That’s what you always say, right? What is philosophy anyway? Just a bunch of old guys sitting around sipping tea talking about ‘ideas’ that couldn’t possibly have any application in modern, real life, right? You want philosophy, go to college, right?
Food For Thought
The human condition is such that we must be nourished physically and mentally, and the two are connected. You need food not just for your stomach but also for your mind.
Philosophy is the food that nourishes your soul, spiritually and mentally. And a podcast can provide a bite-sized scooby snack of philosophy at times when you didn’t even know you were hungry.
Not as easy as it sounds. But okay. Philosophy can be defined as a ‘theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behavior. As in, ‘My philosophy is shoot first, ask questions later.’ That’s not the kind of philosophy we’re talking about.
The definition we’re looking for is ‘the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.’ What a mouthful! You could even call it ‘philling’. The origin of the word is Greek for ‘love of wisdom’. Pretty poetic, eh?
Wordplay aside, time to learn more about:
The Not So Brief History of Philosophy
The concept of philosophy dates back to even before Before Christ. Philosophy can be equally applied to the discussion of values and language. In philosophical discussions, problems are posed as questions in search of answers, of resolution. Thus, the old cliche image of Socrates and Aristotle sitting on rocks answering each other’s questions with more questions in a never-ending circle of ‘Dante’s Inferno’ hell.
Besides questioning, other philosophical methods include critical discussion, rational argument and systematic presentation. Specific disciplines contained within include epistemology, metaphysics, logic, ethics and the rules of inference.
Subfields include philosophy of science, political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of logic and philosophy of the mind. Much like every discipline is an art form, every discipline demands a philosophy. There’s no avoiding it.
Seems to be getting a little complicated, isn’t it? Like life? Feels like you need a PhD to figure all this out. Plenty of people spend decades studying philosophy. So why not listen to the experts? That’s where podcasts come in.
That’s a little easier, so okay. According to Wikipedia, a podcast is ‘ an episodic series of digital audio files that a user can download to a personal device to listen to at a time of their choosing.’
Sounds pretty textbook-y.
Basically, podcasts are just a variation on an art form that has been around a long time, since the beginning of mass media really. It’s nothing new. It’s like the stage plays they used to broadcast on the radio in the days before television. Or the talk radio that you still hear today if you flip on the AM station on the radio in your car.
But who does that anymore? People listen to podcasts now. But really the only distinction is the part about ‘at a time of their choosing’ as opposed to the choosing of the broadcaster.
There are all kinds of different podcasts. Podcasts have been making a lot of noise lately. That’s a joke. But maybe you’ve watched the series ‘Archive 81’ on Netflix? Based on a podcast. Or maybe you heard about the Joe Rogan/Spotify controversy that provoked Joni Mitchell and Neil Young to remove their music from the platform? Started on a podcast.
Get On The Bandwidth Wagon
Fifty percent of American households are podcast fans. Nearly forty percent listen to at least one podcast a month and nearly a quarter listen at least once a week. There are over one million podcasts out there, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one fit for you. By the way, that’s not an exaggeration, it’s actually true – over a million podcasts encompassing over twenty nine million episodes.
To get started, you’ll need an application. The most widely used apps include Google Play Music, Apple Podcasts and Spotify, any of which may already be installed on your phone. Additional options include Castro and Overcast.
From there, use the recommendations section to find podcasts matching your interests. Another method is to think about your favorite tv shows or movies and search for similar subject matter.
But if you’re reading this then you’re in the market for a philosophy podcast. You came to the right place!
There are all kinds of philosophy podcasts out there, covering almost any subject you might want to dig your claws into. Some of them cover the history of philosophy, others cover the application of philosophy to today’s society or current events. Other philosophy podcasts feature notable and highly-regarded guests who are experts on one topic or another.
What makes a good philosophy podcast? The eternal question. That depends on your personal philosophy. There are many benefits to listening to philosophy podcasts. They can be educational or therapeutic or both. In any case, you will absorb some wisdom.
Anxious to get started on the path to enlightenment? Then check out this list of perfect for beginners philosophy podcasts first.
Top 5 Best Philosophy Podcasts for Beginners
In No Particular Order (But Pretty Much Alphabetically)
1. The History Of Philosophy Without Any Gaps
Why not start with history, since it repeats itself anyway? This podcast is hosted by Peter Adamson, a professor in Arabic and late ancient philosophy at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany.
In this podcast, Adamson looks at the ideas, lives and historical context of major philosophers, literally without any gaps. Recent sample topics of episodes include Supernaturals in the Material World, Renaissance Magic and Astrology, Toleration in the Netherlands and Renaissance Medicine.
Episode lengths vary from twenty to thirty minutes. New episodes are posted every week or two.
