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Podcast Profile: What Is X?

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25 episodes
2021 to 2022
Median: 62 minutes
Collection: Philosophy

Description (podcaster-provided):

“What Is X?” has been described as “a cross between a Platonic dialogue and ‘The Price Is Right.’” It combines dialectical inquiry of the sort perfected by Socrates and his interlocutors with a distinctly ludic spirit. Here’s how it works: For each episode, host Justin E. H. Smith invites on a guest distinguished in their field (or occasionally a “regular” person who really likes to talk). Smith asks the guest to answer a question of the form “What is X?” (for example, “What is beauty?” “What is nature?” “What are dreams?”), after which the two partners in dialogue undertake a Socratic inquiry into the nature of X, in search of a definition that satisfies both of them. There are three possible outcomes: agreement, disagreement, and aporia (Greek for “dead end”), each with its own sound effect: if we arrive at agreement, a church bell will chime; disagreement is signaled by a bleating goat; if aporia is the best we can do, we will hear naught but a gust of wind. Rigorous but freewheeling, fun and serious at once, accessibly highbrow, these conversations model rational inquiry in a new way, providing answers for truth-seekers... or perhaps just more questions. /// Host: Justin E.H. Smith ( /// Presented by The Point Magazine (

Themes and summary (AI-generated based on podcaster-provided show and episode descriptions):

➤ Philosophical concepts • Dialectical inquiry • Socratic discussions • Academic experts • Varied topics (money, time, love, humor, gender, consciousness, art) • Rational exploration • Accessible highbrow conversations

This podcast, "What Is X?", delves into profound questions spanning a wide array of subjects through a blend of Socratic dialogue and playful inquiry. Hosted by Justin E. H. Smith, the show invites various guests, often distinguished experts in their respective fields, to explore and define complex concepts, each framed by the titular question, "What is X?" The aim is to seek clear, mutually satisfying definitions or, at times, to uncover the inherent ambiguities and complexities of the topic.

Episodes explore philosophical and existential questions such as the nature of being, consciousness, and time, discussing these concepts with scholars of philosophy and theology. The podcast also tackles societal constructs and cultural phenomena like money, gender, punk, friendship, and love, engaging guests who offer insights from both academic and personal perspectives. There's a recurring examination of abstract yet fundamental ideas such as virtue, authorship, and criticism, considering their historical evolution and current interpretations.

Frequently, the show addresses pressing modern concerns, like conspiracy theories and mental health, contextualizing them within larger philosophical debates. The discussions are not limited to highbrow topics; they also touch on more everyday subjects, for example, the concept of breakfast or the essence of humor, making philosophy accessible and relatable.

Through its diverse range of episodes, the podcast demonstrates a commitment to modeling rational inquiry in a format that balances rigor with a light-hearted, accessible approach. The central theme remains consistent: each episode seeks to unravel the layers of understanding surrounding a given topic, ultimately underscoring the value of philosophical dialogue in everyday life. Whether confronting universal questions or niche subjects, the podcast invites listeners to engage deeply with the fabric of human thought and experience.

What Is Being? | Kris McDaniel
55 minutes
What Is Money? | Joseph Tinguely
59 minutes
What Is Breakfast? | Seb Emina
63 minutes
What Are Numbers? | Michael Harris
62 minutes
What Is Punk? | Joseph M. Keegin
85 minutes
What Is War? | Vladislav Davidzon
62 minutes
What Is Authorship? | Jonathan Egid
70 minutes
What Is Time? | Emily Thomas
58 minutes
What Are Conspiracy Theories? | Sam Kriss
87 minutes
What Is Humor? | Luvell Anderson
66 minutes
What Is Friendship? | S. Abbas Raza
57 minutes
What Is Consciousness? | Eric Schwitzgebel
69 minutes
What Is Virtue? | Jennifer Frey
73 minutes
What Is Love? | Dominic Pettman
64 minutes
What Is Gender? | Robin Dembroff
58 minutes
What Are Slurs? | Jason Stanley
59 minutes
What Is Criticism | Ryan Ruby
61 minutes
What Is History? | D. Graham Burnett
62 minutes
What Is Art? | Becca Rothfeld
41 minutes
What Is Memory? | Julian Lucas
58 minutes
What Is Matter? | Sean Carroll
61 minutes
What Is Mental Health? | Danielle Carr
65 minutes
What Is Poetry? | Jeff Dolven
54 minutes
What Are Dreams? | Matthew Spellberg
62 minutes
What Is Philosophy? | Agnes Callard
62 minutes