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In reply to by Yannick Kilberger

Peter Adamson on 29 June 2014


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.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Yannick Kilberger on 30 June 2014

Actually I was rather looking

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

Jo on 26 June 2014

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?


In reply to by Jo

Peter Adamson on 27 June 2014

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.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Peter Adamson on 29 June 2014

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.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Jo on 30 June 2014

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 on 26 June 2014


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?

In reply to by Mehran Saam

Peter Adamson on 26 June 2014

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 on 24 June 2014

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.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Albert on 18 July 2014

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

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Albert on 19 July 2014

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 on 24 June 2014

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.

In reply to by Nigel Preston-Jones

Peter Adamson on 26 June 2014


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

Chamomile on 24 June 2014

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.

In reply to by Chamomile

Peter Adamson on 26 June 2014

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!).

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Chamomile on 27 June 2014

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!

In reply to by Chamomile

Peter Adamson on 27 June 2014

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.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Chamomile on 28 June 2014

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 on 23 June 2014

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.

In reply to by Max Medenus

Peter Adamson on 23 June 2014

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!

In reply to by Max Medenus

Tom Roche on 23 June 2014


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.

In reply to by Tom Roche

Peter Adamson on 23 June 2014

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.

Graeme Andrews on 21 June 2014

World Giraffe Day, June 21st

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

In reply to by Graeme Andrews

Peter Adamson on 21 June 2014

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 on 21 June 2014

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.


In reply to by Robert

Peter Adamson on 21 June 2014


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 on 13 June 2014

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).

In reply to by James Hannon

Tom Roche on 13 June 2014

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 :-)

In reply to by Tom Roche

Peter Adamson on 13 June 2014

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.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Tom Roche on 13 June 2014

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" ?-)

In reply to by Tom Roche

Peter Adamson on 13 June 2014


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.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Tom Roche on 13 June 2014

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 ...

In reply to by Peter Adamson

jayotis on 14 June 2014

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.

In reply to by jayotis

Tom Roche on 14 June 2014

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?

In reply to by Tom Roche

jayotis on 14 June 2014

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.

In reply to by jayotis

Tom Roche on 14 June 2014

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 ?-)

In reply to by Tom Roche

jayotis on 14 June 2014

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 on 3 June 2014

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 on 31 May 2014

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.

In reply to by Martin

Peter Adamson on 1 June 2014

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 on 25 May 2014

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?

In reply to by Tom Roche

Peter Adamson on 27 May 2014


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 on 23 May 2014

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.

In reply to by Steve

Peter Adamson on 23 May 2014

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 on 16 May 2014

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.

In reply to by paul

jayotis on 16 May 2014

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.

In reply to by jayotis

Tom Roche on 16 May 2014

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?

In reply to by Tom Roche

Peter Adamson on 16 May 2014

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.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Tom Roche on 16 May 2014

@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" :-)

In reply to by Tom Roche

jayotis on 16 May 2014

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.

In reply to by paul

Peter Adamson on 16 May 2014


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!

In reply to by Peter Adamson

paul on 30 May 2014

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.

In reply to by paul

Tom Roche on 30 May 2014

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?

In reply to by Tom Roche

Peter Adamson on 1 June 2014


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.



In reply to by Peter Adamson

paul on 2 June 2014


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.

In reply to by paul

Gizawi on 31 May 2014

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.

Neu comment on 11 May 2014


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 on 30 April 2014


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

Daniel on 27 April 2014


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.

In reply to by Daniel

Peter Adamson on 28 April 2014


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 on 22 April 2014


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.

In reply to by Allysa

Peter Adamson on 22 April 2014


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.


In reply to by Peter Adamson

Allysa on 27 April 2014

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.

In reply to by Allysa

Peter Adamson on 27 April 2014


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

Thaddeus on 21 April 2014

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

In reply to by Thaddeus

Peter Adamson on 21 April 2014

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 on 19 April 2014

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!

In reply to by Tom Roche

Peter Adamson on 19 April 2014

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.

In reply to by Ken

Peter Adamson on 17 April 2014


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.)

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Ken on 18 April 2014


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

Jeremy on 10 April 2014

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.


In reply to by Jeremy

Peter Adamson on 11 April 2014


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

Dorna on 9 April 2014

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.


In reply to by Dorna

Peter Adamson on 9 April 2014

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.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Dorna on 9 April 2014

Where did the non-believers go?

I see, so the reason there are no non-believers in this period is the selection bias? As one of you guests recently said, there is only so many ways to think about a topic, and the materialist vision of the world seems to be absent in these areas/times. So it could be either that non-religious people didn't go for philosophy, or they did but they censored themselves. Richard Dawkins would immediately get killed if he expressed himself, so we can't say non-religious ideas really ceased to exist at that time.