2. The Philosophy Guy
Like hearing philosophy from the guy next door. If your guy next door was Brendan Weber, a writer who discusses how popular culture and entertainment – television, movies, songs – process and explore different concepts of philosophy, spirituality and psychology.
This is a great podcast for beginners because it’s an entry point to relate to the ancient ideas of philosophy through the prism of modern touchstones, including public figures, and helps to apply what it all means.
Recent topics include ‘Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Socrates and the Mad Society’, Carl Jung and the desire for transcendent meaning, spiritual awakenings and the trouble with consumerist spirituality.
Episodes are released generally weekly and can last anywhere from under ten minutes to over forty minutes.
3. Point Of Inquiry
Perhaps the most respected and possibly the longest-running philosophy podcast. ‘Point Of Inquiry’ is produced by the Center For Inquiry, which is based in Los Angeles. The Center For Inquiry ‘strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry and humanist values’.
Point Of Inquiry is hosted by James Underdown, who is the Executive Director of the Center. Occasionally it features guest hosts such as comedienne and former Saturday Night Live player Julia Sweeney. Past guests have included Neil Degrasse Tyson.
The podcast is described as ‘where the brightest and boldest minds of our time meet to engage in deep conversations and sound off on all the things you’re not supposed to talk about at the dinner table: Science, religion, politics and culture.
Episodes run about sixty minutes and new episodes are posted on a frequent basis, though not always weekly or monthly.
4. Very Bad Wizards
Double, double, toil and trouble! Very Bad Wizards features a tag team of two passionate hosts: Tamler Sommers, philosopher, and David Pizarro, psychologist.
Pizarro is an associate professor at Cornell University in the psychology department and one of the leading researchers in the field of intuition and moral judgment. Sommers, meanwhile, is a writer who got his doctorate from Duke University. He is a professor at the University of Houston and specializes in ethics and free will.
They share a love for pop culture and cognitive science. Recent episode topics have included ‘Happy Freedom Day!’ and ‘Making Your Nervous System Your Ally’. These guys get deep – episodes can run over ninety minutes and new ones are released every two weeks or so.
Philosophical Discussions About Everyday Life – How many times every day of your life do you shout to the heavens: ‘Why? Why, oh lord! Why me?’ If you answered even just once, this is the podcast for you!
What makes ‘Why?’ such a great philosophy podcast for beginners is because it applies what could be confusing and abstract concepts to the demands and conundrums of everyday life. It helps to give you perspective on the daily whirlwind.
The host is Jack Russell Terrier – just kidding, his last name is not Terrier nor is he a dog, though you gotta wonder how often he hears that joke – Jack Russell Weinstein. Weinstein is a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Dakota. Some of his most delicious topics include religion, propaganda and free speech. Which I, for one, am glad he believes in, considering that joke.
Recent episode titles include ‘A Philosophical Look at Ska and Jamaican Music’, ‘How Important is the Brain to the Great Philosophical Questions’ and ‘Is The Law Consistent?’. Episodes run between sixty and ninety minutes, with new ones released generally monthly.
For The Partially Enlightened
While the aforementioned podcasts are a great jumping off into the abyss point, that list just scratches the surface of what’s out there. This next list of the best philosophy podcasts feature series which can be enjoyed by beginners and smartypants alike. It features seven lucky participants.
The Best Philosophy Podcasts
Again, in no particular order but pretty much alphabetically.
Found on most best philosophy podcast lists. First, here’s a definition of this word you probably don’t know: Elucidations: ‘An explanation that makes something clear; clarification.’ Does this podcast live up to its name?
Yes! ‘Elucidations’ offers clarifications on issues ranging from pop culture to, natch, philosophical topics. It is hosted by Matt Teichman and produced and recorded by the University of Chicago.Teichman himself is a lecturer at the University in the Division of Humanities.
Teichman lectures full time on his specialty, the philosophy of language and the relationship between philosophy and linguistics. On the show, he sits down with prominent guests to discuss topics such as religious freedom and moral psychology.
New episodes are released every month and can run from thirty minutes to an hour. Recent episodes centered on discrimination, weakness of the will egotism and altruism.
2. Making Sense
A sensible title for a philosophy podcast. Isn’t that what philosophy does, make sense out of things that feel like they don’t make sense at all?
Making Sense is hosted by Sam Harris, a neurosurgeon, philosopher and best-selling author. If anyone knows the mind inside and out, it’s him! Making Sense focuses on controversial questions about current events, the mind and society.
Harris’ books include ‘The End Of Faith’ and ‘Letter To A Christian Nation’. Harris holds a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and delves into topics regarding religion, rationality and meditation.
