A History Of Ideas

Episodes

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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.

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.

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.

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.

How Can I Tell Right From Wrong?2014112420181112 (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 the question is 'How do I tell wrong from right?'

Helping him answer it are Neuro-psychologst Paul Broks, Philosopher Angie Hobbs, Theologian Giles Fraser and Lawyer Harry Potter.

For the rest of the week Paul, Angie, Giles and Harry will take us further into the history of ideas about morality with programmes of their own.

Between them they will examine the idea of conscience and moral intuitions, the relationship between morality and the law, whether moral systems can work on the battlefield and what the brain seems to do when we are making moral decisions.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss different ideas of morality.

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

Lawyer Harry Potter on Morality and the Law2014112720181115 (R4)

Criminal Barrister Harry Potter asks whether the law should enforce morals, and if so, which morals?

Should the law tell us what we can and can't do? Or should it go further and tell us what is right, and what is wrong?

Criminal Barrister Lawyer Harry Potter asks what a moral law might be, in a multi-faith multi-cultural Britain. His key thinker is Jeremy Bentham – 18th century English eccentric and radical – whose theory of Utilitarianism fused law and morality.

Harry introduces the grisly tale of cannibalism which challenged the Victorian version of Christian law; he surveys the transformation of the law from the 1960s, with former Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge: from the imprisonment of homosexuals to gay marriage. And Professor Philip Schofield from University College London explains Bentham's radical concepts, which promised the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people and would have resulted in the tearing down of our great institutions.
This programme is part of a week of programmes looking at the history of ideas around Freedom.

Lawyer Harry Potter examines whether the law should enforce good morals.

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

Neuro-psychologist Paul Broks on Morality and the Brain2014112620181114 (R4)

The eighteenth century writer Jeremy Bentham thought that telling right from wrong as simple: morally right things were the ones that increased the total of human happiness. Wrong things were the ones that increased the stock of suffering. His principle is known as utilitarianism.

It sounds rational, but does it do justice to the way we actually think about morality? Some things seem wrong even when, according to utilitarianism, they are right.

Recently, philosophers and psychologists have started to apply experimental methods to moral philosophy. In this programme, neuropsychologist Paul Broks looks at the recent research. Some experimenters, such as Guy Kahane in Oxford, have been putting people in scanners to see which bits of the brain are most active when they struggle with moral dilemmas. Fiery Cushman at Harvard has been getting people to carry out simulated immoral acts (such as asking volunteers to fire a fake gun at the experimenter) to see how they react to unpleasant but essentially harmless tasks. And Mike Koenigs at Wisconsin Madison University has been looking at how psychopathic criminals and people with brain damage deal with moral puzzles. One school of thought now suggests that utilitarianism, far from being the "rational" way to decide right from wrong, is actually most attractive to people who lack the normal empathic responses – people very like Jeremy Bentham, in fact.

This programme is part of a week of programmes looking at the history of ideas around Freedom.

Neuropsychologist Paul Broks on moral decisions and the brain.

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

Philosopher Angie Hobbs on the Value of Conscience2014112820181116 (R4)

Philosopher Angie Hobbs examines the concept of conscience or moral intuition and asks whether it stands up to rational scrutiny.

In his Novel 'The Brothers Karamazov' the 19th century Russian writer Dostoevsky posed a moral dilemma – would it be morally right to murder an innocent child in exchange for Paradise on earth for all other humans.

In other words does the end ever justify the means or are there actions which are simply unacceptable whatever the benefit?

Angie Hobbs examines our moral intuitions and our sense of 'conscience' by talking through Dostoevsky's dilemma and asking what we really mean when we declare an act unconscionable.

This programme is part of a week of programmes looking at the history of ideas around Freedom.

Philosopher Angie Hobbs on the value of conscience and moral intuition.

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.

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.

Theologian Giles Fraser on Moral character2014112520181113 (R4)

How do you make good moral decisions when you have no time to make them?

This is a question that troubled Giles Fraser after he met soldiers who had served in Afghantistan. The moral codes Giles had studied required a lot of time for thinking and reflection but you simply don't get that when deciding whether to shoot on the battle field. This led Giles to think about the Greek philosopher Aristotle and his system of virtue ethics – a way of thinking about morals that emphases character rather than rules.

