Comments Page

Please leave any general comments here, or if your comment relates to a particular podcast, please post it on the relevant podcast page. You can also leave comments on Peter's blog.

For any technical issues concerning the website please use the technical issues page or this email form.

Jeff Biggus's picture

Timeline graphs

Hi Peter,

Long time listener, first time caller. I am greatly enjoying this momentous serious you're engrossed in. Thank you for it.

In case you are interested, I wrote a little program that generates visual timelines and I have created them for your three timelines, in case you would like to see them. Feel free to post them for others if you would like. Just trying to contribute something. I have found them personally helpful when listening to your discussions. (And let me know if you'd like them updated in some way or if there are mistakes.)


Peter Adamson's picture


Dear Jeff,

Wow, that's very cool! Thanks for doing this, I think it definitely helps to vizualise it like that. Of course it's slightly misleading becasue you're just going off death dates (which is all I provided) but still, I find it interesting to see how there are certain clusters (for instance the spike of figures in the 12th-13th century or so, which is large part because of the Jewish thinkers).

I hope you'll add one for the future timelines on Latin Christian thinkers, etc!


Tom Roche's picture

political Islam fights back 1.0

As HoPWaG enters the period where Western empires invade Islamic polities en masse, interested listeners might enjoy a recent ABC program

with audio @

in which the inestimable Phillip Adams interviews Ben Hopkins

regarding his forthcoming book. Includes tidbits such as: the first use of the term "counterinsurgency" is in Imperial British Afghanistan! and is immediately followed by use of the term "hearts and minds" ...

Tom Hiebel's picture


Finally the field of Giraffology has emerged to occupy its rightful place in the intellectual firmament! Only now has humanity begun to recognize the obvious gap in our understanding of reality.

Tom Roche's picture


But where is giraffe-rights law? and where is Kierkegaard when they need him?

Yannick Kilberger's picture

I can't understand everyone's

I can't understand everyone's fascination for such criminally bent animals...

What this podcast needs is more cat content. Kittens too.

Per-Erik Milam's picture

Text recommendations for philosophy in the Islamic world

Hi Doctor Adamson,

I was wondering if you have recommendations for books introducing the texts of major philosophers in the Islamic world. I'm looking for the selections of the texts themselves--with the aim of using them in intro classes--rather than introductions by another person. So far the best I've found is Classical Arabic Philosophy by McGinnis and Reisman. It's good, but I'd like something else if you have a recommendation. Also, do you have preferred translations or editions of Avicenna, specifically the Salvation?

Thanks and sorry if this question has already come up and been answered. I looked at some of the suggested readings for the early episodes in the Islamic World portion of the podcast, but found mostly secondary sources.


Peter Adamson's picture

Text recommendations

Well, I have often recommended translations on the podcast pages where they exist; the best collected reader is indeed the Reisman/McGinnis. More generally the translation and edition situation varies widely from thinker to thinker but there is a lot of room for improvement across the board. For the Najat specifically there is no full translation, for instance, though the logic has been translated. And you may have seen that (actually in the same series) al-Kindi is fully available in the translation by myself and P.E. Pormann. (I can't get the Oxford site to load at the moment so I'm just linking to Amazon.)

Nigel PJ's picture


Glad that you're back on air Peter.
Your Al-Kindi is available at OUP in Britain
and at Amazon UK
The hardback from Amazon UK looks like the best buy. I'm ordering one right now.

Peter Adamson's picture

another hopefully satisfied customer

Great! Hope you like the volume. If not, blame al-Kindi not me.

John Miers's picture

A new adherent

Dear Peter,

I recently discovered the podcast and have been binging on it at every opportunity. It's wonderful, extremely engaging and thorough without ever labouring a point. I'm currently on ep. 39 and greatly relieved that there are many hours of listening ahead before I have to make the painful adjustment of waiting a week to hear a new episode. So this post really is just to say thank you for this great service.

If it's not too picky, I do have one very small bugbear - your frequent use of the phrase "I know what you're thinking" to introduce a solution to an apparent paradox or contradiction. Apart from being an incautious claim for a philosopher with such a nuanced view of the nature of knowledge, when listening to a few episodes back-to-back it starts to feel like a repetitive rhetorical tic. I doubt I'd even have noticed this if listening in weekly bursts, however.

Right - back to Aristotle!

Peter Adamson's picture

I no longer know what you're thinking

Great, glad you are enjoying it! You'll be glad to know that, in response to similar complaints, I dropped the catch phrase ages ago. In fact if you are up to 39 I think it will disappear pretty soon, maybe I stopped doing it in the Hellenistic episodes? Not quite sure. In any case it seems like a distant memory now.

Hope you stick with the series and catch up to the once a week schedule!

John Miers's picture

Ah, sorry if I opened old

Ah, sorry if I opened old wounds! I'll be sticking around for sure. Thanks again.

Charles Landrey's picture

What line drawn between philosophy and religion

I am thoroughly enjoying the podcast series.

I appreciate the need for context, but I am curious if and where you draw the line between philosophy and religion. I know it reflects my ignorance, but I was surprised to see, for example, Augustine considered to be a philosopher.

Keep up the good work.

Yannick Kilberger's picture

Even Popes do philosophy :

Rhys William Roark's picture

Augustine the Philosopher

This is so as Augustine’s own theology is strongly influenced by the Platonic / Neoplatonic tradition (in the same way later theoligian Thomas Aquinas is strongly influenced by the thought of Aristotle), given that Neoplatonismm itself has a notable relgious or mystical bent in its own philosophizing (cf. Plotinus—a significant influence for Augustine). Augustine has been described as the first person to provide the first autobiography of the human self (in his Confessions), elaborating on a dimension observed by Plotinus as a way of understanding the Real, but who was not interested in its personal biography (acc. to ER Dodds, Plotinus was the first, apparently, to distinguish betweent the total personality [the psyche] and ego consciousness, where the ego becomes a philosophical term: from Dodd’s Ancient Concepts of Progress, ch. 8. One can’t help think of Freud and Jung here . . . ).

Augustine, here, can be seen as furthering the philosophical discussions on the nature of subjectivity using this to combat skeptical thought later influential for Descartes: “Even if I am mistaken, I am.” Likewise, his religious understanding of human freedom, whereby in his later thought human beings cannot act morally in anyway without God’s underserved grace and his anthropology of predestination, can be seen as a larger part of the discussion concerning freewill v. determinism, even if this has a much more noted biological cast today (viz., genetics as destiny).

Peter Adamson's picture

Religion vs philosophy

Of course this is a big issue and one that will be coming to the fore very soon as we get to medieval philosophy. I think a lot of people see a strong contrast between religion and philosophy, even assuming that texts written with an explicitly theological or religious purpose cannot be philosophical. Of course that would remove things like Aquinas' Summa, Augustine's On the Trinity, and even a lot of ancient pagan philosophy (Proclus, to take one example, is often talking about pagan religion as much as he is doing about philosophy, and he would have seen no firm distinction between the two).

My feeling is that there are plenty of reasons to think of such texts as belonging to the history of philosophy. Two are obvious: religious ideas influence philosophy, and religious texts contain plenty of philosophical ideas that can be exported for use in non-philosophical contexts. We've seen plenty of examples in late antiquity and the Islamic world, with many more to come. An irony of history is that many fundamental distinctions and ideas used nowadays by non-religious philosophers were first devised for the purposes of theological discussion.

Another thing to bear in mind is that there is philosophy about God, too - for instance Aristotle's discussion of God, or Leibniz', or Kant's. I think it makes sense to talk about "philosophical theology" where one is drawing on rational argument to explore the nature, existence, etc of God.

In light of these points (and one could go on to mention more), I think there is no way of separating off the history of religious inquiry or theology from the history of philosophy. Augustine, for me, is a slam dunk case of a philosopher; one of the greatest who has ever lived in fact. More marginal would be, say, the representatives of Kalam in the Islamic world, or mystics in the various traditions (like, Kabbalah works, or Rumi, or Hildegard of Bingen). But I count them in too, since their contributions are inextricably intertwined with the development of philosophy anyway and they are also often philosophically interesting, even if one might hesitate to call them "philosophers."

So, to go back to the original question I guess I would say that there is no firm line that can usefully be drawn between philosophy and religion. Rather a lot of fascinating stuff happens right along the borders of the two, or one could think of them as overlapping, with a lot of religious discourse being philosophical, and a lot of philosophy being about God. A good comparison would be philosophy and empirical science. For a long time science was just part of philosophy, and even now the two mutually inform each other and overlap; I don't think there is much to be gained by trying to lay down a firm boundary between the two.

Tom Roche's picture

religion + philosophy = $

Peter Adamson on Tue, 2014-09-23 13:48: "a lot of fascinating stuff happens right along the borders of [philosophy and theology], or one could think of them as overlapping, with a lot of religious discourse being philosophical, and a lot of philosophy being about God. A good comparison would be philosophy and empirical science."

... and of course promoting "dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians"[1] definitely improves one's chances of getting a big Templeton check :-)


Peter Adamson's picture


I wonder if they support podcasts...

Tom Roche's picture

give them some class

Peter Adamson on Wed, 2014-09-24 05:03: I wonder if [Templeton supports] podcasts..."

I note JTF supports[1] "On Being"[2], a steaming pile of "spirituality" airing on (or rather spewing from) NPR[3]. Unfortunately Krista Tippett is a philosopher like I am the Pope, so JTF's support for the yammering of qualia that passes for rational discourse on her show is not much predictive of funding for HoPWaG. You could pitch funding the podcast as providing JTF with an opportunity to redress the balance :-)


Tom Roche's picture


Peter Adamson on Wed, 2014-09-24 05:03: I wonder if [Templeton supports] podcasts..."

Get them to endow the "Templeton Chair for Peter Adamson's Studies at [your institution here/]" and you can do all the podcasting you want.

Dick Johnson's picture

Inidan Philosophy

I am thrilled to learn that you will be lecturing on Indian philosophy. Classical Indian or Hindu Philosophy and especially Vedanta is profound and it is difficult to find any serious expositions of it on audiotape or podcast. Chinese philosophy by comparison seems rather shallow to me and much of Buddhist philosophy seems hell bent on demonstrating the futility of reason at arriving at any meaningful truth. But these are my prejudices. But do please lecture on the classical schools of Indian philosophy with a special emphasis on Vedanta.

questorer's picture

a general problem.

