142 episodes

Elucidations is an unexpected philosophy podcast produced in association with the University of Chicago. Each month, Matt Teichman sits down with a person of philosophical interest to discuss their view on a topic. Now and again, he is joined by an awesome co-host. Some of the guests are philosophy professors, some of the guests are other kinds of professors, and some of the guests are not professors. Either way, the goal is to develop a feel for how the guest’s perspective hangs together interactively.
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Elucidations Matt Teichman

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.9 • 159 Ratings

Elucidations is an unexpected philosophy podcast produced in association with the University of Chicago. Each month, Matt Teichman sits down with a person of philosophical interest to discuss their view on a topic. Now and again, he is joined by an awesome co-host. Some of the guests are philosophy professors, some of the guests are other kinds of professors, and some of the guests are not professors. Either way, the goal is to develop a feel for how the guest’s perspective hangs together interactively.
Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.

    Episode 142: Emily Dupree discusses the rationality of revenge

    Episode 142: Emily Dupree discusses the rationality of revenge

    In this episode of Elucidations, Matt sits down with Emily Dupree to learn about whether it’s rational or irrational to try to seek revenge.
    As a culture, we kind can’t decide what we think about revenge. Out of one side of our mouths, we talk a big game about letting bygones be bygones, about how revenge and retaliation lead to cycles of violence, and about how nothing good can really come of getting back at people. But acts of revenge, where clearly warranted, also have a visceral moral appeal that it would be absurd to deny. If we didn’t think there were at least some situations in which a person ought to get their comeuppance, then there wouldn’t be so many heroic adventure movies centered around the protagonist’s quest for revenge. When the hero gets back at the villain, it just feels right, like the movie needs to end here and we can all go home; and no amount of pedantic, post-hoc reasoning can ever make that feeling go away.
    Solving that dilemma is hard, but as a way of working up to it, our distinguished guest decides to tackle a slightly different question. Not: can seeking revenge ever be the right thing to do—but: can seeking revenge ever be a rational thing to do. Traditionally, most philosophers have answered that question in the negative. Calling it irrational means that it’s senseless and unintelligible, like anyone who does it is undergoing a (possibly temporary) lapse in their basic mental faculties. The reason most philosophers think that it’s irrational to take revenge is that there’s no way to undo the wrong that was done to you in the past. If Person A did something truly horrible to Person B, that thing doesn’t get undone when Person B does a new horrible thing to Person A. And if that’s the case, why do it? Doing it is all cost and no benefit.
    In this episode, Emily Dupree argues that in fact, it can be rational to take revenge. How come? It isn’t all cost and no benefit, because in some cases, successfully taking revenge can lead to a unique benefit: namely, the restoration of the vengeance seeker’s moral personhood. For the unique benefit to come, certain background conditions have to hold: the original harm has to have been genuinely morally wrong, it has to have been as egregious as it can be (so it can’t be minor/inconsequential), it has to have taken place under conditions of the political state failing, and it has to have undermined the vengeance seeker’s moral personhood. In that case, it is possible for an act of vengeance to be intelligible as an attempt on the part of the vengeance seeker to get their moral personhood back. Note that our guest isn’t saying the vengeance seeker is right to seek vengeance in these circumstances. The view is just that seeking vengeance under these circumstances can be comprehensible, rather than just bonkers.
    Tune in to hear our guest discuss some historical examples of revenge that we can comprehend!
    Matt Teichman

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    • 36 min
    Episode 141: Rob Goodman discusses eloquence

