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Ron Dienstmann 9 March 2013

Hi Peter,
Ron here in Newburyport,Mass. I can't thank you enough for these podcasts. Every time I listen one I reach for my pocket (always empty unfortunately) feeling like I should pay you.
But, regardless of hard I'm trying lately, I can't listen a whole one given all the religious views of the world that has dominated the last 30 or so podcasts. I understand that those views dominated the intellectual thinking of the time, but, were there any competing and compelling views during that period that would be worth looking at? I just have a hard time believing that, given the evolution of "secular" investigation about the universe prior to Christianity, that no valuable thinker would have carried on the banner, writing interesting philosophy.
Just venting.
All the best Peter

Hi Ron,
Certainly Peter will be in a position to answer your question as a scholar of the history of philosophy. I am not an academic nor a scholar but my take is this is one big reason many college philosophy departments jump from Plotinus to Descartes. That ‘faith seeking understand’ of the Middle Ages is simply too much religion for most modern philosophers. From what I’ve read of that period, if there were any philosophers raised as Christians and putting forth a competing non-Christian, creative, innovative philosophy, they would be carrying the banner of free-thinking philosophy as they were taken out to be burned at the stake.
Best, Glenn

Thanks for the comments, folks. Definitely as we now head into medieval philosophy we are going to be looking at philosophers who are thinking a lot about and are motivated by religion. I would say that in late antiquity you get essentially two branches of philosophy, pagan Neoplatonism and the Church Fathers -- for both obviously religion plays a big role. To be honest the central place of religion doesn't begin there (think of Xenophanes and Plato getting upset about traditional depictions of the gods), and it continues after the medieval period and renaissance. Descartes has plenty to say about God, even if this is not emphasized in undergrad courses on him! And the same for Kant, for instance. Really the notion that philosophy is somehow entirely separate from religion and should have nothing to do with it is, historically speaking, the exception rather than the norm.

I realize that this makes the history of philosophy sometimes seem less interesting to atheist readers/listeners; what I've been trying to do and will keep trying to do is be faithful (pun intended!) to the importance of religious themes, while also trying to convey why a non-religious person might find this stuff interesting. But ultimately if you want to know about the history of philosophy you need to know a lot about religion and its impact on philosophy, not just Christianity but also paganism, Islam, and Judaism (which we'll be getting to very soon), so there is no getting around it. I think that for an atheist listener, the right attitude to take would perhaps be the same as you would think about plain old history: just as you need to understand the religious context of the Crusades to understand the Crusades, so you need to understand the religious themes that are woven into brilliant philosophical works like, say, Augustine's On the Trinity.


Adam 12 March 2013

In reply to by Peter Adamson

I think that this project of doing philosophy without any religious dimensions does not really occur until Kant, or at least, that's what my modern philosophy course led me to think. Philosophy for most of the folks Peter has reviewed has been a way of life as much as a system of thought.

Or maybe Hume, who mostly discusses religion in order to attack it. Of course there are degrees here though; for instance the Epicureans claim not to be atheists but discuss the gods largely only to eliminate them as a possible source of fear. And even within Neoplatonism, you have very different attitudes towards pagan religion in, for instance, Plotinus and Proclus. Still I think it's broadly right that defining philosophy in _opposition_ to religion is mostly a recent phenomenon.

God, the soul, the universe taken as a whole, love are the highest realities which are treated seriously in religion. When philosophy approaches these through the use reason it partakes in them and reaches its zenith. Even if God, the soul, the universe taken as a whole and love are just ideas (not my view) even then philosophical thoughts of them are the best thoughts. Philosophy teaches that the enjoyment of thoughts is an end in itself.

Thanks, Joe. That is well put, noting the soul and the universe taken as a whole. It is with the word 'religion' many philosophers , both ancient and modern, would take issue. Particularly modern, since religion in the west has caused a countless number of men, women and children to be tortured, face prision and be put to death. Not exactly the spirit of philosophy.

Matt 11 March 2013

Hey Peter,

I was wondering if you could do a podcast on the philosopher Stilbo from the Megarian school. I don't know if much is written about him, but what I've learned about him from reading Seneca's moral letters is quite interesting to me. If there's enough information on Stilbo, then I would like to hear a podcast about him.



Steven Yamarik 11 March 2013

Hi Peter. I like your podcast and your puns. In case you don't know, the main character in Confederacy of Dunces, the infamous Ignatius J. Reilly, references Scholasticism and Boethius in particular. Maybe, you could get a Southern fiction expert on to talk about it ... or maybe not. Keep up the good work.



joseph sen 12 March 2013

Philosophy gives wings to thought, it gives the mind freedom. Religion without philosophy can lead to fanaticism. A philosophically-minded religious person is more open to other religions and philosophies.

Joe Sen 13 March 2013

“The body only rarely craves food, and intercourse even more rarely, whereas at every single moment we long for the true and the good. We are always keen to experience new things, to imagine new situations, to think new thoughts. We always open our eyes to look at whatever happens. The most extensive and broadest view fills us with the greatest pleasure; indeed, only the boundless satisfies us. We always raise our ears to listen to any kind of sound; this  is something done by children and adults alike, by the learned and the ignorant, and by every artisan in whatever craft. In all this, nature is our guide. One should add that sexual desire can be overcome and a ravenous appetite for food weakened, but this is completely impossible with our desire for the true and the good. On the contrary, the former diminishes with age, while the latter increases.” (Ficino, Platonic Theology)

Joe Sen 13 March 2013

"For if it thinks of nothing, what is there here of dignity? It is just like one who sleeps. And if thinks, but this depends on something else, then (since that which is its substance is not the act of thinking, but a potency) it cannot be the best substance; for it is through thinking that its value belongs to it. . . For both thinking and the act of thought will belong to one who thinks of the worst things in the world, so that if this ought to be avoided ( and it ought, for there are some things that it is better not to see than to see), the act of thinking cannot be the best of things. Therefore it must be of itself that the divine thought thinks ( since it is the most excellent of things), and its thinking is a thinking on thinking." (Metaphysics 12.9)

Joe Sen 13 March 2013

If perception is creative ( 'dristi-sristi vada' in Indian terms) then of course we are responsible for dwelling on the negative features of experience. We have the choice to turn our attention away from this to its more optimal dimensions. We see then different choices being made when we read Thomas Traherne describing the celestial stranger who comments on the various wonders of the world on his descent from the sky ( Poetry and Prose, pp112-114 ) in contrast to Hume’s visitor who sees only its thorny aspects ( Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, part x).

Joe Sen 14 March 2013

“We should be amazed not that there is so much chaos and violence, but that there is so little and everything functions so well. Given the level of aggression of every car driver, the frailties of the equipment and the mad scramble of the traffic, it’s a miracle thousands aren’t killed every day, a miracle we only rarely slaughter each other and only a few of these disastrous possibilities come to fruition. When you see the immense bureaucratic chaos, the number of absurd decisions, the universal fraud and squandering of  our civic virtues, you can only be amazed by the daily miracle of this machine which, somehow or other, keeps on going, dragging its detritus along in its orbit. Apart from a few episodic breakdowns (no more frequent, ultimately, than earth tremors), it’s as though an invisible hand managed to teleonomize all this mess, to normalize this anomie. This is perhaps the same miracle as the one which prevents everyone from succumbing daily to the idea of death or to suicidal melancholia.” (Baudrillard, Cool Memories  II, p18).

Samuel Ronicker 16 March 2013

I have been listening to your podcast via the app Instacast (a podcast management app) and I love it. I just recently visited the webpage and I noticed that the podcasts are available to download as mp3 format. And my question/recommendation is this, could you please make the mp3s files available for download as a group? Maybe collate the files into zip files by era and have them on a "downloads" tab on the website. That would be greatly appreciated.


Peter Adamson 16 March 2013

In reply to by Samuel Ronicker

That's a good idea, we are thinking about the feasibility (we would I guess need to update the .zip file every time a new podcast is  posted... also the file would be pretty big). But most podcatching software allows for simultaneous download of all episodes, right? I know iTunes does, at least, that's what I use.


