Podcasting has treated few fields of human inquiry as well as it has philosophy. You’ll already know that if you’ve subscribed to the philosophy podcasts we’ve featured before, like Philosophy Bites, The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, and The Partially Examined Life. Perhaps we can chalk this up to what anyone who has taken a course under an astute philosophy professor has felt (see our list of 100 Free Philosophy Courses): the subject simply lends itself better to conveyance through the spoken words of living, breathing people, especially those with an enthusiasm for the subject. And those who’ve dedicated their lives to philosophy, given the field’s famously persistent lack of both financial rewards and concrete answers, tend to have more pure enthusiasm for their subject itself than do many other intellectual professionals. Stephen West, host of the newer Philosophize This! podcast [iTunes – Web – RSS – Libsyn), doesn’t move among intellectual professionals. He never even took a philosophy course himself, with an astute professor or without one. Yet he can teach you about philosophy with greater clarity and engagement than most podcasters can muster even about their favorite television shows.
West begins the series, which has come to eighteen episodes since last June, with a two-part talk on the very origins of philosophy (Ionian and Italian), telling us what, exactly, the so-called “presocratic” thinkers thought about the human race and whether it had developed sufficiently advanced survival mechanics to begin thinking about things at all. He then continues through history and across the globe, explaining the ideas of the best-known philosophers from Socrates to Aristotle (a two-parter) to the Buddha to (most recently) Avicenna, breaking down how they came to those ideas, and connecting them to the broader philosophical experience in their historical context and ours today (which means references to, among other touchstones of modern life, The Walking Dead). And lest you doubt the un-degree’d West’s qualifications, do read his brief autobiography, which tells the story of how he rose from the worst childhood I’ve read about in quite some time, guided during his all-day shifts driving a pallet jack by the great philosophers: “Hume, Kant, Hegel — these men were my fathers. They were the people who made me ask questions and strive to constantly improve myself.” You might place West in the tradition, now somewhat withered, of the robust “blue-collar” thinking man, drawing his needed strength from ideas. But given the way he’s harnessed our era’s technology to become a philosophy teacher to thousands — hundreds of whom have left five-star reviews on iTunes, leading to an astonishing #32 ranking in its Top 100 podcast chart — I’d say he embodies a brand new type of homo philosophicus altogether.
You can listen to the first first episode of Philosophize This! above.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.