    Episode 141: Rob Goodman discusses eloquence

    This time around, Matt sits down with Rob Goodman to talk about political eloquence. Goodman is the author of a new book on this topic called Words on Fire, which you can pick up a copy of wherever you like to get books.
    Can you think of the last time you saw someone give a rousing speech? They step up to the podium with throngs of onlookers staring at them. Somehow, rather than nervously scampering offstage or melting into a puddle, they speak off the cuff in a way that transfixes everyone listening. Their words feel fresh, sincere, and yet somehow also perfect, like a movie star nailing their big scene on the first take. You’d think that someone speaking from the heart would falter or stumble the way the rest of us do, but against all odds, this feels both maximally authentic and maximally polished.
    What is it that makes a speaker compelling to listen to? Rob Goodman thinks that in order to understand what eloquence is, we need to look not just at the person up on stage and how they’re talking, but how the people in the audience are responding, and how the speaker is responding to their responses, and how they’re responding to the responses to their responses, and so on, ad infinitum. What makes eloquence happen isn’t really individual speakers talking in vacuum, so much as it is groups of people conversing together. Or at least that’s his idea. Eloquence isn’t just one person speaking skillfully; it’s several people conversing skillfully.
    In this episode, our distinguished guest also argues that when a public speech goes well, it goes well because both the person speaking and the people listening are taking some risks. The person speaking is sort of on the spot, risking embarrassment, and the people listening might have to rethink their prior beliefs, which takes a lot of work, at least assuming they make an effort to live by their beliefs. When a speech does what it’s supposed to, these risks are shared between all parties, rather than farmed off onto just one. But when the speaker tries to give the appearance of taking risks without actually doing so, you end up with the audience shouldering 100% of the burden, and the exchange ends up somewhat dysfunctional. This, argues our guest, is what happens when politicians go to great lengths to control or sanitize the environment in which they speak, so that no matter what, they don’t embarrass themselves. Sort of like riding a roller coaster with a safety bar.
    Tune in to hear more about what makes for a great speech!
    Matt Teichman

    Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.

    • 35 min
    Episode 140: Meghan Sullivan and Paul Blaschko discuss the good life

    Episode 140: Meghan Sullivan and Paul Blaschko discuss the good life

    Intro philosophy classes often get stuck in a rut. Some philosophy classes go through a list of old dead people and try to understand excerpts from some of their most influential writings, over the course of a semester. Could be something like: Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Mill, and Nietzsche. Other types of intro classes go through a list of topics that contemporary philosophers feel are canonical and have students read papers on those topics. Could be something like: the problem of evil, the mind-body problem, arguments for the existence (or non-existence) of God, the is/ought distinction, and external world skepticism. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that type of class per se—I’d bet a lot of listeners tune into Elucidations precisely because of a kickass class they took on those lines. But sometimes, an instructor will quickly throw a syllabus like that together just out of a general feeling that that’s what you’re supposed to do. Not because the syllabus consists of material that they personally feel excited about. When that happens, what we often end up with is a room full of people who kinda don’t know what they’re doing there, including both the teacher and the students.
    This month’s Elucidations guests have a different approach. Their first-year students come from all different backgrounds and majors, and when they walk in, Sullivan and Blaschko immediately ask them: what are you planning to do with your life? Why? What do you hope to get out of it? What is it that makes this plan superior to others? This format still gives the usual suspects like Aristotle, Mill, etc. a seat at the table, but now they’re brought in specifically to help students figure out what they’re going to do when they graduate. Part of what makes this work is that Sullivan and Blaschko are completely open about sharing their own life stories, including big decisions from their past and the reasoning that went into them.
    With these background conditions in place, the class turns into a vibrant debate about how to make a future for yourself, thus bringing philosophy back into contact with its original mission from 2500 years ago in ancient Athens. Namely: to give everyone the skills they need to live a good life, to understand what makes the life they’re living good, and to define what a good life is going to look like for them personally, as opposed to for other people.
    Their course at The University of Notre Dame, God and the Good Life, has taken the higher education world by storm, and in order to bring some of what they’re up to to a bigger audience, they have adapted it into a new book from Penguin Press, called The Good Life Method. Tune into this month’s episode to learn all about how to live your best life!

    Further ReadingIf you’re interested in getting a glimpse of the book, you can look at excerpts from it here:
    The Good Life Method, Meghan Sullivan and Paul Blashcko
    You can also take a look at the authors' personal website, which contain links to many of their writings on this and other topics:
    Meghan Sullivan
    Paul Blaschko
    Happy reading!
    Matt Teichman

    Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.