Again, taking Iran's government as a model, seculars generally avoid studying social sciences, because of the implications. But also, if you started out as a believer but came to conclusions that aren't acceptable by the rulers, you'd have to self-censor. Abu Ali Sina's God for example turned out to be more like a formula imo.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to the new episodes, and thanks very much for clarifying my dilemma! I think I'll go with the "we don't know what they really thought and it doesn't matter" option, I personally have written too many religious essays growing up (I was born an atheist) to take them at their word.

john on 7 April 2014

Why not cover Paul and Jesus?

I'm not at all a Christian or a believer, but why haven't you covered the philosophy of the New Testament itself? It seems weird that you spend half a dozen episodes on Augustine and not a single episode on Paul or Jesus? There is definitely philosophy happening in the New Testament -- don't you think it would be valuable to put them in the context of the times? (comparing Jesus and the Cynics, for example)

In reply to by john

Peter Adamson on 7 April 2014

New Testament

Yes, I thought about that - Jesus is sometimes described as a "philosopher". But I felt that tackling the Bible (either Hebrew or NT) or the Koran really exceeds the bounds of (a) my competence and (b) the thematic scope of the podcast, which is really supposed to be the history of philosophy and things that are arguably not what we would understand by philosophy, but clearly closely intertwined with it, like science or mysticism.

Of course I wind up talking a lot about it indirectly anyway, in discussing the reactions of philosophers to revealed texts. For instance you might have seen I did a recent episode on reactions to the Book of Job and themes from the NT will come up to some extent when we get to medieval Christian philosophy.

Robert Ward on 6 April 2014

The future and the overlapping past

Hi Peter,

My main question is about the future. Do you have a tentative list of philosophers you intend to cover as we go forward, particularly the more obscure ones, so that an inquisitive sort like myself might be able to investigate them a little beforehand?

Secondly, I happen to notice that we have already advanced in time well beyond the life of Aquinas and with Abravanel we are very close to the fall of Granada. Does this mean we are close to a transition to the European philosophers and will we be going back in time to capture those we've passed?

In reply to by Robert Ward

Peter Adamson on 7 April 2014

The future

Well, I do keep a list of (possible) future episodes which gets increasingly sketchy as it goes. I hardly have anything in the way of plans for post-medieval since that is more than a year off. On Facebook and the blog here on this site I always post a list of upcoming episodes when I'm about to get to a new "chapter" (e.g. I posted this for the later Eastern traditions in the Islamic world, which launches next Sunday).

I am indeed going to follow through the story of the Islamic world well past the medieval period - in fact all the way to the 20th century - and then circle back to the Carolingian period to pick up the story of philosophy in Latin medieval Christendom. That should happen round about episode 190.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Tom Roche on 7 April 2014

... and the past

@Peter Adamson on Mon, 04/07/2014 - 07:06: "and then circle back to the Carolingian period[.]"

But wait! there's the *really big* circleback for Vedic philosophy (which was happening sometime before the Guptas), and the *really, really big* circleback for Master Kong (who died just before Socrates was born). Live long, Master Adamson !-)

Khachig Joukhajian on 3 April 2014


Hello Peter,

Could you please add a separate link or links to the music in all the podcasts so far? Perhaps they can go in the links page. And thanks for beings so awesome and moderately humorous!

In reply to by Khachig Joukhajian

Peter Adamson on 3 April 2014


Hi there,

"Moderately" amusing, eh? I guess I'll take that as a compliment!

But seriously, that's a good idea. I have added it to the Links page above.



In reply to by Peter Adamson

Khachig Joukhajian on 5 April 2014


haha I was just kidding. Your humor is actually very clever.

Thank you for adding the link!

Tom Roche on 25 March 2014

gap vs fringe

While this week's episode (168) was interesting, I gotta wonder ...

If you're gonna do the history of world philosophy (including China and India, not just Europe and the Islamic world) "without any gaps," by yourself, shouldn't you be thinking about the opportunity cost of spending time on topics that, IMHO, seem quite marginal philosophically, like the Kabbalah, Iamblichus, every world culture's version of alchemy, usw?

In reply to by Tom Roche

Peter Adamson on 26 March 2014

Gap vs fringe

I think about that a lot as you might imagine. My feeling is that I am in no particular hurry, and that the really distinctive thing about this series is precisely its completeness, part of that being my willingness to look at some more "marginal" things. I take your point though, in the sense that it is one thing to look at minor or obscure philosophers and another thing to look at material that arguably isn't philosophical at all - Iamblichus wouldn't really fall into that category but Kabbalah might. Still I feel we will understand the history of philosophy better by looking at the cultural reactions it provoked, plus things like Sufism and Kabbalah exert influence on uncontroversially philosophical texts. Science falls into the same category, which is why I have looked at medicine, astronomy, etc. I might add that from the initial numbers I'm seeing, people have been very interested in the Kabbalah episode; to some extent I am just taking the opportunity to show the relevance of philosophy to other things that people are interested in.

