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Podcast Profile: A History of Ideas

podcast imageTwitter: @BBCRadio4 (followed by 61 philosophers)
Site: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04bwydw
60 episodes
2014 to 2015
Average episode: 13 minutes
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Categories: Broadcast Radio Programs • Interview-Style

Podcaster's summary: Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work of key philosophers and their theories.

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List Updated: 2022-Aug-10 11:32 UTC. Episodes: 60. Feedback: @TrueSciPhi.

Episodes
2015-Aug-07 • 13 minutes
Neuropsychologist Paul Broks on Wittgenstein
Paul Broks looks at the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the problem of "other minds". How do I know you are not a zombie who behaves like a human but actually has no consciousness? Even if you are conscious, how can I tell that what I experience as red, you do not experience as blue? I know what's going on in my own mind, but I can never have direct access to what's going on in yours. Such questions have troubled philosophers for centuries, but Wittgenstein thought that most of these tough problems we...
2015-Aug-06 • 13 minutes
Philosopher Clare Carlisle on Reality and Perception
If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? That's the kind of head-scratching question that's popularly believed to occupy the time and brains of philosophers. It relates to the ideas of immaterialism proposed by Bishop George Berkeley who asserted that the only things that exist are minds and ideas in those minds. He said that matter didn't really exist and that, in any case, it was unnecessary to complicate things with such a concept. For Berkeley, "to be perceived ...
2015-Aug-05 • 13 minutes
Physicist Tara Shears on Falsification
Science is based on fact, right? Cold, unchanging, unarguable facts. Perhaps not, says physicist Tara Shears. Tara is more inclined to follow the principles of the Anglo-Austrian philosopher, Karl Popper. He believed that human knowledge progresses through 'falsification'. A theory or idea shouldn't be described as scientific unless it could, in principle, be proven false. Raised in a Vienna in thrall to Marxism and Freudianism, Popper bristled against these 'sciences' which could adapt and survive to p...
2015-Aug-04 • 13 minutes
Lawyer Harry Potter on Eyewitness Testimony
Barrister Harry Potter asks whether we can believe the evidence of our own eyes. It's a vital question for the justice system today and Harry traces it back to the work of 18th century Philosopher David Hume. Hume, a key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, wrote about miracles, arguing they were most likely the product of wishful thinking and faulty perception. His arguments are still important for barristers, judges and juries still reliant on eye witness testimony to decide guilt or innocence. To find...
2015-Aug-03 • 13 minutes
How Can I Know Anything at All?
A history of ideas. Presented by Melvyn Bragg but told in many voices. Each week Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week he's asking 'How can I know anything at all?' Helping him answer it are physicist Tara Shears, lawyer Harry Potter, philosopher Clare Carlisle and neuropsychologist Paul Broks. For the rest of the week Tara, Harry, Clare and Paul will take us further into the history of this idea with programmes of their own. Between them...
2015-Jul-31 • 13 minutes
Writer Lisa Appignanesi on the Love of Children
How should we love our children? Can we build on the feelings we experience when we see them for the first time, raise them by instinct and personal principles or should we consult the childcare gurus of the internet and the bookshelves? Lisa Appignanesi, the novelist, biographer and author of 'All About Love' suggests that we should turn to the first childcare expert of them all, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The father of the Romantic movement was one of the first philosophers to consider the importance of the ...
2015-Jul-30 • 13 minutes
Psychotherapist Mark Vernon on Freud
What is love? Psychotherapist Mark Vernon looks at Freud's ideas on the Greek god Eros, which he saw as a kind of life force running through us, shaping our desires and passions Freud is often thought of as reducing everything to sex, but in his view, for humans even sex isn't even really about sex. Although he started off thinking that sex was about biological release of pressure - like a steam engine - he quickly realised, from working with patients, that it was more about fantasy and imagination. Huma...
2015-Jul-29 • 13 minutes
Theologian Giles Fraser on Altruism
Giles Fraser discusses gene theory versus altruism with playwright Tom Stoppard whose play The Hard Problem explores the extent to which our genes dictate human acts of love and kindness, and Armand Leroi, the evolutionary biologist who says we are merely programmed to carry out altruistic acts. Producer: Maggie Ayre.