Drawing on Vali Nasr's Shia Revival I'm having a hard time understanding how you will explain the modern islamic world (specifically Shia) without delving too deep into modern or semi-modern philosophy with people such as Hegel and Marx. also do you have a good history of Persia/eastern Islamic world for a general introduction? also: keep up the good work. I'm just bummed I can't use Shiraz as a way to transfer from wine to "the duel of Shiraz"

Tom Roche's picture

waaay too general problem

questorer on Sun, 2014-09-14 06:09: "I'm having a hard time understanding how you will explain the modern islamic world"

Umm ... this is a podcast about the history of philosophy. To "explain the modern islamic world" would be interesting, but off-topic.

Peter Adamson's picture

Modern Islamic world

Well, let's assume the question concerns philosophy in the modern-day Islamic world, since I will indeed be covering that. Part of the answer is that there's an upcoming interview with an expert (Anke von Kügelgen) who will discuss quite a lot of figures and movements. Also I am indeed mentioning numerous figures who were influenced by Nietzsche and other European thinkers. To get really deeply into them one would need to talk more first about the figures exerting the influence, but I am just going to sketch the ideas as they become relevant.

A good introduction for the history of these later Islamic empires is:

S.F. Dale, The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals (Cambridge: 2010).

Michael Dunn's picture

Scottish Independence

I am leaving Scotland to go back home (Wales) in January having lived here for 10 years; were I to stay in Scotland I would vote Yes, for a variety of reasons. I believe that in the event of independence Scotland would suffer economically especially in the early years but it would not be disastrous in the current climate. It would however put Scotland at great risk if another big economic downturn took place; so I'm voting Yes despite my own economic predictions. Were I to be still living in Scotland I'd be willing to take that economic risk in favour of what I'd believe to be a better society.

If we assume all of the above is a given - can I vote and expose others to the economic risk which I am willing to personally undergo, but which in actual fact I will not undergo? I am also placing others in the position where they may not receive the perceived benefits of independence if I abstain. Does the extent of my emotional feeling for Scotland have any relevance here and how can you compare abstract ideas of what is 'just', 'right' or 'fair' with tangible economics? Should I vote or abstain? All responses are welcome, thank you

Leonard Heidt's picture

Scottish Independence

Interesting that you state 'were I stay in Scotland I would vote Yes' then go on to state your willingness to accept consequences if independence were obtained and if you were still living there and could vote.

It seems clear that you wish to vote 'yes' whether you live in Scotland either now or in the future; if then you believe this is in the best interest of Scotland and you are eligible to vote you should vote as you see fit. Most of us do and judge things not necessarily because we will receive the benefits or punishments, but because it is right.

Therefore, I believe you should vote and if 'yes' is your vote, do so as I certainly would were I in your situation.

Peter Adamson's picture


Funny you should ask that, because another philosophy podcast, Philosophy Bites, just had a good episode on the topic of genealogy. You can hear that here.

I think that the term "genealogy" perhaps has connotations I wouldn't want to apply to the podcast: since Nietzsche it has come to be associated with a kind of debunking of some tradition, by showing its hidden roots (in his case, the historical account he gives is applied to Judeo-Christian morality). I think of what I'm doing as being something more neutral, which is a historical narrative. And I think this can serve various purposes: it is intrinsically interesting, as far as I'm concerned; it can be useful to people with broader historical interests, since the history of philosophy is part of history as a whole; and of course it resonates with contemporary philsophical concerns sometimes (or, it can be fascinating to see how much it doesn't resonate!). To be honest the connections to contemporary philosophy have never really motivated me that much, since I think of what is going on now as simply the most recent part of the history of philosophy, which isn't necessarily of more intrinsic interest to me personally than what was happening in, say, 9th century Baghdad. But I think it is definitely a legitimate and useful way to apply the history of philosophy if one does it carefully, and avoids anachronism.

Tom Roche's picture


Peter Adamson on Tue, 2014-08-12 08:44: "I think of what is going on now as simply the most recent part of the history of philosophy"

So are there meaningful metrics along or against which one could claim philosophy to have progressed or be progressing? E.g., explanatory power, or epistemic parsimony?

Alternatively, it is sometimes claimed [citation needed :-] that human music has progressed only in the sense that humans now can make more different sounds than before, and combine and control sounds in more complex ways, but that (e.g.) Bach, bachata, and bhangra are sufficiently orthogonal as to defy ranking. Is philosophy like music in this sense?

Peter Adamson's picture


Well, this question takes us deep into the issue of what philosophy is in the first place, which is not an easy one. I actually like your comparison to music, and maybe what I think about philosophy is similar. I tend to think it is more about seeing the relationships between different ideas, and not so much just finding out what is actually true - philosophical questions don't just get resolved and put to bed, to so speak. But we learn more about them by going ever deeper into the implications of certain assumptions, or of certain answers to standard philosophical questions. That's why I consider history of philosophy to be fully a kind of philosophy: we are studying the way that ideas and philosophical commitments actually interrelated in the works of previous philosophers. So progress is made, but only in terms of the accumulating insight into this complex web of ideas, if that makes sense; and of course on this understanding of philosophy what is going on now doesn't have any particularly privileged status. The one major caveat I'd make to this is that contemporary philosophy does have the advantage of being able to rule out some possible positions as non-starters, because of progress in other areas, notably the natural sciences and maybe also with respect to moral issues (for instance it isn't really interesting, apart from historically, to think about the justifications that have been offered for slavery, or for the belief in the inequality of women, since these are now obviously non-starters in terms of being beliefs or practices we would ever want to endorse).

W. Lindsay Wheeler's picture

Progress or Obedience

There is no "belief" in the inequality of women, it is scientific. Women are not equal to men. That is biological, mental and spiritual science. I point to Yves Christian's book, "Sex Differences, Modern Biology and the Unisex Fallacy". You Peter, believe in the equality of women, but "the condition of what is" is that they are inequal to men. Philosophy is about science, not personal opinion.

This is an "obvious non-starter"? is ludicrous.

Second, Slavery is an institution. All civilizations of Classical Antiquity had slavery. The Bible condones it. The Early Church never condemned it neither did Christ.

I see Peter that you are "progressive", but that is not philosophy. Philosophy, true philosophy always holds to the same and second, is obedient to the teachings of God. "We are not in the world to give the laws but in order to obey the commands of the gods", Plutarch.

Today, the Greek Orthodox Church does not condemn slavery. So if the left is anti-dogmatic, why are you so dogmatic about slavery and the equality of women? Are you God--teaching us morality? What does your personal opinion have to do with true philosophy?

Paul's picture

Manners please

Could comments please show some manners. I may not always agree with Peter but his efforts to help me understand all the matters he discusses commands my respect. I work in an area in constant contact with the public and I can assure you that nothing diminishes the respect you have for anyone as much as rudeness. So thank you for your comment and a thank you to Peter for the pod-casts.

Tom Roche's picture


Peter Adamson on Tue, 2014-08-12 20:17: "philosophical questions don't just get resolved and put to bed, to so speak."

Not ever? How 'bout Hume on causality or Nietzsche on causa sui? They seem to have put the fork (to mix metaphors :-) into their respective issues, no?

For that matter, is it not reasonable to judge that logic before Aristotle or Frege was poorer than logic after?

Sara's picture

how lovelier it could get

Hello, I suppose there's no need to say that I am very fond of the podcast. It is great, funny, informative, provocative. A true delight for my commuting journeys. My time is now measured by the lenght of the pods which I listen repeatedly. There's but one thing I would like to point out. Your tone and articulation are very good and pleasant, but the "S" are just too strong: in order to listen well I tune up the volume but the hissing is awful gets way too loud, overstaging the rest. It is a true dilema wether to listen or not in buses, subways or outdoor walks. I believe it could be edited somehow. If so, please do cut the hissing peaks. It would certainly become more delightful. Thank you so much.

Peter Adamson's picture


Yes, I know what you mean - though I think it is not so much the S's as what is known in the trade as "mouth noise". I have tried various things to eliminate this, it seems to get better once I've been reading into the microphone for longer, so I usually record 3 episodes at one sitting.

Tom Roche's picture

a messsage from our sssponsssor

Sara on Sun, 2014-08-10 19:36: "the hissing is awful gets way too loud"

Unfortunately, Dr Adamssson is, like most philosophers not certified by the Templeton Foundation(tm), the ssspawn of SSSatan. Accordingly, filtering this sssignature of sssecularism from the audio band will require the asssissstance of the Dark Lord himssself.

Hassan's picture

Downfall of Muslim world

Hello and Salam Peter Adamson. I am an avid listner of your incredible podcasts. You have said that philosophy in Islamic world is your area of specialization. We all know that most of the Islamic world is not in a good state since quite a few centuries. Many scholars point out the downfall of Muslim empires started in 15th or 16th century. I just wanted to ask that did this downfall of civilization also reflected in the Muslim philosophy of the last 500 years? Did Muslim philosophers and thinkers pointed out that the Muslim world is heading towards the wrong direction? When did Muslim thought began to stagnate in your opinion?


Peter Adamson's picture


Well, the basic answer to that is: stay tuned! I address that issue directly in some upcoming episodes, and will talk about the way that Muslim thinkers responded to ideas from Europe (sometimes heralding this as a way of reviving the fortunes of Islamic empires). My impression, having written most of these episodes already, is that yes, scholars did lament that their culture was in decline, but actually they probably weren't right to do so. Philosophy definitely changed but it didn't stand still or stagnate. Still, you can judge better maybe once I have gone through this material in the last few episodes on the Islamic world.

Hassan's picture

Thanks for your kind reply.

Thanks for your kind reply.


Tom Roche's picture

Sadra et al and the western Platonic revival

You've discussed Mulla Sadra's revival of Neoplatonism, but also that, apparently, he was still interacting with problematic texts like the "Theology of Aristotle." Am I missing something? Sadra is born nearly 150 years after the Council of Florence, and almost a century after Ficino publishes retranslations of Plato, the Hermetic Corpus, the Enneads, etc. Soooo ... why weren't guys like Sadra saying, "gotta get me somma that"? Did the Islamic Platonists not know, or not care, or what? Or was what they had already as good as what was coming out of the (former) Constantinople?

