Philosopher's Zone

The simplest questions often have the most complex answers. The Philosopher's Zone is your guide through the strange thickets of logic, metaphysics and ethics.


  • Philosophy in the wake of Empire part 4: Africa

    Jan 17 2021

    Africa has a history of rich and ancient philosophical traditions. Those traditions were rendered invisible by European colonisers, who sought to overlay Africa's past with the values of the Enlightenment. Today, African philosophy is being uncovered and introduced to the West - but is the West listening?

  • Philosophy in the wake of Empire pt. 3: Missionary feminism

    Jan 10 2021

    Feminist arguments in the West have been used to advance imperialist projects that inflict suffering on women in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the Western feminist focus on individual rights can be disastrous when played out in non-Western contexts. Is it time to rethink “missionary feminism”?

  • Philosophy in the wake of Empire pt. 2: Migrants and other Others

    Jan 03 2021

    As refugees from the former colonies make their way to Europe, notions of “European life” and “European values” are facing unprecedented challenges. As postcolonial subjects, how should these migrants be received and understood?

  • Philosophy in the wake of Empire pt. 1: The white way to think

    Dec 27 2020

    The West has a history of colonisation and empire-building. How has this shaped the discipline of philosophy? This week – first in a five-part series – we look at racism and the unfortunate legacy of Immanuel Kant, who believed the non-white races were incapable of philosophical reflection.

  • In the wild

    Dec 20 2020

    For centuries, “the wild” has been thought of as the place where humans rarely or never go. Our cities are meant to be refuges from the wild, and the policies that govern our lives are intended to impose order on chaos. But climate change is showing us that the wild and the urban environments are closely intertwined – and as Indigenous communities know well, policy is beset with incoherences and cruelties that make it anything but rational. Is it time to rethink “the wild” for the 21st century?

  • The inside of anger

    Dec 13 2020

    Anger is a normal human emotion, we seem to be hard wired for it. And there's a body of ethical opinion that says anger can be useful - as a means of communication, as a means of appreciating injustice rather than just recognising it, as as a spur to restorative action. But could we get along without it?

  • Phenomenology

    Dec 06 2020

    What if even the most ordinary experience could reward close and detailed analysis, revealing fascinating insights into the structures of consciousness and the world? This is the question asked by phenomenology, which investigates the experience of experience, and this week’s guest has written a new book exploring phenomenology from the ground up.

  • Anti-social media

    Nov 29 2020

    What can social media platforms deliver in the way of genuine personal connection and moral truth? And how good - or bad - are Facebook and Twitter for the philosophy community?

  • Science, misinformation and dissent

    Nov 22 2020

    Science welcomes dissent. Scientific progress depends on challenging and dismantling theories as well as verifying them. But how should we deal with misinformation about science, and the ways it can erode such liberal democratic values as personal autonomy?

  • Refugees and moral obligation

    Nov 15 2020

    Refugees have been with us for millennia, but the modern refugee exists under a distinctively modern set of circumstances. Moral philosophers addressing the refugee issue often fail to take these circumstances into account, and to acknowledge the ways in which the West can be responsible for refugee crises.

  • Philosophy in a nutshell pt 6: Becoming a woman

    Nov 08 2020

    Simone de Beauvoir wrote that “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. It’s a much-quoted phrase that appears to speak presciently to modern concerns around sex and gender. But how well is Beauvoir understood by contemporary feminists?

  • Philosophy in a nutshell pt 5: Ubuntu

    Nov 01 2020

    Ubuntu is an African tradition of thought whose ethical orientation is captured in the well-known aphorism “I am, because we are”. But what gets lost when Ubuntu is framed as a philosophical discourse in the Western intellectual tradition? And where do we see its successes and failures in the reconstruction of post-colonial Africa?

  • Philosophy in a nutshell pt 4: Nietzsche and nihilism

    Oct 25 2020

    "God is dead, and we have killed him" — a statement that's fuelled the popular misapprehension of Nietzsche as a crusading atheist, or militant nihilist. In fact, he was neither of those things, and "God is dead" is a much more interesting proposition than is often thought.

  • Philosophy in a nutshell pt 3: Derrida and the text

    Oct 18 2020

    In 1967, French philosopher Jacques Derrida wrote "There is nothing outside the text". Or did he? It's a bad translation that's launched a thousand bad interpretations - but it's gone on to become a key element of Derrida's work.

