Playlist · by nikitachoi
18 episodes, 10 hours 32 mins
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most important events of the 20th century - the rise of Feminism and the subsequent empowerment of women. What have been the most important and lasting changes for women in the last 100 years and what is there still left to achieve? Are the biological differences between men and women insuperable? Is the feminist movement therefore set on a course it is inevitably bound to lose? Is the ideology of feminism in other words, working against our natural inclinations?If a man were to say “men are by nature more competitive, ambitious, status-conscious, dedicated, single-minded and persevering than women” then you could be forgiven for calling him anti-diluvian, blinkered and worse. But this is the express view of Dr Helena Cronin from the London School of Economics - a philosopher who has concentrated on Darwinian theory which she claims has never seriously been applied to humans. Joining her is Dr Germaine Greer whose book The Female Eunuch i...
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the concept of the individual. The Renaissance gave birth to the concept of the individual. Shakespeare defined this individual in language which accepted the primacy of the male gender: “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a God!” According to Michel Foucault, French philosopher, polar opposite of Shakespeare and backed as he thought by Marx and Freud, our century killed the individual off. But has it? Was the individual born a mere six hundred years ago and has the century tolled its bell? And what is the individual?With Richard Wollheim, Professor of Philosophy, University of California in Berkeley; Jonathan Dollimore, Professor of English, York University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the concept of Utopia. Both the idea of, and the longing for a perfect society have been in our imagination for centuries, even millennia. Utopian dreams have driven fantasy, Fascism and fine feeling.Utopias, by definition, do not exist. The literal meaning of the Greek is “nowhere”. And yet, we are still enthralled by its allure. Why do some of us still believe in it - after the devastation wreaked this century by the utopian ideals that gave rise to Fascism and Communism? And what do utopias in fiction tell about the present - and even future?With Dr Anthony Grayling, human rights campaigner, lecturer in philosophy at Birkbeck College, London and Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford; John Carey, distinguished critic, journalist, broadcaster, Merton Professor of English, Oxford University and editor of, The Faber Book of Utopias.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss progress. As man has grown in years and knowledge, has he also progressed in terms of happiness and a true understanding of the human condition? It was the Enlightenment which gave birth to the idea of the possibility of progress. The biblical account of time which had held sway until the eighteenth century was replaced by a conceit which put Man, not God, at the centre of the story of progress. But do we still believe in that story? Have we reached the end of history and the culmination of man’s evolution? Was the Argentinean writer Jorge Louis Borges right when he said “We have stopped believing in progress. What progress that is!”. Can our moral progress keep up with our material progress, be sober in a technologically inebriated world, be in any way more than a fig leaf covering the untameable old Adam whose tragedy - more Greek than Christian - has made and marred this century? Is there such a thing at all as moral progress, or have Darwin and...
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the problems of consciousness, one of the greatest mysteries facing science and philosophy today. The frustrations, the stubborn facts and the curiosities of today’s thinkers, philosophers, physicists and psychologists, demonstrate the elusiveness, and the utter impenetrability of consciousness. Can we explain our perception of colour, smell or what it is like to be in love in purely physical terms? Can memory, conviction and reason be explained primarily in terms of neural firing sequences in the brain? Three centuries ago Descartes famously believed that the problem was best solved by being ignored. Was he right? Could it be that the human mind is just not built to understand its own basis?With Ted Honderich, philosopher and former Grote Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic, University College, London; Sir Roger Penrose eminent physicist, mathematician and author of The Large, The Small, and the Human Mind.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of Nihilism. The nineteenth-century philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote, “There can be no doubt that morality will gradually perish: this is the great spectacle in a hundred acts reserved for the next two centuries in Europe”. And, with chilling predictions like these, ‘Nihilism’ was born. The hard view that morals are pointless, loyalty is a weakness and ‘truths’ are illusory, has excited, confused and appalled western thinkers ever since. But what happened to Nietzsche’s revolutionary ideas about truth, morality and a life without meaning? Existentialism can claim lineage to Nietzsche, as can Post Modernism, but then so can Nazism. With so many interpretations, and claims of ownership from the left and the right, has anything positive come out of the great philosopher of ‘nothing’?With Rob Hopkins, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Birmingham; Professor Raymond Tallis, Doctor and Philosopher; Professor Catherine B...