Samuel Ronicker 17 March 2013

In reply to by Peter Adamson

I do sometimes batch download them with Instacast, but I often listen to them during my morning commute and I don't often have them pre-downloaded and 3G streaming is not always fast enough. Oh well, I should just remember to download them. Either way thanks for the quick reply!

Actually my web master Julian has found a way to do this, should be up soon (the idea will be to make .zip files available for each ssub-series when it is done e.g. "Hellenistic philosophy").

Sandrine 18 March 2013

Dear Peter,

I'm enjoying your podcasts very much. I'm setting them as 'readings' for my intro to ancient philosophy students, and my thirteen year old daughter alternates her evenings between listening to them and watching Dr Who. So we're big fans.

But I am troubled by the lack of women in the history presented so far. I know you mentioned that you would discuss them as they came up in history - but I think you may have missed a few already, and I fear more by get lost as you go along. It's true that we have little or no surviving texts from female ancient philosophers - although that's true of at least some male philosophers you talked about! But when there are surviving texts, they are notoriously hard to find, and somebody busy gathering notes for so many podcasts to come may well miss them.

You're coming up to the middle ages: the twelfth century has at least two women who left philosophical texts: Heloise and Hildegard of Bingen. For more you could check out this page: There's also plenty of feminist historians of philosophy who'll be more than happy to advise you if you need it. It would make a huge difference to those of us struggling to bring women back to the canon, and to future generations of philosophers, men and women, if you were able to pull that off.

Dear Sandrine,

Thanks, that's very helpful, especially the website. You're actually pushing at an open door, as they say, I have always wanted to include women philosophers in the podcast where they are often overlooked (the "without any gaps" slogan applies here). So I'm discouraged to hear that I disappointed you in this respect in the ancient episodes -- I did try to emphasize the role of women in the episodes on ancient Christianity (I brought the topic up numerous times, not only when I discussed Macrina). To be honest I thought about doing a whole episode on women in ancient philosophy but was worried it would turn into a discussion of what male philosophers say about women, because most women philosophers (like the ones listed on this website) are little more than names to us. Also my original thought was to frame that episode around Hypatia but once I read up on her a bit more I saw that we know very little about even her as a philosophical thinker, since most of the evidence concerns her work as a mathematician. Still, perhaps this was a mistake -- I will think about whether I might add a chapter on this in the book version. But certainly I do plan to cover women as I go along. The Islamic world will probably not be very rich hunting ground though there is at least a place for women in the history of Sufism. But things will look a bit better in medieval Europe and then the contributions of women will really come into the story much more, I think, when I get to early modernity. In fact that is one of the main points I want to stress when I get to that period.

Thanks again,


Thanks Peter. I'm really looking forward to hearing about Hildegard. But please do also look into Heloise of Argenteuil who gives an interesting perspective on Seneca applied to convent life. I have a paper coming out on this in the BJHP in november, and I'm sure Marenbon would gladly come back to do a spot on her!
Thanks again for taking this seriously.

Thanks, that's a great suggestion. Perhaps you could send me that paper when it is out? Or just post a comment here letting me know when it has been published. (No rush for the moment, I won't get to Latin philosophy for a while.) It would be nice to be able to say something about Heloise other than the story of her doomed love with Abelard!

Joe Sen 18 March 2013

I think the history of philosophy is very argumentative. Men fight wars. The history of philosophy is mainly about men. Maybe if there had been more women doing philosophy philosophy would have been less about argument and more about understanding and love including love of wisdom.

Joe Sen 18 March 2013

That said it is better to argue in the medium of words than with fists, knives and guns. No true philosopher has ever committed murder. To the contrary, Jesus and Socrates were victims of murder.

Now that's an interesting one. Can anyone think of a philosopher who has murdered someone? (I guess killing people in battle doesn't count, Socrates probably did that for instance.) The only thing that leaps to mind for me is Caravaggio but he was an artist.

Not to stop at Caravaggio; one of the most important, forward-looking(/listening), yet almost forgotten, renaissance composers: Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1560-1613) murdered both his first wife and her lover...
(You might want to consider his madrigals for the opening-music of the future section on Renaissance philosophy...)
Not to speak about the Pythagorean-(Neo-)Platonic connection of philosophy with music and mathematics, if philosophy is an "ars vitae", then the artistic examples are at least philosophically valid... (Even if in the official 'without gaps' story they are justly absent...)
Some people say that important personalities of the past taught through their actions as well. Well, some times it's better not to follow the practical example of every important intellectual figure...

Rick Costa 23 March 2013

Hi Peter,

I was a former religious studies major from Santa Clara University in California. I always felt bad that I had not taken more philosophy courses but was a fan of Plato.

I discovered your podcast and I am up to #12. Loving it! Well spoken, funny, and wonderfully informative! So glad you did this!!

Rick Costa

Peter Adamson 24 March 2013

In reply to by Rick Costa


Any fan of Plato is more than welcome to the podcast audience! But seriously, I'm very glad you are enjoying it. You have a lot of episodes to go until you are caught up!



Aron 26 March 2013

This is what I've been looking for for a long time; please keep this extremely useful and exciting work up. And will you be including the Kalam of the Ash'arites and the literalist Hanbalite schools? Thanks a lot!

Hi there,

Thanks very much! Yes, I plan an episode on the Ash'arites (as well as some on Ash'arite thinkers like Ghazali). I may do an episode on fiqh generally, but not one per school!



Aron 26 March 2013

And also which books would you recommend on the history of philosophy? Copleston?

Peter Adamson 26 March 2013

In reply to by Aron

I used to think single-author books covering the entire history of philosophy were ridiculous... but obviously I've had to change my mind about that, on pain of hypocrisy! (These podcasts will appear as a series of books starting soon.) Anyway I still would tend to prefer books on periods and authors, as suggested in the bibliographies here on the website (for general books look on the top page of each section). Failing that perhaps Anthony Kenny's recent history would be a good place to start.

Joe Sen 26 March 2013

I can recommend Anthony Kenny's "A New History of Western Philosophy" which is available for under £12 from Amazon. The best introduction to Western thought is Hannah Arendt's "Life of the Mind". For Indian philosophy see Radhakrishnan. Also Dasgupta.

joseph sen 28 March 2013

Dear Peter,

Is there any chance that the book you wrote on the Theology of Aristotle will be available at a cheap price for dossers like me?

HI Joe,

Afraid not, it's been out of print for years and I don't think it's possible to buy used. (They didn't print many of them.) Perhaps at some point I should look into the possibility of a second edition. On the bright side this weekend's episode is going to touch on it, since it covers the Greek-Arabic translation movement.


Edie Murphy 30 March 2013

I want to catch you, Peter, before you finish the 'Islamic World' scripts, which I know will be a year from now, but---Are you going to talk about Qunawi and Fakhruddin 'Iraqi? I notice that neither are in the index of your book, Arabic Philosophy, and both being such a link to Rumi. I am presently doing a short course at St. John's College, Santa Fe, NM on Iraqi and did one earlier on Ibn A'Arabi, so I would love to hear your comments on all 3 of these mystics, as I love ALL your comments about everything!! Hoping you will. Also hoping some day you will venture to the Southwest USA and give a talk. Will await THAT announcement!
PS: Are you going to produce a series of CD's of all these broadcasts?? Hint, Hint.
In much appreciation for your generous and accomplished Spirit,
Edie Murphy

Peter Adamson 30 March 2013

In reply to by Edie Murphy

Hi Edie,

I'm not sure exactly which mystics I will cover. Definitely some of them, especially Ibn 'Arabi, and I also plan to talk about his later influence. Maybe later developments in Sufism should be its own episode. Mysticism (or just philosophical mysticism) is a huge topic and not one I know a lot about, though on the other hand this would be a chance to learn more, which I should. I guess Qunawi will definitely get covered, at least.