Peter Adamson's picture

Renaissance texts and Sadra

That's a great question, especially since one could in fact compare the European Renaissance to what happened in the Safavid period, in some respects. I don't fully know the answer but I think basically the problem is lack of linguistic access on the part of the Safavid thinkers to any of the literature you are talking about. In other words, Sadra could read Arabic and Persian but not Greek, Latin or for that matter French or Italian (nor would such texts have existed in Persia at that time), so naturally when he and other thinkers of his time and place turned back to the Greeks they used the Arabic versions they had. Bear in mind that in Europe of the same time they hadn't the foggiest idea of what was happening intellectually in the Islamic world apart from reports by a few intrepid travelers who went out to the Ottoman or Safavid or Mughal empires and made cultural connections in both directions. Actually it looks like the Muslims had a better grasp of what was happening in Europe than the other way around. I talk about this a bit in the next few episodes in fact; but it wasn't enough, really, to transmit whole philosophical traditions back and forth, in either direction.

Grace's picture


Can you please extensively focus and elaborate on Leibniz's conception of teleology/final causes when you cover him?

Peter Adamson's picture


Well that's getting your requests in early! He's a ways off so you might want to remind me when I get closer, but I think I can promise Leibniz will get a pretry lavish treatment including the issue you mention.


Chris HW's picture

New listener just wanting to say thanks

Dr. Adamson,
As a relatively new listener (just into the Plato episodes), I wanted to say thank you for your efforts in producing this. I imagine I'm like many listeners and haven't though much about philosophy since courses as an undergraduate, and this is a welcome return. You make my car rides much more enjoyable.
Since you don't get the immediate feedback of a classroom audience, I thought the least I could do was take a few moments to say thanks.
Keep up the great work.

Peter Adamson's picture

Car rides

Thanks! Glad you are enjoying it, and drive safely!

W Lindsay Wheeler's picture

Where is Aesop?

You are missing Aesop. Phaedo 60c; 61b.

"So I availed myself of some of Aesop's fables which were ready to hand and familiar to me and I versified the first of them that suggested themselves."

Aesop is part of the Wisdom tradition in Greece. If Socrates read him, we, if we are philosophers, ought to read him too.

Aesop is a philosopher. Philosophy is "the goal of reality". Aesop's fables are parables that teach "How reality works". Aesop is a reader of nature and hence fablizes things that happen in reality in order to teach lessons. He does belong in the History of Philosophy. I hope that you will include him.

Since you have numbered your podcasts already, I recommend A, B, C for the much earlier philosophers that are missing from your record.

Peter Adamson's picture


I actually did mention him in passing at the start of the episode on Aristotle's Rhetoric.

Yannick Kilberger's picture

You should totally do special

You should totally do special episodes Peter.

- The Seven Sages
- The Historiographers (Laërce, Plutarch, Cicero etc.). Yeah I know you already did something like this for History Podcasters but I thought, you know, something like 2 episodes would be better than a mere 12 minutes.
- The Orphic Conspiracy (one should count how many times it crops up in Russell)
- Homer vs Hesiod : who gets the tripod?
- A day in Plato's Academy (could be great as a crossover with twilight histories)
- A day in... (it's become a franchise, you get "a day at the Lyceum", "Epicurus' garden and so on...)

The best thing now would be to embrace the wife, say goodbye to the kids and close yourself up in your study for the next 10 years and just podcast away...

W. Lindsay Wheeler's picture

The Case of the Barefoot Socrates

I see that there is never ending skepticism in regards to the Protagoras statement of Socrates. No one is going to accept that Crete and Sparta are the home of Greek philosophy.

Then answer this question: Why was Socrates going barefoot?

Here is Part I of my book "The Case of the Barefoot Socrates". My computer broke down and have not funds to fix it and because the skepticism is still there, I have uploaded this to

This is the last nail to the coffin for skepticism regarding Doric Crete and Sparta as the home of Greek philosophy.

S.R.'s picture

The Vanished Wall

First, thank you for all the amazing podcasts Mr. Adamson. Secondly, really, thank you. Before i start mentioning why i am so thankful, let me write a bit about myself and excuse me for my probably poor grammar "english is not my first language". Never did i, until recently, expect to fall in love with philosophy. I was always the type of person to be somewhat on my on mind. Never learning in school, because i rather learned by questioning others or experiment myself, instead of just memorising like schools sadly ask for nowadays, i was always in awe with the world, but it seemed like no one else was. Additionally i did not grow up in a very "friendly" area, or rather, this area is not packed with people going "far" in life. Because of my ever hungry curiosity i always looked behind the courtain of the world, finding out how alarming our world actually is, while no one seemed to see, because its somehow more important to know what kind of jacket some famous person was wearing. Accepting the fate of being just a man, i just got a simple job with my lousy graduation. Using the wonderful invention called the internet, i used to browse and spent my time on entertainment, boards or random wikis, the time was flying. One day i accidently came across that quote you certainly know "You cant step into the same river twice" or similar. First thinking, "What nonsense", but as i lied in the bed, i was absolutely stunned that this was the kind of paradox way of thinking i always had in mind myself, so the next day i was looking where this quote came from. Basically drowning in history, because i always kind of was interested in romans and greeks, i found this site. "Philosophy? Isn't that the way too obscure thing, where old man just talk about crazy ideas that does not matter? Well lets just listen to Heraclitus". Half right about the "crazy" *laugh*, i found the other side philosophy, the genius side somehow kept hidden from everyone, the side that is infinitely interesting and never ending. I never thought i would find myself here, realising that philosophy is the place i always searched for, the kind of talk no one was able to talk with me, whishing i could have been living in these times of socrates and plato, maybe discussing with them. Listening to your podcasts, then reading books about philosophy, history, how our world functions and could function, i began to even read into fields i had absolutely no interest in like biology and physics. It felt like i was just drifting my life away before, for the first time being actually conscious, like i can be and learn everything from now on. You were one of the persons that led me to this place, and for that i thank you. While i am sad that my life before now feels like wasted, i am happy that given my background and distractions in our time, i could acquire this kind of understanding while i am still 22 years old and have time enough to reconstruct my life. At the moment i am regraduating school "this is possible in my country" and will be able to study maybe Architecture or some different interesting field, maybe even Philosophy or Physics.

Important is, that this place was one of the sparks to change my life, destroying the wall that was right in front of me, and probably for many different people too. Sincere thanks.


Abdelrahman Barakat's picture

Translating podcast.

Hello Peter,

I really enjoy listening to your podcast, I find it very interesting and informative, I'm thinking of translating it into arabic (written) blog if it's ok with you.

Peter Adamson's picture


Well, the scripts are coming out as books so if you want to do a written version in Arabic it would make more sense to talk to the press about licensing an Arabic translation. If you are interested in pursuing that please send me an email about it. ( Glad you like the series by the way!

Constantin's picture


Hello Peter,
I came across your podcast through a rather random search for good things to listen to while spending way too much time behind the wheel, and what a find it was! I used to have a rather vivid interest in philosophy in my undergraduate years which I neglected later on because of daily necessities. Having settled in nicely in my day job I was recently on the prowl for the juice of life again. What can I say? Now I am considering the options of going back to school for a M.A. in philosophy and it is partially your "fault". So thanks a lot and please, keep up the excellent work. Every new podcast of yours makes my day.
All the best,

Peter Adamson's picture

Back to not so basics

That's great! Pretty much the definition of "mission accomplished" from my point of view. I hope the MA goes well, if you decide to pursue it!

W. Lindsay Wheeler's picture

Sparta origin of Greek philosophy

I see that Peter Adamson has just published a book on "Classical Philosophy". The blurb mentions Socrates and Plato, but not the founders of philosophy--the Doric Greeks of Crete and Laconia. Is not Mr. Adamson up-to-date? Socrates said as much in the Protagoras. Published in London is a paper called "Doric Crete and Sparta, the home of Greek philosophy". So I am wondering is Peter Adamson really knowledgeable about "Classical Philosophy"? I'm wondering why "philosophers" are not knowledgeable about their own foundation and that as Socrates says, "philosophy holds always to the same". So I am wondering about this.

Yannick Kilberger's picture

And the giraffe is out of the bag.

Everybody knew yet we were also considerate enough not to point out Peter's obvious deficiencies. I fear this puts the entire podcast in jeopardy...

W. Lindsay Wheeler's picture

Buy the book?

Why buy a book that is fundamentally flawed that doesn't state the true origins of Classical Philosophy? Is not Philosophy a science? Then, if Science is "the condition of what is", then philosophy should state its origins truthfully. If one doesn't know the origins of a thing, doesn't know it at all.

Yannick Kilberger's picture

Rem acu tetigisti my friend

This is exactly the problem with a delusional character such as Peter: he has ready made answers for all of your objections. He will begin by stating that Philosophy is neither science nor religion, add that science is the study of relations while Philosophy produces concepts and will wrap things up à la Socrate saying that nobody ever knows anything entirely and that knowledge must be understood in terms of familiarity.

Quid faciem? as Molière would have it...

Tom Roche's picture

who else?

W. Lindsay Wheeler on Tue, 2014-07-01 17:20: 'Published in London is a paper called "Doric Crete and Sparta, the home of Greek philosophy"'

Why so reticent? It's *your* paper:

W. Lindsay Wheeler's picture

Sparta is the home of Greek philosophy

Yes. I am the author of that paper that was published in 2007 and yet I see book after book published on Greek philosophy and all bypass this. I mean Socrates is quite clear in the Protagoras that Sparta and Crete are the home of Greek philosophy. He does this with two personal experiences and historical research. The Republic of Plato is based on the Spartan Republic. The Timaeus backs up the Republic and Plato's Laws only has a Cretan and a Spartan as interlocutors. As the Republic mentions that those who use "the principles of nature are wise", those principles of nature, i.e. the Natural Law, was in use by the Doric Greeks.

If philosophy is about knowing First Causes, why doesn't philosophy know its own cause of itself?!? If one doesn't understand that the Doric Greeks invented and created philosophy, then one is not a philosopher or know philosophy. There is a lot of junk out there. That paper "Doric Crete and Sparta, the home of Greek philosophy" has just destroyed 400 years of modern sophistry. There are sophists and then there are philosophers. There are very very few true philosophers.

