Enlightenment on iTunes: The Philosophy of Immanuel Kant

KantFor those who dug our recent piece on UC Berkeley’s 59 courses available on iTunes, here’s another little item for you. Susan Stuart, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow, recently taught a course on the epistemology (or theory of knowledge) of the great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. And figuring that it might help her students if she recorded these lectures, she put on a lapel mic and did her thing. Then, as fate would have it, her lectures were loaded onto iTunes (iTunesrss feedweb site) and, not unlike Lars Brownworth’s lectures on the Byzantine World, they went viral and became iTunes’ #1 educational podcast for a while. The recordings have a homegrown feel to them. But they get the job done if you’re up for grappling with Kant’s difficult but foundational philosophy.

If you want more information on these podcasts, here’s the written preface that comes along with the taped course.

“Kant wrote extensively on all major topics of intellectual interest. In terms of the publication of major texts his most prolific period was 1781 to 1790. In the domains of epistemology and metaphysics he published the Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, with a second edition in 1787. In the domain of ethics he published the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals in 1785 and the Critique of Practical Reason in 1788. In the domain of asthetics he presented his theory in 1790 in the form of the Critique of Judgment. As a form of shorthand the three Critiques are known as the First, Second, and Third, respectively. In the first Critique Kant deals with how we come to understand our world; in the second Critique he deals with practical reason and how we act in our world; and in the third Critique he attempts to show a systematic connection between the first two. So, the first deals with how we think about our sensible world, the second deals with how we act in it, and the third supplies a link between the two in terms of felt judgement. In the first he draws together our inner experience with our necessary perception of an external world. He combines perception and understanding through the application of the productive imagination in such a way as to make judgements possible. He links the First and the Third Critiques by arguing that aesthetic judgments, that is, judgements about what is beautiful or sublime, derive from our determination to impose order on our sensory experience. Thus, aesthetics is just like mathematics: it attempts to find unity in experience. So, each of the Critiques is concerned with judgement, judgements of reason, moral judgements, and aesthetic judgements.”

See our complete list of university podcasts here, and our larger podcast collection here.

Pluggd’s State of the Union Address

We’re not here to write about the State of the Union speech per se (enough other bloggers have done that), but rather to mention a cool new technology that’s been applied to the Bush speech. A company called Pluggd, using "HearHere technology," now gives you the ability to search audio and video files just like you would the web. Confused? Let us explain. Take a look at Pluggd’s State of the Union SMACKDOWN! and you’ll see what looks like a standard, web-based audio/video version of the speech. So far, no big deal. Now, type the word "education" in the search box and look at the color meter that sits next to the play button. The orange/red color indicates the most relevant moments when the president deals with education. Simply click on "hot zones" and you’ll cut right to the chase.

Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture: Available in Text or Audio (For Free)

Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Stanford, has made a big name for himself by developing a sustained critique of how Congress, at the behest of corporate America, has progressively stifled cultural and scientific innovation by extending the duration and scope of copyright laws. Out of this critique, Lessig founded Creative Commons, a non-profit which issues copyright licenses that allow authors and innovators to retain some control over their works yet “dedicate [them] to the public domain” where they will contribute to the flourishing of new culture. And, even better, Lessig has published some of his own important works under these licenses, including Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. What this means is that you can freely access the book in a variety of different formats (click here to pick), even an audio book version. This makes it utterly easy to find out what Lessig’s groundbreaking arguments are all about. It gets his thinking out there, into the commons, and vigorously shapes the debate on copyright law. It brings about a free flow of ideas, the very thing that Lessig cares most about.

Readers may also want to check out Lessig’s popular blog as well as his novel attempt to use a public wiki to update his book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace.

Finally, you may also want to check out the recent work published by Lessig’s peer at Yale, Yochai Benkler: The Wealth of Networks. Though released in hardcover, it is also freely available in wiki and PDF formats.

Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Manet Go Digital: Art Museum Podcasts on iTunes

Museums have always been in a tricky position. Instead of bringing art to the public, they have made the public come to them. And, even while they did this for perfectly logical reasons (the works of art are priceless and delicate after all), museums have nonetheless limited their ability to reach more people and promote a wider appreciation of fine art. But thanks to podcasting and other digital technology that may soon begin to change.

