300a. The Relevance of Ancient Philosophy Today

Posted on 22 April 2018

Three guests to celebrate 300 episodes! Rachel Barney, Christof Rapp, and Mark Kalderon join Peter to discuss the importance of ancient philosophy for today's philosophers.


Further Reading

Websites for our three guests, with lists of their publications:

Rachel Barney

Christof Rapp

Mark Kalderon


Sergio Mattioni 26 April 2018

Hi Peter, I discovered your fabulous website about six months ago. It made me love philosophy and want to learn more on the subject (always believed that was impossible to accomplish). Congratulations on the 300th episode! And many, many thanks for this wonderful job you've done already. For many more episodes to come! 

I'm a systems engineer. Best rgds from Argentina. 

Cool! One thing I love about doing the podcast is being able to reach people in places like Argentina, where I have never even been, to say nothing of getting to teach there or give talks or whatever. So glad you like the series!

Ted 29 May 2018

As an apolitical person who really hates it when someone injects contemporary politics into a history lesson, left, right, or middle, I was very disappointed at Professor Barney's use of Plato's Republic as a springboard for criticisms against Trump. We don't need more partisan politics in our history discussions. Please!

Peter Adamson 30 May 2018

In reply to by Ted

Well, I think that's a bit unfair. If I'm remembering that part right, she didn't really even criticize Trump in her own voice as such, just pointed out that there has been quite a lot of discussion of Trump in the media and so on that has invoked Plato - which is just a statement of fact and is clearly relevant to a discussion of Plato's contemporary relevance, which after all was the topic of the interview. Indeed it would, I think, have been rather strange to have a discussion about this topic in 2018 (or actually 2017, when we recorded it) without even mentioning this most striking example of the way ancient philosophy has played a role in contemporary discourse.

Of course there is a further question whether people are justified to use, say, Plato's analysis of the tyrannical mindset to understand Trump as a person or political leader, or to analyze Brexit through the lens of Plato's critique of democracy. I think if someone made a cogent argument along these lines then it would also be a powerful way of demonstrating the continued relevance of ancient philosophy. I understand why you might want to keep things "apolitical" to avoid hurting people's feelings or just because a podcast like this is usually a refuge from politics. I more or less feel that way too and mostly avoid mentioning contemporary politics in the podcast. But we should I think be open to the idea of bringing the ancient texts to bear on our current situation.

Ted 3 June 2018

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Fair enough. I do look to podcasts such as yours as a very pleasant refuge from the irrational wasteland of contemporary politics, as you guessed. I do see your point, however, and in the future I'll try not to let it get to me if some relevant bits seep into the discussions.

Thank you for the wonderful podcast.

Taxi 4 October 2018

Just listened to this today.  Enjoyed it, but it was a bit disappointing that it was pretty much all about Plato and Aristotle, the two guys that any history of philosophy with all the gaps would include.  I have to admit I was hoping for someone saying Plotinus is relevant today, or Stoic logic, or something.  Perhaps we must wait for the Without Any Gaps generation to come of age before we can expect that.  Nice to get some Empedocles, at least.

In any case looking forward to listening to 300b.

Well,  this was supposed to be about how figures from ancient philosophy have actually featured in non-historical work, and to be honest contemporary philosophers, at least on the analytic side, have not ventured far beyond the two biggest names - so in that sense I think the interview conveys a pretty accurate picture. But of course I agree with you that other ancient thinkers should get more attention!

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