Podmasters is a weekly column where staff writers Andrea Alfano and Laura Rosenfeld highlight the podcasts you need in your life. Every week, they tackle a new genre, recommending everything from well-known series to little-listened-to-gems that will make you laugh, cry and learn. This week, Andrea Alfano spotlights five philosophy-related podcasts that are sure to make you think.
Podcast time is thinking time. At least for me, it is.
I listen to podcasts while I'm doing necessary tasks that don't require much thought to carry out, like cleaning, traveling, and cooking. When I'm doing these kinds of things, I want a podcast that's going to make use of that brain power that's not getting used up. And a good philosophy podcast consistently delivers on that account.
Not all of the podcasts on this list are in the philosophy section on iTunes or other podcast providers. Several are not strictly about philosophy in the straightforward, academic sense. Instead, some of them explore philosophical issues through personal stories, science, or fascinating phenomena. But all of them will make you think, and more importantly, will often leave you thinking about life a little – or maybe even a lot – differently than you ever did before.
If you love bizarre, obscure, gripping stories, Here Be Monsters is for you. The show bills itself as "a podcast about the unknown," and the more episodes you listen to, the more you realize that this really is the common thread that ties its stories about medicine, death, religion, science, drugs, and other topics together. As the title suggests, Here Be Monsters goes to some dark places, but host Jeff Emtman and his diverse guests do a remarkable job of shining light in just the right way to show you where they have found meaning in these places. When Here Be Monsters takes you into a cadaver lab filled with formaldehyde-laden human bodies, it is to learn about life and to create art.
The Greater Good gets filed under 'Science & Medicine' on iTunes, and that classification isn't wrong. This podcast comes to us from UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, an institution that really sits at the intersection of science and philosophy. Each episode features a different researcher to offer science-based ideas on philosophical issues such as happiness, morality, and how we derive meaning from our lives.
With most episodes running under 20 minutes, Philosophy Bites is a great way to get acquainted with the more academic side of philosophy. In other words, if you want to sound smart and deep on your next date, take an hour to listen to a few episodes and you will have plenty of ammo. Hosted by Oxford University philosopher David Edmonds and freelance philosopher (who knew that was a thing?) Nigel Warburton, Philosophy Bites is an interview-driven philosophy podcast that features some of the top thinkers in the world of philosophy.
Moth Podcast listeners will recognize the husky, endearing voice on Strangers. Host Lea Thau created the wildly popular Moth Podcast, in which people from all walks of life take the mic to tell their own stories, before creating Strangers, in which Thau often jumps in to tell part of her guests' stories and point out what it is about them that she found so compelling. The true stories you hear on Strangers are as diverse as those on the Moth, but the common theme of connection – or lack thereof – is always present. Whether it's the story of a woman who books cases for daytime court shows or a reporter slowly losing his mind to Alzheimer's, Strangers will make you wonder about that the person sitting across from you on the train and often even make you wonder how well you really know yourself.
The Partially Examined Life is filled with straight-up philosophy discussions among a bunch of guys who are not trained philosophers — or, as they put it, "some guys who were at one point set on doing philosophy for a living but then thought better of it." But the hosts of the podcasts are all deeply passionate about the subject, and provide accessible introductions to the works of Nietzche, Plato, and a host of other well-known and not-so-well-known philosophers.
Bonus: Alan Watts
If you simply want to listen to an engaging lecture from a great philosopher, the Alan Watts podcast is the way to go. Watts was a charming, British-born philosopher who played a major role in popularizing of Eastern philosophy during his life and has continued to do so even after his death in 1973. So there won't be any truly new lectures on this podcast, but there are plenty of archived lectures to keep it going. His talks are academic, but Watts always manages to make complex philosophical concepts accessible – and will often make you laugh, too.
Photo: Fredrik Rubensson | Flickr