2015-Jul-28 • 13 minutes
Classicist Edith Hall on Aristophanes in Plato
In 416BC the Greek playwright Aristophanes went to a drinking party. The guests included many famous Athenians, including Socrates, and all of them delivered a speech about love. Aristophanes' speech, says presenter Edith Hall, is 'quite simply the most charming account of why humans need a love partner, another half, in world literature.' In the beginning, he says, humans had two bodies - four legs, four arms. These early humans wheeled around the planet doing cartwheels and were blissfully happy. Then the...
2015-Jul-27 • 13 minutes
What Is Love?
A history of ideas. Presented by Melvyn Bragg but told in many voices. Each week Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week he's asking 'What is Love?'. Helping him answer it are theologian Giles Fraser, writer Lisa Appignanesi, classicist Edith Hall and psychotherapist Mark Vernon. For the rest of the week Giles, Lisa, Edith and Mark will take us further into the history of ideas about love with programmes of their own. Between them they will e...
2015-Jul-24 • 13 minutes
Philosopher Timothy Secret on Ancestor Worship
If we're to live well together we must first learn to live well with the dead, says Timothy Secret. At traditional Chinese funerals money, and sometimes paper effigies of goods like washing machines and aeroplanes are burned so that the dead might be adequately equipped in the afterlife. To the Western onlooker this can feel strange but Timothy Secret believes we have something to learn. For Confucius, the Chinese teacher and thinker, respect for and obedience to your parents is one of the most important ...
2015-Jul-23 • 13 minutes
Philosopher Angie Hobbs on Plato's Philosopher Kings
Professor Angie Hobbs asks if the key to harmonious living could be found in Plato's Republic where he proposes that the ideal state be run by philosophers and not by those who seek power for their own ends. Producer: Maggie Ayre.
2015-Jul-22 • 13 minutes
Economist Kate Barker on the Free Market
Is a Free Market the vital foundation of a fair, dynamic and creative society? The father of economics, Adam Smith certainly thought so. Since the publication of 'The Wealth of Nations' in 1776 Smith's thoughts on trade and money-making have come to be seen as the theoretical foundations of a rational and rather uncaring form of pure capitalism. Economist, Dame Kate Barker is keen to put the soul back into Smith, revealing the staunch moral principles that underlined his view of a fair and just capitalist ...
2015-Jul-21 • 13 minutes
Historian Justin Champion on Toleration
Professor Justin Champion examines Locke's theory of Toleration through the inhabitants of Spitalfields past and present. He goes to Brick Lane whose famous mosque was built as a Huguenot Church and became a synagogue before becoming the centre of Bengali life in London. He meets the Bishop of London, himself of Huguenot descent and local politician Abdal Ullah to discuss religious tolerance then and now Producer: Maggie Ayre.
2015-Jul-20 • 13 minutes
How Should We Live Together?
A history of ideas. Presented by Melvyn Bragg but told in many voices. Each week Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week he's asking 'How should we live together?'. Helping him answer it are economist Kate Barker, historian Justin Champion and the philosophers Timothy Secret and Angie Hobbs. For the rest of the week Kate, Justin, Timothy and Angie will take us further into the history of ideas around this question with programmes of their o...
2015-Apr-17 • 13 minutes
Philosopher Barry Smith on Descartes and Consciousness
Rene Descartes, one of the most influential philosophers ever, thought the mind was like an open book that could be read by the light of reason. So there was nothing that we could not access or examine in our own minds. In fact Descartes argued that consciousness was the mind - there was nothing beyond it. Now we see the mind as a labyrinthine cellar full of bric-a-brac and untapped rooms of which consciousness is merely one - and a small one at that. Barry Smith charts this change and explains some of the ...
2015-Apr-16 • 13 minutes
Philosopher Jules Evans on Jung and the Mind
Philosopher Jules Evans explores Jung and the shadow inside all of us. With archive contributions from Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud; plus fantasy writer Juliet McKenna and Mark Vernon, author of Carl Jung: How to Believe.