    • 43 min
    Episode 139: Jessica Tizzard discusses the philosophy of pregnancy

    Episode 139: Jessica Tizzard discusses the philosophy of pregnancy

    This month, Jessica Tizzard (University of Tuebingen) makes her second appearance on Elucidations to talk to Matt about pregnancy.
    Human pregnancy is weird. Try talking to a reproductive endochrinologist about it, and you’ll soon find that there’s a lot we don’t really understand about it even at the scientific level. But even when it comes to thinking about pregnancy at the commonsense reasoning level, puzzles begin popping up the second you start trying to think about it systematically. Like, consider the commonsense idea that a fetus is ‘inside’ the person who is pregant with it. They clearly are, in the sense that they aren’t out and about in the world the way a marsupial fetus is. But if you think about how containment and interiority are defined mathematically, there’s also a sense in which the fetus can’t literally be inside the womb, because in order for one thing to be inside another they have to be physically disconnected.
    In this episode, Jessica Tizzard argues that our commonsense thinking about pregnancy is dominated by ‘container’ metaphors: i.e. we think about a fetus inside a womb the way we think about a cookie inside a jar. However, she thinks that ‘parthood’ analogies are often an equally good fit for how a fetus relates to the person pregnant with it. That is, there are also biological analogies you could draw between a fetus and a body part: a body part is seamlessly physically connected to the body it’s a part of, and a body part is subject the same organism-level system of homeostatic regulation that the rest of the body is.
    The next step is to start thinking about how these observations ramify morally. Can acknowledging that the ‘parthood’ way of thinking is at least as biologically accurate as the ‘container’ way of thinking help shed light on what kinds of duties a pregnant person has to their as-yet unborn fetus? Join Matt and Jessica as they dive right into these thorny but important questions!

    Further Reading
    Our distinguished guest recommends the following literature on pregnancy, which she draws on heavily in her own work:
    ‘Lady Parts’, Elselijn Kingma
    ‘Were You a Part of Your Mother?’, Elselijn Kingma
    ‘9 Months’, Elselijn Kingma
    ‘Neonatal Incubator or Artifical Womb?’, Elselijn Kingma and Suki Finn
    ‘Abortion, Intimacy, and the Duty to Gestate’, Margaret Olivia Little
    Happy reading!
    Matt Teichman

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    • 31 min
    Episode 138: Toby Buckle discusses Mill's liberty principle

    Episode 138: Toby Buckle discusses Mill's liberty principle

    This month, Toby Buckle, host of the Political Philosophy Podcast, returns to talk about John Stuart Mill’s liberty principle!
    (Also sometimes called the ‘harm principle’.)
    The occasion for the episode is the recent release of Toby’s cool new book, What is Freedom?, which is out now from Oxford University Press. Get it while it’s hot!
    John Stuart Mill is probably one of the most influential intellectuals of the 19th century, having penned treatises on markets, logic, feminism, utilitarianism, and freedom of speech that people continue to pick up and read today. In this episode, we talk about how he had one foot in the free market-oriented tradition of liberalism and another in the more social justice-oriented type of liberalism, how he was raised under the world’s most ambitious parenting/education regime, and how he had a lifelong collaboration with Harriet Taylor. We also introduce what gets called his ‘liberty princple’.
    The idea behind the liberty principle is that we want as much freedom for each person as possible: they should have the ability to set their own agenda and carry it out. But we also need to limit it somewhat, because if everyone was completely unconstrained in how they set their agenda and carried it out, they’d interfere with each other. We’d have one person’s freedom detracting from other people’s freedom. So in order to achieve the perfect equilibrium we want, the thing to do is aim for sort of a greatest lower bound: every person should be allowed to do whatever they want for whatever reason they want, only stopping shy once they reach the point where doing whatever they want would harm another person. It might seem like an obvious principle to us now, but arguably that’s because we’re all living in the shadow of Mill!
    Part of the background context for this principle is a worry about paternalism. There’s a natural tendency for Person A to prevent Person B from doing what they want because Person A thinks it’s obvious that what Person B wants to do right now is harmful to them. The liberty principle tells us that that’s not a good reason to have laws prohibiting some course of action. We should only have a law prohibiting some course of action if allowing that course of action would interfere with other people’s freedom. That way, Mill argued, we keep the decision about whether to pass a law prohibiting something grounded in empirical facts about what would actually happen if it were passed. He also wanted to emphasize that each person has the right to be their own arbiter of what kinds of risk they will assume.
    I hope you enjoy our discussion! It was a fun one.