Melvyn Bragg examines the philosophy of Confucius. In the 5th century BC a wise man called Kung Fu Tzu said, 'study the past if you would divine the future'. This powerful maxim helped form the body of ideas, which more than Buddhism, more than Daoism, more even than Communism has defined what it is to be Chinese. It is a philosophy that we call Confucianism, and as well as asserting the importance of learning from the past it embodies a respect for heirachy, ritual and parents.But who was Confucius, what were his ideas and how did they succeed in becoming the bedrock for a civilisation? With Frances Wood, Curator of the Chinese section of the British Library, Tim Barrett Professor of East Asian History at SOAS, the School of African and Oriental Studies at London University, and Dr Tao Tao Liu, Tutorial Fellow in Oriental Studies at Wadham College, Oxford University.
The Han Synthesis
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Han Synthesis philosophies of China. In The Analects the Chinese sage Confucius says of statecraft: "He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn to it".Confucianism had been all but outlawed under the Chin Emperor, but in 206 BC the Han dynasty came to power and held sway for over 400 years. They brought Confucian thought to the heart of government, his favourite books became set texts for the world's first civil service exam and in a grand intellectual project 'The Great Tao' was combined with 'The Five Phases' and with the Yin and the Yang.Who were the Han? How did they bring these strands of thought together into the great founding moment of Chinese culture? And what drove them to their extraordinary intellectual task?With Christopher Cullen, Director of the Needham Research Institute; Carol Michaelson, Assistant Keeper of Chinese Art in the Department ...
Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses rhetoric. Gorgias, the great sophist philosopher and master of rhetoric said, "Speech is a powerful lord that with the smallest and most invisible body accomplished most godlike works. It can banish fear and remove grief, and instil pleasure and enhance pity. Divine sweetness transmitted through words is inductive of pleasure and reductive of pain". But for Plato it was a vice, and those like Gorgias who taught rhetoric were teaching the skills of lying in return for money and were a great danger. He warned "this device - be it which it may, art or mere artless empirical knack - must not, if we can help it, strike root in our society".But strike root it did, and there is a rich tradition of philosophers and theologians who have attempted to make sense of it.How did the art of rhetoric develop? What part has it played in philosophy and literature? And does it still deserve the health warning applied so unambiguously by Plato?With Angie Hobbs, Lecture...
The Mind/Body Problem
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the mind/body problem in philosophy. At the start of René Descartes' Sixth Meditation he writes: "there is a great difference between mind and body, inasmuch as body is by nature always divisible, and mind is entirely indivisible. For when I consider the mind, or myself in so far as I am merely a thinking thing, I am unable to distinguish many parts within myself; I understand myself to be something quite single and complete. Although the whole mind seems to be united to the whole body, I recognize that if a foot or an arm or any other part of the body is cut off nothing has thereby been taken away from the mind".This thinking is the basis of what's known as 'Cartesian dualism', Descartes' attempt to address one of the central questions in philosophy, the mind/body problem: is the mind part of the body, or the body part of the mind? If they are distinct, then how do they interact? And which of the two is in charge?With Anthony Grayling, Reader in Phi...
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Cynics, the performance artists of philosophy. Eating live octopus with fresh lupins, performing intimate acts in public places and shouting at passers by from inside a barrel is behaviour not normally associated with philosophy. But the Cynics were different. They were determined to expose the meaninglessness of civilised life by action as well as by word. They slept rough, ate simply and gave their lectures in the market place. Perhaps surprisingly, their ideas and attitudes were immensely popular in the ancient world. But how coherent was cynicism as a philosophy? What was its influence on literature and politics and is there any truth to the contention that Jesus himself was influenced by the Cynics? With Angie Hobbs, Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Warwick; Miriam Griffin, Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford; John Moles, Professor of Latin, University of Newcastle.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss relativism, a philosophy of shifting sands. "Today, a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of educating is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own 'ego'." Pope Benedict XVI, in a speech given in June 2005, showed that the issue of relativism is as contentious today as it was in Ancient Greece, when Plato took on the relativist stance of Protagoras and the sophists. Relativism is a school of philosophical thought which holds to the idea that there are no absolute truths. Instead, truth is situated within different frameworks of understanding that are governed by our history, culture and critical perspective. Why has relativism so radically divided scholars and moral...