Recent episode titles include “Another Call From Ricky’ and ‘Rebooting New York City’. New episodes are posted frequently and can last under or over a half an hour.
3. The Morality Of Everyday Things
The topic is in the title. This podcast is notable for its application to daily life. It shines a window on and illuminates how philosophy plays a role in our daily lives. In the little things. In the significant things. In their own words, this podcast is about everyday ethics.
‘They’ are the hosts, Jake and Ant, who like to pose the kinds of questions you might wonder about as you stumble through day to day life, the kind they enjoy debating. The show has been described as ‘like a heated argument at the pub save for the participants actually knowing what they’re talking about.’
This podcast has shown wide appeal, landing in the top 5 percent of podcasts in the world. Recent explorations include trendiness such as ‘NFT’s: The Future Of Art or a Pyramid Scheme?’ and ‘Is Trophy Hunting Really Wrong’ in addition to timeless debates like ‘Is Liberal Democracy The Best We Can Do?’
New episodes are posted mostly every two weeks, barring holiday breaks. They run close to an hour on average. This podcast is found on almost every list of best philosophy podcasts and you can follow it here.
4. Partially Examined Life
This philosophy podcast is for eager beavers who are curious and ready to learn. The hosts describe themselves as ‘some guys who were at one point determined to do philosophy for a living, then thought better of it.’ There are four of them hosting the show.
It’s a lively show, and recent topics include ‘Love and Nostalgia in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall’, ‘Strategies For Valuing’ and ‘Reliving Groundhog Day’ Episodes typically begin with a short reading followed by a discussion.
Insight and flippancy are the founding philosophies of their chats. Episodes are posted weekly and run up to eighty minutes. Check it out because it has become a genuine cultural phenomenon.
5. Philosophize This!
There’s a challenge! One worth taking.’Philosophize This’ is a very educational podcast that is especially beginner-friendly, focusing on simple topics and the application of them. You don’t need to be at graduate level to follow this podcast.
The famous ideas and thinkers from throughout history are covered in chronological order. Names you might recognize include Erich Fromm, Karl Popper, Kierkegaard, Noah Chomsky of ‘Steal This Book!’ fame, and the ever-looming Nietzsche. Titles and topics include ‘manufacturing consent’, ‘the creation of meaning’ and ‘pragmatism and truth’.
An interesting recent two parter covered the Romanian existentialist Emil Cioran. The podcast is hosted by Stephen West and a new episode is released every one to three weeks. The episodes run around twenty five minutes, give or take five.
6. Pop Culture Philosophers
Sounds fun, right? It is! This podcast examines how pop culture impacts people and relates to philosophy. Every week, the topics can range from horror movies to aliens to video games.
The hosts have names as fun as the topics themselves: John ‘Hammertime’ Holshoe and Rockin’ Robbie Billups. Recently, they have talked about Kevin Smith, comic book heroes like X-Men, Steven Spielberg, superhero movies, sports movies and even whether ‘Dr. Strangelove’ qualifies as a sci-fi film. Marvel or DC, they do not discriminate!
New episodes are posted every three weeks or so, straight from the hosts’ Huntsville Attic recording studios! Running times of episodes vary.
7. Rationally Speaking
A podcast from the most skeptical creatures on earth – New Yorkers! ‘Rationally Speaking’ explores where to draw the line between nonsense and reason, helping you separate science from pseudoscience.
The hosts name is Julia Galef and she welcomes guests like David Shor, Julian Sanchez, Jonathan Haidt and Matt Yglesias. Their raucous debates have recently centered on topics like ‘Understanding Moral Arguments’ and ‘What’s Wrong With Tech Companies’ banning people?’ Spoonfuls are served with heavy doses of humor.
The podcast is recorded in the heart of New York City’s historically free-thinking, freewheeling Greenwich Village. The personal philosophy of the ‘Rationalize This’ gang, which includes co-creator Massimo Pigliucci, is that ‘in an open society we ought to devote ourselves to tracking down prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government and all long-established institutions have gathered and protected them.’
New episodes roll out every two to three weeks and are often clocking in at over an hour.
Rationally Wrapping Up
It’s hard to pick which one of the many philo-centric podcasts is the ‘best philosophy podcast’ hands down. Playing favorites does a disservice to philosophy itself.
For each episode answers a different question and in philosophy, there is always another question to answer. Don’t stop your soul searching and take these philosophy podcasts as guides along on the journey with you. Namaste!
Born and raised amidst the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, I’ve witnessed the city’s many exciting phases. New York is not just a city to me; it’s a living, breathing entity. When I’m not exploring the city or penning down my thoughts, you can find me sipping on a cup of coffee at my favorite local café, playing chess or planning my next trip. For the last twelve years, I’ve been living in South Williamsburg with my partner Berenike.