Giles talks to former SAS soldier Andy McNabb and philosopher Nancy Sherman on how do you distinguish right from wrong in today's 'battle space' where the rules of engagement are no longer clear. And whether the answer is to be in a 2500 year old piece of Greek thinking.

This programme is part of a week of programmes.

Giles Fraser on moral character and Aristotle's Virtue ethics

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.

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.

01What Does It Mean to Be Free?2014102720180813 (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 does it mean to be Free?

Helping him answer it are philosopher Angie Hobbs, criminal barrister Harry Potter, neuropsychologist Paul Broks and theologian Giles Fraser.

For the rest of the week Angie, Giles, Harry and Paul take us further into the history of ideas with programmes of their own.

Between them they'll talk about Isaiah Berlin's distinction between positive and negative freedom, JS Mill's thoughts on individual liberty and the state; what neuroscience has to say about the age old philosophical debate about Freewill and whether freedom is over-rated as a political, moral and psychological concept.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas about freedom.

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

02Philosopher Angie Hobbs on Positive and Negative Freedom2014111120180814 (R4)

Angie Hobbs wants to tell you about two kinds of freedom - Negative and Positive. This influential philosophical distinction was made in the 20th century by Isaiah Berlin but it's rooted in the ideas of the hugely influential Greek Philosopher Plato.

Negative freedom involves getting things out of your way - be it the state, the police or your parents. Positive freedom is the ability to take command of your own self and make decisions that are in your own interest.

Berlin used the metaphor of doors: Negative freedom concerns the number of doors open to you. Positive Freedom is about how you choose between them.

Angie talks to conservative MP and ex-banker Jessie Norman and to environmental activist and ex-Jain monk Satish Kumar to see how these two ideas of freedom can co-exist.

This programme is part of a week of programmes looking at the history of ideas around Freedom.

Angie Hobbs on Isaiah Berlin's distinction between positive and negative freedom.

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

03Lawyer Harry Potter on Individual Freedom and the State2014111220180815 (R4)

Harry Potter is a criminal barrister and watches people being let off and locked up for a living. He is interested in the ways the state can curtail our liberty. His key thinker is John Stuart Mill, the 19th century British philosopher who argued that the state should take a minimal role in the lives of its citizens.

Harry talks to Mark Dempster, ex-drug addict, dealer and now counsellor about the limits of individual liberty and to Prof. Philip Schofield of University College London about JS Mill and his ideas.

This programme is part of a week of programmes looking at the history of ideas around Freedom.

Barrister Harry Potter on John Stuart Mill's ideas about individual freedom and the state.

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

04Theologian Giles Fraser on Religious Freedom2014111320180816 (R4)

Theologian Giles Fraser thinks freedom is overrated. It has become a kind of tyranny or obsession. He is interested in the tradition of religious thinking that understands true liberation sometimes comes from accepting boundaries on life. His key thinker is the medieval philosopher and Franciscan monk William of Ockham whom he blames for this turn of events. Giles talks to Brother Sam, a contemporary Franciscan Monk, about the way his life of constraint has led him to feel free. Giles also talks to Phillip Blond, theologian and political adviser.

This programme is part of a week of programmes looking at the history of ideas around Freedom.

Theologian Giles Fraser believes true freedom comes from accepting constraints in life.

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

05Neuroscientist Paul Broks on Free Will and the Brain2014111420180817 (R4)

Paul Broks tackles an age-old philosophical argument over whether humans have free will or whether all events are pre-determined. As a neuroscientist he is interested in the latest info on how our brains work. He also goes back to the 18th century French thinker Henry Poincare who argued that the universe was entirely mechanistic and that therefore all events in it are pre-ordained. Paul talks to researchers in the field including Professor Patrick Haggard of University College London to establish whether there is any place for human free will in a determined universe.

This programme is part of a week of programmes looking at the history of ideas around Freedom.

Producer: Jolyon Jenkins.

Paul Broks brings neuroscience to the philosophical question of whether we have free will.

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

06Why Are Things Beautiful?2014111720180820 (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 'Why are things beautiful?'

