142 episodes

From Altruism to Wittgenstein, philosophers, theories and key themes.

In Our Time: Philosophy BBC Radio 4

    • History
    • 5.0 • 8 Ratings

From Altruism to Wittgenstein, philosophers, theories and key themes.

    Charisma

    Charisma

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea of charismatic authority developed by Max Weber (1864-1920) to explain why people welcome some as their legitimate rulers and follow them loyally, for better or worse, while following others only dutifully or grudgingly. Weber was fascinated by those such as Napoleon (above) and Washington who achieved power not by right, as with traditional monarchs, or by law as with the bureaucratic world around him in Germany, but by revolution or insurrection. Drawing on the experience of religious figures, he contended that these leaders, often outsiders, needed to be seen as exceptional, heroic and even miraculous to command loyalty, and could stay in power for as long as the people were enthralled and the miracles they had promised kept coming. After the Second World War, Weber's idea attracted new attention as a way of understanding why some reviled leaders once had mass support and, with the arrival of television, why some politicians were more engaging and influential on screen than others.

    With

    Linda Woodhead
    The FD Maurice Professor and Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King's College London

    David Bell
    The Lapidus Professor in the Department of History at Princeton University

    And

    Tom Wright
    Reader in Rhetoric at the University of Sussex

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 52 min
    The Arthashastra

    The Arthashastra

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ancient Sanskrit text the Arthashastra, regarded as one of the major works of Indian literature. Written in the style of a scientific treatise, it provides rulers with a guide on how to govern their territory and sets out what the structure, economic policy and foreign affairs of the ideal state should be. According to legend, it was written by Chanakya, a political advisor to the ruler Chandragupta Maurya (reigned 321 – 297 BC) who founded the Mauryan Empire, the first great Empire in the Indian subcontinent. As the Arthashastra asserts that a ruler should pursue his goals ruthlessly by whatever means is required, it has been compared with the 16th-century work The Prince by Machiavelli. Today, it is widely viewed as presenting a sophisticated and refined analysis of the nature, dynamics and challenges of rulership, and scholars value it partly because it undermines colonial stereotypes of what early South Asian society was like.

    With

    Jessica Frazier
    Lecturer in the Study of Religion at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies

    James Hegarty
    Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Religions at Cardiff University

    And

    Deven Patel
    Associate Professor of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 56 min
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    • 1 min
    Walter Benjamin

    Walter Benjamin

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most celebrated thinkers of the twentieth century. Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was a German Jewish philosopher, critic, historian, an investigator of culture, a maker of radio programmes and more. Notably, in his Arcades Project, he looked into the past of Paris to understand the modern age and, in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, examined how the new media of film and photography enabled art to be politicised, and politics to become a form of art. The rise of the Nazis in Germany forced him into exile, and he worked in Paris in dread of what was to come; when his escape from France in 1940 was blocked at the Spanish border, he took his own life.

    With

    Esther Leslie
    Professor of Political Aesthetics at Birkbeck, University of London

    Kevin McLaughlin
    Dean of the Faculty and Professor of English, Comparative Literature and German Studies at Brown University

    And

    Carolin Duttlinger
    Professor of German Literature and Culture at the University of Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 50 min
    Plato's Gorgias

    Plato's Gorgias

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Plato's most striking dialogues, in which he addresses the real nature of power and freedom, and the relationship between pleasure and true self-interest. As he tests these ideas, Plato creates powerful speeches, notably from Callicles who claims that laws of nature trump man-made laws, that might is right, and that rules are made by weak people to constrain the strong in defiance of what is natural and proper. Gorgias is arguably the most personal of all of Plato's dialogues, with its hints of a simmering fury at the system in Athens that put his mentor Socrates to death, and where rhetoric held too much sway over people.

    With

    Angie Hobbs
    Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield

    Frisbee Sheffield
    University Lecturer in Classics and Fellow of Downing College, University of Cambridge

    And

    Fiona Leigh
    Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at University College London


    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 50 min
    Iris Murdoch

    Iris Murdoch

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the author and philosopher Iris Murdoch (1919 - 1999). In her lifetime she was most celebrated for her novels such as The Bell and The Black Prince, but these are now sharing the spotlight with her philosophy. Responding to the horrors of the Second World War, she argued that morality was not subjective or a matter of taste, as many of her contemporaries held, but was objective, and good was a fact we could recognize. To tell good from bad, though, we would need to see the world as it really is, not as we want to see it, and her novels are full of characters who are not yet enlightened enough to do that.

    With

    Anil Gomes
    Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at Trinity College, University of Oxford

    Anne Rowe
    Visiting Professor at the University of Chichester and Emeritus Research Fellow with the Iris Murdoch Archive Project at Kingston University

    And

    Miles Leeson
    Director of the Iris Murdoch Research Centre and Reader in English Literature at the University of Chichester

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 54 min

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