Featured episodes from the Forum’s podcast
The State, Borders, and People
Refugee crises, independence movements, Brexit: so many political problems in recent times stem from the how we envisage the proper relationship between states and people. In this week’s collection, we’re probing the historical, philosophical, and political ideas behind the headlines.
But what exactly is it, and why is it so highly prized? We explore this elusive concept, and ask whether it is still a useful concept in the twenty-first century.
A Right to Be an Independent State?
What gives a territory the right to become an independent country? Are all declarations of independence created equal? We discuss the history, philosophy, and politics of independence.
A Right to Migrate?
Most people would agree that we have a right to leave our country of origin. But since leaving one country usually means arriving in another, do we also have a right to immigrate?
Thousands of foreign nationals are currently held in immigration detention across the country. Should the state be allowed indefinitely detain people who have committed no crime?We reflect on politics and philosophy of immigration detention.
LIFE AS WE KNOW IT
What is it like to be a human?
What is the self? Should we turn to philosophy, psychology, or neuroscience in order to better understand it? Does the self even exist?
Philosophers have diligently examined consciousness, but what about our nightly loss of consciousness? In an age of mindfulness, is there something to be said for sleepfulness too?
The Good Life
What makes a life good? Is the good life a happy life? And have changes in our understanding of the human also changed the notion of human flourishing?
Every human culture has claimed some way of defeating death. Now many hope science will provide the route to everlasting life. But would immortality be a blessing or a curse?
MAKING A STATEMENT
Language, speech, and being understood
Language allows us to charm, shock, delight, and offend. It is political and we can use it to harm and manipulate. We navigate the deeper issues around swearing, slurring, and slander.
Reason and Rhetoric
Political discussion often turns ugly. But is spin and negative campaigning an unavoidable, even essential, feature of political life? Are there or should there be standards for public political discussion?
Anatomy of a Language
There’s much more to grammar than meets the eye. In this episode we probe the philosophical underpinnings of grammar and how it functions in communication, understanding, and even humour.
A Right to Be Believed?
How do we address the longstanding problem of sexual offences going unpunished while also maintaining the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’?
Does a political statement diminish the art? Once a work becomes popular in the art world, can it still be protest art? We explore what protest art has been, what it is, and what it might be.
STRANGER THAN FICTION
There may be more things in Heaven and Earth than dreamt of in science fiction…
The science of black holes has long inspired science fiction writers, but might science fiction help us understand science fact? We explore black holes, philosophy, and the long-standing and productive relationship between science and sci-fi.
Thinking about time travel has allowed us to visit possible and lost worlds, and rediscover the past through modern eyes. It also raises big puzzles. How has thinking and writing about time travel changed science and philosophy?
Chaos research has been hailed as having led to revolutionary scientific advances. We discuss the insights gained from chaos research about unpredictability, as well as the evolution of mathematical ideas.
THE UNREASONABLE EFFECTIVENESS OF MATHEMATICS
Galileo famously wrote that natural philosophy is ‘written in the language of mathematics’. Four hundred years later, the great physicist Eugene Wigner puzzled over why. We discuss why abstract mathematics so often turns out to be surprisingly effective in describing the natural world.
Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment devised to illustrate a fundamental puzzle in quantum mechanics. In the ‘many-worlds interpretation’, the cat is both alive and dead, but in parallel universes. We discuss the strange consequences of this interpretation and why it’s so controversial.
STATES OF MIND
The things we think and feel, why we think and feel them, and what it tells us about being human
What is the relationship between phenomenon like survivor guilt and everyday instances, like the guilt at breaking a diet? What role does culture and religion play? And what is the place of guilt in ‘developed’ and ‘primitive’ moral consciousness?
Why do we tend to judge hypocrites more harshly than those whose actions, however bad, appear consistent with their beliefs? We ask if hypocrisy is a moral dead-end or a step on the path to better behaviour.
The history of art and literature is a history of unrequited love. Should we mourn or celebrate unrequited love? What can it teach us about ourselves? Is anyone to blame?
Are we more or less prejudiced than at other points in our history? And is prejudice always wrong, or even avoidable? And if it is avoidable, how can this be achieved?