Yannick Kilberger's picture

Google Book's Anti-Spartan Propaganda

Alas there is a long tradition of Spartan neglect : to quote from William Stearns Davis - Professor of Ancient History in the University of Minnesota - in A day in Old Athens (1910): "Sparta,
for example, has left us some noble lessons in simple living
and devoted patriotism, but hardly a single great poet, and
certainly never a philosopher or a sculptor."

What can one do in the face of such harsh words?

Peter Adamson's picture

Crete and Sparta

I have to admit this proposal is a new one to me. However, while I don't know about Crete I would agree that Sparta was a major influence on Plato - he clearly has their constitution in mind in the Republic. He seems to have admired Spartan culture and seen it as superior, at least in some respects, to Athenian culture. In fact I think I might have mentioned that at some point in the podcast. But of course it's a long way from that to the claim that the Spartans invented philosophy (and bear in mind to give them priority you have to beat not Socrates and Plato, but the Milesians!).

W. Lindsay Wheeler's picture

The Spartan Republic

In order to know that Crete is the home of Greek philosophy, one must understand the true nature of their form of government. Plato talks of the necessity of three sovereigns and again a Three in One paradigm. By looking at the Spartan Republic, (google it {another paper of mine}) one can see the "principles of nature" at work. The principles of nature is the Natural Law. The Spartan Republic follows the Cretan republics. Only the Cretans got rid of their kings in the 6th century. The Doric Republics are a sign that the Doric Greeks had philosophy way before the Milesians. In the paper "Doric Crete and Sparta, the home of Greek philosophy" I point out that Thales went to Crete!

To further understand what philosophy is I point to my paper "Macrocosm/Microcosm in Doric Thought".
Only by understanding Macrocosm/Microcosm can one understand what a politeia is.

Yannick Kilberger's picture

Daniel Robinson is

Daniel Robinson is illuminating in his interpretation as to Socrates' fascination with Sparta, in the Great Ideas of Philosophy audio lectures by The Teaching Company. More precisely Lecture 7, Socrates on the examined life.

However he fails to acknowledge the Spartan claim to the invention of Philosophy.

Nigel Preston-Jones's picture

Spartan outlook

"Daniel Robinson...fails to acknowledge the Spartan claim to the invention of Philosophy."
Those Spartans would have known how to deal with such an historic slight. As Groucho Marx said in A Night at the Opera (1935): "Of course you know this means war!"

Bahman's picture


Dear Peter,

Thank you for your commitment in building this website and your efforts to keep the content streaming. I think this is THE most erudite site on the internet, to cultivate our humanism, in the Renaissance use of the word. Your attention to detail, your fascinating story lines, your never-ending threads are incredible! You are, without question, the most influential philosopher of ancient and medieval discipline in our time. As a lover of classical Persian and ancient thought myself, I am just thrilled by this undertaking and the wealth of information I have learned from you. Your website is the ONLY one I have bookmarked on my computer and smart phone. Every other website is just drab advertising bedizened with pictures of a random Kardashian...

Thank you again for this. I would give anything just to know the titles on your bookshelf. What do you read? What has formed you as a scholar? What is your bookmarked website? How does one cultivate the intellect of a Peter Adamson? Where should our society turn to as we run away from social media, from selfies of dinner plates and YouTube cat videos that infest our collective thought? Here you have a website where Epicurus and Rumi can sit side by side. Why has this not been done before? How can we contribute so this can continue unfettered? Thanks the Leverhume Trust in seeing this value!

I have recommended your site to so many as an example that hope is not lost. That the library at Alexandria did not perish. I look periodically at your links and pray you can guide us to even more resources that can cultivate the garden of our mind, and realize the selfsame uniqueness of human thought. The other resources and links are no where near as valuable as the HOPWAG. But surely, you must know of other sites that feed your mind. I got a subscription to the Cambridge Companions Series (at your recommendation) for all their content, and still felt I learned more from your 22 minute podcasts.

I hope this posting does not smack of wanton hyperbole. Your website is inspiring and a tremendous service for philologists and philosophers alike. I believe very strongly in your endeavors and congratulate you for expanding our collective thought.

Best wishes

Peter Adamson's picture


Gosh, thanks! It's great that you enjoy the podcast so much. As for the titles on my shelf, a lot of them are just the readings I suggest on each episode page of the podcast - and in the face of such effusive praise I should emphasize that the podcasts are always drawing on work of other scholars which has made it possible for me to survey all this material.

Crystal's picture

Enjoying the show

Hi. I just wanted to let you know how much I've been enjoying the podcast. I only discovered it recently, and am currently in the Late Antiquity section (Plotinus). I sometimes listen to episodes more than once, to really absorb them. I particularly enjoy the interview shows. Hope it continues for quite a while. Thanks very much.

Peter Adamson's picture

The show goes on

Thanks! Hope you stick with the series and continue enjoying it.

Yannick Kilberger's picture

Spam Attack

Is it me or the site gets targeted by spammers? I keep receiving mails about new comments by the fruitiest pseudos ever, and when I get there there is not any message... Am I the only one?

Peter Adamson's picture


Yes, there are spam messages that appear on the site sometimes; usually we take them down almost immediately though. I think maybe what is happening is that you get notified if someone has commented on one of your comments, even if the new comment  was spam - sorry about the hassle but I think there is no way around that unless we turned off the feature notifying you of the response, which is probably useful in more cases than not.

Yannick Kilberger's picture

Actually I was rather looking

Actually I was rather looking forward to the lurid advertisments of on podcast audience enlargment.

Jo's picture

Shah Wali Allah

Dear Peter Adamson,

thanks for your insightful and amusing podcast! I enjoy the episodes very much.
Now for a question: I looked at your timeline for Islamic philosophy and wondered why you won't include Shah Wali Allah Dehlavi?


Peter Adamson's picture

Shah Wali

Actually I think I will; the timeline isn't necessarily complete for future episodes because I add the dates as I am preparing the scripts.

Peter Adamson's picture

Further to Shah Wali

Just to confirm I am writing the script now for episode 191 and it will include a bit on Shah Wali Allah.

Jo's picture

Thanks in advance! That's

Thanks in advance! That's great to hear. I'm especially delighted about your podcasts on the later developments in Islamic philosophy because it seems that this part is neglected in many portrayals of Islamic philosophy.
I'm also directing my students to your podcasts. Hopefully they'll get hooked, too. :)

Mehran Saam's picture


Great work, much appreciated! I'd like to download all podcasts as MP3 to listen on my ipod. Is it possible to group them all as one or just a few downloads, so we don't need to save them individually?

Peter Adamson's picture

Downloading the .mp3's

Yes, you can do that here on the website. For all the completed mini-series (like "Aristotle") you can go to the right sidebar of any episode or the top page, and there is an icon marked .zip. Click on this and you should be able to download all the episodes on that topic as a single .zip file.

Fr David Rivera 's picture

Thanks and a referal to a conference of interest

Dear Peter,

My name is Father David Rivera and I thoroughly enjoy your podcast puns and all! It is part of my containing education. In seminary we covered a lot of the history of philosophy using Fr Frederick Cpoleston's books but I needed a refresher course. I managed to start and catch up to the latest podcasts in about three months. Thank you for your awesome work.

I am writing to you today because i receive the journal of The American Catholic Philosophical society. This years conference is on Aquinas and Arabian philosophy. I just thought that that might be of interest to you especially since your specialty is Philosophy in the Islamic world. Actually one of the last issues of the journal was on the intersection of philosophy and the Abrahamic religions.
Here is a link to the info on the workshop:

I am looking forward to your podcasts and the Medieval Latin world.

Fr David


You said you are part of the Philosohers Collage project I can't find that podcast.

Peter Adamson's picture

Aquinas and the "Arabs"

Thanks very much - I do know about the Aquinas and the "Arabs" project, it's really exciting what they are doing.

And here is the link to the philosophers collage project:

Albert's picture

Scholasticism and Thomism

Hi Peter! I would just like to ask if you have more podcasts dwelling especially on Aquinas, since I consider his to be such an important contribution in the growth of philosophy :) I am a newcomer in your site, and I find it a wonderful resource! Thanks a lot for all your efforts :D

Peter Adamson's picture


Well, I am getting to Latin medieval philosophy soon and of course will cover Aquinas as part of that. It will be some months until I get to him though! In the meantime you could check out this episode of "In Our Time" on Aquinas.

Albert's picture

Latin Medieval Philosophy

Wow! Thank you so much Peter! I can't wait :) (Actually, I can, because I know it would be a comprehensive quality work, and I hope to learn a lot about Thomist philosophy :)) All the Best!

Nigel Preston-Jones's picture

The Book

Peter-I've just posted a review of your book on Amazon (as Nigel PJ). As I make clear it's a great read! Thank you.

Peter Adamson's picture


Thanks for your generous remarks! Very kind of you. I'm glad you like the book.

Chamomile's picture

A gap that spans half the world

Early on you decided to ignore eastern philosophy in an effort to build a slightly more unified narrative of philosophical history, with a digression into Islamic philosophy because it is of particular interest to you. Fair enough and all, considering it's your podcast, but a suggestion for the years-distant future I'll leave you to consider: After catching us up to modern day, if you aren't well and truly sick of the podcast, go back and do the eastern philosophies. I'm vaguely aware of the tension between Taoism, Legalism, and Confucianism that existed in China around the Zhou Dynasty, but I'd love to hear an account without any gaps.

Peter Adamson's picture

Other half of the world

Actually you might have missed it but I just announced plans to do Indian philosophy next year, with Chinese philosophy possibly being covered further down the line. I will do it in parallel as I continue on with European philosophy. So, I already changed my mind about this (maybe I need to re-record the first episode since there I say I won't do Indian philosophy, and now I will!).

