A History Of Ideas

Episodes

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Broadcast
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Barry Smith On Noam Chomsky And Human Language2015012220190131 (R4)

Barry Smith argues that language is our most important uniquely human attribute. It doesn't just help us communicate, it helps us to think. He makes the case for the distinctiveness of human language against the limited signalling systems of other animals. He looks at Noam Chomsky's idea of a universal grammar – that there is something in the human brain that gives us an innate ability to produce language from very early in our lives. And he talks to experts on other intelligent animals - Prof. Nicola Clayton and Prof. Robin Dunbar - to ask how human language and imagination compares with that of birds and primates.

Philosopher Barry Smith on Noam Chomsky and human language

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work of key philosophers and their theories.

Catharine Edwards On Seneca And Facing Death.2015012120190130 (R4)

Catharine Edwards wants to introduce you to the Roman Philosopher Seneca. But he's dying. Towards the end of his life Seneca became interested in the idea that only human beings had foreknowledge of their own death. Animals didn't know and Gods didn't die. This singular piece of knowledge gives human life its meaning as well as its burden. Seneca argued that to liberate yourself from the fear of death was a vital part of life. But did his own famous death live up to his beliefs?

Only humans know they will die. Catharine Edwards on the Stoic philosopher Seneca

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work of key philosophers and their theories.

Giles Fraser On Wittgenstein And Blade Runner2015012320190201 (R4)

Giles Fraser thinks being human isn't a matter of biology or some unique attribute like language. It's not to do with what we are but about how we treat each other. Taking the work of the philosopher Wittgenstein he argues that to be human is to be considered worthy of certain kinds of respect and moral compassion. For Giles, human is a moral category and it is an instruction to treat each other well.

Theologian Giles Fraser on Wittgenstein and Blade Runner

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work of key philosophers and their theories.

Simon Schaffer On Humans, Apes And Carl Linnaeus2015012020190129 (R4)

Simon Schaffer is interested in the human species in general and one member of it in particular. Carl Linnaeus was a Swedish botanist and zoologist who set out the basic structure of how we name and understand life on earth. In doing so he broached the thorny question of where humans should sit among the species of the earth. A hundred years before Darwin he correctly placed us among the apes. Simon examines that relationship to see the things that mark our similarities and our differences. Simon comes face to face with 'Jock', an adult Gorilla at Bristol Zoo and talks to Prof. Robert Foley about human evolution. He also sees how Linnaeus' ideas were used to support racial science. After all if humans were more like apes perhaps some humans were more like apes than others.

Simon Schaffer on botanist Carl Linnaeus who first classified humans among the apes

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work of key philosophers and their theories.

What Makes Us Human?2015011920190128 (R4)

A new history of ideas presented by Melvyn Bragg but told in many voices.

Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week he's asking What makes us human?

Helping him answer it are philosopher Barry Smith, classicist Catharine Edwards, historian Simon Schaffer and theologian Giles Fraser.

For the rest of the week Barry, Catharine, Simon and Giles will take us further into the history of ideas about being human with programmes of their own. Between them they will examine the evolution of language, the Stoic philosopher Seneca, the classification of all living species, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the film Bladerunner.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what makes us human.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work of key philosophers and their theories.