Penny on 21 March 2014

Podcast catch-up anxiety


Just finished listening to the episode on Crescas (which was great). But there is a terrible moment starting to loom. The time when the seemingly infinite supply of philosophy that has been a very special part of my life over the past few months will not be there anymore. I decided to try to slow down in the last few days to ease myself into the new regime - a type of asymptote, I guess - but I have not been too successful. I can't resist the next episode.

Neverthess I Iook forward the sweep of wonderful philosophy to come and to the thought that there is probably something special too in experiencing it in real time - well, podcast real time.

Thanks enormously for your podcast. I marvel at what you have taken on and achieved so far. I knew a little ancient philosophy (as well as some more modern stuff) through my own reading, but the Islamic world was real eye opener for me. That has been very special.

I work as a climate change scientist, and you have also helped me to realise the one of the problems I have been tackling lately has a strong philosophical angle (scientific knowledge of the future is a curious beast). I hope to find time to pursue some thoughts of mine that I wouldn't have had without your podcast.

Congratulations again for an amazing achievement.



In reply to by Penny

Peter Adamson on 21 March 2014

Catching up

Hi Penny,

Wow, thanks very much! I actually know how you feel, I am almost caught up with a couple of podcasts I listen to (one is the History of the Crusades) and will lose the comforting knowledge that there is plenty more to listen to whenever I want. I guess in theory one could circle back and revisit some episodes, but you could also try some of the other podcasts I've recommended on this site (like under the Links heading above). In any case I will try to keep cracking on once per week so you don't have to wait too long for each new one!

Thanks for listening,


In reply to by Peter Adamson

Penny on 24 March 2014


Thanks for mentioning History of the Crusades. I have now started that. And Sharyn is from my part of the world too!

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Nigel Warner on 26 March 2014

Catch up anxiety

I was experiencing catch up anxiety also. But then I just went back to the start. And as I have a terrible memory, it was almost as interesting the 2nd time round. And I think I'm on the 3rd time round, now but with that terrible memory, I can't be sure. No matter. It is such a pleasure.

Sonam on 19 March 2014

Best Informative Podcast!

This podcast is a great introduction to philosophy as I wanted to learn about ancient philosophers is a timeline and you do an excellent job of summarizing their ideas. I am glad that this podcast exists. Thank you!

Scott Nash on 9 March 2014

Podcast not working

Hi. Sorry for using comments for this, but I've not heard a single of my favorite podcast since the new year. I appear to be subscribed is iTunes and I use the apple podcast app. It's there, but nothing ever downloads. Ever. This only happens on this podcast. I do have the newer one linked (with the new logo) but... nothing. Did something change around the new year? Anybody else have this issue? I can't beat it and am about to throw up my hands and give up. Any help would be hugely appreciated. Thanks.

In reply to by Scott Nash

Peter Adamson on 9 March 2014

iTunes problem

Yes, I know about this problem. All you need to do is hit "add old episodes" and they will pop up. The problem seems to be that iTunes (not on a computer but on mobile devices with the "Podcast" app) doesn't recognize the new episodes as new, because of a mismatch between the way my RSS feed records the date and the format that this app expects. Unfortunately I don't know how to solve this without changing the whole RSS feed which would probably cause more havoc than it would solve. Any of the other ways of listening to the podcast should work fine though - it has been appearing every Sunday as usual. And as I say I think if you hit "add old episodes" you'll see them all anyway.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Tom Roche on 10 March 2014

Apples of dischord

Peter Adamson: "iTunes [chokes on] a mismatch between the way my RSS feed records the date and the format that this [iOS] app expects."

"That is so Apple," chuckles this linux user :-)

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Scott Nash on 19 March 2014


That did it. Download old worked. They were all out of order, so I may have introduced my own "gaps" but it seems to work. I'll know for sure if the newer ones appear as I hit download old. Thanks for the word.

In reply to by Scott Nash

Peter Adamson on 12 March 2014

more on iTunes

By the way you might also need to scroll down through the old episodes, on some devices they also seem to be listed out of order! But they are there and you can add them manually.

jayotis on 9 March 2014


I notice that you are a graduate of Williams College. I want to suggest an update of James A Garfield's definition of an ideal college: Let's make it, "Peter Adamson at one end of a blog and the student at the other."

In reply to by jayotis

Peter Adamson on 9 March 2014

Ideal college

Wow, thanks! You're far too kind. That glow you can see on the horizon is me blushing.

Williams was a wonderful experience by the way and instilled in me my love of history of philosophy. (I actually planned to be a literature major but discovered history of philosophy along the way.)


Jeremy Hultin on 5 March 2014

Software and editing?