Regarding the CD's you might have seen you can now download all the episodes from this website as .zip files; given that they are freely available like this (or on podcast feeds like iTunes) I don't think it makes much sense to create CD's also. However I am going to be publishing the scripts as a series of books, the first one due to appear later this year. (Then I could re-record that as an audiobook, and it would come full circle...)



No I haven't - like I say I'm not that thoroughly versed in the literature on mysticism. Should I?


Joe Sen 30 March 2013

In reply to by Peter Adamson

I think Stace's book is very good. I also like David Loy's "Nonduality". Mystics are not aggressive about the divine because they have experienced it passively and softly within themselves. There has never been a war between mystics. The experience of the divine rather than mere intellectual beliefs about it based on one exclusive tradition is a universal one which makes one hospitable to other philosophies and religions. As the Maharishi says, it leaves intact and develops the desire to see more and more, not less.

Freddie 30 March 2013


I would just like to say that I'm loving the Islamic World so far, mainly because I know so very little about it, but I was just wondering if you were going to talk about Rumi? This might sound like a stupid question because have no idea about the wider context but I have been reading some of his poetry recently. It strikes me as not only beautiful but also fascinating for its philosophical content. The way his comprehensive idealist metaphysics links to his psychology and ethics is challenging and somehow ecstatic.

Thank you,

Peter Adamson 31 March 2013

In reply to by Freddie

Hi Freddie,

Hm, hadn't thought about that yet to be honest. Like I said in reply to an earlier comment I am definitely going to cover mysticism/Sufism (also Jewish mysticism by the way, so the Zohar and Kabbalah) but probably not in great depth, because it's a potentially vast topic which would take us away from the main story. And of course I would stick to the more philosophical authors. I have to do some research as to who these would be apart from Ibn 'Arabi and his followers, because Sufism has never been a research interest of mine. (Not that I have anything against it, it's just one of the things I haven't gotten around to working on so far!) At the moment my expectation is more to cover Ibn 'Arabi and his direct influence and leave it at that; given Rumi's fame though I should probably at least say something briefly about how he fits into the tradition, but I might do more once I've read up a bit.



Joe Sen 1 April 2013

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Dear Peter,

If Plotinus had been born in the 20th century how do you think he would sit with analytical philosophers?

Peter Adamson 3 April 2013

In reply to by Joe Sen

Actually I don't think that's a meaningful question. One can't imagine Plotinus' philosophy without its context against the backrgound of Middle Platonism, late antiquity, etc. That probably goes for all figures in the history of philosophy but it might go double for Plotinus!

As I say in the first Islamic world episode it will be Latin medieval, then Byzantine... which should take us up to 2015 or something. I'm hoping to get back to Indian philosophy at some point but kind of dragging my feet because it would be so much work for me (I don't know very much about it).

Chike 13 April 2013

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Very interesting to hear that you may one day add Indian philosophy to the story, which of course will mean a drastic break in chronology... but then again, your approach to the medieval period and some past patterns in episode progression have already demonstrated the fruitfulness of breaking things up in non-chronological ways as well.

This reply interests me partly because I have loved most everything about this series save the title, because, as the first episode admitted, the attempt here is really to do the history of *Western* philosophy with no gaps. But this reply makes me wonder whether you left "Western" out of the title purposefully, in order to leave yourself the option of covering non-Western philosophy?

Peter Adamson 13 April 2013

In reply to by Chike

Hi there,

Well, to be honest when I started I had no intention at all of doing Indian or Chinese, it is something I've started to feel awkward about since starting: after all, these traditions have much to offer the historian of philosophy. As for when I might come back and do it, to be honest if I do, it would probably be at the earliest after medieval is over. But I still worry that that will interrupt the continuity of the story I am trying to tell, as I said in the first ever episode. I also worry that I am simply not the right person to do a podcast on Indian or Chinese philosophy: I know hardly anything about it, don't know the relevant languages, etc. (Also the little I know suggests to me that the secondary literature on it, and available translations, are not yet good enough to give me confidence that I was summarizing it on the basis of adequate information.) Still it is tempting, if only because I would learn so much by trying!

I'm furthermore conscious that as nice as it would be to cover the Eastern traditions,a lot of people do want me to get on to Descartes, Hume, Kant, etc. Along these lines there is also the option of getting to the "end" of Western philosophy (whenever that is) and then going back to do Indian and Chinese thought. That is probably the most appealing to me right now, if only because it puts the challenge years into the future! And then I could read about it casually over the next 10 years or whatever and feel in a better position to tackle it when the time comes. We'll see. Anyway it is at least tentatively on the "to do" list.



Chike 14 April 2013

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Thanks for the reply, Peter. Consider the rest of this comment a humble plea for circling back after you finish the medieval section of the podcast.

Your feeling of awkwardness make a lot of sense. It's bad enough to have things out there claiming to be the "history of philosophy" when all that's being discussed is Western philosophy... it seems almost (unintentionally, I'm sure) spiteful to call something "history of philosophy WITHOUT ANY GAPS" when the intention is only to cover Western philosophy, thus consciously leaving us with *humungous* gaps.

(I recognize and appreciate that you are covering Islamic philosophy, which some might think of as non-Western, but this is of course not merely because you are one of the premier experts in the field but also because it fits in so organically with the story of Western philosophy)

Up until now, it seemed to me that the solution for this problem was simply to change the title of the podcast, but I was too busy enjoying it and learning a ton of new stuff to bother with complaining about that. Now, I feel like the title, which previously struck me as so very unfortunate, actually presents you and all of us listeners with a fantastic opportunity... it will actually be relatively natural to use the break between the medieval and early modern sections to fill out the picture of ancient and medieval philosophy with the major Eastern traditions.

And it truly will be better, in my humble opinion, to circle back at that point. To embark upon an informative picture of modern Western philosophy with as few gaps as possible, one that attains nothing more or even far less than the completeness with which you have covered and are covering the ancient and medieval periods, is so massive an undertaking that the chances of never getting to Eastern philosophy will rocket sky high. At the very least, however confident we could be that you would get to it eventually, we can also be certain that there would *never again* be a natural point at which to turn our attention in that direction.

Your concern that you are not the right person to do it strikes me as understandable but also totally misplaced, for the following reasons:

1) Not knowing much about it is not a reason, as I'm sure there have already been podcasts on material you knew only a little about beforehand, and that will certainly be the case, probably increasingly so, on many future occasions if you intend to cover modern Western philosophy with as few gaps as possible.

2) A better reason would be that it's just not the kind of stuff that captures you intellectually, for if that were to be the case, you would lack the motivation to get through it or to do it well. This, in fact, strikes me as the only good reason not to do it, as this is clearly a labour of love and there is no good reason to turn it into anything else. Nevertheless, I *strongly* doubt that this could turn out to be the case.

a) The podcasts thus far have revealed you to be someone who is wonderfully curious intellectually, able to wrap your mind around and find the points of interest in philosophical problems of all kind.

b) There are people who worry that the Eastern traditions are religious in a way that makes them harder to get into for Westerners but, even if that were true, you have shown that the mixture of religious and philosophical concerns in no way scares you away from grappling with philosophical material from the past. As it turns out, though, I also think this is a completely unfounded worry.

3) I am surprised that you are worried about the availability of good secondary literature. It seems to me that there is truly a wealth of good secondary lit out there, especially on the Indian and Chinese traditions, and that it is increasingly sophisticated and accessible from a Western-trained perspective. To begin with, there are all the entries on Eastern philosophy on SEP and IEP. Among the fantastic secondary lit books that I've checked out on Chinese philosophy, which I know more about than Indian philosophy, I recommend Chad Hansen's Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought, Bryan Van Norden's Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy, and Karyn Lai's Introduction to Chinese Philosophy. When it comes to Indian philosophy, although I know less, I can say that everything Jonardon Ganeri writes is great and a standing refutation of the idea that Indian philosophy and analytic philosophy can be seen as in tension, much less irreconcilable.