  • Philosophy in a nutshell pt 2: Confucius, wealth and politics

    Oct 11 2020

    In the Analects, Confucius is recorded as saying "When a country is well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. When a country is badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of". It's an interesting aphorism to consider in the light of China today, as the government seeks to promote Confucian ethics, while at the same time running an economy that's delivered vast wealth to a small political elite.

  • Philosophy in a nutshell pt 1: The aphorism

    Oct 04 2020

    First program in a series exploring famous philosophical fragments. Philosophy is often thought of as proceeding via elaborate conceptual systems. But sometimes, a choice phrase is all you need to get you thinking.

  • Politics at the extremes

    Sep 27 2020

    Politics has never been a gentle pursuit, but these days the gloves are well and truly off. How did we get here? What are the implications for political philosophy, and for politics in general? As for where we might be headed, there are fascinating – if rather terrifying – clues in the work of French thinker René Girard.

  • PRESENTS — Ideas

    Sep 21 2020

    Ideas is a program from CBC Canada and it's about... well, ideas. Each episode takes a concept and dives deep into its past, present and possible future. Whether you're interested in the meaning of community, the history of the saxophone, the environmental downside to jean manufacturing, the lure of political authoritarianism or our cultural obsession with serial killers, Ideas has an idea that's going to keep you listening. Pulling apart concepts, seeing how they work, and discovering why th...more

  • Progressive Islam

    Sep 20 2020

    Progressive Muslim thought seeks to establish an Islam that's equipped for the modern world - and still embedded within the Islamic intellectual tradition.

  • The abominable heretic

    Sep 13 2020

    In July 1656, the young philosopher Baruch Spinoza was cast out of his Jewish community for "abominable heresies". We don't know what those crimes were, but we do know that Spinoza has remained a polarising figure within Judaism ever since.

  • Shifting the frame on COVID-19

    Sep 06 2020

    When we think about COVID-19 as a medical issue first and foremost, what are we missing? This week we explore the ways in which legal, economic, cultural and ethical perspectives on COVID-19 could be just as important as the medical.

  • Lev Shestov: staying awake in the dark

    Aug 30 2020

    Lev Shestov is one of the great forgotten modern philosophers, and now could be the time to rediscover him. His was a philosophy of hope in the face of hopelessness, and the parallels between his time and our own are compelling.

  • Moral grandstanding

    Aug 23 2020

    Moral grandstanding is not a harmless pastime. It’s insidious and corrosive, eating away at the foundations of public discourse and deepening the divisions between us. But how to stop it?

  • AI home devices: A feminist perspective

    Aug 16 2020

    Smart home devices make life easier, and they're increasingly popular. But are they gender-neutral entities, or "smart wives"?

  • Inhumanity

    Aug 09 2020

    Our capacity to do terrible things to each other seems boundless. But we'd find it a lot more difficult without recourse to a neat conceptual trick: dehumanisation.

  • What are we doing when we argue?

    Aug 02 2020

    Argument and debate don’t need to be blood sports. Done properly, argument can be about beneficial mutual exchange and trust.

  • Nihilism and utopia

    Jul 26 2020

    COVID-19 has exposed a streak of nihilism in 21st century capitalist societies. How do we move forward without succumbing to despair on one hand, or utopian thinking on the other?

  • Mind, matter and motherhood

    Jul 19 2020

    When Nicola Redhouse had each of her two children, she experienced shattering post-natal anxiety that sent her deep into the mystery of the self, and the relationship between mind and body. A long standing participant in psychoanalysis, she found herself up against the practical limits of Freudian theory - but would science provide more useful insight?

  • Montesquieu and despotism

    Jul 12 2020

    Montesquieu was the 18th century French philosopher who introduced the term "despotism" into our political vocabulary. Today, his analysis is as relevant as ever.

  • The digital dead

    Jul 05 2020

    When we die, our digital selves sometimes live on. The line between death and life — already blurred by medical technology — is even blurrier in the digital domain. How should we prepare for our electronic afterlives?

  • Philosophy by postcard

    Jun 28 2020

    A fascinating public philosophy project, celebrating a major figure whose work deserves greater recognition — not just as a philosopher, but as a pioneering woman in a very male world.

  • The ethics of uterus transplantation

    Jun 21 2020

    If a woman wants to experience pregnancy but can't, the answer could be a uterus transplant. The technology is promising, if still very new — but how ethically sound is it?

  • Race in America pt 2: Lewis Gordon

    Jun 14 2020

    Any conversation about racial justice has to go back to basics: questions about the nature of humanity and the meaning of freedom. Philosopher Lewis Gordon explores these questions in the light of COVID-19 and America's current upheavals.