Chamomile's picture

I had missed that, as I've

I had missed that, as I've only just recently started listening, having discovered the podcast through Existential Comics' annotation on comic 31 about Diogenes (which is also one of their funnier comics, I think, if only for how *bizarre* it is). I'm just catching up with Aristotle now, and I find his empiricist leanings rather a breath of fresh air after Plato's incredibly abstract theory of forms. Plato's masterpiece Fascism for Beginners was extremely interesting (I listened to the entire thing on audiobook before listening to the relevant episodes), but as you can probably tell I didn't end up with a very high opinion of Plato. To be fair, I have every reason to believe I would have come to similar (if less well developed) conclusions if I had not had the historical examples of actual fascism to learn from.

But now that I've finished insulting the greatest work of your philosophical idol (sorry), it's great to hear that you'll be closing the gaps! Do I understand correctly that once the podcast on Indian philosophy gets rolling, this project will not only have an expanded scope but also produce episodes more frequently? That would be very good news indeed!

Peter Adamson's picture

Episode frequency

Actually you are the first person who has noticed this issue of how often the episodes will come out if I am doing two stories at once. I think it is not going to be feasible for me to put out two episodes a week (they might wonder at the university why I stopped doing all my other work). So I will probably do alternating weeks, i.e. an Indian philosophy episode, one week later an episode on Latin medieval Christendom (which I'll be covering in parallel), then Indian again, etc. I hope that won't annoy people too much.

Chamomile's picture

I had hoped the book might

I had hoped the book might have been successful enough as to justify a greater time investment, but I suppose not. Alas. Nevertheless, it's still good news to hear you're expanding the scope of the project. Thanks for all your work on the podcast, it's been very interesting.

Max Medenus's picture

Was Jesus a philosopher?

Dear Peter,

in your wonderfull podcasts you've dedicated some episodes to christian philosophers like Boethius and Augustine.

What i would like to know is whether you think it is reasonable to say that Jesus of Nazareth himself was a philosopher and Christianity a kind of philosophy. After all G.W.Bush, when he was asked in 2000 who his favourite philosopher was, answered: Jesus Christ. Was this just another Bush-lapsus or is it maybe not as stupid as it sounds?

So: is there maybe a gap in your history of philosophy when it comes to Jesus?

With kind regards,
a german atheist.

Tom Roche's picture


Max Medenus on Mon, 2014-06-23 10:28: "[is] Christianity a kind of philosophy[?]"

A brief inspection of the website shows an entire section of HoPWaG devoted to just "Ancient Christianity"!

with presumably more to come. Therefore :-) Christianity is a kind of philosophy.

Max Medenus on Mon, 2014-06-23 10:28: "maybe a gap in your history of philosophy when it comes to Jesus?"

PA can confirm/deny, but IIRC, his policy is, only texts count. Muhammad, Jesus, Socrates, the Jewish prophets (et many al) leave no texts, therefore get no shows. (Aspiring philosophers take note !-) Their numerous interpreters, however, get much coverage, therefore: no gaps.

Peter Adamson's picture

God and the gaps

Thanks for the spirited defense - your crossed out existential quantifier is nifty too! Unfortunately I did devote some episodes to Socrates so I can't actually take refuge in the "no texts" argument.

Peter Adamson's picture

The Jesus gap

I actually did think about that back when I was doing ancient Christianity. But, as I mentioned in a comment before I thought it would be better not to deal with Scriptural texts head on (that would be a topic for a podcast on religion) but refer to their effect on what we would less controversially recognize as the history of philosophy. Of course there is also enormous potential for causing offence here (even describing Moses, Jesus or Muhammad as a philosopher could be taken to be a kind of damning with faint praise) which I don't think would be helpful. And I guess that the philosophical aspects of the Bible and Koran are coming across anyway as we look at how Philo, Augustine, Farabi, etc etc responded to these Scriptural sources.

When we look at Indian philosophy the same issue of demarcation will arise by the way and will probably be even harder to solve!

Graeme Andrews's picture

World Giraffe Day, June 21st

A day to celebrate Hiawatha,her existing sisters and and all other giraffes.

Peter Adamson's picture

World Giraffe Day

Right! I already celebrated by sending out a Tweet about it. Hiawatha is out on the town hoping people will buy her free drinks. (Longdrinks, presumably.)

Robert's picture

Pictures on the website.


Is it possible for you to add captions for the pictures featured on the website with some information about them. I think many are of particular historical interest but I'm not sure what some of them are.


Peter Adamson's picture


I assume you mean the slide show on the Home page, right? (Since the other pictures for the episodes are usually pretty self-explanatory.) That came up before in an old comment, so I can just paste the list in again here:


1. David's "Death of Socrates"

2.The Strozzi Altarpiece, with among others Thomas Aquinas

3. Boethius being instructed by Lady Philosophy

4. Socrates and his Students from 13th c manuscript

5. Averroes (in the entire image he's pictured at the feet of Thomas Aquinas), fresco in Santa Maria Novella, Florence

6. Image of Dante's circle of the philosophers in Paradiso

7. Giorgione's "Three Philosophers"

8. Fresco with philosophers of the Italian Renaissance, including Ficino and Pico

9. Hans Holbein the Younger's marginal drawing in Erasmus "Praise of Folly"

10. Montage of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau

11. Emil Doerstling, "Kant and Friends at Table"

12. Montage of Kierkegaard, Hegel and Nietzsche

13. Photo of Sartre and de Beauvior with special cigar smoking friend


By the way I usually get images off of Wikicommons to make sure they are ok for me to use.

James Hannon's picture

question about the rise of Neoplatonism

Maybe this question is more appropriate for the History of Sociology, but are there any specific reasons why Stoicism and Epicureanism gave way to Neoplatonism in late antiquity? It seems a little odd to me. Was it wrapped up in the competition between paganism and Christianity? By the way, I'm looking forward to reading the book (which I pre-ordered).

Tom Roche's picture

freak out?

James Hannon on Fri, 2014-06-13 00:17: "[that Stoicism and Epicureanism gave way to Neoplatonism in Western late antiquity] seems a little odd to me."

There does seem to be a general nuttiness and flight from rationality in Western late antiquity. AFAICS it's often ascribed to stress, what with all those barbarian invasions. But the roughly-analogous Chinese Warring States period produces Confucianism, Legalism, Mohism, which are quite rational by comparison. (OK, so it also produced Daoism--score one for the stress hypothesis :-)

Peter Adamson's picture

The rise of Neoplatonism

I was sort of hoping to convince you in the Neoplatonism episodes that the Neoplatonists weren't nutty irrationalists. But admittedly some of it gets pretty strange.

As to the general reasons for the development I think I might have mentioned in the podcast the theory that as aristocrats were cut loose from connection to significant influence (such as they had in the Republic), due to the rise of imperial power, there was a tendency for them to seek fulfillment in a non-earthly sphere. So on that reading Neoplatonism is offering a plan B for disappointed well-to-do Romans. I agree though that competition with the Christians is important, though probably only a factor in later Neoplatonism. I think the Christian issue is barely relevant for Plotinus, but if we go ahead to Proclus and other later Neoplatonists, then their emphasis on the pagan gods etc (the "nutty" aspects of Neoplatonism) is almost surely an attempt to fight the rise of Christianity.

However we shouldn't overlook the possibility that Platonism won because it was just the most powerful theory with the best advocates. Plotinus in particular managed to incorporate most of what was appealing in Aristotelianism and Stoicism into his brand of Platonism. So it became a kind of unified pagan Hellenic philosophy that offered the best of the tradition in one nice coherent package. I think that may be part of the answer too.

Tom Roche's picture

nuttiness, rationality, and Christianity

Peter Adamson on Fri, 2014-06-13 05:55: "the Neoplatonists weren't nutty irrationalists."

Two responses: (1) compared to what? Remember the original question in this thread. Granted, Stoic Panglossianism is kinda nuts, and we're getting into kinda squishy, definition-free territory, but I'm not seeing a concept of rationality that would favor Neoplatonism over Epicureanism. Except that (2) it is often the case that nuttiness involves intense or hyper-rationality attached to dubious or specious premises. E.g., Iamblichus' "mathematical" cosmology. So I guess if one only considers *quantity* of reasoning, the Neoplatonists do well :-)

Peter Adamson on Fri, 2014-06-13 05:55: 'their emphasis on the pagan gods etc (the "nutty" aspects of Neoplatonism) is almost surely an attempt to fight the rise of Christianity.'

But there's plenty nutty Christian Neoplatonism too, no? How 'bout that "Celestial Hierarchy" ?-)

Peter Adamson's picture


I think that's a good point, that what seem like "nutty" views to us may often be the result of taking a reasonable premise seriously and running with it. Of course what I really want to do with the podcast is give enough context and detail to help you to see that what seem like crazy or incomprehensible views were actually well-motivated at the time - the motivations vary, sometimes just the weight of argument, sometimes other social pressures or religious commitments. (Neoplatonists would think that today's materialist philosophers are pretty nutty.)

And you're right in any case that the pagans didn't have a monopoly on views that are hard for us to relate to. It isn't only metaphysics either, think of the extreme ethical practices of the Christian ascetics for instance.

To answer your question (1) - why would Neoplatonism seem more "rational" than Epicureanism - there are various answers one might give but I think an obvious one is that the Epicureans thought the universe we see is the result of chance. Non-Platonists like Marcus Aurelius also dismiss this out of hand, as being simply preposterous. That's not only because the universe looks so well-designed, but also because it suggests that the universe is to some extent unintelligible (there are no purposive natures to understand, just random physical interaction). It's interesting that Epicurean-style physics makes a comeback in the early modern period, and there is a chicken-and-egg question there: did the new physics make Epicureanism seem more reasonable finally, or did the rediscovery of Epicureanism help give rise to the new physics? Something for us to get into later.

jayotis's picture

nutty then and now...

FM Cornford published an essay in 1942 called "The Marxist View of Ancient Philosophy" in which he cautions against applying contemporary interpretations to ancient thought. In particular, he considered it unsound to seek out the class basis for theories in order to judge them as "liberating" or "reactionary." His reflections may be applicable to this thread about whether Neoplatonists or Epicureans were more or less rational. That said, I can only comment that I read, say, Plotinus not so much to agree or disagree as to stretch my mind to understand him. Through this I am at times stimulated to reflect on current ideas (my own included). This can give a fresh perspective, or reveal unacknowledged debts.

BTW, Cornford's essay can be found in his collection The Unwritten Philosophy.