Now, when it comes to the primary texts, while the major works in classical Chinese philosophy are easy enough to find, I can see how this might be more of a worry when it comes to the Indian tradition. I think this worry can be partly addressed by what I will say in (4), below. What fits in better with my present point is my recommendation that you start by seeing not only where the SEP and IEP entries direct you but also what you find in the bibliographies of this recent excellent handbook from Oxford:… ... I have not read the sections on Eastern philosophy, since I am familiar with the book mainly because of the nicely large section on my own area of research, Africana philosophy. But I have thus far found it a very impressive guide to non-Western traditions.

4) Deficiencies in your knowledge would seem like a more substantial barrier if it weren't for the excellent use you have already made of interviews with specialists. I am certain that philosophers like the ones I've already listed and others would jump at the chance to be part of the podcast. If it turns out that telling the story of pre-modern Eastern philosophy requires that you rely more on interviews than in other sections, I don't think any of us listeners would begrudge you that.

So there it is, my humble and earnest plea for you to listen to that part of yourself that is considering taking on non-Western traditions before going onto modern Western philosophy. The choice is yours, of course, and I will continue to be a listener and a fan of the podcast either way. It is truly a great resource, especially for periods and areas of philosophy that we tend not to get taught about in your average philosophy department, like Neoplatonism and the Church Fathers. But I hope it is obvious that this is part of why I am so passionately encouraging you to include Eastern philosophy (and, I must admit, if you decide to put it off indefinitely, I am sure I will go back to wishing that you would hurry up and just change the podcast's name...).

Thanks - I have to admit that's all very persuasive with the possible exception of the nice things you say about me! I won't finish medieval (including Byzantine) for a couple of years so I have time to read up a bit and think about this. It would be helpful too to hear what other people think.

A brief word on "western":  the main figure of the Islamic tradition is Avicenna who was born in modern-day Afghanistan -- pretty far "east". In fact often "Western" is taken to exclude philosophy in the Islamic world (equally absurd since on the other hand, Averroes, Maimonides and many others are from Andalusia - which is pretty far west!). And of course there's the implicit Eurocentrism of "Eastern" vs "Western" (east and west of what?). So I tend to eschew the whole "western" vs "eastern" nomenclature. Which isn't to deny that ideally I should cover Indian and Chinese thought, just that if I didn't ever get to it I still wouldn't want to put "Western" in the podcast title.

Thanks again,


Glad you found my plea pretty persuasive and that you will continue to give it some thought, and I definitely hope that others will read this exchange and weigh in with their own thoughts.

Your argument for avoiding the word "Western" makes sense, although it is in contrast with your use of this language in the podcast's first episode. I wonder what word(s) can be used to delineate the continuous tradition you've been tracing thus far if "Western" is inappropriate...

Peter, I agree with what you said about feeling uncomfortable about doing Indian or Chinese thought because it would interrupt the story you are trying to tell. There is an absolutely essential link between the continuity of medieval thought and the early moderns. I would recommend doing Indian and Chinese, or any eastern philosophy, after you finish western philosophy. It might take you 3 years to do the early modern period anyway...

That's my advice,

Some compatible essence

Hi Peter,

As of episode 80 I've enjoyed your series tremendously and I couldn't ask for more (thank you).

The impression that I had from earlier on was that your series was starting with the pre-Socratics and covering the growth of that line including all the many influences on that line as it expanded to present without gaps. So I didn't have any absolute "no gaps what so ever" expectations. If I did maybe I'd expect ancient Sumerian's to be included.

Please continue as planned.

Very Best,

Denziloe 14 October 2013

In reply to by Peter Adamson

Just chipping in to endorse that idea at the end. I'm really looking forwards to you hitting the more contemporary Western figures.

Benjamín Martí… 15 April 2013

Hi Peter,

First of all, congratulations for your great podcasts. I'm an avid follower of your wonderful on-going series.

I just wonder, now you're dealing with the philosophy in the Islamic World if, at some point, you're planning to talk about the Toledo School of Translators (maybe in the Latin section of the medieval period). I was born in Toledo, Spain. In our school, I remember they placed great importance on its significance and legacy. Maybe they were just biased and overstating it. I'd like to know your opinion about its true role in the medieval period.

Thank you and kind regards,

Hi there,

Oh yes, I will definitely cover this! In fact if all goes well episode 150 will be another special double interview on the Arabic-Latin translation movement (you heard it here first!). But I would probably need to come back and discuss it again later when I am doing Latin medieval, also.

Thanks very much for listening and for the kind comments!


David Tanner 17 April 2013

There's a music premiere at the Berlin Philharmonic coming up on April 25th. Composer Brett Dean has written a piece for baritone, choir and orchestra based on the Apology and the Phaedo. There's going to be an online broadcast of the Saturday performance!

I would post a URL but I was blocked earlier; just search for last days socrates brett dean.

Glenn Russell 22 April 2013

Hi Peter,
Thanks for your podcasts on the philosophy of the Islamic World, which is new to me and probably for many others. Considering how the art is quite striking and unique within the Islamic world, are you planning to do a podcast on Islamic aesthetics?

Oh, that's an interesting idea. I hadn't thought about that to be honest, since it isn't something that comes up a lot in philosophical texts (at least, not the ones I know). But I was going to do an episode on theories of music in the Islamic world, so that's a gesture in the same direction!



Rob Loftis 23 April 2013

Hi Peter,

I was wondering when/if you were going to talk about the development of the scientific method in the Islamic world. I was listening to JD Trout on the Such That podcast ( and he mentioned that Avicenna and al-Kindi both provide descriptions of the method of concominant variation, well in advance of European thinkers we associate with this idea, like Bacon or Mill.

Hi Rob,

Thanks, I didn't even know this podcast existed. Do you recall what passage or text from Kindi was invoked for this idea? I'm skeptical. Anyway I think I will deal with scientific method when I get to Avicenna's epistemology, though how much what I say would resonate with modern philosophy of science I'm not sure. The main issue, I think, is how empirical evidence (perhaps in the form of inductive generalizations) could constitute knowledge in Avicenna's view. Actually I will probably already talk about this in a forthcoming interview with Deborah Black, on both Farabi and Avicenna.



He didn't cite a particular passage--it was just a comment made in passing, which is what made me what to hear more about it. I do look forward to hearing about Avicenna's epistemology.

steve 3 May 2013

dude this podcast is badass

Penworth09 15 May 2013

This podcast is both enlightening and educational, and I must give some time to say my thanks. I have learned a lot, and hopefully this podcast continues for a long time.

Ted Cier 16 May 2013


I would like to add my voice to the chorus of thank yous. I found your podcasts about 3 months ago; now I'm just 4 episodes away from catching up with your production schedule and having to confront my HOP jones.

Quick question; can you tell me which episode contained the reference to Danny Ray? I want to share it with a JB fan, but couldn't find it.

Thanks, and thanks again for the great work!

Thanks very much! It's actually the Porphyry episode, right at the beginning. (I forgot myself where I'd mentioned him so I had to do a search in the scripts for "Danny"!)

Diana Hughes 21 May 2013

I discovered the podcast in December 2012 and have now nearly caught up with you. I'm very excited at the prospect of embarking on a year of Islamic-period philosophers, about whom I know nothing at all.

I studied philosophy as my minor at University College London in the 1980s but the course - to my surprise - was almost entirely devoted to 20th century texts so I emerged with no knowledge of the history of philosophy at all. I believe this is quite common even for students doing philosophy full-time.

I'm very glad to have found the podcast when it was still feasible to catch up with you as I think that people who follow the whole series will have a much richer experience than those who just dip in here and there, but when it gets to several hundred episodes this may seem too daunting!

I look forward to many years of instruction and pleasure in your company!

Thanks very much! I'm glad you are enjoying it. I'm also glad to report that UCL definitely does history of philosophy now (though I can't resist adding that they cover it much less than KCL!). Actually the brilliant Fiona Leigh who I interviewed on the Sophist is at UCL. And once upon a time the great Miles Burnyeat was there; they also have a history of ancient philosophy in Classics. More to the point though I'm delighted to be telling you about something you have been wanting to hear, I hope you keep enjoying the podcast!