Helping him answer it are Mathematician Vicky Neale, historian of science Simon Schaffer and philosophers Barry Smith and Angie Hobbs.

For the rest of the week Vicky, Simon, Barry and Angie will take us further into the history of ideas about beauty with programmes of their own.

Between them they will examine the mathematics of beauty, whether beauty has moral force, whether beauty can be explained in evolutionary terms and how David Hume developed a theory of good taste.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss different ideas of beauty.

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

07Barry Smith on the Philosophy of Good Taste2014111820180821 (R4)

Philosopher and wine enthusiast Barry Smith samples David Hume's theory of good taste. The 18th century Scottish philosopher argued that the appreciation of beauty was not easily arrived at - it required dedication, knowledge, expertise. In that sense he is the godfather of the critic and the patron saint of the connoisseur. As he delves into our sense of 'good taste' Barry recounts a wine laden tale from Don Quixote, talks to Neuroscientist Semir Zeki and to Art Historian Liz Prettejohn.

This programme is part of a week of programmes looking at the history of ideas around Freedom.

Producer: Jolyon Jenkins.

Philosopher Barry Smith on David Hume's ideas about cultivating good taste.

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

08Vicky Neale on the Mathematics of Beauty2014111920180822 (R4)

Mathematician Vicky Neale is keen to explain why mathematics is beautiful but also to work out whether beauty can itself be explained mathematically. There is a rich tradition of thought here going all the way back to the Greek philosopher Pythagoras, whose understanding of mathematical relationships sits at the origins of western music. Vicky talks to guitar technician Eltham Jones and to Prof Thomas Johansen from the philosophy faculty in Oxford.

This programme is part of a week of programmes looking at the history of ideas around Freedom.

Mathematician Vicky Neale on the mathematics of beauty and the beauty of mathematics.

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

09Historian Simon Schaffer on Beauty and Evolution2014112020180823 (R4)

Historian of science Simon Schaffer is interested in the purpose of beauty within evolutionary explanations. Taking the ideas of Charles Darwin as his starting point, he wants to know how and why the capacity to see beauty evolved and whether this powerful, fleeting and apparently most useless of attributes can really have an evolutionary explanation. Simon talks to neuroscientist and biologist Stephen Rose and film-maker and anthropologist Chris Wright about whether Darwin really can explain why he finds Mahler's 5th Symphony beautiful.

This programme is part of a week of programmes looking at the history of ideas around Freedom.

Historian Simon Schaffer on whether evolutionary science explains the existence of beauty.

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

10Philosopher Angie Hobbs on Beauty and Morality2014112120180824 (R4)

Philosopher Angie Hobbs is interested in Plato's idea that there is a relationship between beauty and morality. The idea that goodness is beautiful and evil things are ugly is written deep into our culture. But Plato's ideas also suggest that beautiful things could not be appreciated by evil people. Can that idea really survive the image of a Nazi Camp Kommandant listening to classical music?

This programme is part of a week of programmes looking at the history of ideas around Freedom.

Philosopher Angie Hobbs examines whether beautiful things are also moral.

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

17How Did Everything Begin?2015011220180917 (R4)

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

Each week Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week he's asking 'How did everything begin'?

Helping him answer it are Cosmologist Carole Mundell, Historian Justin Champion, Theologian Giles Fraser and Creation myth Expert, Jessica Frazier

For the rest of the week Carole, Giles, Justin and Jessica will take us further into the history of ideas about origins with programmes of their own. Between them they will examine early modern comet theory, Medieval Philosophy, The Big Bang and Hindu Creation myths.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of everything.

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

18Jessica Frazier on Creation Myths2015011320180918 (R4)

How did the world begin? In the Old Testament it all starts with an act of God, but where did God come from?

Dr Jessica Frazier, lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies wants to know how different cultures deal with this most fundamental of questions.

Hindus can choose from a menu of options, followers of Chinese Taoism are comfortable with the idea that we come from chaos, a potent force of creativity that continues to pulse through the life of the Universe.

With the help of Ram Aithal from Birmingham's Shri Venkateswara Hindu Temple and the renowned science fiction writer Ursula K Le Guin, Jessica asks if the wonder of the great Creation myths can increase our understanding. Can they help us make sense of the data that modern science is gathering from the beginning of time?

