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

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

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

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English


Episodes

Hope

11/22/2018
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the philosophy of hope. To the ancient Greeks, hope was closer to self-deception, one of the evils left in Pandora's box or jar, in Hesiod's story. In Christian tradition, hope became one of the theological virtues, the desire for divine union and the expectation of receiving it, an action of the will rather than the intellect. To Kant, 'what may I hope' was one of the three basic questions which human reason asks, while Nietzsche echoed Hesiod, arguing that...

Duration:00:53:09

The Fable of the Bees

10/25/2018
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) and his critique of the economy as he found it in London, where private vices were condemned without acknowledging their public benefit. In his poem The Grumbling Hive (1705), he presented an allegory in which the economy collapsed once knavish bees turned honest. When republished with a commentary, The Fable of the Bees was seen as a scandalous attack on Christian values and Mandeville was recommended for prosecution for his...

Duration:00:50:50

Montesquieu

6/14/2018
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas of Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755) whose works on liberty, monarchism, despotism, republicanism and the separation of powers were devoured by intellectuals across Europe and New England in the eighteenth century, transforming political philosophy and influencing the American Constitution. He argued that an individual's liberty needed protection from the arm of power, checking that by another power; where...

Duration:00:50:07

Tocqueville: Democracy in America

3/22/2018
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) and his examination of the American democratic system. He wrote De La Démocratie en Amérique in two parts, published in 1835 and 1840, when France was ruled by the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe. Tocqueville was interested in how aspects of American democracy, in the age of President Andrew Jackson, could be applied to Europe as it moved away from rule by monarchs and aristocrats. His work has been revisited by politicians...

Duration:00:50:59

Augustine's Confessions

3/15/2018
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss St Augustine of Hippo's account of his conversion to Christianity and his life up to that point. Written c397AD, it has many elements of autobiography with his scrutiny of his earlier life, his long relationship with a concubine, his theft of pears as a child, his work as an orator and his embrace of other philosophies and Manichaeism. Significantly for the development of Christianity, he explores the idea of original sin in the context of his own experience....

Duration:00:48:03

Sun Tzu and The Art of War

3/1/2018
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas attributed to Sun Tzu (544-496BC, according to tradition), a legendary figure from the beginning of the Iron Age in China, around the time of Confucius. He may have been the historical figure Sun Wu, a military adviser at the court of King Helu of Wu (who reigned between about 514 and 496 BC), one of the kings in power in the Warring States period of Chinese history (6th - 5th century BC). Sun Tzu was credited as the author of The Art of War, a work...

Duration:00:48:31

Cicero

1/25/2018
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas developed by Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43BC) to support and reinvigorate the Roman Republic when, as it transpired, it was in its final years, threatened by civil wars, the rule of Julius Caesar and the triumvirates that followed. As Consul he had suppressed a revolt by Catiline, putting the conspirators to death summarily as he believed the Republic was in danger and that this danger trumped the right to a fair trial, a decision that rebounded on...

Duration:00:49:24

Kant's Categorical Imperative

9/21/2017
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) sought to define the difference between right and wrong by applying reason, looking at the intention behind actions rather than at consequences. He was inspired to find moral laws by natural philosophers such as Newton and Leibniz, who had used reason rather than emotion to analyse the world around them and had identified laws of nature. Kant argued that when someone was doing the right thing, that person...

Duration:00:49:37

Plato's Republic

6/29/2017
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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...

Duration:00:48:51

Roger Bacon

4/20/2017
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The 13th-century English philosopher Roger Bacon is perhaps best known for his major work the Opus Maius. Commissioned by Pope Clement IV, this extensive text covered a multitude of topics from mathematics and optics to religion and moral philosophy. He is also regarded by some as an early pioneer of the modern scientific method. Bacon's erudition was so highly regarded that he came to be known as 'Doctor Mirabilis' or 'wonderful doctor'. However, he is a man shrouded in mystery. Little is...

Duration:00:50:41

Seneca the Younger

2/23/2017
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Seneca the Younger, who was one of the first great writers to live his entire life in the world of the new Roman empire, after the fall of the Republic. He was a Stoic philosopher, he wrote blood-soaked tragedies, he was an orator, and he navigated his way through the reigns of Caligula, Claudius and Nero, sometimes exercising power at the highest level and at others spending years in exile. Agrippina the Younger was the one who called for him to tutor Nero,...

Duration:00:51:33

Hannah Arendt

2/2/2017
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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...

Duration:00:47:25

Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morality

1/12/2017
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Nietzsche's On The Genealogy of Morality - A Polemic, which he published in 1887 towards the end of his working life and in which he considered the price humans have paid, and were still paying, to become civilised. In three essays, he argued that having a guilty conscience was the price of living in society with other humans. He suggested that Christian morality, with its consideration for others, grew as an act of revenge by the weak against their masters,...

Duration:00:48:11

Zeno's Paradoxes

9/22/2016
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Zeno of Elea, a pre-Socratic philosopher from c490-430 BC whose paradoxes were described by Bertrand Russell as "immeasurably subtle and profound." The best known argue against motion, such as that of an arrow in flight which is at a series of different points but moving at none of them, or that of Achilles who, despite being the faster runner, will never catch up with a tortoise with a head start. Aristotle and Aquinas engaged with these, as did Russell, yet...

Duration:00:46:38

Sovereignty

6/30/2016
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the idea of Sovereignty, the authority of a state to govern itself and the relationship between the sovereign and the people. These ideas of external and internal sovereignty were imagined in various ways in ancient Greece and Rome, and given a name in 16th Century France by the philosopher and jurist Jean Bodin in his Six Books of the Commonwealth, where he said (in an early English translation) 'Maiestie or Soveraigntie is the most high,...

Duration:00:47:29

The Muses

5/19/2016
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Muses and their role in Greek mythology, when they were goddesses of poetry, song, music and dance: what the Greeks called mousike, 'the art of the Muses' from which we derive our word 'music.' While the number of Muses, their origin and their roles varied in different accounts and at different times, they were consistently linked with the nature of artistic inspiration. This raised a question for philosophers then and since: was a creative person an empty...

Duration:00:45:37

Simone de Beauvoir

10/22/2015
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Simone de Beauvoir. "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman," she wrote in her best known and most influential work, The Second Sex, her exploration of what it means to be a woman in a world defined by men. Published in 1949, it was an immediate success with the thousands of women who bought it. Many male critics felt men came out of it rather badly. Beauvoir was born in 1908 to a high bourgeois family and it was perhaps her good fortune that her father...

Duration:00:46:08

Utilitarianism

6/11/2015
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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...

Duration:00:44:07

Al-Ghazali

3/19/2015
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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Al-Ghazali, a major philosopher and theologian of the late 11th century. Born in Persia, he was one of the most prominent intellectuals of his age, working in such centres of learning as Baghdad, Damascus and Jerusalem. He is now seen as a key figure in the development of Islamic thought, not just refining the theology of Islam but also building on the existing philosophical tradition inherited from the ancient Greeks. With: Peter...

Duration:00:44:20

The Wealth of Nations

2/19/2015
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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Adam Smith's celebrated economic treatise The Wealth of Nations. Smith was one of Scotland's greatest thinkers, a moral philosopher and pioneer of economic theory whose 1776 masterpiece has come to define classical economics. Based on his careful consideration of the transformation wrought on the British economy by the Industrial Revolution, and how it contrasted with marketplaces elsewhere in the world, the book outlined a theory of wealth and how it is...

Duration:00:46:13