Tom Roche's picture

forever nuts

@jayotis on Fri, 2014-06-13 23:54: "Cornford [cautioned] against applying contemporary interpretations to ancient thought."

Three problems with that:

1. Presuming Dr Adamson has no TARDIS (which I just now learned is an acronym--thank you, wikipedia !-), HoPWaG would seem to be little more than one contemporary interpretation of ancient thought after another. (If he *does* have a TARDIS, then he needs to get off his @ss and collect more documents !-) So if you *actually* take Cornford seriously, why are you listening? Granted, the thoughts interpreted become progressively less ancient with each episode (neglecting occasional backsliding :-), so you might "win this game" with a particularly restrictive definition of "ancient," but that would be cheating :-)

2. @jayotis on Fri, 2014-06-13 23:54: "[Reflecting] on current ideas [can] give a fresh perspective." Sooo ... why not reflect on ... wait for it ... "ancient thought"? Perhaps you need a fresh perspective on Cornford :-)

3. Do you *really* want to claim that evaluation of the rationality or reasonableness of past arguments is "unsound"? That would seem to be implicit in deprecating examination of "whether Neoplatonists or Epicureans were more or less rational"--am I missing something? If not, how far back extends this "caution"? Can one soundly evaluate the rationality ("more or less") of an argument advanced yesterday? Last year? Last century?

jayotis's picture

point taken...

You are sharper than I am, Tom, and make good points. But I wonder if we know enough either about the ideas of antiquity or their social context to approach them the way we might the theories of more recent times which are more fully documented and better situated in events and social movements. That's the point I'm trying to get at.

Tom Roche's picture

uncertainty and its enemies

jayotis on Sat, 2014-06-14 02:53: "I wonder if we know enough either about the ideas of antiquity or their social context to approach them the way we might the theories of more recent times"

In general, we don't. But so what?

Firstly, remember that we were not discussing any quality of discourse in general, we were discussing rationality--logical reasoning--of philosophical arguments particularly. I assert (feel free to contradict) that the rationality of an argument (as we understand it) is approximately temporally invariant. Our standards of rationality (our tools for logical reasoning) may continue to improve somewhat (e.g., we go from syllogisms to FOPL to [your modal woo-hoo here/]), so our evaluation of a argument's rationality may change somewhat, but the argument as stated doesn't.

What has historically been significantly time-variant is our understanding of a text's semantics--translation is a hard problem, period--and therefore our sense of the argument. But does that mean Dr Adamson, other hard-working historians of philosophy, and their legions of graduate students, should cease to entertain us with their translations or evaluations? No! It implies only that better translations *might* be forthcoming ... or not.

Even harder sources of uncertainty are that every language has private aspects (e.g., connotations, allusions), and that (Roche's theorem of mind :-) "at the end of every neck is a blackbox." But, hey, I do environmental modeling, a field that could not *exist* if folks got too squeamish about uncertainty. IMHO the appropriate response to uncertainty is not to throw up one's hands, or to pretend that certainty is binary (I'm looking at you, Karl Popper !-), but to bound it where possible, and to characterize it where not.

Thus sprach Zarathustra, "neither front nor freak out." (or was that Aristotle ?-)

jayotis's picture

trail of breadcrumbs....

I'm loosing track, Tom. How did we get started on this? I'm afraid I got off on the wrong foot and unloaded Cornford on you because I had a knee-jerk reaction to the the question of why more rational Epicureanism got supplanted by the wooliness of Neoplatonism. It struck me that the question assumed there might be a sociological explanation. I do agree that human reasoning capacity is relatively constant over the ages. I have only nibbled at Plotinus. While I cannot find much in his work that is empirically grounded, there seems to be a serious effort to offer his essentially mystical vision in explanatory terms. There are many ways in which it reads like science, just not the science of measurable events in the material world.

Tom Roche's picture

a pragmatic response

Peter Adamson on Fri, 2014-06-13 21:20: "Neoplatonists would think that today's materialist philosophers are pretty nutty."

No doubt, but so what? Our physicalism proceeds from (what the Neoplatonists would presumably call) our natural philosophy, which is fairly intimately associated with the delivery of nicely-inter-subjective goods and services like podcasts and their players. Whereas the inter-subjective Neoplatonic deliverables are ... what? Theurgy ?-)

But I guess even the pragmatists could "come down on both sides" of that, since James would probably "cash value" henosis over HoPWaG. Proving he was, as Peirce recognized, a nut :-)

Anyway, here's hoping we both live long enough to hear you do the pragmatists (or Pragmatists?) in another thousand episodes or so ...

Tom Roche's picture

Marwa Elshakry, "Reading Darwin in Arabic"

For Dr Adamson and listeners:

New Books Network has an interview[1] which may be of interest: Marwa Elshakry[2] on "Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950"[3]. It's longer (58 min) than any HoPWaG episode; if that's a problem, IMHO the first 15 min are skippable (being mostly lit-crit-ical musings on the "nature" of reading and translation) but YMMV. After that are interesting (though philosophically mostly tantalizing) discussions on the assimilation of (in order of increasing generalization) Spencer, evolution, and Western science into Islamic[4] philosophy, science, and politics of that period.

There are all-too-brief mentions of how some philosophers of the period sought to assimilate evolution into (e.g.) emanationism and rationalist kalām. Perhaps when/if Dr Adamson arrives at the latter 19th century (only 700 years to go !-) he might interview Elshakry in more detail on these subjects.

[4]: Note that, from the interview, it appears Elshakry's focus is mostly limited to Egypt and the Levant.

Martin's picture

Happy about the book!

I'm so glad you released these in book form! I have serious trouble listening to the podcast, because it is so well-done and so interesting that whenever you say anything, I start to think about it. And then, I find I've been daydreaming and have missed the last ten minutes of podcast. I must've listened to some of the Plotinus ones about five times. So with the book, I can finally absorb these at my own pace. So thanks for that! It is of course excellent.

Incidentally, when do you think the second book might be published? At the rate I'm tearing through the first one, I'll be finished pretty fast.

Peter Adamson's picture

The books

Thanks for getting the first book! The second one is already with the press (being reviewed by referees) so it is on schedule to come out in a year from now, if all goes well. The theory is that the first three books, at least, will come out in consecutive years. We'll have to see how it goes from there!

Tom Roche's picture

ideology, leadership, and faction in Christianity and Islam

This question may be too far outside your domain, but it's certainly related, so perhaps you can address something that's been bugging me for awhile:

For years I've heard and read that faction formation in Islam derives from leadership disputes. The Shia/Sunni split is the paradigm case, but, as you described in show# 176, there are several others. Yet you also seem to suggest, and my other readings seem to agree, that these factions (e.g., the Ismāʿīlīs) are at least associated with significant philosophical/theological differences. So the "Islamic flow" seems to be leadership dispute -> faction formation -> doctrinal dispute.

By contrast, from what I know of the history of Christian doctrines (which is a helluva lot more than I know about Islam), it seems like Christian faction formation is driven by differences in doctrine, ranging from major (paradigm=the Reformation) or (more often) minor (e.g., any of many Trinitiarian disputes). These ideological differences nucleate factions, producing new leadership (of the resulting new factions). In addition to this being apparently empirically factual, this "kinda makes sense" to me: people with differing views tend to split. Again by contrast, Christian history (esp medieval/early-modern) has many leadership disputes to which the adjective "merely" is well-applied (e.g., Avignon papacies, Italian inter-family contests), notably because they *don't* involve or produce doctrinal dispute. This also accords with common-sense social psychology: splitting is often, probably usually, non-ideological. (The paradigm case here being the People's Front of Judea vs the Judean People's Front :-) Thus the "Christian flow" seems to be doctrinal dispute -> faction formation -> separate leadership.

Sooo ... why the difference? Or am I perceiving a non-existent difference? (And if so, how am I perceiving the non-existent ?-) If not non-existent (and presuming the non-non-existent exists :-) this seems especially odd since, as you have also noted, medieval Islamists can also do major-league hairsplitting. Why doesn't doctrinal dispute drive factionalization in Islam rather than leadership dispute?

Peter Adamson's picture


That's a great question, though one that as you say isn't exactly in my field of expertise! I think in both the Islamic and Christian case (we could add Judaism and no doubt other religions too) there is a chicken and egg problem, I mean, it isn't obvious whether the splits lead to philosophical disagreements or vice-versa. Of course theologians tend to present their disagreements as doctrinal in nature, but you have to wonder how they mobilize so many non-theologians to split from their coreligionists if there are no economic, ethnic etc issues "really" underlying the split. This is just a version of the more general question about what sort of explanation we look for in history: e.g. economic ones (Marxists) or non-economic, ideological ones.

Having said that there is one clear difference between Islam and (pre-reformation) Christianity in that Islam lacks a centralized authority for determining dogma, you instead have a large group of jurist-scholars who build up a body of consensus. Episode 147 is relevant here by the way. In a sense that makes factionalism possible because different groups can go different ways without anyone forcing one side to capitulate; on the other hand it means that some degree of disagreement is tolerable. Of course that all holds to some extent more for Sunni Islam than for Shiite Islam which does have a more authoritative structure, at least in theory.

Steve's picture

Keaton's Shoe Size : Meno's Parodox

One of the funniest comedians from the silent film era, Frank Joseph "Buster" Keaton, was a 40th Division veteran of World War I.
Along with such other greats as Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, Keaton was among the greats of his time at making people laugh. He started at the age of four in his families’ touring vaudeville act, and learning the rough and tumble trade that silent films required of their male comedians.

Buster had just started in the film business at the age of 18, when he was called into service with the infantry, but somewhere along the way, was switched over to the Signal Corps for training at Camp Kearney, near San Diego. Army life was tough on Buster.

In his autobiography My Wonderful World of Slapstick, Keaton said, "I resented my uniform, which made me look and feel ridiculous. Apparently, the quartermaster general had never anticipated that anyone under five foot five inches tall would be allowed to join the United States Army.

My pants were too long, my coast looked like a sack, and wrapping Army puttees around my legs was a trick I never mastered. The size eight shoes handed me were far too big for my size 6 1/2 feet. Old-timers in our outfit had long given up hope of ever getting uniforms that fit them. They had theirs altered at civilian tailor shops.