Muhammad Shehr… 14 June 2013

Really enjoying the podcasts, and I was a computer science, mathematical student in university, and I really wish I had learned more about philosophy or had time to take such courses. Now, these podcasts give me the opportunity.

I was listening to how Parmenides (?) explained the world through Forms, and properties, and seeing if properties can have properties etc.

This is remarkably similar to what we do with computers. I happen to work on various database models and construct structures for simulations etc. We work with earth models, and use these concepts. Except we use "models" which I think is what was meant by "forms". Each model then has its properties.

Once our models are logically complete, they are simple definitions, but when we implement them, they are instantiations. Each instance then has its properties. Not sure about properties about properties, since a property has a "measure" associated with it. so if it is a length or age, then it is value or a measure, i am not sure about properties having properties.

The same way Greeks were thinking of "forms" to understand the world, we construct models to represent our world. Then we implement them, and constantly fine tune them. This is especially true when we deal with earth models, or mathematical models that deal with uncertainties.

Love the podcasts. They help us think and get a grip on the work we are doing today.

Science and art intersect far more often than most people realize, and can really help each other.

Hi there,

Thanks, that's very interesting. So I would say that, although Forms in Plato (by the way it is Socrates in the "Parmenides" who sets out the theory; Parmenides, the character, offers criticisms) are not best understood as properties, some people would interpret them that way. I think your analogy to a model might be more enlightening, since Forms are supposed to be paradigms of some kind - things have properties by imitating Forms, but that doesn't mean that Forms are properties. This perhaps makes it also easier to see why Forms could then have properties, and especially the kind of properties that seem relevant here - for instance the property of largeness is presumably not large, whereas the Form of largeness is large, at least in some sense. There is a lot of discussion about all of this in secondary literature on Plato.

Thanks for listening!


Jerry Webb 17 June 2013

I cannot remember which philosopher (pre-Socratic?) said that bread and cheese contain flesh and bone since they are used to produce the materials of our bodies. Can you tell me who said this?

Also, which first or second century AD philosopher said that instead of asking God for a woman/wife, ask God to remove your desire for a woman/wife?

Thank you.

The first is Anaxagoras, with his theory of universal mixture, and the second could probably be any Roman Stoic, but it is Marcus Aurelius who I quoted to this effect.

hoe 28 June 2013

I've started listening two days ago and got hooked. I would love to see if there was a general timeline for when you plan on getting to different topics and people in the future.

Peter Adamson 28 June 2013

In reply to by hoe

Hi there,

Well, I don't have a firm enough plan to put it online but roughly speaking I expect philosophy in the Islamic world to include about 50 episodes. Then a similar number for Latin medieval, maybe somewhat less since it won't cover as big a time period (for Islamic I will go up to the 17th c. at least). And I am not sure how long Byzantine will take but perhaps 10 episodes or so. After that I am not sure, it depends on whether I turn to Indian philosophy before plunging ahead with the Renaissance.

Often on the Facebook group I post lists of forthcoming episodes by the way, I can do that on the blog too on this site.



Joe J 29 June 2013

Dear Peter, thanks for the great podcasts. I am a newcomer and have only managed to get up to Aristotle so far. I was also pleased to hear you talking on Heraclitus on an old episode of 'In our time'. One thing I felt was missing from that programme was a discussion of the similarities between Heraclitus's Logos and the Dao of Lao-Tzu. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this, and if you have considered doing any tangential one-off podcasts that explore similarities between east and west? I appreciate that this is somewhat outside of the scope of this podcast, and that you must be busy enough already, but it could be interesting. Thanks again for the podcasts!

Peter Adamson 30 June 2013

In reply to by Joe J

Hi there,

I am actually pretty skeptical about this kind of cross-cultural comparison. Pretty much whenever I see it done it is rather superficial, so when I cover Indian and/or Chinese philosophy (and I hope I will) I will probably try to avoid highlighting possible parallels, or at least I won't put much emphasis on this but will rather look at those traditions in their own right. I know some people like the comparative project because they find the traditions mutually illuminating but as you might have noticed I am very into the idea of properly understanding each author, or even philosophical work, in historical context.To some extent a matter of taste maybe, but that's my own approach. For the same reason you might have noticed I've been relatively sparing with allusions to later periods of philosophy including contemporary thought, and when I mention it it is usually to dispel the notion that there is an exact parallel!

Thanks for listening,



shahid Tarer 2 July 2013

Hi Peter,

Just wanted to thank you for the brilliant podcasts (particularly like the style of questioning!) . They've been a priceless discovery. I had an interest in philosophy for many years but didn't read or learn enough on the subject. These podcasts have reignited my interest and will be supplementing my future reading!

Finally all credit to the Leverhulme trust and King's college for spreading knowledge in this way.

Thanks again for a great resource.

Peter Adamson 2 July 2013

In reply to by shahid Tarer

Thanks very much! I appreciate the positive feedback.

Steve Barsky 2 July 2013

So browsing the site, I saw references to a possible book version of Hopwag. I went to Amazon and searched "Peter Adamson." No luck. But I saw a sponsored ad: Philosophy at Sephora®
Hmmm... I must be on the right trail!

But I'm still enjoying the podcast. Cheers for all your work.


Peter Adamson 2 July 2013

In reply to by Steve Barsky

The book is actually with the publisher now, but won't be out for some months yet. I can't promise however that it will restore that youthful sheen to your skin, or bring out your eye color.

Serkalem Degefu 4 July 2013

Hi Peter,

Am a big fan of your podcast and Philosophy. I appreciate the effort you have put to prepare all this. I live in Ethiopia. I feel very blessed to get resourceful site such as yours. Actually I have commented on your article "Woman in Philosophy" unfortunately I couldn't get your response so I switched over here. I have planned to prepare a book about a woman philosophers using our local language but am in shortage of reference material. If you ever know any site to refer or if you have done further about that article will you please suggest me.


Yes, I'm actually at work on a chapter for the book version about women in ancient philosophy. Here's a list of references I have assembled with a useful website at the end; note that this is mostly about the ancient world though, since that is what I am doing at the moment. And maybe others could add references for medieval and modern, that would be helpful to me too later!

Annas, Julia, "Plato's Republic and Feminism," Philosophy, 51 (1976), 309.

Archer, L. S. Fischler and M. Wyke, eds. 1994. Women in Ancient Socieities (London: Routledge)

Calvert, Brian, "Plato and the Equality of Women," Phoenix, 29, 3 (1975)

Fortenbaugh, W. W., "On Plato's Feminism in ‘Republic V,’" Apeiron, IX, 2 (1975)

Fortenbaugh, W. W., "Aristotle on Slaves and Women," in Articles on Aristotle: 2, Ethics and Politics, J. Barnes, J. Schofield, and R. Sorabji, eds. (London: Duckworth, 1977)

Freeland, "Feminism and Ideology in Ancient Philosophy" in Apeiron Vol. XXXIII, no. 4. December 2000

id ed, Feminist Interpretations of Aristotle, Cynthia A. Freeland, ed. (University Park: Pennsylvania University Press, 1998)

Lesser, Harry, "Plato's Feminism," Philosophy 54 (1979), 113-117.

Levin, Susan B., 2000. “Plato's On Women's Nature: Reflections on the Laws” in Ancient Philosophy 20/1 (Spring). 81-97

Lovibond, Sabina, "An Ancient Theory of Gender: Plato and the Pythagorean Table," in Women in Ancient Societies, Archer, Fischler, and Wyke, eds. (London: Routledge), 88-101.

Pomeroy, Sarah, "Feminism in Book V of Plato's ‘Republic,’" Apeiron, VIII, 1 (1974)

Sakezles, Priscilla K., "Feminism and Aristotle," Apeiron 32, 1 (1999), 67-74.

Tuana, Nancy, 1992. Woman and the History of Philosophy (New York, Paragon Press).

Ward, Julie K., 1996. Feminism and Ancient Philosophy (New York and London: Routledge)

Warnock, Mary ed. 1996. Women Philosophers (London J.M. Dent).