LINES OF THOUGHT
From Aristotelianism and Darwinism to empiricism and existentialism, we’re looking at some of the big philosophical traditions
Pragmatism is the great American contribution to philosophy, and it has serious implications for politics, philosophy, and science. We discuss the history of this idea, and what might be entailed by ‘doing what works’.
‘Reason’ and ‘knowledge’, and the relationship between them, were major themes in Enlightenment philosophy. We discuss what was at stake in these debates, what we might say about these ideas today.
Darwin was primarily a biologist rather than a philosopher, but his work has had huge significance for how philosophers think about many of philosophy’s central problems, such as the nature of knowledge, the foundations of morality, and what we might mean by ‘human nature’.
The Irish Enlightenment
How did the turbulent political times of eighteenth-century Ireland affect this intellectual landscape? Is there something distinctively Irish about this writing? We discuss the thought and times of this remarkable group of thinkers.
From philosophical foundations and political consequences to suffering as learning and philosophy as therapy, this week we’re focusing on mental health, mental illness, and getting by
The Philosophy of Mental Illness
Is mental illness related to broader societal issues, or can mental disorders be reduced solely to neurobiological disorders? And how does what we think about mental illness impact on questions about responsibility and morality?
Philosophy as Therapy?
There is a rich tradition of claiming therapeutic powers for philosophy, but if philosophy is the love of wisdom, is ignorance bliss? Is philosophy only about sharp arguments and subtle distinctions, or can it help us find better ways to live?
Thinking about Children’s Mental Health
Is there is an increased tendency towards medicalizing certain behaviours that might once have been seen as normal (if challenging)?
The Politics of Mental Health
At the intersection of the personal and the political, we explore the relationship between mental health and economics, politics, and society at large. Why do particular mental illnesses appear to characterize certain eras?
The life and work of some remarkable thinkers
Schopenhauer’s work prefigured important developments in philosophy, psychology, and political thought. We examine the life and work of Arthur Schopenhauer. How can his work help us address current questions in art and ethics? And what can he teach us about human suffering?
Why be moral? May we kill one person to save others? Is morality objective? In writings renowned for their creativity, incisiveness, and humour, Philippa Foot made key contributions to these questions. We discuss Foot’s life and ideas.
W E B Du Bois
Du Bois is usually remembered as a sociologist and civil rights campaigner. But he was also a skilled philosopher and we consider his philosophical thought, from art, propaganda, and science, to the very purpose of philosophy itself.
A revolutionary thinker who drew upon influences from philosophy, political theory, and psychoanalysis, the philosophical value of Fanon’s work is finally being recognized, and we ask what it can teach us about the contemporary world.
Democracy, its institutions, and its challenges and limitations
The Ethics of Nudge
Better decisions versus autonomous choices: should policy makers try to influence people’s behaviour using techniques from the behavioural sciences when it comes to retirement savings, organ donation, and lunch choice? We discuss the ethical questions surrounding nudge theory.
The Open Society as Enemy
We find ourselves in a time when an unprecedented amount of information about our lives is made public, as well as held by private and governmental organisations. Jason McKenzie Alexander argues that instead of supporting the foundations of liberal democracy, this undermines it.
On Free Speech
We bring together philosophers and campaigners to examine the philosophical underpinnings of free speech, and how recent events should affect our thinking about it.
A Right to a Free Press?
Is there a right to a free press that is distinct from the freedom of speech? And given the press is often accused of invading people’s privacy or publishing material that is harmful to the national interest, where might the limits of press freedom lie?
From whales to microbes, Jonathan Birch discusses animal intelligence with philosophers, scientists, and writers
Other than humans, which animal species are conscious? When did consciousness first evolve, and what is its function? We consider what we know, what we don’t know, and what we may never know about the origins of consciousness.
The Minds of Birds
What is it like to be a bird? What do they think and how do they feel? We take a bird’s eye view on the world, and consider how human thought and culture have been shaped by interaction with birds.
The Social Lives of Microbes
What are microbial societies? In what ways do they resemble human societies and in what ways do they differ? And what can we learn from microbes about what it is to be human?
What’s It Really Like to Be a Bat?
Are bats conscious, and how can we tell? What is it like to use sound to navigate? We explore the latest research into the minds of bats and what it means for one of philosophy’s most famous problems.