Off-topic ... Where to start with Philosophy?


About 10 years ago I began some tentative digging into philosophy. I have not emerged yet. It goes deep ... very deep.

Now it seems that after listening to me drone on about the trolley problem on long drives with the Dublin Caving Group, some of my caving buddies have developed an interest too.

More than a couple have asked me for recommendations for where to begin. As I tend to give them the same list each time, I thought I would also summarise it here for others starting out.

Now, be aware that this list owes much more to Google and Apple’s recommendation algorithms than any proactive research on my part.

Yet, there is some genuinely excellent (and free) content out there. The shows/channels below are those I keep going back to. Well delivered and often entertaining, they are great places to start.

Good luck!

YouTube

Crash Course Philosophy
Designed for US high schoolers, but absolutely excellent content and delivery. Covers all major themes. Very recommended.

John Searle: Lectures from UC Berkeley
A premier thinker on the mind-body problem and theory of language. Famous for his 'Chinese Room' thought experiment (highly influential in AI circles). These lectures were where I started my own journey and I have listened to all of them several times. Very informative and not overly academic.

Closer to Truth
A bad title for a long series of interesting interviews and discussion with top scientists, philosophers and thinkers. Regarding philosophy it focusses mainly on the problem of consciousness, God and philosophy of religion. Also covers science.

Brian Magee interview series
A series of TV interviews from the 1980s by Oxford philosopher Brian Magee. Some great guests, including a young John Searle and many now-dead luminaries, incl. Quine, Ayer and Bernard Williams. 

Podcasts

Philosophy Bites
Regular 15-20 minutes discussions on key issues. Excellent content. Hosted by Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds (more of both below).

Partially Examined Life (PEL)
Long-format discussion on major themes, publications and philosophers. The occasional interview too. Entertaining and erudite. Good for long drives/walks. Some episodes require several listens.

The Panpsycast
Play on words (geddit?) Similar to PEL, though a bit more hit-and-miss. Again long-format discussion on major themes, but with better interviews than PEL.

The Philosopher’s Arms
A BBC radio programme converted to podcast form. Very well produced (Dave Edmonds of Philosophy Bites). Each episode tackles a key theme in an entertaining and revealing way.

And lastly...

A few others that are either tangential to philosophy or have less frequent uploads.

  • Lex Fridman Podcast: Core theme is AI, so very interesting if you are into hard problem.
  • Examining Ethics: I rarely listen to this now but found one or two episodes interesting.
  • Philosophy 24/7: Dave Edmonds again. Philosophy applied to issues in news or public debate.

Reading

Most of my consumption of philosophy has been via podcasts and YouTube whilst walking or doing housework. I would like to read more but can’t seem to find the time. Those that I have read are below.

Philosophy: The Basics
By Nigel Warburton. A great introduction to all major themes. Very readable.

Philosophy, Basic Readings
Again by Nigel Warburton. A collection of most influential papers through time. Dense at times, but very good.

Philosophy: the essential study guide

Warburton again! I doubt many students actually read this but I found it surprisingly useful. Very short and I read it in an afternoon. Good scene-setting for how to approach this domain.

People!

So those are my main ‘go-to’ sources. However, I will tune in to any media if it covers themes I am interested in (consciousness, free will, ethics, epistemology, truth) or has interviews with my favourite philosophers ... such as:

  • David Chalmers – He of 'hard problem' fame. Plus, I am quite sympathetic to panpsychism (where else is there to go?)
  • John Searle – He has been in trouble recently, but his lectures and talks manage to make things so clear!
  • Roger Penrose / Stuart Hammerof – Philosophers? Probably not, but in the same space.
  • Giulio Tinoni – Creator of ITT (Integrated Information Theory) which I love as an approach.
  • Susan Blackmore – A great interviewee and interesting journey.
  • Simon Blackburn – His PEL interview about truth is one I go back to a lot.
  • Donald Hoffman – A crazy idea that just might be true. (Probably not.)
  • Rebecca Goldstein – Only 36 arguments for God?
  • Max Tegmark - Again not a philosopher, but so many cosmologists and particle theorists can't help but tackle consciousness.
  • Alain de Botton - Where as the School of Life when I needed it! Very amusing books too.
  • Colin McGinn - Being called an 'Ontic Mysterian' is enough for me.