By Kevin O’Sullivan
We all know that feeling. You start out with great intentions on that 600-page tome, but one hundred eye-watering pages later begin to ask why you ever started in the first place, calculating just how long it will take to meander through the remaining 152,496 words and on to the next book on your list. But just when you begin to lose confidence in your abilities to concentrate on anything longer than the ‘News Digest’ in The Irish Times, something invariably comes along so perfectly formed it restores your faith in intellectual debate (if not quite the human race).
The Philosophy Bites series of podcasts are just such a thing of beauty – topics of grand philosophical import broken into easily digestible discussions. The format is simple: David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton sit down with prominent philosophers and question and cajole their way through the latter’s areas of expertise. The topics turn out to be as varied and useful as you might expect, with contributions by everyone from Quentin Skinner (on Machiavelli’s The Prince) and Terence Irwin (on Aristotle’s Ethics) to theologian Don Cupitt (on non-realism about God). There are discussions on assisted dying, scientific realism, genocide and bombing civilians in warfare, and other recent examinations of Berkeley’s Puzzle and the myths of Nietzsche.
Covering these huge issues in less than twenty minutes at a time might seem a stretch, but by sticking to the interesting question and explanation format, Edmonds, Warburton and their contributors manage it with consummate ease. So forget accusations of dumbing down and the short attention spans of modern media, these podcasts are the perfect intellectual tonic on the commute home after hours in the office/library/archive or simply a thought-provoking insertion into your day. Highly recommended.