2015-Apr-15 • 13 minutes
Writer AL Kennedy on Sartre and the Individual
Writer AL Kennedy on Existentialist ideas about the individual. Jean Paul Sartre argued that, for humans, 'existence preceded essence'. This means that there is no blueprint or template from which to work - humans are free to make themselves up as they go along. Being an individual comes from the way you negotiate this freedom and the choices you make in the face of it.
2015-Apr-14 • 13 minutes
Paul Broks on John Locke and Personal Identity
Neuropsychologist Paul Broks asks how we can be sure we're the same person as we were yesterday. The philosopher John Locke thought it depended on what we could remember: if we could remember something happening to us, then we were the same person as the person it happened to. But is that true? What if our memories could be downloaded and then uploaded into another body? Would that new person be the same as us? And if so, how much would we care if the body we now inhabit was destroyed? These sci-fi philoso...
2015-Apr-13 • 13 minutes
What Does It Mean to Be Me?
A new history of ideas presented by Melvyn Bragg but told in many voices. Each week Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week he's asking 'What does it mean to be me?' Helping him answer the question are philosopher Barry Smith, neuropsychologist Paul Broks, writer A L Kennedy and philosopher Jules Evans. For the rest of the week Jules, Paul, Alison and Barry take us further into the history of ideas about the self with programmes of their own...
2015-Apr-10 • 13 minutes
Historian Alice Taylor on Habeas Corpus
Historian Alice Taylor explores the idea of justice through history, through the lens of power. Who holds the power? Who SHOULD hold the power? Who does that power serve? And who should it protect? One way in which the justice system can remove the power of a citizen is by locking them up, but there are strict laws about how and when that can be done. The writ of Habeas Corpus, part of our legal system almost since the time of Magna Carta, is designed to protect subjects from being imprisoned unlawfully. B...
2015-Apr-09 • 13 minutes
Thomas Hobbes and Civil Disobedience
Criminologist David Wilson looks at 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes and his "social contract" theory. Hobbes argued that the only way to secure peace was for everyone to give up their personal freedom and agree to be ruled by a "sovereign". Otherwise, he said, life was liable to be "nasty, brutish and short", with everyone at war with everyone else. In fact, none of us has actually signed a contract to give up our freedom, so what if we disagree with what the state wants to do? David looks at the c...
2015-Apr-08 • 13 minutes
Philosopher Angie Hobbs on the Veil of Ignorance
Angie Hobbs with Leif Wenar and David Runciman debate and explore one of the most searching ideas of twentieth century legal thought: John Rawls' assertion of the value of a veil of ignorance. John Rawls was a prolific American philosopher and one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century. His magnum opus, A Theory of Justice defines the principles of Justice as those that "everyone would accept and agree to from a fair position". He proposed that in order to build a truly 'just' system of l...
2015-Apr-07 • 13 minutes
Barrister Harry Potter on Deterrence
All this week Melvyn Bragg and guests are discussing ideas of Justice. Today lawyer Harry Potter uses the ideas of the philosopher Kant to ask whether deterrent prison sentences are just. He takes us back to the 1700s, when hundreds of petty offences carried the death penalty. And Gordon Finlayson from the University of Sussex explains how Kant's idea that you should never treat people as a means to an end would put him at odds with our justice system today, where people can receive heavy sentences in ord...
2015-Apr-06 • 13 minutes
What Is Justice?
A new history of ideas presented by Melvyn Bragg but told in many voices. Each week Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week he's asking 'What is Justice'? Helping him answer it are barrister Harry Potter, criminologist David Wilson, philosopher Angie Hobbs and historian Alice Taylor. For the rest of the week Harry, David, Angie and Alice will take us further into the history of ideas about justice with programmes of their own. Between them ...
2015-Apr-03 • 13 minutes
Ayn Rand and Selfishness
The Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand believed that behaving rationally meant putting your own interests first: you actually have a moral duty to be selfish. Altruism or self-sacrifice are immoral, she claimed, as is asking for help from others. Clearly this goes against most traditional views of ethics, but Rand's views have become influential, particularly in some corners of American politics. Rand's protege, Nathaniel Branden, developed her ideas to stress the importance of self-esteem - the route to ...