    Further Reading
    If you’d like to hear more along the lines of what Toby and I discuss in this episode, you can do no better than to take a look at Mill’s exquisite On Liberty, which you can get for free here:
    https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34901
    And if you missed the link up at the top, definitely check out Toby’s edited volume, which gathers together a number of the interviews from his own podcast. The overarching theme is what freedom is and what it can be.
    What is Freedom?: Conversations with Historians, Philosophers, and Activists, Toby Buckle
    Happy reading!
    Matt Teichman

    Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.

    • 43 min
    Episode 137: Bryan Caplan discusses open borders

    Episode 137: Bryan Caplan discusses open borders

    This month, I talk to Bryan Caplan (George Mason University) about what a world without immigration restrictions could look like.
    The work discussed in this episode comes out of Bryan’s incredible non-fiction graphic novel, Open Borders, which I highly recommend checking out. Don’t let the comic-book-iness of it fool you; it is 100% accessible and entertaining, but it is also written at the level of detail you’d normally expect to see in a peer-reviewed research paper.
    One basic fact about the world today is that it’s kind of a pain to move from country to country. You can maybe pull it off if you’ve already landed a fancy job where you want to move and if you’re coming from a first-world country, but even then, there are more complications than you might think: work visas, sponsorships, visa renewal, permanent residency, possible eventual citizenship. Basically just a ton of red tape. And if you’re coming from a third-world country, forget it: you typically either have to be a political refugee or enter a lottery that leaves you with a vanishingly small chance of getting in. So although it is technically possible to immigrate, assuming that planets are aligned, the fact remains that in most situations, there are strong legal pressures locking us into whatever country we live in right now. Bryan Caplan thinks that we should essentially just eliminate the bureaucratic machine that makes it so difficult to live wherever you please. Sure, there can still be customs, and nation states, and basic security checks—but other than that, make it as easy as possible for everyone to move around.
    Let’s take the US as an example. One obvious benefit of opening up our borders is humanitarian: anyone living in poverty would be able to come here and with no difficulty whatsoever be able to start earning ten times as much money as they could back home. But far beyond that, there is a growing body of research within economics which suggests that having a large influx of formerly poor, newly productive people will lead to a boost in our economy. So everybody wins. And it isn’t just any old boost; it’s a massive boost. If these models are correct, everybody wins big time.
    Tune in to hear our guest run through some of the empirical evidence for this prediction and find out why, according to him, the supposed dangers of an open boders policy are greatly exaggerated!
    Further Reading
    If you’re curious to learn more about the arguments discussed in this episode, you can do no better than to turn to the book:
    Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith
    You might also enjoy Bryan’s blog post at Econlib running through the many topics the book covers.
    Finally, our distinguished guest recommends the following paper by Michael Clemens, which was part of the inspiration for his work on open borders:
    ‘Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?', Michael A. Clemens
    Happy reading!

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    • 1 hr 13 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
159 Ratings

159 Ratings

朱清风 ,

My favorite podcast.

May it continue to flourish and enrich lives for many years to come.

Kyoung21b ,

Great podcast

This is a great podcast that really lives up to it's name re. doing an excellent job at clarifying some knotty and complex philosophical ideas. Matt does a great job re. pitching it at a level that most people, with a moderate ability for sustained attention, can get a pretty good grasp of the ideas being “elucidated” (which is often not the case, e.g. when picking up and trying to make it through the typical philosophy tome). And if one lacks the ability for sustained attention, given the typical length of the segments, listening is a pretty minimally painful way to help develop that ability.

Lhooq999 ,

Elucidations is like ghee. It's clarified better.

Have listened to each and every episode at least twice, some several. My continued and growing appreciation of Elucidations has recently been enhanced by Nozick’s “Invariances.” Episode 109: Matt Teichman and Toby Buckle was thrilling.

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