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Podcast reviews: Three philosophical discussions to listen to in order to make sense of big opaque things

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Melvyn Bragg

Melvyn Bragg

Melvyn Bragg

In Our Time, Philosophy BBC Sounds

Peak Notions / Second Self
Patreon/Spotify

Two Philosophers Drink Beer & Discuss Films
Apple, Spotify, SoundCloud

If there was ever a time for navel-gazing, a global pandemic was it. For much of it we were on autopilot, putting one foot in front of the other without keeling over at the weight of the world. And so it continues. Here are some philosophical podcasts to help make sense of big, opaque things. 

British broadcaster Melvin Bragg has probed many a vanguard’s mind on The South Bank Show from Francis Bacon, Gore Vidal, Liza Minnelli and Zaha Hadid to Björk, Alan Bennett, Ravi Shankar and Craig David. No wonder he was chosen to front In Our Time, Philosophy, a BBC Radio 4 series in which he demystifies, for example, altruism, phenomenology, Zen Buddhism and utilitarianism while profiling the likes of Austrian rationalist Karl Popper, medieval Islamic thinker Al-Ghazali and Polish astronomer Copernicus (pronounced “Copper Knickers” by this writer’s history teacher, in an attempt to drill his name into us. It worked). It’s a mainly white-male affair, of course, as he lingers over historic boffins, though he does allow for Simone de Beauvoir, the Suffragettes and Virginia Woolf.

If a podcast is ‘a digital audio file made available on the internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device’, Laura Kennedy’s Peak Notions fits the bill.  It’s a weekly column delivered to email inboxes, however Kennedy cleverly added an audio version for those who prefer to listen. She embraces high/low culture, weaving in the likes of existentialism, Socrates, Seamus Heaney, bereavement, custard creams and why we’ve gotten the debate about cultural appropriation all wrong. If you like the cut of her whip-smart jib, check out her actual podcast Second Self, which launched just a few weeks’ ago with special fellow Irish guests Blindboy Boatclub and Emma Dabiri.

And now a gear change: Two Philosophers Drink Beer & Discuss Films. Yes, as the name suggests it involves two (Irish) brains, Dr Daniel Murphy and Dr Gregory David Jackson, offering philosophical readings into films as they imbibe hop-based products. Who knew, while watching Trainspotting, one might recall the early writings of Lithuanian-French-Jewish religious thinker Emmanuel Levinas or The Fountainhead writer and Objectivist creator Ayn Rand? John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary also gets a look in (nihilism and Christianity) and Lenny Abrahamson’s Room (Plato’s allegory of the cave, what is reality). It’s simultaneously deep and delicious.

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