2015-Apr-02 • 13 minutes
Naomi Appleton on the Buddha's Four Noble Truths
Naomi Appleton explores the Buddha's Four Noble Truths in a week of programmes asking how do I live a good life. She speaks to a buddhist nun in Edinburgh who used to be a model, and investigates the link between mindfulness and the Four Noble Truths. With contributions from Ani Rinchen Khandro and Professor Willem Kuyken. Naomi Appleton is the Chancellor's fellow in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh. The producer is Miles Warde.
2015-Apr-01 • 13 minutes
Justin Champion on Max Weber and the Protestant Ethic
Hardworking families, alarm clock Britain, shirkers and strivers...there's no doubt that ideas about the moral power and value of hard work are embedded in our culture. But where did these ideas come from? The historian, Justin Champion, explores the ideas of the German thinker and father of sociology Max Weber. In his most famous book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber set out his idea that the roots of our beliefs about the value of hard work and material success are to be found in...
2015-Mar-31 • 13 minutes
Philosopher Jules Evans on Aristotle and Flourishing
Philosopher Jules Evans wants to prove there's been a revival of Aristotle's ideas about flourishing and how to live a good life. "These ideas, which many of you might think are a bit dusty, they are central to modern politics, so the National Office of Statistics now measures national eudaimonic wellbeing, their flourishing." To prove his point he visits Gus O'Donnell, former head of the civil service, who explains: "If you think of one thing governments could do, it would be to get rid of misery. Making m...
2015-Mar-30 • 13 minutes
How Do I Live a Good Life?
A new history of ideas presented by Melvyn Bragg but told in many voices. Each week Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week he's asking 'How do I live a good life'? Helping him answer it are historian Justin Champion, neuropsychologist Paul Broks , theologian Naomi Appleton and philosopher Jules Evans. For the rest of the week Jules, Paul, Justin and Naomi will take us further into the history of ideas about the good life with programmes of...
2015-Jan-30 • 13 minutes
Archaeologist Matt Pope on tools and human evolution
There's a tiny bone needle at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire. For archaeologist Matt Pope it's hugely significant. 13,000 years ago local people used it to construct tailored clothing which allowed them to survive and thrive at the very limits of Ice Age civilisation. Skip forward millennia and the first human visitor to Mars will be protected by a thin skin of man-made fabric, a suit containing the only biological processes for millions of miles. Our ability to create tools that take us into new and hostile...
2015-Jan-29 • 13 minutes
Surgeon Gabriel Weston on medical technology
Surgeons of the distant past were little more than skilled butchers, trying to minimise the agony of their bone-sawing craft. Surgery itself was a last-resort and one you might not survive, and if you did, one of many brutal contagious diseases might wipe you out instead. But spool forward through history, past the growth in sanitation, inventions of anaesthesia, antibiotics, radiation therapy and the discovery of germ theory, and look at the world of the present-day medic. Safe, effective drug treatments...
2015-Jan-28 • 12 minutes
Historian Justin Champion on Francis Bacon
Historian Justin Champion on Francis Bacon's anxieties about the fallibility of technological innovators. The 17th century polymath Francis Bacon blew a fanfare for the new scientific age: where man would dominate, understand and improve the world and use technology to achieve this. Optimistic about man's ingenuity and the potential perfectibility of human society he saw also that men were weak. Nature might have been laid out by God as a kind of book for man to read but individual humans were as likely to ...
2015-Jan-27 • 13 minutes
Writer Tom Chatfield: Has technology rewired our brains?
Is technology making us less human? Writer, Tom Chatfield is an enthusiastic downloader of the latest apps, an early adopter of anything small and shiny that promises to smooth his path through life. But Tom can't help feeling a little anxious about the hold that new technology has on his life. Plato felt much the same, concerned that the new- fangled concept of writing might destroy the ability of the Ancient Greeks to memorise vast swathes of human knowledge. Do car sat-navs destroy our innate sense of d...
2015-Jan-26 • 13 minutes
How Has Technology Changed Us?