Thank you so much for your terrific lectures. I've learned a ton, both in terms of content, and in those rare instances where you've treated figures I know fairly well myself, I've still found myself thinking, "Oh, what a clever way to present that aspect of so-and-so's thought."

I'm now at a university that wants faculty to put more and more lectures on-line, so I wondered if I could ask a mundane question: what application do you use to record and edit your podcasts? Do you use the same app for the "studio" podcasts and for the interviews?


In reply to by Jeremy Hultin

Peter Adamson on 5 March 2014


Dear Jeremy,

Thanks, glad you enjoy the podcasts! I use Audacity to record and we have mostly used that for editing too though now we are switching over to Cubase. Audacity is free to download and is really fine for such simple recording. For the interviews the editing is the same but I record it directly on a portable mic, a handy little device called a Zoom H4N which I like a lot. You can also plug a second mic into it if need be.



Paul Carpenter on 22 February 2014

Thank you

Good on the History of Philosophy podcast! This is what should be done with the computer. This is what should be done with podcasting.

Ben on 20 February 2014


You probably get this a lot, but I just wanted to add to the likely large collection of notes of appreciation to you for sharing this podcast, and for what I just discovered is your active participation in the comments section with people. I can't imagine how you manage all of this while being a Professor at the same time - seems amazing. Anyway, great job, it makes my commute to work so much better, and seems to help with life in general.

In reply to by Ben

Peter Adamson on 21 February 2014


Yes, podcasts were practically invented for commuting, weren't they? Thanks for writing in, I am really glad you like the podcasts.

Sarah F on 19 February 2014


Dear Prof.Admanson,

I am a high school freshman in america who has been eagerly listening to your podcasts for several months now. I am very interested in philosophy however I am not able to take it in school nor have anyone willing to help me learn about it. I really want to participate in a philosophical discussion or just attend a lecture. Are there any people or institutions you can think of that I could participate in?


In reply to by Sarah F

Peter Adamson on 19 February 2014

Philosophy discussions

Hi there,

Well I guess it depends what city you live in. If there is a university nearby there may well be a philosophy society attached to it, or talks you could attend. On the other hand of course you have plenty of time so there's no hurry! It's good to be young. Glad that you like the podcasts.

One other thought: you could always start up a philosophy club at your high school (would look good on your university applications later on...).


Hassan Mirza on 14 February 2014

Hello Professor Adamson. I am

Hello Professor Adamson. I am very new to this page and just an amature who is interested in politics and philosophy. By profession I am an engineer. I must say that I was blown away by the huge number of lectures provided on philosophy by this website. It's really a remarkable job. I can spend some years by listening to all of the lectures. Keep up the good work. :)

The total number of lectures are devided in three parts; Classical Later Antiquity and Islamic World. My question is that how many parts are still to come after the Islamic World part and what will be their names?

And before the classical era was there not any other era when philosophers were present and philosophy was studied and taught by learned men of their age? Or was this field not that much developed before the classical era? Sorry for asking such a basic question.

In reply to by Hassan Mirza

Peter Adamson on 14 February 2014

What's to come

Hi there,

Glad you like the series! The major sections to come are Medieval Philosophy (i.e. in Latin Christendom) and Byzantine philosophy, then Renaissance and then... well, we'll have to see how I decide to carve it up. Possibly I will split it up by century (so 17th century would be one "miniseries") or by region ("German philosophy"), once I am in the era we usually call Modern Philosophy. I hope to include Indian Philosophy before long, and who knows, maybe Chinese.

Re. your question as to what comes before the Greeks, that's a good question and in fact, if I were doing the whole series over I might start with an episode on that topic. Obviously there is Egyptian and Babylonian culture before we get to the Greeks, and they at least were doing science and mathematics. So there is a background for the Presocratics in that sense. However I've never seen anything that convinced me that there is what we would think of as philosophy before the Presocratics, insofar as one can distinguish philosophy from science/maths in that early period (which we really can't).

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Hassan Mirza on 15 February 2014

Thanks for your reply. I have

Thanks for your reply. I have noticed that there are some traces of Jewish philosophy in the Islamic World section, but there is no separate section for Jewish philosophy, why is this so? Should there not be a Jewsih philosophy section in the Later Antiquity period as well before the Ancient Christianity period?

Bible (and also Quran) talks about prophets of God, many of which came before the Greek period, so maybe they also talked about the things which can be considered philosophy before Presocratics period, or no? I mean is their any proof available to the modern man of their existance and the words which they spoke? If so then maybe some philosophy originated out of their works as well.

