Q & A with Peter Adamson
Tell us about your podcast.
It is called the History of Philosophy podcast. I launched it in 2010 when I was at King’s College London and have continued to produce it since moving to the LMU in Munich in 2012. It now includes about 360 episodes on philosophy in classical antiquity, the Islamic world, the medieval period, and ancient India, and is just now moving on to look at Africana philosophy and philosophy in Byzantium. For Indian and Africana philosophy the episodes are co-authored with Jonardon Ganeri (NYU Abu Dhabi) and Chike Jeffers (Dalhousie University), respectively.
Why did you start doing a podcast?
I listen to a lot of podcasts too, and my favourites are history series that go chronologically and with great detail. It occurred to me that it would be great if someone did that for the history of philosophy, because usually people are only exposed to the “great names” and skip from Plato and Aristotle straight to Aquinas, then Descartes, and so on. So the motto of my podcast is that it covers the subject “without any gaps”, including the ideas of lesser known figures (among other things, female thinkers are almost always lesser known) and other cultures and not just western European thought.
What are the best three episodes you've aired so far, in your opinion?
My podcast has two kinds of episodes, scripted ones that I write and record, and then occasionally interspersed with these, interviews with expert scholars. I guess I shouldn’t play favourites and pick out interviews though, so here are three scripted ones:
This one has a special place in my heart because in it I introduce a running character to the podcast, my non-existent sister. The episode looks at a key idea in the metaphysics of Avicenna, the greatest thinker of the Islamic world: his distinction between essence and existence.
I could have picked so many episodes about India, because I learned a tremendous amount from doing each one (I didn’t know much about the subject before tackling it for the podcast). But this one I found particularly eye-opening: it turns out that there are several female philosophers mentioned in ancient Indian texts like the Upanishads and Mahabharata. This one is also nice because it looks also at the Buddhist and Jain traditions, so you get a rounded picture of a theme in several Indian sub-traditions.
Again I pick this one in part because I was completely ignorant about the topic before writing the episode: it turns out the medievals achieved astonishing insights views about the nature of money and also spoke extensively about ethics and justice within economic exchange. So this one shows nicely that medieval philosophy has exciting material on topics apart from logic, the soul, metaphysics, proving God’s existence and so on. (Another nice example would be the episode on just war theory: historyofphilosophy.net/just-war.)
Can you recommend one other philosophical podcast and tell us about one good episode?
I am a fan of several philosophy podcasts but I’ll pick out “Elucidations”, which is produced at the University of Chicago by grad students and especially Matt Teichman. It goes a bit deeper into each topic it covers than some other podcasts, like say Philosophy Bites, which is also excellent but has shorter interviews. So I would say this series is more aimed at people who have a bit of training in philosophy.
I have enjoyed many of these but because it is a round number and because I liked this one in particular a lot, I would recommend their episode 100, an interview with Agnes Callard on the concept of aspiration. I found it so interesting in part because I hadn’t really thought of this as a philosophical theme before at all, but it resonated with some other areas of philosophy I have thought about.
Beside straight up philosophy podcasts, could you recommend another podcast?
Like I say, I listen to a lot of history podcasts and I would strongly recommend the two series put out by Mike Duncan. His History of Rome series was the one that most inspired me. It looks at the whole history of Rome from the founding to the fall of the Western empire. The story was then taken up by Robin Pearson who is covering Byzantine philosophy in a further podcast. Mike Duncan meanwhile went on to produce the fantastic “Revolutions” podcast which has looked at revolutions in England, the US, France, Haiti, South America, and most recently around Europe in 1848.