A new history of ideas presented by Melvyn Bragg but told in many voices. Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week he's asking how has technology changed us? Helping him answer it are Archaeologist Matt Pope, the Surgeon Gabriel Weston, the technologist Tom Chatfield and the historian Justin Champion. For the rest of the week Matt, Gabriel, Tom and Justin will take us further into the history of ideas about technology with programmes of their...
2015-Jan-23 • 13 minutes
Giles Fraser on Wittgenstein and Blade Runner
Giles Fraser thinks being human isn't a matter of biology or some unique attribute like language. It's not to do with what we are but about how we treat each other. Taking the work of the philosopher Wittgenstein he argues that to be human is to be considered worthy of certain kinds of respect and moral compassion. For Giles, human is a moral category and it is an instruction to treat each other well.
2015-Jan-22 • 13 minutes
Barry Smith on Noam Chomsky and Human Language
Barry Smith argues that language is our most important uniquely human attribute. It doesn't just help us communicate, it helps us to think. He makes the case for the distinctiveness of human language against the limited signalling systems of other animals. He looks at Noam Chomsky's idea of a universal grammar – that there is something in the human brain that gives us an innate ability to produce language from very early in our lives. And he talks to experts on other intelligent animals - Prof. Nicola Clay...
2015-Jan-21 • 13 minutes
Catharine Edwards on Seneca and facing death.
Catharine Edwards wants to introduce you to the Roman Philosopher Seneca. But he's dying. Towards the end of his life Seneca became interested in the idea that only human beings had foreknowledge of their own death. Animals didn't know and Gods didn't die. This singular piece of knowledge gives human life its meaning as well as its burden. Seneca argued that to liberate yourself from the fear of death was a vital part of life. But did his own famous death live up to his beliefs?
2015-Jan-20 • 13 minutes
Simon Schaffer on humans, apes and Carl Linnaeus
Simon Schaffer is interested in the human species in general and one member of it in particular. Carl Linnaeus was a Swedish botanist and zoologist who set out the basic structure of how we name and understand life on earth. In doing so he broached the thorny question of where humans should sit among the species of the earth. A hundred years before Darwin he correctly placed us among the apes. Simon examines that relationship to see the things that mark our similarities and our differences. Simon comes face...
2015-Jan-19 • 12 minutes
What Makes Us Human?
A new history of ideas presented by Melvyn Bragg but told in many voices. Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week he's asking What makes us human? Helping him answer it are philosopher Barry Smith, classicist Catharine Edwards, historian Simon Schaffer and theologian Giles Fraser. For the rest of the week Barry, Catharine, Simon and Giles will take us further into the history of ideas about being human with programmes of their own. Between...
2015-Jan-16 • 12 minutes
Historian Justin Champion on William Whiston's Comet Theory
Historian Justin Champion on Early Modern Comet Theory Those who watched in awe as the space craft Philae bounced its way onto a comet last November should hold a candle for William Whiston. Back in 1696 this British theologian, mathematician and acolyte of Isaac Newton published a book called 'A new theory of the earth'. In it he argued that comets were responsible for the origins of the earth and life upon it. This was what Philae was tasked to help us find out when it dotted down on comet 67P/Churyumov-...
2015-Jan-15 • 12 minutes
Theologian Giles Fraser on Thomas Aquinas
If the universe exists what caused it to be? Theologian Giles Fraser examines the brilliant medieval scholar St. Thomas Aquinas' and his argument for God as the first cause of everything. It's part of a powerful body of ideas arguing for the logical necessity of the existence of God. But Giles also wonders how valuable these kinds of 'cosmological arguments' are for us today.
2015-Jan-14 • 12 minutes
Astronomer Carole Mundell on the Big Bang
What put the Bang in the Big Bang? On the 7th of November 1919 an announcement was made to the great and good of the Royal Society. Photographs from the observations of a solar eclipse had just arrived in London. The images provided the proof of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. The astronomer, Carole Mundell explains the significance of that moment and charts the steps that led from there to the generally accepted idea of the origin of our Universe in the energetic burst of the Big Bang. But what...