In recent weeks and months, several major art museums have launched podcast collections that give the public easier access to art education as well as information about their wide-ranging art collections. For starters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has posted on iTunes (get the rss feed here) a series of podcasts featuring both artists talking about their work and New York celebrities reading from artists’ writings. (You can listen, for example, to Kevin Bacon reading excerpts from the letters of Vincent Van Gogh.) Next, we move a little downtown to The Museum of Modern Art, otherwise known as MoMA (iTunesfeed), which offers an extensive collection of educational talks, including the art critic Michael Fried in a lengthy conversation about the work of Edouard Manet, and a series of talks about Dada and Surrealism. Moving west to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (see collection on iTunes), you can download educational discussions about the work of Andrew Wyeth and Thomas Eakins, among others. Finally, moving much further west to San Francisco’s SFMOMA, you’ll find some stellar podcasts (iTunes –  Feed), including the entire audio tour of the museum’s Anselm Kiefer exhibition. (The podcast collection assembled by the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden also has its own talk about Kiefer’s work, plus many other good lectures.) Finally, another SFMOMA podcast worth your attention is “Mexico as Muse,” which gives a brief introduction to the life and photography of Tina Modotti.

Many other major museums — The National Gallery in London, The Smithsonian, The Art Institute of Chicago, to name a few — have recently launched similar podcast collections. They’re young and somewhat light on content, but we suspect that they, too, will grow over time. We also suspect that many of these museums will eventually give you the ability to download their audio tours to your own iPod, saving you the hassle of renting the museums’ audio devices. You can find these podcasts, as well as many others, in our Arts & Culture Podcast Collection.

10 Excellent University Podcasts

For more enriching audio, see our collection of Free University Courses

1.) Abraham Lincoln’s Invention of Presidential Powers – James MacPherson iTunes Audio Stream

Princeton’s James MacPherson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author on the American Civil War, discusses how Lincoln invented presidential war-time powers. It’s a topic of particular interest given the recent debate over the
validity of warrantless wiretaps.

2.) Active Liberty: A Conversation with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer iTunes Audio Stream
Justice Stephen Breyer makes the case that liberty, as defined by the constitution, isn’t about freedom from government interference (negative liberty), as so many want to proclaim today, but about the freedom to participate in our democratic system (active liberty).

3.) Democracy Matters – Cornell West iTunes Audio Stream
A powerful orator, West looks at how democracies deteriorate when citizens lose their ability to think critically and recognize the deep underlying problems that exist within their own nations. (The talk really gets started about 10 minutes in.)

4.) Existentialism in Literature & Film – Hubert Dreyfus iTunes
This is not a lecture, but rather a full-fledged course taught by UC Berkeley’s Hubert Dreyfus, which takes a close look at how existentialism suffuses important literature, philosophy and films — Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, Nietzsche’s Gay Science, and Alain Resnais’ film Hiroshima Mon Amour.

5.) Graduation Speech – Steve Jobs iTunes audio iTunes video Google Video
A short speech by Apple’s visionary CEO where he talks about his philosophy on life. The motivating talk was given at Stanford in June

6.) Nation Building: Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan – Francis Fukuyama iTunes Audio Stream
Fukuyama, who once saw the world coming into an eternal democratic balance, now talks more soberly about how to handle the difficult task of re-building nations in general, and particularly those in the turbulent Middle East. Fukuyama teaches at Johns Hopkins and heads the SAIS International Development Program.

7.) The Art of Reading a Poem – Harold Bloom iTunesAudio Stream
The famed literary critic takes his students through a poem by Wallace Stevens, Parts of a World, and constantly moves between interpretation and digression — digressions that are often filled with intriguing personal anecdotes.
The recording is not highly edited, which lets you feel like a fly on the wall in the classroom. (Bloom really gets started about 13 minutes in.)

8.) The Heart of Non Violence – His Holiness the Dalai Lama iTunes Video (Real Player)
The Dalai Lama, the political and religious leader of Tibet and winner of the Nobel Peace Price, speaks at Stanford about nonviolence, what it
means, when violence is justifiable, and whether US military actions in Iraq might actually be justified.

9.) The Future of the Internet – Tim Berners-Lee iTunes Audio Stream
Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the world wide web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium, speaks at Princeton about the semantic web and the challenges to its future development.

10.) The Life and Work of Philip Johnson – Vincent Scully iTunes
Vincent Scully, one of America’s finest architectural historians, takes a look at the life and career of Philip Johnson, one of America’s finest architects.

Why 160 Scientists Are Optimistic in 2007

Not too long ago, we mentioned the Edge.org, the web site run by John Brockman, the literary agent of some very important scientific minds. Now it’s worth mentioning it again. With the start of the new year, the web site asked 160 influential thinkers "what are you optimistic about?" And, as you’d expect from some pretty smart people, you get some pretty intriguing responses. Below, we’ve included five examples, but you can and should access the full list of replies here:

Richard Dawkins – The Final Scientific Enlightenment
"I am optimistic that the physicists of our species will complete Einstein’s dream and discover the final theory of everything before superior creatures, evolved on another world, make contact and tell us the answer. I am optimistic that, although the theory of everything will bring fundamental physics to a convincing closure, the enterprise of physics itself will continue to flourish, just as biology went on growing after Darwin solved its deep problem. I am optimistic that the two theories together will furnish a totally satisfying naturalistic explanation for the existence of the universe and everything that’s in it including ourselves. And I am optimistic that this final scientific enlightenment will deal an overdue deathblow to religion and other juvenile superstitions."