Cody Sitton 24 July 2013

When is the projected date for the release of Volume 1 of the book series? I apologize if you have already answered this question more than once; I've listened to every episode but have failed to follow the blog :(

Peter Adamson 24 July 2013

In reply to by Cody Sitton

Actually I think I haven't said because I only just found out; it depends a bit on how quick I am with some last revisions now (which include adding a chapter on women and ancient philosophy), but in theory they hope to publish it May 2014. Then I hope that subsequent volumes will appear about once each year.

Ollie Killingback 25 July 2013

I enjoyed pushing back the boundaries of my ignorance with the Ancients, and warmed to the Christian Fathers of whom I knew something from theological studies. But I've struggled with the Arabic period. Partly I guess it is to do with the strange names which just don't stick. Some of the thinking does, but what goes with whom I find hard to resolve or retain. There is only really any clarity with Saadia Gaon. I wonder if that's to do with his being Jewish and my acquaintance with Jewish thought. Or is his name Hebrew and does it therefore sound less strange to me than Arabic? I don't know.

Much the most difficult podcast to engage with was 136. Maybe that had something to do with Farhad Daftary's speaking voice - I guess English is not his first language. Maybe it was to do with the content. There seem to have been almost innumerable splits among the Ismailis, all of them political, i.e. to do with matters of succession. I didn't get any sense of different ideas, and while the political history is important, it's the ideas I am most interested in. For example most of the Christian splits have a political element in their motivation, but there are distinct theological differences too. I didn't get that from Dr Daftary. I'm still not clear how, if at all, Ismaili belief differs from other Shia. Perhaps the ideas are less important in Islam than loyalty to a particular line of succession.

One thing that has come across with great clarity is how inadequate the coverage of Islam was in the Comparative Religion course I took in the 1970s. I guess the time limit had something to do with it.

I have been looking forward to Avicenna - the first name on the list that already meant something to me. I'm glad there are going to be more podcasts on his thought. The first podcast whetted my appetite but left me feeling he was not a very nice man. But so what? I don't think Socrates would have been my best friend either.

Peter Adamson 25 July 2013

In reply to by Ollie Killingback

Yes, I know this material may be a bit more challenging if only because of the avalanche of unfamiliar names. (On the other hand a lot of listeners probably already felt that way about late antiquity.) My hope is to make them more familiar though! The book veresion, which will appear eventually, may be slightly easier since you would then be reading the names over and over and that might help with remembering. But also it may just be that if the material is unfamiliar it blurs together a bit no matter what you do; bear in mind though this is inevitably a kind of introductory taster to each thinker; if what comes through in the end is a sense of broad themes and periods in the tradition I would be happy with that!

And by the way Saadia's name is Arabic but "Gaon" is a title, not part of his name. It's interesting that he seemed to stick better with you than, say, al-Kindi who actually has many of the same philosophical views (as I mentioned in the podcast that connection needs to be explored better than it has).

Cliff 27 July 2013

I just wanted to say how much I am enjoying the podcasts. I always thought that philosophy would be "too hard" - but now I know it's all about giraffes and film stars.

Peter Adamson 27 July 2013

In reply to by Cliff

But only silent film. Once they invented sound it stopped being philosophical.

But seriously, thanks very much! Glad you are enjoying the series.

Don 11 August 2013

In reply to by Cliff

It is about anything that turns your crank, floats your boat, or generally stimulates you to become a better person and to recognize your current excellence. Some people even do it with mathematics. Others just smile or meditate.

Rhys W. Roark 28 July 2013


Great show! Looking forward very much to the next one as I’m very intrigued about these various essence vs. existence debates, esp. as it has to with (any) Absolute Realities . . . .

Question: In referencing the squared circle whose essence precludes its existence owing to its complete impossibility, what is then the actual status of this “essence” here? To posit an “essence” whose very nature precludes absolutely its non-existence, sounds, at least in how we have to make use of language, like how we would describe unrealized contingent existences, like your aforementioned sister, if but taken more absolutely: There’s an essence out there which not only it so happens not to exist, it cannot in anyway exist.

The term was used frequently, but my guess, Avicenna and other Medievals are using the term “essence” here more as a purely “logical” or “semantic” modality since, unlike Anselm’s God, it remains just a conceptual thought without the literal corresponding, also aforementioned, “out there” counterpart.

But is there anything else I’m might be missing in this understanding?—can it be something more than just a mental concept even though lacking actual or substantive existence?

I seem to having a Parmenidean moment—and in fact, I was researching Parmenides and the Platonic dialogue named for him just yesterday in understanding how this might inform various kinds of negative theologizing (and talk about the paradoxical Parmenidean language use here) such as Plotinus or Dionysius’s path of negation vs. Aquinas’ path of eminence.

And, if it be—essentially—your want (forgive me), if you want to recommend any good texts on the Greek, Arabic and Christian history of the intersection of essence, existence and apophatic (and even kataphatic) theology, that would be great. I assume these concerns, will, at some point, in essence, be actualized in further episodes.



You're putting your finger on a very difficult question. As you'll see in a later episode the question you're asking became a big issue of controversy in later Islamic thought, I mean, how we should think about these essences if they are distinct from existence. (Do they have some other kind of "existence" like as abstract entities? Are they mental constructs? Or ideas in God's mind?) I think it is not easy to say what Avicenna's own view on this was, especially since, as I mentioned in this episode, in fact he thinks that all essences do receive existence. So he doesn't need to get into the question of what to say about an essence that has no existence.

As far as Avicenna goes I would start with the secondary literature recommended for this episode. There has also been some discussion of the distinction as it might bear on Plotinus e.g. in Lloyd Gerson's book "Plotinus." I've actually been writing a piece about this but it is still a work in progress!

Gustavo Ricardo 29 July 2013


I have just recently found out about your podcast, and I'm really interessted in watching them and slowly catching up (even though it could take a couple of years) But I do have one question before I start the journey.
I've noticed the website states that you are a Professor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King's College; and presently your are on the Islamic Timelime around the year 1111.
When I saw that you are a professor of Ancient and Medieval philosophy I wondered: will you continue chronologically into Modern and Post-Modern philosophy also? Will you be concluding the historical journey in the present? Or will you cover only Ancient and Medieval?

At the moment my plan is to keep going indefinitely. But medieval including Byzantium will probably take me into 2015 so I still have time to decide. You're right that it would be further out of my comfort zone but in A way that makes it more appealing!

Gustavo Ricardo 30 July 2013

In reply to by Peter Adamson

OK! That's great to know! Hope you decide to take that challenge and continue on :)

I'll be doing my catching up, hope I can do it. Thank you for the prompt reply Peter, and congratulations on such a great job by what I've noticed so far.


TARDIS 30 July 2013

Please go greatly in-depth on the floating man argument of Ibn Sina. I know a lot of people who aren't convinced by this, which troubles me!

Peter Adamson 30 July 2013

In reply to by TARDIS

Don't worry, there is an upcoming episode where I talk about it in detail, number 141 I think.

Rhys W. Roark 1 August 2013

In reply to by TARDIS


I don't wish to steal his thunder here, but Peter has given a somewhat briefer account of this on the program Philosophy Bites (about 14 minutes):

If you are not familiar with it, you may find here:…

Very good and thought provoking--all the more as I'm a sucker for these kinds of transcendental subjectivity discourses.

But as with you, I am looking forward to Prof. Adamson's more forthcoming detailed treatment of this subject(ivity?).

Rhys W. Roark (1st name: 'rise')

Liam Smith 30 July 2013

This site is unbelievably good. I'm doing an undergraduate subject right now about Plato, Descartes, Hume and Kant and this has been amazing so far. Its great to get a general idea about some of the ideas that were floating around in the field. You're amazing, wowzers.