In the last sentence you said that philosophy, maths and science were not distinguishable from each other in the period before Presocratics, it means that philosophy played a big part in the early period in the development of science/mathematics and vice versa. I remember that few years back the famous British scientist Stephan Hawkings said that in modern age philosophy is dead; I think it was very arrogant of him to say this, philosophy has contributed so much in development of modern science and the world still needs philosophers and philosophy. :)

In reply to by Hassan Mirza

Peter Adamson on 15 February 2014


I'm just in the midst of devoting episodes to Jewish philosophy. As you'll hear in those episodes (also the introductory ones, 120 and 146) I think the story of medieval Jewish philosophy is best treated within a comprehensive look at philosophy in the Islamic world. Which also includes philosophy by Christians by the way!

In late antiquity, I did do one episode on Philo of Alexandria (79), and in episode 124 I look back at late ancient Judaism as well.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Hassan Mirza on 16 February 2014

Thanks for your kind reply

Thanks for your kind reply again. If you do episodes about the history of Philosophy in India then also include the works of Muslim philosophers of India, I know that history of Muslim presense in India is only around a thousand years old and a substantial part of philosophy of India will be comprised of the works of other ancient pholosphers. It would be very interesting to know whether any kind of exchange of ideas and philosophies took place between Muslims of central asia, Persia and Afghanistan (who invaded India and later settled over there) with the local Hindu and Buddhist philosphers and what were there attitudes towards each other's thinking, just like what happened in Spain where Jewish and Muslim thinkers exchanged ideas with each other and influenced each other's works.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Chike Jeffers on 2 May 2014

On the question of philosophy in Ancient Egypt

Perhaps it won't convince you, but this seems like a fine opportunity to plug my article, "Embodying Justice in Ancient Egypt: The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant as a Classic of Political Philosophy," published in the May 2013 issue of the British Journal for the History of Philosophy.

Also, I speak in this blog post about a topic I hope to pursue in a future article on Ancient Egyptian philosophy:

In reply to by Chike Jeffers

Peter Adamson on 2 May 2014

Before the Greeks

Actually, since writing the comment above I have come to think that I should in fact have done an episode, or two, on the Egyptians and Babylonians, right at the start. I listen to this other podcast on Egyptian History and the host has covered some texts that are clearly philosophically interesting - mirror for princes kind of stuff. So if I had it to do over again I would have done more on the pre-pre-Socratics, if you will. Oh well!

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Chike Jeffers on 2 May 2014


I believe your "mirror for princes" reference is likely a reference to the genre of instructions, discussed in my BJHP article. My hope is that the article will help encourage present day philosophers, especially those interested in moral and political philosophy, to take a look at ancient Egyptian literature. For me, it comes naturally as part of my general interest in African thought, but one need not have that particular investment to find ancient Egyptian literature fascinating.

Cody Sitton on 2 February 2014

Your experience with languages

Prof. Adamson, I'm an engineer student, but have a dirty pleasure; I read philosophy whenever I'm not doing homework (or sometimes when I need to be doing homework) for my college courses. My comment today is about your experiences with reading philosophy texts in their original language: I have this deep desire to be able to read text in their original language one day.
I'm currently learning French in my spare time and hope to add German, Latin, and Ancient Greek to my arsenal as time allows. Do you have any tips or possibly some advice in taking the proper steps to actually accomplish this goal?
I actually just bought P.J. Proudhon's "What is Porperty?" in its original French print and was going to attempt a loose translation to get my feet wet. Do you see this as a good step in the right direction or should I back up and approach it from another angle?

In reply to by Cody Sitton

Peter Adamson on 6 February 2014


Well, there's no doubt this is one of the biggest challenges facing anyone who wants to get seriously into the history of philosophy. Irritatingly many of the great historical works are not in English! The way I picked up my languages was by and large to do a standard introductory course, 1 or 2 years' worth, and then start reading philosophical texts. Especially with really difficult languages like ancient Greek or Arabic at first you have to work through a translation. One thing I would not necessarily recommend is self-teaching the basics - I did that with several of the languages I know, and I think I would have been better served to have a good teacher for the fundamentals. But the key thing there is to find a course/teacher that will go at the right speed for you, not too fast and not too slow. Switching thereafter to (or adding alongside normal language classes) reading philosophical texts in the original makes sense because it is often a pretty specialized vocabulary. Good luck, I hope you master all those languages in due course!

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Cody Sitton on 8 February 2014

in response

Thank you very much. I will take this advice and pursue the philosophical canon one language at a time.

Tom Roche on 28 January 2014

perplexed about Spinoza

In episode 160 you say that Maimonides was the greatest Jewish philosopher with the possible exception of Spinoza. This puzzles, since (IIUC) Spinoza was expelled from the Amsterdam shul for having repudiated Judaism, then from Amsterdam for being an atheist. (Some quibble with the latter charge, but, let's face it, if God is everything then God is nothing. And if God is a ham sandwich, kashrut is toast :-)

Perhaps you were using "Jewish" to denote ethnicity rather than religion? But then does not Portuguese (his mother tongue) have more claim on him? As an atheist of Azorean descent, I say, unhand Spinoza !-)

In reply to by Tom Roche

Peter Adamson on 28 January 2014


Yes, I would certainly agree that Spinoza is not a "Jewish philosopher" in the same sense as Maimonides. The caveat was just intended to anticipate that if I said Maimonides is the greatest Jewish philosopher, people would object "hey, what about Spinoza!" I take it you wouldn't have made this objection!