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Anarchism and why its political ideas became synonymous with chaos and disorder. Pierre Joseph Proudhon famously declared “property is theft”. And perhaps more surprisingly that “Anarchy is order”. Speaking in 1840, he was the first self-proclaimed anarchist. Anarchy comes from the Greek word “anarchos”, meaning “without rulers”, and the movement draws on the ideas of philosophers like William Godwin and John Locke. It is also prominent in Taoism, Buddhism and other religions. In Christianity, for example, St Paul said there is no authority except God. The anarchist rejection of a ruling class inspired communist thinkers too. Peter Kropotkin, a Russian prince and leading anarcho-communist, led this rousing cry in 1897: “Either the State for ever, crushing individual and local life... Or the destruction of States and new life starting again.. on the principles of the lively initiative of the individual and groups and that of free agreement. Th...
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Daoism. An ancient Chinese tradition of philosophy and religious belief, Daoism first appeared more than two thousand years ago. For centuries it was the most popular religion in China; in the West its religious aspects are not as well known as its practices, which include meditation and Feng Shui, and for its most celebrated text, the Daodejing.The central aim in Daoism is to follow the 'Dao', a word which roughly translates as 'The Way'. Daoists believe in following life in its natural flow, what they refer to as an 'effortless action'. This transcendence can be linked to Buddhism, the Indian religion that came to China in the 2nd century BC and influenced Daoism - an exchange which went both ways. Daoism is closely related to, but has also at times conflicted with, the religion of the Chinese Imperial court, Confucianism. The spirit world is of great significance in Daoism, and its hierarchy and power often take precedence over events and peopl...
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Aristotle's Poetics. The Poetics is, as far as we know, the first ever work of literary theory. Written in the 4th century BC, it is the work of a scholar who was also a biologist, and treats literary works with the detached analytical eye of a scientist. Aristotle examines drama and epic poetry, and how they achieve their effects; he analyses tragedy and the ways in which it plays on our emotions. Many of the ideas he articulates, such as catharsis, have remained in our critical vocabulary ever since. The book also contains an impassioned defence of poetry, which had been attacked by other thinkers, including Aristotle's own teacher Plato.Translated by medieval Arab scholars, the Poetics was rediscovered in Europe during the Renaissance and became a playwriting manual for many dramatists of the era. Today it remains a standard text for would-be Hollywood screenwriters.With:Angie HobbsAssociate Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in the Publ...
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 'the banality of evil' when covering the trial of Eichmann, one of the organisers of the Holocaust. With Lyndsey Stonebridge Professor of Modern Literature and History at the University of East Anglia Frisbee Sheffield Lecturer in Philosophy at Girton College, University of Cambridge and Robert Eaglestone Professor of Contemporary Literature and Thought at Royal Holloway, University London Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Tocqueville: Democracy in America
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 ever since, particularly in America, with its analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of direct democracy and its warnings of mediocrity and the tyranny of the majority. With Robert Gildea Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford Susan-Mary Grant Professor of American History at Newcastle University and Jeremy Jennings Professor of Political Theory and Head of the School of Politics & Economics at King's College London Producer: Simon Tillotson.
The Ontological Argument
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Ontological Argument. In the eleventh century St Anselm of Canterbury proposed that it was possible to prove the existence of God using reason alone. His argument was ridiculed by some of his contemporaries, but was analysed and improved by later thinkers including Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. Other philosophers have been less kind, with the Enlightenment thinker David Hume offering one possible refutation. But the debate continued, fuelled by interventions from such heavyweights as Immanuel Kant and Kurt Gödel; and it remains one of the most discussed problems in philosophy. With: John Haldane Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews Peter Millican Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford Clare Carlisle Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion at King's College London Producer: Thomas Morris.
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