PeterW 30 July 2013

Awesome podcast dude! Other books I've read treat the ideas in isolation, which makes it difficult to understand the historical context. Your podcast OTOH pieces ideas into a smooth(ish) ramp. The cheesy jokes and puns are a nice touch too. Anyway during the last 2 months I've been listening almost non-stop, beginning with the first episode. It's been fun. Now I'm with the current episode. Look forward to following things at a more sedate pace! Thanks!

Peter Adamson 30 July 2013

In reply to by PeterW

Wow, that's some pretty fast catching up! Thanks for going through all of it, I'm glad you've been enjoying it.

And great first name by the way.

(The other) Peter

JKE 1 August 2013

So I'm thinking about diving back in to Aristotle's Metaphysics, a book I haven't looked seriously at in a few years. That said, I'm far from an expert on the subject, and as everyone knows it's a pretty daunting text. Can anybody recommend a good translation and commentary or something along those lines? (Other than Aquinas', which is a little lengthy for my purposes.)

By my old teacher at Notre Dame, Mike Loux, there is "Primary Ousia." For the important Book Z, try M. Burnyeat, "A Map of Metaphyiscs Zeta." An affordable general introduction would be V Politis, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Aristotle and the Metaphysics and the bibliography at the end is useful.

Brandon Andrathy 3 August 2013

Good Afternoon Peter,

I just wanted to say that I love listening to your podcast. You are very eloquent and the subject matter discussed is very intriguing. Thank you for rekindling my interest in philosophy after ten years of dormancy when I took intro to philosophy my freshman year of college. I'm only up to episode 25 but I hope to see you continue releasing new episodes!


Gerald FLYNN 11 August 2013

You might be in the running for an Irish animal welfare award....I have downloaded all your podcasts on my iPod. Twice a day I bring my beagle (Pippin) for a 45-minute walk so that I can take in two episodes each walk.

I did four years' single honors philosophy at Trinity Dublin but you really expand on that and I am looking forward to the neoPlatonists and the early Christian adaption of Greek thought.
Kings College should be very proud of your contribution to global education and critical thinking.
I hope you and your family enjoy a well-deserved holiday (vacation).
Thanks again,
Gerry FLYNN --Dublin ireland

Jake D. Parsons 12 August 2013

Could a zipped (or tared and gziped) file be provided of every period? The Presocratics and Socrates and Plato for example would be each a file. Much easier to download the series. I was keeping up and then lost my archive.

Hi there,

This is already available, just go to any episode and in the right margin you'll see an icon to download that whole series (e.g. Late Antiquity) as a .zip file.



Charline 13 August 2013

I was just curious to know the source of the picture on "The Presocratics" page, and what it does represent (if you do know)

Thank you for the podcast it is really interesting to discover philosophy following it.


Thank you very much for the quick answer!

I was wondering as it reminded me in some ways the Medicine wheel which Aboriginal people in North America uses to teach many things, generally cyclic. And if this is the 4 seasons well, this not so surprising for it to be quite close.As there is the 4 seasons in the medicine wheel too. Anyway this is a bit off topic here!

Thanks again!

Brandon Andrathy 21 August 2013

I think one of the best parts about your show is not only the historical element but also the fact that even touching on the surface of each of these philosophers' contributions provides a great deal of logical and deductive enlightenment to individuals who are philosophical novices (such as myself). Out of all th philosophers you have talked about so far (I'm up to Augustine which I'm excited about relearning), I find Diogenes the cynic to be truly inspiring and interesting. Do you have any literature or papers to recommend for further research into his legacy...or lack thereof haha. Also, is it worth reading Galin other than just for pure amusement?

Thanks, glad you are enjoying the series! There is actually further reading suggested on each episode page (you've probably been listening through the RSS over iTunes or something but you can listen to them streaming on this website). So for instance there is reading on the Cynics here. I would recommend starting with the Desmond book.

Galen is not always fun, exactly; he is long-winded and very polemical and of course the topic is usually history of medicine. But some of his works are fascinating, for instance "That the Soul Depends on the Body."

Thanks for listening!


Terry Duchow 30 August 2013

Hello, I really liked your episode that deals with Augustine's epistemology. In it, you mention that knowledge is characterized by intention. I'm familiar with his "Against Scepticism" but not sure he discusses that there. Is there any chance you could please point out where he discusses this?

This is in the effort to consider how knowledge defined as justified true belief might include intentionality, or not, and possibly bring some closure to it.

Thank you!

Hi there,

I was thinking of "On the Trinity," for instance in book 9 - the intentionality is here described as "love". It is a point he deals with extensively in that work since the intentionality gives him the analogue in the thinking case to the Holy Spirit. You might also want to listen to the interview with Charles Brittain.

Glad you enjoyed the episode by the way!


Hi Peter, I read chapter 9 of On the Trinity it was fantastic. It was exactly what I was looking for. He does speak to love, knowledge and the mind, where knowledge is an object of love, as far as I understand. The mind is able to know itself, love itself and one of the outcomes of this is knowledge. Knowledge itself isn't exactly an object, but part of the life of reason, as I intepret it.

So, we can have knowledge. It's motivation is love, as well as its object.

That might be another way of describing how we can have objectivity within a framework of human cognition that is thought of as subjective.

Thanks for getting back to me so soon, as I'm preparing for a talk, and this we be very helpful!

Sajjad Chowdhry 31 August 2013


Do you have a single page that gives the further reading sources for ALL your episodes?


Avicenna 1 September 2013

Hi Peter,

I'm trying to track down where some of these passages are in Avicenna, and whether they are translated. One question is where does his phoenix example come up?


He uses it in the "On Interpretation" part of the Shifa' (several times) though interestingly he replaces this with the different example of the heptagonal house in other places; Druart has a paper on this which I have electronically if you need it (just send me an email). Also worth looking at is Black's paper on Fictional Beings in Avicenna.

Glasses are cool! 4 September 2013

Dear Peter,

It seems that Avicenna and Aquinas are one in identifying God with His existence and in holding that the essences of contingent things are neutral as to existence. Avicenna puts this in a way that Aquinas as well as Averroes would not, and the latter apparently criticized Avicenna on this point, as did Banez in the 16th century. That aside, what Avicenna means by saying that existence is accidental to these essences, so it seems to me, is only that existence is external to essence in contingent things and with this Aquinas would certainly agree. Yet it remains to ask whether Aquinas and Avicenna meant the same thing by existence and identifying God with His existence. Can you say anything about this?

Hi, thanks for the comment. Can you tell me more about Banez?

A short answer to your question is that I am devoting an episode to the question a bit later, or rather to the various interpretations of the e/e distinction in the later Eastern tradition. That episode will be a while in coming though since I have to do all of Andalusian philosophy first! My feeling is that "accidental to" here should not be taken to imply too strict an analogy with the accident-substance relation as we know and love it from Aristotle. Rather it just means that as such (considered in itself, or however you want to put this) a contingent essence neither has nor lacks existence. So probably you are agreeing with me on this.

The question of God is of course trickier, and though this is controversial I think that Avicenna and Aquinas are not saying the same thing. Avicenna, I believe, simply wants to say that God's essence guarantees His existence. Whereas Aquinas wants to say something stronger which is that God's essence is the same as the essence of (unqualified) being -- He is being itself. So here we have a move that is both Aristotelian -- since this makes God pure actuality -- and Neoplatonic, since it makes God something like a paradigm cause of being for other things. Avicenna comes close to saying such things e.g. he associates unqualified actuality with God (that's how he gets to the idea that God is good, much as Aquinas does). Still I don't think he would go as far as Thomas in this direction. Of course this too is something I'll cover in Aquinas when I get to him.



hi Prof. Adamson,

you wrote: "[...] Avicenna, I believe, simply wants to say that God's essence guarantees His existence. Whereas Aquinas wants to say something stronger which is that God's essence is the same as the essence of (unqualified) being -- He is being itself."

i'd strongly disagree with this. it seems to me to be very close, if not identical, to Fakhr al-Din's (i believe false) stance on Avicenna distinction as it applies to God. But Avicenna i believe would reject it for this reason, namely, it compromises God's simplicity. that is, if the word "guarantee" (in the concept 'guarantees His existence') is supposed to deny a strict identity between God's essence and existence, then it follows that God's essence and existence are distinct, just as they are in contingent beings. presumably, on your view, the only difference between the two cases will then be supposed to be explained - again, in a way that rules an identity - somehow by the term "guarantee". as such, He would be composed.