Peter Adamson's picture

Buster's shoe size

Wow, is that ever an on-topic quote! I actually have that book so I could have found it myself. Let's keep it between us though, I like the example.

paul's picture

Let us be fair

Hello Peter,
First of all let me be fair. I have gained much from the pod casts. My life is the richer for it but, unfortunately, several bookcases later my bookcases are groaning. However, after the atrocious behaviour of the Sudanese Government and Boko Haram I listened again to some of the earlier pod casts and heard Aristotle criticised for support of slavery and Christian fathers for unfortunate positions on the equality of women in the church. I have not heard similar criticisms in the Islamic episodes. There was a warning that Ash'arism maybe distasteful. However, is it not a failure of all Islamic philosophy that it has not managed to overcome slavery, the subjection of women, religious violence and murder in the name of Islam? I cannot listen to the more recent episodes without thinking why such a rich intellectual project should have been so ineffectual. I think this has to be recognised.

Peter Adamson's picture


Hope there is still room for the Classical Philosophy book version of the podcasts on your groaning shelves!

You are raising a big, and sensitive, issue there. I am obviously only talking about philosophy, not Islamic history or culture in general, so I don't think that I necessarily need for instance to touch on the roots of Islamic extremism; albeit that I will probably say something quick later on about Wahhabism. But for what it's worth, I think philosophy and science have had a huge impact on Muslim societies; but it would be too much to expect that this impact would rule out extremism, or prevent slavery or subjugation of women, just as many centuries of philosophy in Christian cultures didn't prevent the same things happening in those cultures. Most philosophers throughout history have, let's face it, been enthusiastic about subjugating women, and most of them have probably been pro-slavery too. Protests against these aspects of society, whether in Europe, China, the Islamic world etc have really been a feature of recent centuries. I will indeed talk about reform movements in Islam and the debates about these issues, but in later episodes when I am getting to the 18-20th centuries or so. By the way I'm also planning an episode specifically on women in Islam so that is something I do plan to cover (of course, focusing on the aspects of this huge issue that are relevant to philosophy). So stay tuned!

paul's picture

No, not the extremist argument.

I have delayed responding as I did not want to cause any offence. I owe much to this series of podcast and am grateful. However, I listened to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who asked the same question as I did. Why is it that with all the advances in science and philosophy along with the riches from conquest did we not see the formation of an Islamic religion not based on violence? Even in your last pod-cast we can see the interplay between Islamic philosophy and Christian thought. It is not correct to see forces like Boko Haram as extreme. I would rather see them as part Ibn Khaldun's reformist movement to bring back Islam to its origins. I do not think it relevant to refer to past positions of Christianity or Judaism as unenlightened. Rather, like Islam these religions share the Hellenic heritage and the Hebrew culture. The interaction of the Hellenic and Hebrew cultures within the interplay between Christianity and Judaism may have been violent at times but it was vital for the creation of the modern world. I have listened to the previous pod casts again and I am struggling to see what influence these interesting philosophers within the Islamic world have had on Islam to make it relevant to the modern world. I would hate to think that they are of antiquarian interest only. It is a topic that has to be acknowledged.

Gizawi's picture

Hirsi Ali, Really?

If I wanted to learn about Hinduism I wouldn't go to a former Hindu, or at least not exclusively. The well you draw on is poisoned. As for your groaning library, it needs a few more books. Start with Carl Ernst's "Following Muhammad" as a start. No book I have read covers the change from pre-modern to modern Islam so well and so accessibly. It will answer a lot of your questions.

Hirsi Ali is problematic, and I really do not see why so many Westerners flock to her for information on Islam. Even on women's issues there are a lot of actual scholars who are much better sources than her. Asma Afsaruddin, Amina Wadud, etc. are actual scholars, and are no mere push-overs either. They have many harsh words about the subject, but they do it from a genuine place as scholars. Hirsi Ali is not a scholar, she is an ex-Muslim. Does that mean people shouldn't listen to her? Absolutely not, but for people to only listen to her above more qualified commentators is absurd. Her view point is also incomplete as she was raised in a Wahabi system under a rigid Somali interpretation. She would have known little about else about other forms of Islam.

Extremism matters. The Wahabis reject almost everything Prof. Adamson speaks of in this podcast: Sufism, philosophy, and even theology. Which means none of these thinkers even filter down to their level except as examples of heresy to be avoided. The Boko Haram are Wahabis, yet that distinction is rarely made in the news.

Now as a Muslim I am so sick and tired of people placing me and my people wholesale in the same boat as violent intolerant scum like the Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, Taliban or whatever unsavory group captures headlines these days. We are not a monolith. Are all Westerners far right xenophobes and hawks? Neither are all Muslims violent and intolerant.

Please do your self a favor and read more. Start with simple intros like the one I mentioned above then read on the different groups within Islam. Your library is not groaning enough.

Tom Roche's picture

what exactly is claimed?

paul on Fri, 2014-05-30 06:16: "Why is it that with all the advances in science and philosophy along with the riches from conquest did we not see the formation of an Islamic religion not based on violence? [...] It is a topic that has to be acknowledged."

Only if meaningful, which, in the case of your "topic," seems questionable. Let's examine one of its key components.

You claim that the "Islamic religion" is "based on violence." That claim seems to be empirical (or "positive," in the jargon), presuming that both Islam and violence are observable features of the world, but only if testable. So let's probe that, with two questions.

First, how would one determine whether any arbitrary "religion X is based on violence"? What is the positive content of this claim? I.e., what sorts of observations would tend to justify the claim? E.g., should one examine only doctrine, i.e., the verbal behavior of particularly prominent Xians? (We can appeal to "expert agreement" here: for purposes of doctrine, utterance U counts as doctrinal if "experts in the field" agree. E.g., Dr Adamson et al agree (IIUC) that Paul's Epistles and Augustine's "City of God" are doctrinal.) Or Xian behavior more broadly? If the latter, how to differentiate Xians from non-Xians?

Secondly (and some would claim more importantly), how would one falsify the claim that "religion X is based on violence"? Give examples of what one might observe which would allow one to consider the claim that "religion X is based on violence" unjustified; conversely, how one would justify the claim that "religion X is not based on violence."

Thirdly, it seems reasonable to define religions as "extended": a religion is a belief system that applies to some reasonably large group of people (vs, e.g., my personal belief system) over a reasonable span of space (vs, e.g., the policies governing use of some particular building) and time (vs, e.g., the span of popularity of a "hit" movie or song). Assuming you agree (feel free to not :-) then, given that extension, can you characterize some statistical properties of the justifying or falsifying observations? E.g., with what spatiotemporal frequency must Xians commit violent acts? and what proportion of Xians must be involved? Or, doctrinally: with what oral or textual frequency must violence be recommended?

Peter Adamson's picture


Hi folks,

This is obviously a large and very contentious topic, but just a couple of quick comments:

1. Someone mentioned Asma Afsarrudin: I studied Arabic with her! And took a class on classical Islamic culture with her too.

2. I would agree that it makes no sense to describe Islam as "based on violence." Even aside from the argument about how many Muslims today believe in politically motivated violence (obviously, a vanishingly small number), even a cursory glance at the history of Islam shows that Islam is a vastly complicated historical phenomenon. This podcast hasn't looked at the history of Islam as such, but just think about the variety of approaches and understandings to the religion we've seen! No sweeping generalization about Islam, or any other religion for that matter, can capture the "essence" of what Islam has been as a historical phenomenon.

3. Though when we talk about 20th/21st c. Islam we are getting pretty far past my field of expertise it seems clear to me that the same goes for Islam today. Among other things one can find in contemporary Islam attempts to retrieve pretty much any of the historical developments we've discussed in the podcast. For instance you have champions of Ibn Taymiyya from the Wahhabi strain of Islam, but also rationalists who admire Averroes, the living tradition of Avicennan/Sadrian thought in Iran, etc etc. I will be covering this a bit in the last episodes on philosophy in the Islamic world. In other words Islam remains as complex as it ever has been if not more - I would thus be wary of anyone who tries to persuade you of sweeping characterizations of what Muslims are, must believe, etc.



paul's picture


I am sorry no one has acknowledged this problem so I will leave it at that. All I will say is that I look forward with relish to future pod casts and sincerely pray that no other town has to suffer the murder of its citizens by Muslim militants as mine has. Thank You.

jayotis's picture

islamic thought...

I'm sure Peter can offer better comments on the relevance of Islamic thought, but this is what comes to my mind. A great deal of how Greek philosophy come into thee Christian West is after being processed by thinkers such as Avicenna. And in his case this includes Indian and Persian influences. We read Aristotle and Plato today differently than we might have without the sojourn of their texts in the Islamic world. Beyond that, the relation between the ideas of a civilization and the behavior of its heirs is quite another matter, and one worthy of exploration.

Tom Roche's picture

Indian and Persian influences

@jayotis "Avicenna ... includes Indian and Persian influences."

Ditto on deferring to Dr Adamson regarding this, but ...

I'm not remembering any significant (non-mathematical or -medical) Indian or (pre-Islamic) Persian influences on Avicenna or any other Islamic thinker on which HoPWaG has presented. I find this somewhat surprising: I personally tend to suspect more eastern/non-Greek influence, esp on the "Eastern Traditions." But while IIRC there have been Islamic thinkers who have *claimed* influences that were {non-Greek, more eastern, more ancient} (notably, and podcast-recently, Suhrawardī--and IIRC Adamson seemed pretty skeptical in that case), I'm not recalling much evidence of actual influence presented (aside from, e.g., zero and some materia medica). Esp WRT ibn Sīnā: his influences seem to have been pretty much all Greek or Abrahamic/Islamic. Am I missing something?

jayotis's picture

eastern influences on avicenna....

I have to yield to you on that Tom Roache. I have only an impression from background reading, not any solid sources. And I may even be guilty of wishful thinking. And as I think about it, such influences (if they exist at all) may be more likely cultural than textual.

Peter Adamson's picture

India and Persia

Maybe it depends a bit on what we mean by "Persian" but we need to bear in mind that Avicenna just WAS Persian. So asking whether there was Persian influence on him is a bit odd. I guess that what we are really talking about is influence from pre-Islamic Persian culture, like Zoroastrianism. That does turn up sometimes, like in kalam catalogues of types of heresy, or dualist tendencies in people like the first Razi or Suhrawardi. And Suhrwardi explicitly mentions Persian and Indian sages as inspirations for him, though you're right that I think this is fundamentally window dressing (just like when he mentions Greek sources with whom he in fact has almost nothing in common). 