  • Race in America pt 1: George Yancy

    Jun 07 2020

    Speaking out against racism by insisting on the collusion of white people — even well-meaning ones — in a system that's racist to the core can bring serious consequences. George Yancy knows this well.

  • Choosing a personal philosophy: Existentialism

    May 31 2020

    Tired of having a casual, abstract flirtation with philosophy? It might be time to commit. A personal philosophy of life can be hugely helpful — but which one to choose?

  • Driverless cars, inequality and the 'trolley problem' in a high-tech world

    May 24 2020

    The road has always been a great social leveller — we all get stuck in the same traffic jams. But with the advent of driverless cars, that could all be about to change, with troubling ethical consequences.

  • Citizens and urban planning

    May 17 2020

    Consensus among citizens in the development of cities is always the goal — but it's rarely achieved. This week we explore the philosophical foundations of a more realistic model for citizen participation in urban planning.

  • The big snore

    May 10 2020

    Boredom hasn't received a lot of philosophical attention — which isn't surprising, given that it suggests a radical absence of anything to talk about. But even the most tedious things can prove on inspection to be complex, multi-layered and... well, interesting.

  • What can genes tell us?

    May 03 2020

    Can our genes tell us if we're gay? Or intelligent? Science says the answer is complex, and that genetic determinism — the idea that we're genetically hardwired for certain outcomes — shouldn't be taken seriously. But genetic determinism has taken hold of the public imagination.

  • Border patrol

    Apr 26 2020

    Refugees are often spoken and written about as victims: people on the far side of a border that separates them from all the things we citizens know and love about our homeland. But what if the refugee actually knows things about Australia that we don't?

  • Thinking a pandemic

    Apr 19 2020

    We're told that COVID-19 is an unprecedented event, one that's upended all our old certainties — so it's perhaps strange that we're thinking about it in very familiar ways. Considering the history, the politics and the ethics of COVID-19 can reveal fascinating and uncomfortable insights about ourselves and our society.

  • Time in a time of excess time

    Apr 12 2020

    Many of us have extra time on our hands at the moment, and for many of us that time can feel like a burden. But what is this mysterious relationship between what time feels like and what it really is?

  • Honour in the institution

    Apr 05 2020

    Institutions shape every aspect of our lives, yet they can be strangely amorphous things, operating according to norms and conventions that often undermine each other. For women, this can result in institutional discrimination – in workplaces and public organisations, but also in less tangible institutions like the family and the law. This week we’re talking feminist institutionalism, and the need for a women’s honour code.

  • AI and moral intuition: use it or lose it?

    Mar 29 2020

    Artificial intelligence is helping us to make all sorts of decisions these days, and this can be hugely useful. But if we outsource our moral intuition to AI, do we risk becoming morally de-skilled?

  • LGBT elders, isolation and loneliness

    Mar 22 2020

    As LGBT people grow old, they can become particularly vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness. Simone de Beauvoir had a keen appreciation of the challenges of ageing – “old age exposes the failure of our entire civilisation” – so can we find resources in her brand of existentialism that address some of the issues raised by LGBT elders?

  • Dangerous minds

    Mar 15 2020

    Heidegger was an unrepentant Nazi. Nietzsche's later work contains passages that openly advocate slavery and genocide. Today, with far-right extremism on the rise around the world, how concerned should we be when reading – and teaching – the work of these canonical figures?

  • The many and the one

    Mar 08 2020

    We casually talk about "Australia" as though it were a single entity. But what exactly is such a collective? And how can it be held responsible for its deeds - or misdeeds? This week we're talking group duties - and for International Women's Day, a conversation about gender and progress in philosophy.

  • The why of philosophy

    Mar 01 2020

    Is philosophy experiencing an unprecedented crisis? And are universities becoming a hostile environment for philosophers?

  • Is reason enough?

    Feb 23 2020

    These days it seems that critical thinking could be failing us – and we’re not sure why. Have too many people strayed from the path of reason? Or is reason insufficient – ever overrated – as an ingredient in the formation of good citizens?

  • Plato's woman problem

    Feb 16 2020

    In The Republic, Plato outlines a role for women in his ideal society that seems revolutionary, i.e. that they should occupy the highest position in public life. In Athenian society at the time, women were completely excluded from politics, so this is a radical proposal. But elsewhere, Plato expresses doubt about women’s natural abilities. What did he really think? And how does this tension persist today for women in philosophy?