That leaves open the question of whether it makes sense to call Spinoza a "Jewish philosopher" at all; I am not much of a Spinoza expert (yet!) but my inclination is to think that it isn't really our place as historians to say that figure X did or did not count as a representative of a certain religion. Usually it's better to avoid locutions like this entirely, which is why I hardly ever use the phrase "Islamic philosopher/philosophy," but it seemed safe to call Maimonides a Jewish philosopher - if anyone is one, it's him - and unavoidable to talk about "Jewish philosophy" in this current series of episodes.

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Tom Roche on 29 January 2014

figuring X

Peter Adamson on Tue, 01/28/2014 - 21:37: "it isn't really our place as historians to say that figure X did or did not count as a representative of a certain religion[,] but it seemed safe to call Maimonides a Jewish philosopher."

With apologies to al-Ghazali, that would be "The Incoherence of a Philosopher" ?-)

In reply to by Tom Roche

Peter Adamson on 29 January 2014


Uh, right. Usually I don't say two contradictory things quite that closely together. What I meant is that in cases, as with Spinoza, where some people want to say that they are not really Jewish (Christian/Muslim/theist) at all even though they would have self-identified as such, I am reluctant to pass such a judgment since it tends to imply we are able to see into their souls, and that we are authorities on who does and doesn't count as Jewish etc. Whereas no one would deny that Maimonides was a deeply pious Jew. Does that make sense?

In reply to by Peter Adamson

The Author Sel… on 29 January 2014

self-identification and its discontents

Peter Adamson on Wed, 01/29/2014 - 17:45 (rearranged): "Maimonides was a deeply pious Jew." I concur that, as an empirical claim, that seems fairly safe. (With the caveat that "at the end of every neck is a black box," aka Roche's theory of mind :-) By contrast,

"[Spinoza] would have self-identified as [Jewish.]"

seems quite dubious on several levels. I'll grant that I don't know the relevant literature at all well, but my impression are that (1) Spinoza *did not* self-identify as Jewish, esp after the cherem. In fact, my impression is that (2) many Spinozists believe the cherem was so ferocious precisely because of the unfriendliness of his prior criticism of Judaism. Am I missing something? Note also that I continue to back-pocket claim (3) that, whatever his self-identification, one needs an exceptionally expansive definition of Judaism to accomodate Spinoza's stated views.

JKE on 24 January 2014

Republic VII

Hi, I know there's a ton of good secondary literature on Plato's Republic, but can anyone recommend a book length study on Republic book VII?

clueless on 16 January 2014

matter and form?

Hi, I am so confused whenever you talk about matter and form, or genus and species. Where are the first episodes where you explain what these terms mean in philosophy and explain the arguments for the distinction between matter and form?

In reply to by clueless

clueless on 17 January 2014

matter and form?

(or will I have to wait until Aquinas to understand?)

In reply to by clueless

Peter Adamson on 17 January 2014

Matter and form

Hi there,

It comes up for the first time in Aristotle, in episodes 38 and 39 especially. But let me know if those don't clarify it for you. (The basic idea is that you can analyze any physical object into the stuff it is made of -- like flesh and bone for an animal -- and form,which is the principle of determination that makes the stuff the way it is. This could be simply a shape, like a circular form in a circle made of metal, or something more complicated like the form of an animal which is actually its soul.)


In reply to by Peter Adamson

clueless on 20 January 2014

Ok I'll listen to those. Is

Ok I'll listen to those. Is that where you talk about what genus and species mean in Aristotelianism (I have no idea what Aquinas means when he's talking about that)?

In reply to by clueless

Tom Roche on 20 January 2014

sense and non-

@clueless:"I have no idea what Aquinas means"

The history of theology is mostly populated by writers who failed to anticipate Wittgenstein's p7 (see… ) So when perplexed by a given text, consider the option that *it* just does not make sense :-) That's not always correct, but it's always possible, and is unfortunately not false often enough to be non-negligible.

Fortunately the case of Aristotle on genus and species is rather more straightforward, and the analogy to Linnaean classification helps. A genus is a definable set of things, a species is a subset of the genus, and a differentia is what (you guessed) differentiates species among the genus. The canonical example is that humans (species) are an animal (genus) that can reason (differentia).

In reply to by Tom Roche

clueless on 20 January 2014

Your example makes things a

Your example makes things a bit more clear. Can you give some more?

In reply to by clueless

JKE on 24 January 2014

Consider also the genus

Consider also the genus [polygon], with the differentia [three-sidedness] which gives us the species [triangle].