2015-Jan-13 • 12 minutes
Jessica Frazier on Creation Myths
How did the world begin? In the Old Testament it all starts with an act of God, but where did God come from? Dr Jessica Frazier, lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies wants to know how different cultures deal with this most fundamental of questions. Hindus can choose from a menu of options, followers of Chinese Taoism are comfortable with the idea that we come from chaos, a potent force of creativity that continues to pulse through the li...
2015-Jan-12 • 12 minutes
How Did Everything Begin?
A new history of ideas presented by Melvyn Bragg but told in many voices. Each week Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week he's asking 'How did everything begin'? Helping him answer it are Cosmologist Carole Mundell, Historian Justin Champion, Theologian Giles Fraser and Creation myth Expert, Jessica Frazier For the rest of the week Carole, Giles, Justin and Jessica will take us further into the history of ideas about origins with programmes...
2014-Nov-28 • 12 minutes
Philosopher Angie Hobbs on the Value of Conscience
Philosopher Angie Hobbs examines the concept of conscience or moral intuition and asks whether it stands up to rational scrutiny. In his Novel 'The Brothers Karamazov' the 19th century Russian writer Dostoevsky posed a moral dilemma – would it be morally right to murder an innocent child in exchange for Paradise on earth for all other humans. In other words does the end ever justify the means or are there actions which are simply unacceptable whatever the benefit? Angie Hobbs examines our moral intui...
2014-Nov-27 • 12 minutes
Lawyer Harry Potter on Morality and the Law
Criminal Barrister Harry Potter asks whether the law should enforce morals, and if so, which morals? Should the law tell us what we can and can't do? Or should it go further and tell us what is right, and what is wrong? Criminal Barrister Lawyer Harry Potter asks what a moral law might be, in a multi-faith multi-cultural Britain. His key thinker is Jeremy Bentham – 18th century English eccentric and radical – whose theory of Utilitarianism fused law and morality. Harry introduces the grisly tale of cann...
2014-Nov-26 • 12 minutes
Neuro-psychologist Paul Broks on Morality and the Brain
The eighteenth century writer Jeremy Bentham thought that telling right from wrong as simple: morally right things were the ones that increased the total of human happiness. Wrong things were the ones that increased the stock of suffering. His principle is known as utilitarianism. It sounds rational, but does it do justice to the way we actually think about morality? Some things seem wrong even when, according to utilitarianism, they are right. Recently, philosophers and psychologists have started to appl...
2014-Nov-25 • 12 minutes
Theologian Giles Fraser on Moral character
How do you make good moral decisions when you have no time to make them? This is a question that troubled Giles Fraser after he met soldiers who had served in Afghantistan. The moral codes Giles had studied required a lot of time for thinking and reflection but you simply don't get that when deciding whether to shoot on the battle field. This led Giles to think about the Greek philosopher Aristotle and his system of virtue ethics – a way of thinking about morals that emphases character rather than rules. ...
2014-Nov-24 • 12 minutes
How Can I Tell Right From Wrong?
A new history of ideas presented by Melvyn Bragg but told in many voices. Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week the question is 'How do I tell wrong from right?' Helping him answer it are Neuro-psychologst Paul Broks, Philosopher Angie Hobbs, Theologian Giles Fraser and Lawyer Harry Potter. For the rest of the week Paul, Angie, Giles and Harry will take us further into the history of ideas about morality with programmes of their own. ...
2014-Nov-21 • 12 minutes
Philosopher Angie Hobbs on Beauty and Morality
Philosopher Angie Hobbs is interested in Plato's idea that there is a relationship between beauty and morality. The idea that goodness is beautiful and evil things are ugly is written deep into our culture. But Plato's ideas also suggest that beautiful things could not be appreciated by evil people. Can that idea really survive the image of a Nazi Camp Kommandant listening to classical music? This programme is part of a week of programmes looking at the history of ideas around Freedom.
2014-Nov-20 • 12 minutes
Historian Simon Schaffer on Beauty and Evolution
Historian of science Simon Schaffer is interested in the purpose of beauty within evolutionary explanations. Taking the ideas of Charles Darwin as his starting point, he wants to know how and why the capacity to see beauty evolved and whether this powerful, fleeting and apparently most useless of attributes can really have an evolutionary explanation. Simon talks to neuroscientist and biologist Stephen Rose and film-maker and anthropologist Chris Wright about whether Darwin really can explain why he finds M...
