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Nigel Warburton on... philosophy and conversation

Updated Tuesday, 12th February 2008

Philosophy thrives on conversation, says Nigel Warburton

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Philosophy thrives on conversation. Socrates, the quintessential philosopher, spent most of his time debating with the Athenians he met, pushing them to elaborate on what they thought they understood. It was from his persistent questioning that Philosophy, as we know it, emerged.  Philosophical ideas don’t emerge in a vacuum: it is through dialogue and engagement with another’s thoughts that we develop our own. Socrates was reluctant to write his philosophy down because the written page can’t answer back and clarify meaning. One of the great benefits of talking about ideas is that it allows us to eliminate misunderstandings, and to make more precise what is at issue. But it is also true that some thinkers express their passion for ideas in their voice, their tone, their inflexion, as well as in their words. This can be truly inspirational.

Podcasting opens up new potential for Philosophy.  On a few, (inexcusably) rare occasions, radio and television have given the public access to some of the best thinkers of the day: notably with Bryan Magee’s landmark television series, the unfortunately named ‘Men of Ideas’ and ‘The Great Philosophers’.  But now podcasting makes possible the dissemination of audio (and even audio-visual) content all over the world, on demand, to anyone who has an online connection.

Recording Ethics Bites has been a real education for me. How many people have the chance to talk to a range of the top philosophers in the world on major issues that affect us all? I hope you enjoy listening to the results, whether or not you agree with what is said. My ideal listener is not a passive eavesdropper on other people’s conversations, but rather someone who is stimulated to develop their own thoughts on the topic under discussion. Ethics, after all, is not just for philosophers. We all have to decide how we will live, what we value, and why.

Nigel Warburton, presenter Ethics Bites.





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