Peter Adamson 15 September 2013

In reply to by Davlat

That's a good objection, yes. Obviously Avicenna wouldn't want to say that God essence somehow causes His existence, since the whole point is that God is uncaused. Rather, I think he wants to say that God's essence immediately entails His existence but without causing it. One way to put this might be to say that God's essence "is" His existence, but I still think one must distinguish between God's essence and existence itself. For one thing, existence itself is subdivided into contingent and necessary existence. Clearly God's essence is not "identical to" contingent existence, at most it is identical to necessary existence. So already here we have a distinction from Aquinas (for whom God is indeed Being Itself). Also we have here the reason that Sufis are misreading Avicenna when they appropriate his ideas, but that's another story that I'll get into later in the series.

More plausible then might be to say that God's essence "is" (or "is identical to") necessary existence; I might go along with that, if it just means the claim that "what it is to be God" is "to exist necessarily" (the way that "what it is to be human" is "to be a rational animal"). I just want to resist the idea that this makes God a paradigmatic cause of being/existence, i.e. that other things exist by "participating" in God, as in Aquinas. All that is a Platonist tendency that to me seems absent from Avicenna (though it appears in some later interpreters).

hi prof. Adamson,

"Rather, I think he wants to say that God's essence immediately entails His existence but without causing it."

what is the precise nature of this entailment relation though? i don't see how 'entailment' is not a kind of causation, especially as applied to extra-mental reality. for example, are you suggesting that God's essence entails His existence is the same way that, say, the essence of a human being (i.e., rationality) entails risibility? or (to take an instance from mental reality) do you mean to say that His essence entails His existence in the way the premises of a syllogism entail the conclusion? I think Avicenna would reject both; on the first account, God's simplicity would be clearly compromised. with regards to the second, insofar as it entails (no pun intended) 'what which entails' and 'that which is entailed' are distinct, it too compromises Divine simplicity. otherwise, it seems to me that they're just identical.

"[...] but I still think one must distinguish between God's essence and existence itself. For one thing, existence itself is subdivided into contingent and necessary existence. Clearly God's essence is not "identical to" contingent existence, at most it is identical to necessary existence."

i agree with out about the Sufi misreadings. i'm not certain, though, that holding that God's essence and existence are identical would commit one to the Platonist thesis which you mentioned. in any case, that aside, it seems to me there are three problems with the above argument, the first of which entails the second and third. i believe that Avicenna would reject all three. the (1) first problem is that it seem to conceptualize existence as some sort of a genus, of which "contingent existence" and "necessary existence" are species; the (2) second is that from it follows that God is an instance of a species of existence, namely, necessary existence. finally, the (3) third problem is it impugns Divine simplicity, i.e., insofar as (2) entails that God is composed of a genus (existence) and some differentia (necessary existence in itself).


"Rather, I think he wants to say that God's essence immediately entails His existence but without causing it."

what is the precise nature of this entailment relation though?


I was afraid you might ask that. How about this: it could be like the relationship between a triangle and three-sidedness. Triangles are necessarily three sided (which is why I prefer it to your risibility example) but the triangle is not the same thing as three-sidedness (also, there are other three-sided things that are not necessarily three-sided). I would say that being a triangle entails being three-sided, but not that being a triangle "causes" three-sidedness. Rather it is just a necessary feature of triangles by virtue of their essence. Similarly God has existence as a necessary feature, and that wouldn't need to imply that He "is existence itself" or that existence is a genus to which God belongs. I agree Avicenna would certainly reject that, but I don't see why you think my view commits him to that? Just because there are also contingent existents? If that's the reason I guess the danger is rather that "existent" (as opposed to existence) is a genus, and that God is a member of this genus. But there are the traditional Aristotelian arguments that "existent" (or "being"/"existence" for that matter) is not a genus so that isn't really a threat, I would suppose.

A relevant passage here is in the Ilahiyyat when he talks about God not being a substance. By the way, did you have a passage in mind where he does say something along the lines of "God is existence" or "God's essence is His existence"?

Josh Lee 24 September 2013

Thank you so much for providing this superb educational experience.

Little Rock, AR, USA

Dave Enright 28 September 2013

Hi Peter,

I'm on podcast 61 and looking forward each day to continue on. This has been so very helpful and I can not thank you enough for your work!!

Very Best and Thank you so much,

Peter Adamson 28 September 2013

In reply to by Dave Enright

Great, I'm glad you are enjoying it! Please spread the word if you know anyone else who might be interested.

N M 28 September 2013

Hi Peter, I've been following this series since over a year but still in the 50s episodes because of my time constraint. I want to thank you for the wonderfully informative content and not to forget some very witty vignettes in each episode.

Perhaps a suggestion would be to pause a little during the podcast so that we have the time to let the ideas sink in. And also some of the episodes (at least the earlier ones) with guest speakers have poor audio quality - maybe these are recorded differently? That's it, thank you once again, keep going!

Hi there - yes, you're right some early interviews are not so great in terms of the audio quality, usually it was because of background noise. I've been more careful about that subsequently though, so you should notice an improvement as you go along (some later ones were recorded over Skype which is not quite as good quality, but still ok I think). 

I think the problem with pausing is that for every person who is grateful for a pause at a given place, some other listener would be annoyed and want me to press on. Plus I am not keen to increase the overall length of episodes. Of course you can just pause it yourself while listening, too, or rewind (if you can "rewind" a podcast?).



Karl 3 October 2013

Hello. I am a huge fan! Congratulations on such a sound work in the quite modern medium of podcasting.
Do I gather rightly that you have purposefully avoided making forward comparisons of historical philosophers with modern thinkers and notions, something others in your shoes might try, if only to make their insights more relevant to a modern, let alone postmodern, audience? If so, does that itself indicate something about your own philosophy on how we should understand either or both, history and philosophy? Would you comment on your reasoning about this careful separation of concerns, as I make it, between your modern diction and medium, your methodological explanations (how do we know this is what they said?), your explanation of their influences and work, without often indicating their modern impact, potential or real, beyond your choice of what to cover? Well, that question got over-blown quickly. I'll try again: Is there a philosophy of history behind your history of philosophy?

Hi there -- yes, that's a very perceptive comment and question. You're right, I tend to be wary of cross-historical and -cultural comparisons. I think one needs to be careful not to impose anachronistic concepts on historical figures and texts. So, in general I do have a tendency to avoid allusions to modern-day philosophy, though I do think it can be valuable if done with great care. (But that would often mean more precision and caveats than I can afford in a podcast script.) I'm reasonably sympathetic to the use of modern contrasts and terminology, like "determinism" or "modality," just because it can make it easier to clarify what is going on in the historical texts, but even here one needs to be careful. Much less interesting, to my mind, is discovering that such and such an idea/argument/theory that is bandied about nowadays already existed in, say, Plato. Isn't it even more exciting and philosophically useful that he gives arguments and has ideas that don't get put forward nowadays?

So I guess if I have a philosophy of history of philosophy it is: start by trying to understand historical texts on their own terms, using as detailed as possible an understanding of the context in which they were written. Only then is it  safe to do some comparing with what is going on in philosophy nowadays. (Always without underestimating the difficulty of the first task.)

Glad you are enjoying the series by the way!


Andrej 3 November 2013

Prof. Adamson, thank you for your podcasts. They are absolutely amazing. I've been listening to them for quite some time now, some of the podcasts more than once. Can I also ask you if you could provide me with some notes (or at least outlines?) that you have already made? Often, I'd like to take notes while listening to the mp3s and it takes me then more time as I sometimes have to pause or rewind the lecture. It would really help me in terms of time, and also I guess occasionally in terms of accuracy of names, terms, dates, etc. Any help? Please, keep up the great work!