2014-Nov-19 • 12 minutes
Vicky Neale on the Mathematics of Beauty
Mathematician Vicky Neale is keen to explain why mathematics is beautiful but also to work out whether beauty can itself be explained mathematically. There is a rich tradition of thought here going all the way back to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras, whose understanding of mathematical relationships sits at the origins of western music. Vicky talks to guitar technician Eltham Jones and to Prof Thomas Johansen from the philosophy faculty in Oxford. This programme is part of a week of programmes looking at ...
2014-Nov-18 • 12 minutes
Barry Smith on the Philosophy of Good Taste
Philosopher and wine enthusiast Barry Smith samples David Hume's theory of good taste. The 18th century Scottish philosopher argued that the appreciation of beauty was not easily arrived at - it required dedication, knowledge, expertise. In that sense he is the godfather of the critic and the patron saint of the connoisseur. As he delves into our sense of 'good taste' Barry recounts a wine laden tale from Don Quixote, talks to Neuroscientist Semir Zeki and to Art Historian Liz Prettejohn. This programme is...
2014-Nov-17 • 12 minutes
Why Are Things Beautiful?
A new history of ideas presented by Melvyn Bragg but told in many voices. Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week he's asking 'Why are things beautiful?' Helping him answer it are Mathematician Vicky Neale, historian of science Simon Schaffer and philosophers Barry Smith and Angie Hobbs. For the rest of the week Vicky, Simon, Barry and Angie will take us further into the history of ideas about beauty with programmes of their own. Between the...
2014-Nov-14 • 12 minutes
Neuroscientist Paul Broks on Free Will and the Brain
Paul Broks tackles an age-old philosophical argument over whether humans have free will or whether all events are pre-determined. As a neuroscientist he is interested in the latest info on how our brains work. He also goes back to the 18th century French thinker Henry Poincare who argued that the universe was entirely mechanistic and that therefore all events in it are pre-ordained. Paul talks to researchers in the field including Professor Patrick Haggard of University College London to establish whether t...
2014-Nov-13 • 12 minutes
Theologian Giles Fraser on Religious Freedom
Theologian Giles Fraser thinks freedom is overrated. It has become a kind of tyranny or obsession. He is interested in the tradition of religious thinking that understands true liberation sometimes comes from accepting boundaries on life. His key thinker is the medieval philosopher and Franciscan monk William of Ockham whom he blames for this turn of events. Giles talks to Brother Sam, a contemporary Franciscan Monk, about the way his life of constraint has led him to feel free. Giles also talks to Phillip ...
2014-Nov-12 • 12 minutes
Lawyer Harry Potter on Individual Freedom and the State
Harry Potter is a criminal barrister and watches people being let off and locked up for a living. He is interested in the ways the state can curtail our liberty. His key thinker is John Stuart Mill, the 19th century British philosopher who argued that the state should take a minimal role in the lives of its citizens. Harry talks to Mark Dempster, ex-drug addict, dealer and now counsellor about the limits of individual liberty and to Prof. Philip Schofield of University College London about JS Mill and his ...
2014-Nov-11 • 12 minutes
Philosopher Angie Hobbs on Positive and Negative Freedom
Angie Hobbs wants to tell you about two kinds of freedom - Negative and Positive. This influential philosophical distinction was made in the 20th century by Isaiah Berlin but it's rooted in the ideas of the hugely influential Greek Philosopher Plato. Negative freedom involves getting things out of your way - be it the state, the police or your parents. Positive freedom is the ability to take command of your own self and make decisions that are in your own interest. Berlin used the metaphor of doors: Negat...
2014-Nov-10 • 12 minutes
What Does It Mean to Be Free?
A new history of ideas presented by Melvyn Bragg but told in many voices. Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week he's asking what does it mean to be Free? Helping him answer it are philosopher Angie Hobbs, criminal barrister Harry Potter, neuropsychologist Paul Broks and theologian Giles Fraser. For the rest of the week Angie, Giles, Harry and Paul take us further into the history of ideas with programmes of their own. Between them they'll ...