Incidentally later there will be an episode on the Mughal period, i.e. philosophy in Islamic-controlled India.

Tom Roche's picture

@Tom Roche: "I'm not

@Tom Roche: "I'm not remembering any significant (non-mathematical or -medical) Indian or (pre-Islamic) Persian influences on Avicenna"

@Peter Adamson: "I guess that what we are really talking about is influence from pre-Islamic Persian culture,"

... which is why I explicitly said "pre-Islamic" :-)

Peter Adamson's picture


Oops! Yes, point well taken.

Neu comment's picture


Dear Peter
I listen to all your podcasts and I learn a lot - specially about the Arabic philosophers. I did not know about them and about their topics - a new world for me.
thanks a lot for your podcast!

Pendix Teves's picture


This is such a great project and an overwhelming undertaking. Thank you for taking the time to do this! Cheers!

Daniel's picture


There are no seeders for 15-33, and your tech support email form link is a 404.
Otherwise, Thanks for the series! I do wish that each episode were a bit longer, but this is so monumental a task I am impressed that you are going into even this much detail... I could go on and on about what I like, but your time is better spent preparing for the next episode. This is going to keep you busy for a long time.

Peter Adamson's picture


Hi - the technical things should be fixed, thanks for the note. Glad you like the series! Actually I sometimes wish each episode were longer too, it is often difficult to squeeze everything in. But I figure that 20-25 minutes is a good length for a podcast so I try to keep it around that if I can.

Allysa's picture


Dr. Adamson,

I really wanted to thank you for these podcasts. Getting my BA in philosophy, my Ancient Philosophy professor made listening to your podcasts a requirement for our homework assignments. I am ever grateful she did. Not only did it give us other interpretations of ancient texts to hear, but it also gave me a great resource to use in later classes as refreshers, or in help writing papers. I hope to continue my quest through academia and eventually receive my Ph.D in philosophy. I hope to teach as well, and if in that many years, your website is still up and running, I will follow in my professor's footsteps and encourage my students to listen to you.

Peter Adamson's picture


Hi there,

Thanks, that's very nice to hear! If you don't mind, I am curious if you could tell me who your philosophy instructor was? I should get in touch to thank her for using the podcast as a resource and find out well it worked.


Allysa's picture

Sure, my professor was Dr.

Sure, my professor was Dr. Danielle Layne she's an ancient scholar who specializes in Platonic and neo-platonic philosophy.

Peter Adamson's picture


...and excellent taste in podcasts. Thanks! I will write to thank her, too.

Thaddeus's picture

An appreciation, with questions

Hey Dr. Adamson, long time listener first time caller etc. just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of people thanking you for this podcast as it's helped me reinvigorate my love for philosophy and its history. It's hard to find stuff out there that's not only passionate and entertaining but which also comes from a deep wellspring of personal knowledge and research. Most importantly, the willingness exhibited here to dig in many different corners of the history of thought with excitement and sympathy, to engage earnestly and without condescension in proto-scientific theories, obscure cosmologies, and early Islamic philosophy of law makes me really excited, as is your continued push back against people who broadly dismiss entire eras of thought (such as Neo-Platonism and Islamic philosophy after al-Ghazali)and I can only hope this helps inspire others out there in the podcasting world to take a similar approach.

To keep this from just being a love-fest there are a couple of questions that have come up from following your podcast:
1. How many languages can you speak/read? As someone struggling through German right now it's fairly impressive that you seem to at least have working knowledge of 2 or 3 languages other than English!

2. If I read your sketch for upcoming episodes in this series correctly there's going to be a single episode on 20th century philosophy from the middle east. Is there really such a paucity of recent work there that it only deserves a single episode?

Thanks again

Peter Adamson's picture

Thanks, with answers

I was quite enjoying the love-fest, but those are good questions. I can only speak one language apart from English, namely German. But I can read Greek, Latin, Arabic, French, Italian and (leftover from high school) a bit of Spanish. Actually that is kind of the bare minimum to do serious work on Arabic philosophy - I really should also know Hebrew and Persian, and also Syriac would be good.

Re. your second question there will also be an interview episode on the 20th century so it will be two, not one. Also I am doing an episode on women and Islam which may include some 20th c. figures. But you're right of course that that isn't enough to really cover it. Part of the problem is that to get into it really deeply we would need to have said much more about European philosophy, since Marxism and other European movements influence thinkers of the Islamic world; what I am hoping to do is really just touch on this by way of giving some key example figures, and also convey some sense of how the historical tradition I've covered in previous episodes have lived on. To do more than that, I think, would derail us for a long time, and I want to get back to the Latin medieval tradition. Still I think these podcasts on the later Eastern tradition (and then the book version later) will be the most detailed overview of philosophy in the Islamic world in terms of coverage of "post-classical" stuff.

Thanks again for your kind comments!


Tupelo Honey's picture

Ibn Ezra

Are you guys gonna do Ibn Ezra at any point? I haven't been able to find an episode on him yet. His method of interpreting scripture, in contrast with Maimonides', may prove rewarding when the time comes to cover Spinoza (especially if you guys want to talk about the theological thesis of the Tractatus).

Love your stuff!

Tom Roche's picture


or, actually, "let me DDG that for you" ( )

@Tupelo Honey: "gonna do Ibn Ezra at any point?"

actually, there's at least 2 of then: see

found using "ibn Ezra"

in the Firefox search bar

Peter Adamson's picture

Ibn Ezra

Thanks, you beat me to it there. I have to admit though that the coverage of Moses Ibn Ezra (who I believe is meant here) is rather sketchy, I mostly just bring him in as an associate of Hallevi. So you are right to pull me up on that; perhaps it would be an idea to mention him again when I am talking about Maimonides' interpretive strategy, when I revise for the book version.

Ken's picture

Phiosophy in this comic strip

Dr. Adamson I am enjoying the podcast (naturally) and am also enjoying the blog posts of philosophy in children's literature. I was wondering if you could tell me what kind of philosophy is being used in the Charlie Brown comic strip I am linking to?

Peter Adamson's picture


Wow, that one is almost disturbing, isn't it? Reminds me most of existentialism though it also has a trace of skepticism in it (like the idea that we might be living in someone else's dream.)

Tim's picture

For Your Consideration

A Peanuts parody which also has some dark philosophical implications:

Ken's picture


Thank you Dr. Adamson. I thought it was existentialism, but I wanted your professional analysis first.

Jeremy's picture

new to me

Hi, I've recently come across your podcast in looking for something to help me get a grasp on philosophy in general. Through some of my other interests, I've started hearing a lot of new terms and wanted to learn more about their significance. I started at Episode 1 a couple of weeks ago and I'm into the 'Aristotle' episodes now, and I've really enjoyed getting to know more about this topic and these great philosophers I've only ever just heard about. I'm also looking forward to your book coming out and hope to purchase it as way to support you and 'pay' for the free History of Philosophy lessons I've been getting through the show.


Peter Adamson's picture


Great, I'm glad you are enjoying it! And I'm glad that the book will sell at least one copy.

Dorna's picture

Does truth always matter?


I've recently discovered the podcasts and just caught up, it's been very enjoyable (and educational, I'm an engineer, unfortunately they don't teach this stuff in technical schools).

About Strauss's point on reading between the lines (which I didn't know about until you mentioned it a few episodes ago), I'm glad you said something, because I found it to be missing in some of the past episodes (especially the persian side of the islamic world, which is where I was raised). Although nowadays in the free world it's hard to imagine that someone would say something s/he doesn't mean, when there is a real threat it becomes a fact of life. For example, right now there are iranian religious thinkers that insist they believe in the political rule by a religious leader (velayate faghih), but people don't believe them, even if they write books about it (the rule is, if you are not a mullah you have to pretend to be even more religious to survive). 500 years later if the podcast is still going you will ignore that very important aspect of their ideology (I'm hoping we'll fix the mortality issue sometime soon). Or a more obnoxious example, you would call a philosopher from North Korea a believer in Kim Jong-Il's divineness :)

My point is, it's not a small thing. It's a huge thing, and the more violent a regime, the more important and widespread it is, and the contemporaries also know about it. Plato had it easy imo, it seems like politicians didn't know the importance of censorship before he made the case for it (yes, I'm bitter about that).

And finally, does it matter to the history of philosophy what these people actually thought (or admitting that we may not know what they really thought), or are we only talking about how philosophy evolved? Either way, I feel bad for them for being misunderstood, and not on random topics, but perhaps the very ideas that were forced upon them.


Peter Adamson's picture

Saying what you mean

Thanks for this very interesting comment. My feeling, as I guess I said in that episode on Maimonides, is that if anything we can be surprised at how rarely censorship or the threat thereof has played a role in the history of philosophy - at least, as far as we can tell. It's pretty hard to detect self-censorship. Then again political influence doesn't need to show up only as a (tacit or explicit) threat against freedom of thought. I think I've probably said pretty often that philosophers wrote with their audience in mind and, frequently, that audience would have been a politically powerful one. That doesn't need to mean they said things they didn't think, but they pitched what they were saying to the interests and concerns of the patrons. Since patronage relations are pervasive throughout the whole history of philosophy that is almost always at least potentially an issue. Then again, the philosophers themselves were almost always upper-class types and their concerns, interests and worldviews may well have coincided with those of their patrons for the most part.

The last question you raise is of course at bottom one about why we are even interested in the history of philosophy: is it a matter oof following through the narrative to see what happens, or understanding what these men (and increasingly often, women) really thought? Some would say that we can't get past the text to their thoughts, so the latter is an unattainable objective anyway. But I don't think that. To me the first task (the narrative) requires trying to think your way into the point of view of each philosopher, which is why I talk so much about what philosophical and non-philosophical issues (patronage relations for instance!) may have influenced the thinkers to write as they did. In this respect I am, I suppose, old-fashioned: I think that most of the time, reading a text carefully will be a good way to understand the author's actual intentions, doctrines, concerns, etc.

Spam protection by