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As the podcast turns 100 episodes old, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on this whole project. I have to say that for me it has been a wholly positive experience. When I first thought of doing it, I mulled it over for some months before actually starting to write scripts and buy a microphone. Basically I was thinking: this seems like a great idea, but could it be that it is actually a really stupid idea? Or a variant of that: it’s a great idea that someone or other should do it, but is it a stupid idea that I myself should try to do it? I had several worries, most that it would be too time-consuming but also that it might not find an audience, and that other professional philosophers would think it was, well, a bit silly (or notice loads of mistakes, especially given how fast I have to churn out the material). Plus it is ridiculously ambitious, in fact I’d always been rather bemused by people like Copleston, Russell, and more recently Kenny who had the temerity to try to cover the entire history of philosophy.

On most of these points I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Above all I have been amazed at the size and engagement of the audience; certainly the best thing about the podcast, for me, is hearing from listeners and discussing the philosophical themes with them. I find it especially rewarding when people from outside academia get in touch – my greatest hope was to bring the history of philosophy to people who wouldn’t otherwise be learning about it. But also I have been amazed at the positive reaction from colleagues. Obviously quite a few have actually appeared as guests, and it’s been a real privilege to have on some of the leading lights in my field and also to feature some less established scholars whose work I really like. It’s also been impressive how good the guests have been in talking about this stuff extemporaneously. Other colleagues have been generous with their time and advice and even read scripts for me before I recorded them (for instance Michael Griffin on the Peripatetics and Mark DelCogliano for the upcoming Christian episodes). The involvement of other scholars has helped a lot with the “too ambitious” issue, I think. Plus I am going at such a slow pace (historically speaking) that it somehow doesn’t feel like I’m trying to cover the whole history of philosophy, more like I’m just trying to deal with whatever topic comes up in the next episode.

As for the time-consuming issue… well, yeah. But I regard it as more of a hobby than part of my job, so I don’t mind that so much. Actually I’ve discovered that it is a way of tricking myself into reading about topics and figures in the history of philosophy that I wouldn’t otherwise be looking at. Since it is connected to the podcast it seems more like fun than work. Here it has been especially eye-opening for me to do the reading for the upcoming episodes on Christian antiquity, something I didn’t know a lot about before – I’m now telling everyone I meet that they should go read Origen. More generally, my favorite parts of the academic job have always been teaching and the actual writing of research articles and books. The research in advance is also fun but my favorite part is actually presenting the ideas, either to students or by sitting at the computer and putting together sentences. The podcast constantly gives me a chance to do that and it is a lot like teaching too since I have to think about how to get ideas across in a comprehensible and memorable way. (As with teaching I also worry that people will remember the Buster Keaton and giraffe style antics, rather than the ideas, but I hope it is more helpful than distracting.)

Regarding the next 100 episodes, I have to admit that my strategy was in part to build an audience with the more famous ancient topics – Plato, Aristotle, etc – and then hopefully get that audience to stick with me for my favorite parts of the history of philosophy, namely late antiquity and the medieval Islamic world. We’re well into late antiquity, so this plan is already bearing fruit. But haven’t reached the Islamic world yet so that’s something I’m looking forward to. (It will also be easier for me to write the episodes! The Church Fathers have been fascinating, but hard work.) I’m also very interested in Latin medieval philosophy and, as with antiquity, on that front the podcast will give me a chance to fill some gaps in my knowledge I’ve been meaning to close. I’m pretty good on Eriugena, Anselm and Aquinas, for instance, but I only know Abelard or Ockham in broad strokes – maybe because with my Neoplatonic sympathies, I don’t get nominalists? I suspect that the rest of late antiquity and then Islamic, Jewish and Christian medieval philosophy will take us another 100 episodes. So in two and a half years or so, if all goes well, I’ll write another blog post like this looking back at medieval philosophy and looking forward to early modernity.

cathyby on 26 October 2012

Seems like we should have

Seems like we should have reached the century long ago! Thank you do much for taking the plunge and doing this. I studied the preSocratics, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas (with nods to the neoPlatonists). It is so valuable to get those gaps filled. Many in those gaps were very influential later - it has been fascinating to learn just where certain ideas (Free Will!) first emerged. Knowing this and/or getting intrigued by a thinker or school, one can then decide to delve deeper. I have read more on Heraclitus and the Epicureans, and would have delved into more if time had permitted.

In short, thank you and I look forward to future episodes (and indeed to catching up - I am with Philo right now :)

Ollie on 26 October 2012

Peter, It's very interesting


It's very interesting to read your approach to the podcast. All I can say is “thank you and keep it up”.

When it all started I had a number of things in my luggage – regret at not having been an academic for one, and regret at studying first theology and second computing instead of philosophy for another, resentment at the way I was taught Greek for a third, and a nodding, ill-informed, acquaintance with Plato and Aristotle, the Stoics and Epicureans, for another.

Your podcasts got me into reading the classics with fresh eyes, especially the Stoics who I've come to love. I got back into Greek too. I've stayed with you for Late Antiquity not least because I am interested in how the intellectual background at the time made the way easier for Christianity. If I had been an academic there might have been fruitful work to do on the Greek & Roman intellectual influences on the Gospel of John, and maybe on the effects for the continuing development of Christianity. It also occurred to me that life might have been a lot more fun for a lot of people, us included, if Paganism had won that discussion.

Now I am looking forward to the Church Fathers, pretty sure you'll bring insights I've missed and cast a light I've not seen them in before, as well as filling in gaps in my knowledge.

So a lot of my luggage has been unpacked – not before time – thanks to you. And at 68 I am learning again, reading furiously following up ideas I've got from the podcasts. I am motivated to keep fit partly in order to hear what you've got to say about two of my interests – Richard Price and William Godwin. Will they even be mentioned? It's going to be a few years before I find out.

In short, I am in your debt, and I am pretty sure I won't be alone in that.

Rob Loftis on 26 October 2012

Happy anniversary,

Happy anniversary, Peter!

I've been listening since the beginning, generally downloading the podcast as soon as it is up. I love hearing about the schools and thinkers I had never even seen reference to before. John Philoponus! The Cyrinacs! Xenophanes! Thanks so much for doing this.

Edwin on 26 October 2012

Congratulations for getting

Congratulations for getting this far already.
Keep up the good work!

I am listening to the podcasts in the oddest situations. Besides the usual commute to work I also put them on while doing my weekly supermarket shopping for the family. Of course I will forget to buy some stuff because I am listening so intensely and trying to understand the stuff you and your guests are talking about.

Thanks from the Netherlands for the great podcast and I am looking forward to the next episodes.

Mário Maximo on 26 October 2012

Hi Peter, I think this is a

Hi Peter,

I think this is a great opportunity to say I love the podcast. I'm a brazilian student of economics and I believe you would like to know that the series has reached a broad audience. My vision of the economy is not that one that sees the main economic variables such as exchange rate and inflation, as numbers that work alone, in a mechanical way and following natural laws. Not at all. For me, economics is a social issue and as such should be treated as part of a political and philosophical theory about human life.

I would like to thank you for the program because it has given me many insights in the subject and served as a major stimulus to read the originals.

Philip James on 27 October 2012

For someone who only ever

For someone who only ever brushed up against philospohers (in history and philosophy of science as part of degree was closest) its wonderful to get the to the roots and also encounter to some degree the characters. It makes you think harder! and all the better for the bite sized chunks.

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