24 episodes

“What Is X?” has been described as “a cross between a Platonic dialogue and ‘The Price Is Right.’” It combines dialectical inquiry of the sort perfected by Socrates and his interlocutors with a distinctly ludic spirit. Here’s how it works: For each episode, host Justin E. H. Smith invites on a guest distinguished in their field (or occasionally a “regular” person who really likes to talk). Smith asks the guest to answer a question of the form “What is X?” (for example, “What is beauty?” “What is nature?” “What are dreams?”), after which the two partners in dialogue undertake a Socratic inquiry into the nature of X, in search of a definition that satisfies both of them. There are three possible outcomes: agreement, disagreement, and aporia (Greek for “dead end”), each with its own sound effect: if we arrive at agreement, a church bell will chime; disagreement is signaled by a bleating goat; if aporia is the best we can do, we will hear naught but a gust of wind. Rigorous but freewheeling, fun and serious at once, accessibly highbrow, these conversations model rational inquiry in a new way, providing answers for truth-seekers... or perhaps just more questions. /// Host: Justin E.H. Smith (justinehsmith.substack.com) /// Presented by The Point Magazine (thepointmag.com)

What Is X‪?‬ Justin E.H. Smith | The Point Magazine

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.4 • 22 Ratings

“What Is X?” has been described as “a cross between a Platonic dialogue and ‘The Price Is Right.’” It combines dialectical inquiry of the sort perfected by Socrates and his interlocutors with a distinctly ludic spirit. Here’s how it works: For each episode, host Justin E. H. Smith invites on a guest distinguished in their field (or occasionally a “regular” person who really likes to talk). Smith asks the guest to answer a question of the form “What is X?” (for example, “What is beauty?” “What is nature?” “What are dreams?”), after which the two partners in dialogue undertake a Socratic inquiry into the nature of X, in search of a definition that satisfies both of them. There are three possible outcomes: agreement, disagreement, and aporia (Greek for “dead end”), each with its own sound effect: if we arrive at agreement, a church bell will chime; disagreement is signaled by a bleating goat; if aporia is the best we can do, we will hear naught but a gust of wind. Rigorous but freewheeling, fun and serious at once, accessibly highbrow, these conversations model rational inquiry in a new way, providing answers for truth-seekers... or perhaps just more questions. /// Host: Justin E.H. Smith (justinehsmith.substack.com) /// Presented by The Point Magazine (thepointmag.com)

    What Is Being? | Kris McDaniel

    What Is Being? | Kris McDaniel

    This month’s episode of “What Is X?” asks a suitably grand question for the end of the year and for the end of Season 2: What is being? To help him figure it out once and for all (or to at least lessen our state of aporia), Justin brings on as his guest Kris McDaniel, a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame and the author of “The Fragmentation of Being.” Though we might find this question intimidating, Kris notes that this is no longer the case today: though fundamental throughout the history...

    • 55 min
    What Is Money? | Joseph Tinguely

    What Is Money? | Joseph Tinguely

    This month on “What Is X?”—timed perfectly after the latest crypto crash—Justin asks, What is money? To begin the conversation, his guest—Joseph Tinguely, a philosophy professor at the University of South Dakota and the editor of the forthcoming Palgrave Handbook of Philosophy and Money—announces he isn’t sure himself. Together, Justin and Joseph attempt to figure it out—or to at least explain why it’s so difficult to grasp what money is. First, there’s the foundational problem of trying to u...

    • 59 min
    What Is Breakfast? | Seb Emina

    What Is Breakfast? | Seb Emina

    On this episode of “What Is X,” Justin brings back a seasoned veteran for one last job: he invites on his friend Seb Emina, former editor of the London Review of Breakfasts blog and author of The Breakfast Bible, to ask: What is breakfast? Now the editor-in-chief of The Happy Reader, Seb is no longer in the breakfast game—but when this podcast comes calling, one must answer. Together, Justin and Seb plumb their past and present as breakfasters, as post-Kelloggian subjects, as staunch opponent...

    • 1 hr 3 min
    What Are Numbers? | Michael Harris

    What Are Numbers? | Michael Harris

    What does it mean for a number to exist? In the philosophy of mathematics, there are two general camps when it comes to numbers: there are the Platonists—or the “realists”—who think numbers somehow really exist, and there are the constructivists, who think they’re the products of mathematical activity. In this episode of “What Is X?” Justin invites on the Columbia University mathematician Michael Harris to try to figure out what the ontological status of numbers is. Are they the ultimate...

    • 1 hr 2 min
    What Is Punk? | Joseph M. Keegin

    What Is Punk? | Joseph M. Keegin

    The dog days of late summer call for a break from discussions of concepts like Time, War, and Virtue and a turn to a subject that, though significant, probably lacks its own Platonic form: Punk. Joining Justin for this episode of “What Is X?” is our own Joey Keegin—a contributing editor at The Point and a veteran of punk scenes of the 1990s and 2000s. Once a hitchhiker and freight train hopper and DIY participant, Joey is estranged from punk now yet still inspired by it. Why? To ask what punk...

    • 1 hr 25 min
    What Is War? | Vladislav Davidzon

    What Is War? | Vladislav Davidzon

    On February 25th, Vladislav Davidzon burned his Russian passport on live TV to protest Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. War makes us do extreme things, Davidzon says, in this episode of “What Is X?” It sharpens national identities, intensifies feelings and social relations, and upends daily life. It makes civilization-upholding taboos fall away. Davidzon is a Russian-Ukrainian writer, editor and policy expert who has spent the past fourteen years writing on Eastern Europe and reporting from numer...

    • 1 hr 2 min

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5
22 Ratings

22 Ratings

datacat52 ,

Great guests, interesting topics

I have enjoyed the different guests on the podcast and how Justin is able to navigate a really wide ranging set of topics. The podcast goes quite wide and each guest goes deep. The episodes I’ve listened to are a little flabby in terms of time, but they are really enjoyable conversations to listen in on.

pdxjk ,

What is…

…a philosophy podcast that is worse than this?

rgg123456 ,

Garbage

Just as bad as Smith’s writing, which you can tell he thinks is excellent.

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