In reply to by JKE

clueless on 24 January 2014

So, for example, a boy

So, for example, a boy (species) is an offspring (genus) that is male (differentia). And a banquet (species) is a meal (genus) that is very large (differentia). Conversely, a snack (species) is a meal (genus) that is very small (differentia).

Tom Roche on 12 January 2014

"modern turn" in Islamic-world philosophy of science?

Those of us more steeped in the European tradition believe (hopefully with justification :-) there was an early modern turn in philosophy of science. IIUC the standard story (which I may not--I study environmental modeling, not philosophy), the "first stage" is a long, slow (largely pre-modern) increase in emphasis on empirical/inductive knowledge, extending from Aristotle (and Philoponus' criticism thereof) and Galen, continuing with people like al-Haytham, ibn-Sina/Avicenna, Roger Bacon. Then--in Europe--there's a faster "second stage" (roughly 1450-1650) featuring an increasing recognition of the pragmatic power of mathematicization (e.g., Galileo), and of the newly-available instruments (Galileo again), and of the relative sterility of existence/essence discourse, deduction, etc. Eventually you get folks like Francis Bacon synthesizing and selling the lot, uptake by learned societies, and the (western) Europeans are "off to the races." (Stage 3 being scientific revolution, Industrial Revolution, world domination, etc.)

You've definitely covered some Islamic-world contributions to the first stage. I'm wondering, is there anything like an endogenous second stage in the Islamic world? or do they only "get there" in reaction to the third stage? (As seen in, e.g., Meiji Japan: "we're getting our butts kicked! time to suss out this science stuff.") If the former, is this something you'll get to? Or is this line of questioning fundamentally wrong-headed, and I'm missing something prior/major?

In reply to by Tom Roche

Peter Adamson on 12 January 2014

Later developments in the Islamic world

Hi there,

Well, I'm devoting a whole series of podcasts (like the ones on Andalusia) to developments in the later Eastern tradition. I am still reading up on it, and writing the first few episodes. So, to some extent my answer is "watch this space." My impression however is that there are major shifts and developments but nothing quite like the stages you describe happening in Europe. Basically you don't get a shift towards empiricism, that seems to me to be the biggest difference in terms of philosophy's relevance to science or vice-versa. You do, interestingly, get a shift towards skepticism; also there is plenty of science, e.g. the activities at the Maragha astronomical observatory which I'll be mentioning a few times. And there is something that is reminiscent of the Renaissance around the time of the Persian Safavid empire, where they go back to the Greeks (or rather the old Arabic translations). But no Baconian revolution, so to speak.


Berel Dov Lerner on 12 January 2014

proper names

Hello Peter - I would just like to make a technical suggestion. When you introduce a new thinker (or geographical location)please try to mention their name frequently. I don't think I'm the only listener who finds it easier to remembers the flow of ideas described in the podcasts than the associated proper names.

In reply to by Berel Dov Lerner

Peter Adamson on 12 January 2014


Hi there,

Actually I already try to do that, at least more than I would in normal writing - instead of saying "he" I try to use the name more. Of course for a lot of episodes the name of the philosopher is in the title anyway. But I'll make an effort to do it more in the episodes covering a range of figures. (I know that in the Islamic world things can be confusing, for instance with the Jewish thinkers we're covering at the moment it seems like they all have Moses, Solomon, or Ezra in their names!)

Thanks for the feedback,


Rafael Calsaverini on 9 January 2014

Music used so far on the podcast

Hi Peter,

first of all, thanks for sharing this knowledge with the community at large. It's amazing to have access to a specialist perspective over this matters outside of academia.

I'd like to ask you if you could share what is the music used as intro for the episodes on andalusian philosophy. (If you could tell also what are the other songs used in previous episodes it would be nice too).

Thanks a lot for all the effort you put on this project. I imagine it's not an easy task, but I bet there's a lot of people very thankful for it.

In reply to by Rafael Calsaverini

Peter Adamson on 12 January 2014


For the current music look at the first comment I left on the first Andalusia episode, and likewise for the first "Formative Period" episode. The ancient music clips were from Stefan Hagel's ancient music website, that is him performing on reconstructions of ancient instruments!

Zach Raph on 8 January 2014

How did you get into History of Philosophy?

Dear Professor Adamson,
I am a second year undergrad student at Carleton College in Minnesota. I am fascinated by the questions, problems and topics of the history of philosophy, and I was curious how you personally became part of the field? Did you study a great deal of history throughout your undergrad years and grad years or was your focus primarily in philosophy? Did you spend a lot of time studying languages, you seem to be fluent to some degree in at least Arabic, Latin, Greek and possibly German? Any thoughts or experiences you want to share would be greatly appreciated.

