home" within a language?


Owning the public square

Confusion has reigned at Twitter since Elon Musk took the reins of the company, and one of the most pressing questions has to do with whether or not the social media platform will be reshaped to fit its new CEO's ideal of unfettered free speech. Musk has referred to Twitter as the "digital town square" – but how can the town square also be a private estate, owned by a billionaire? This week we're talking property, ownership... and how it all connects with Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.


Philosophy behind bars

What does it mean to study and teach philosophy in prison? Andy West has been teaching philosophy in prisons since 2015, and his memoir The Life Inside is a fascinating account of this experience - as well as a reflection on inherited trauma and the fact that his father, uncle and brother all spent time behind bars.


Causation and death

Like death, causation is something of a riddle. The death certificate of Queen Elizabeth II has "old age" given as the cause of death - but given that old age is simply an outcome of being alive for a certain period of time, what does it mean to pathologise it in this way, and to list it as a fatal condition? Far from being an exact science, death certification is rife with interpretation and contentious decision-making - and this reflects not only death's enigmatic qualities, but the...


The prophetic vision of Günther Anders

Günther Anders is the most interesting and important philosopher you've probably never heard of. An exile from Nazi Germany who landed in America in the late 1930s, Anders was a prescient theorist of media and technology whose insights are remarkably pertinent to today's digital landscape. His major work is a best-seller in Europe and he's one of Germany's most well-regarded intellectuals, yet he's almost unknown in the Anglosphere. Why haven't we heard more about him?


How should we treat insects?

Insect farming, we're told by its proponents, is the next big thing in edible protein production, and it may just save the world. But an insect "farm" is more like a manufacturing plant where the tiny organisms are pulped into powder form. What is the moral status of these living things? Can we be sure they're not sentient beings, capable of experiencing pain and suffering? And if we can't be sure, how should we treat them? This program was first broadcast on August 22, 2021.


Philosophy and travel

Modern travel is a commodity: you buy a holiday. But have you ever thought of travel as a philosophical activity? Offering the discovery of new traditions, new perspectives and the acquisition of knowledge, travel should make philosophers of us all. The 19th century was an era in which travel was thought of in this way, and women were out there at the frontiers of discovery. But their independence and daring came at a potentially high cost.


Refugees and moral obligation

Refugees have been with us for millennia, but the modern refugee exists under a distinctively modern set of circumstances. Moral philosophers often fail to take these circumstances into account, and to acknowledge the ways in which the West can be responsible for refugee crises.


How Nietzsche extracts cheerfulness from suffering

Friedrich Nietzsche is popularly regarded as one of the gloomier thinkers, so people are often surprised to learn that he can be very funny. But the humour in his writing is doing serious work: Nietzsche is looking for a way to find joy in the darkest corners of life - and to do it without falling back on what he sees as false Christian comfort.


Trust and scepticism in a post-truth world

How do we know the things we know? The fact is that most of our knowledge comes down to trust - particularly trust in institutions and experts. But in a world where misinformation has become a lucrative industry, how is it possible to trust wisely?



Can a religion be non-theistic, with no God or deity at the centre? It's a question that has exercised philosophers of religion for a long time – but members of The Satanic Temple, which was founded in the USA in 2013, would emphatically say yes. This week's guest expounds some Satanic philosophy, and has a fascinating backstory of his own.