Matt Ridley – The Future

"The future. That’s what I’m optimistic about. The historian Macaulay said, in 1830: ‘We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all who came before us and with just as much apparent reason.’ The eternal, enduring pessimism of human beings about the future does real harm by persuading people, especially the young, to retreat from adventure and enterprise into anomie. Sure, the world has problems: AIDS, Islamofascism, carbon dioxide. But I bet we can solve them as we have solved others, such as smallpox, the population explosion and the high price of whale oil."

Jared Diamond – Good Choices Sometimes Prevail
"I am cautiously optimistic about the state of the world, because: 1. Big businesses sometimes conclude that what is good for the long-term future of humanity is also good for their bottom line (cf. Wal-Mart’s recent decision to shift their seafood purchases entirely to certified sustainable fisheries within the next three to five years). 2. Voters in democracy sometimes make good choices and avoid bad choices (cf. some recent elections in a major First World country)."

Leonard Susskind – Going Beyond Our Darwinian Roots
I am optimistic about the adaptability of the human brain to answer questions that evolution could not have designed it for. A brain that can rewire itself to visualize 4 dimensions, or the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, is clearly going way beyond the things that natural selection could have wired it for. It makes me optimistic that we may be able to go beyond our Darwinian roots in other ways.

Stewart Brand – Cities — Global Population Shrinkage And Economic Growth
"…Cities have always been wealth creators. Cities have always been population sinks. This year, 2007, is the crossover point from a world predominantly rural to a world predominantly urban.

The rate of urbanization is currently about 1.3 million new city dwellers a week, 70 million a year, still apparently accelerating. The world was 3% urban in 1800, 14% urban in 1900, 50% urban this year, and probably headed in the next few decades to around 80% urban, which has been the stabilization point for developed countries since the mid-20th-century.

Almost all the rush to the cities is occurring in the developing world (though the countryside continues to empty out in developed nations). The developing world is where the greatest poverty is, and where the highest birthrates have driven world population past 6.5 billion.

Hence my optimism. Cities cure poverty. Cities also drive birthrates down almost the instant people move to town. Women liberated by the move to a city drop their birthrate right on through the replacement rate of 2.1 children/woman. No one expected this, but that’s how it worked out. As a result, there will be another billion or two people in the world total by midcentury, but then the total will head down— perhaps rapidly enough to be a problem, as it already is in Russia and Japan.

Poverty in the megacities (over 10 million) and hypercities (over 20 million) of the developing world will be highly visible as the disaster it is. (It was worse out in the bush, only not as visible there. That’s why people leave.) But the poor who were trapped in rural poverty create their own opportunity once they’re in town by creating their own cities— the "squatter cities" where one billion people now live. They recapitulate the creation of cities past by generating a seething informal economy in which everyone works. The dense slums, if they don’t get bulldozed, eventually become part of the city proper and part of the formal economy. It takes decades…."

Again, the complete list of 160 responses can be found here.


The Ancient Greek Who Speaks to All History and Military Buffs

Open Source, a radio program hosted by Christopher Lydon, recently pulled off something rather unusual. The broadcast (iTunesmp3) made it abundantly clear why an Ancient Greek text, Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, remains fascinating and highly relevant to modern day readers. Written 2400+ years ago, Thucydides has something important to offer history and military buffs alike, and also those who want to delve into the complicated human psyche. For historians, Thucydides’ work gives us the first modern history — the first historical narrative that looked to render the past in an analytical, empirical and objective way (a departure from the more literary, myth-based histories that came before it). For military thinkers, including students at West Point, the work holds such appeal because it recounts the epic, 27-year war (431–404 BC) between the two greatest Greek powers — on the one side, Athens, a democratic but increasingly imperialist power, and, on the other side, Sparta, a harsh oligarchic power that held no particular imperial aspirations. Thucydides, an Athenian general, gives you the blow-by-blow account of a landmark historical war. But he also gives you more. What particularly engages readers, both past and present, are Thucydides’ philosophical insights into human nature — into how our passions and fears, particularly during times of war, can counter-productively undermine our civility and humanity. This applies to leaders and citizens of Athens, who overreached and eventually lost their war. Yet it also potentially applies to modern America because it is Thucydides’ assumption that human nature remains fundamentally the same across time and place. And, in that sense, there is a cautionary tale for all of us in this seminal Greek work.

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