In reply to by Zach Raph

Peter Adamson on 9 January 2014

Getting into philosophy

Hi Zach,

Believe it or not I once came to give a paper at Carleton! A friend of mine was teaching there when I was a grad student so I made a visit. Nice school.

Anyway the short answer is that I went to Williams College whose philosophy dept. was pretty historically oriented, and got interested in medieval philosophy partially via interest in ancient, partially via interest in medieval literature (especially Dante, my first intellectual love). I already started on Latin when I was an undergraduate and picked up Greek and Arabic during my doctoral studies at Notre Dame. I can also read some other languages but I would claim to be fluent only in (American!) English and German.

I do have a general observation here for people wanting to get into the field which is that, if you want to work on history of philosophy (unless it is Locke and Hume, etc) you really need to master languages as early as possible. The younger you are the easier it is. In my field of ancient and Arabic philosophy it's always a challenge to find people who have a solid training in both the language and the philosophy side - pretty much everyone is stronger in one and trying to catch up on the other. I am unusual in the Arabic philosophy business in that I was trained as a philosopher and learned some Arabic along the way; most scholars in the field are Arabists who learned some philosophy along the way.

Enjoy the Minnesota winter! I hear it's cold there.


Mario Shammas on 8 January 2014

Skeptics on Mathematics

Dear Professor,

I love your podcast! A question though, do we have any sources which tell us what the skeptics thought of mathematics and the certainty it provides? After all wasn't that why the Pythagoreans and Plato loved geometry? And also, do we know what the stoics thought of mathematics (or were they always more concerned with what is material)?

Thank you!

In reply to by Mario Shammas

Peter Adamson on 8 January 2014

Skeptics and Stoics on mathematics

Hello there,

Yes, we have Sextus Empiricus' 'Against the Professors' which has sections on mathematical topics. That's volume 4 of the Loeb Greek-English edition of Sextus. I think that would be the main place to look for skeptical ideas about math. He criticizes the proofs of geometers for instance.

As for the Stoics, I don't think they talk a lot about this but they need to take a view on the metaphysical status of mathematical objects, like geometrical figures. Long and Sedley (p.264) point out that the Stoics don't really distinguish between pure and empirical science. They mention, I think rightly, that among the Stoics it was really only Posidonius who had any particular knowledge of mathematics.


Tim on 7 January 2014

A Few Questions

Dear Professor Adamson,

First, I'd like to say that I'm very glad to hear of your plans to cover Chinese and Indian philosophy, and I wish you good luck in your research thereof. Second, I would like to ask you some questions regarding both the podcast itself and some of the philosophies you have covered.

I noticed that you've spent considerably less time on each of the later philosophers than on Plato and Aristotle. Is this because you view their importance to the history of philosophy to be that much greater than the other philosophers you've covered, or is it simply that a strong base in Plato and Aristotle allows later philosophers to be covered much more quickly? Some combination? Something else?

I also have a question regarding philosophy in the Islamic world. Have any Islamic philosophers ever employed the concept of God being the source of morality to tackle the issue of the failure of human language to describe him? I feel that this would be a useful way to explain the descriptions of God found in the Koran. If God decided that it would be best to include these inherently inaccurate descriptions of himself in the text, then that would both explain and justify their use. This could possibly be for the reason of making Islam more appealing, to influence the behavior of its adherents, or for some reason inscrutable to us mere humans.

I apologize if these issues have already been covered in the podcast. I have been listening religiously for the past several weeks, so many of the ideas you have covered have become mixed around in my mind.


Tim Noonan

In reply to by Tim

Peter Adamson on 8 January 2014

A few answers

Hi there,

The reason for the blanket coverage of Plato and Aristotle is pretty much what you say: a combination of very important and fundamental for everything that comes after (perhaps especially Aristotle). I guess I also was thinking in terms of building an audience back then, and assuming people would be interested in those two and get hooked, then sticking around for the likes of Plotinus and more minor figures. Maybe another reason is just autobiographical: I have taught both of them quite a lot in my day job! I doubt any thinker will get that many episodes in the future though someone like Aquinas or Kant might get up towards 10 including interviews (and already Plotinus had 5, Augustine 7).

Your point about Islam is interesting - so the idea is that God would reveal potentially misleading things about Himself (e.g. suggesting He has a body) to make sure people respond to the message? I think that is effectively what Farabi and especially Averroes think is going on in the Koran, and Maimonides as we'll see shortly has a similar approach to the Hebrew Bible.



In reply to by Peter Adamson

Tim on 9 January 2014

A Few Sentences

Thank you for your reply,

I definitely look forward to Aquinas and Kant if they are important enough to warrant so many episodes. With regards to Islam, that is precisely what I am getting at, with the specific justification for God doing this being his status as the source for and creator of morality. I'm looking forward to Maimonides, as I'm now up to date with the podcast (it only took my whole winter break!)

Thanks again,