What It Is
Selections from important works of philosophy read aloud.
This show ran from 2007 to 2012 and produced only twenty-two episodes. The entire archive is still on iTunes. Episodes vary in length, but are typically in the twenty to thirty minute range.
What About It
LearnOutLoud.com has a real tendency toward a particularly frustrating kind of podcast: a great premise, a poor execution. One of the very first podcasts I reviewed on this little project was LearnOutLoud.com’s Aesop’s Fables and it is, yes, a great idea and also one of the absolute worst shows I’ve encountered on this journey. This one isn’t nearly that bad, but it has some serious flaws. In each episode, a narrator will read excerpts from a great or influential work of philosophy, like The Communist Manifesto or Rousseau’s Social Contract or Plato’s Symposium or whatever. The first big problem is that the reader is often pretty terrible, reading without a lot of inflection or emphasis, which makes these already difficult texts even more difficult to follow. I think some things simply are better read than heard and intricate philosophical texts would be some of those things. It’s hard to follow some of this stuff just hearing it read without inflection and fairly quickly. Secondly, I think it would make the show a lot more accessible if there was some sort of commentary included with each episode to kind of help the listener understand the significance of the text at hand. But LearnOutLoud.com really doesn’t like including commentary. Their shows tend to let whatever text is at hand, whether it’s a fable or a speech or a work of literature stand on its own merits and I think that’s a very valid and even positive way to look at things, but these works are, by their very nature, often pretty dense and inaccessible. But the strength of the show is in its selections. No one can argue that these aren’t great works of philosophy and it was fun to revisit some of these works. (Kudos for doing Kant’s Pure Reason and Practical Reason straight up back to back, by the way; as Frank Sinatra might put it, you really just can’t have one without the other.) I’d read a lot of them in college, so it was fun to kind of get a bit of a Cliff’s Notes revisit to some of them. It’s an admirable podcast and, when the reader is actually good, a pretty good one. A shame though; the idea is so strong that it could easily have been a great one.
2 ½ stars.
You’ve always wanted to hear the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus tightened to a strong twenty minutes.
Avoid Like the Plague If
You always thought Philosophicus was a Sesame Street character.
Best Entry Point
Of the ones I heard, I liked one of the very last ones they did the best. It seemed like they’d kind of figured out some of the problems because this one had a great reader. Anyway, I’d recommend The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine’s gorgeous treatise on Deism. This might seem a little odd given my personal faith and the serious hostility toward Christianity in particular that this work has. But Paine’s prose is just so beautiful and I do have serious leanings toward a much less interventionist God and also a much more mysterious God than most Christians, so I have a lot of sympathy for Deism. But it’s really all for that final section which is just one of the most gorgeous evocations for religious unity and tolerance I’ve ever read. If all the episodes had been this good, I’d probably still be going through the archive.