This is part of a week of programmes exploring the beginnings of the Universe.

How did the world begin? Jessica Frazier canvases the views of the great religions.

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

19Astronomer Carole Mundell on the Big Bang2015011420180919 (R4)

What put the Bang in the Big Bang?

On the 7th of November 1919 an announcement was made to the great and good of the Royal Society. Photographs from the observations of a solar eclipse had just arrived in London. The images provided the proof of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.

The astronomer, Carole Mundell explains the significance of that moment and charts the steps that led from there to the generally accepted idea of the origin of our Universe in the energetic burst of the Big Bang.

But what caused the Big Bang and what came before it? Answering one fundamental question immediately threw up the next. With the help of the mathematician, physicist and philosopher of science, Sir Roger Penrose, Carole aims to find out if those are questions mankind can ever answer.

This is part of a week of programmes examining the origins of the Universe.

What put the bang in the Big Bang? Can scientists tell us what happened before creation?

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

20Theologian Giles Fraser on Thomas Aquinas2015011520180920 (R4)

If the universe exists what caused it to be? Theologian Giles Fraser examines the brilliant medieval scholar St. Thomas Aquinas' and his argument for God as the first cause of everything.
It's part of a powerful body of ideas arguing for the logical necessity of the existence of God. But Giles also wonders how valuable these kinds of 'cosmological arguments' are for us today.

Theologian Giles Fraser on brilliant medieval scholar St Thomas Aquinas.

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

21Historian Justin Champion on William Whiston's Comet Theory2015011520180921 (R4)

Historian Justin Champion on Early Modern Comet Theory

Those who watched in awe as the space craft Philae bounced its way onto a comet last November should hold a candle for William Whiston. Back in 1696 this British theologian, mathematician and acolyte of Isaac Newton published a book called 'A new theory of the earth'. In it he argued that comets were responsible for the origins of the earth and life upon it. This was what Philae was tasked to help us find out when it dotted down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Not only does this feel like a coup for early modern farsightedness it also reminds us that much of early science was not built in opposition to Christianity but in order to justify it. Whiston's investigation of the natural world (like those of his peers) was designed to show how the biblical account of creation was true.

Historian Justin Champion on William Whiston, the spiritual father of the Philae lander.

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

32How Do I Live a Good Life?2015033020180910 (R4)

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

Each week Melvyn is joined by four guests with different backgrounds to discuss a really big question. This week he's asking 'How do I live a good life'?

Helping him answer it are historian Justin Champion, neuropsychologist Paul Broks , theologian Naomi Appleton and philosopher Jules Evans.

For the rest of the week Jules, Paul, Justin and Naomi will take us further into the history of ideas about the good life with programmes of their own. Between them they will examine Aristotle's idea of flourishing, selfishness, the Protestant work ethic and Buddhism's Four Noble Truths.

Producer: Melvin Rickarby.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how to live a good life.

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

33Philosopher Jules Evans on Aristotle and Flourishing2015033120180911 (R4)

Philosopher Jules Evans wants to prove there's been a revival of Aristotle's ideas about flourishing and how to live a good life. "These ideas, which many of you might think are a bit dusty, they are central to modern politics, so the National Office of Statistics now measures national eudaimonic wellbeing, their flourishing."
To prove his point he visits Gus O'Donnell, former head of the civil service, who explains: "If you think of one thing governments could do, it would be to get rid of misery. Making multi-millionaires a little happier, to me that's not one the pressing public policy issues of our age."
And James O'Shaughnessy explains why he's helping to set up a chain of schools called Floreat based on Aristotle's flourishing concept.
Jules Evans is the author of Philosophy for Life.
The producer is Miles Warde.

Philosopher Jules Evans asks Gus O'Donnell how to measure the good life.

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

34Justin Champion on Max Weber and the Protestant Ethic2015040120180912 (R4)

Hardworking families, alarm clock Britain, shirkers and strivers...there's no doubt that ideas about the moral power and value of hard work are embedded in our culture. But where did these ideas come from? The historian, Justin Champion, explores the ideas of the German thinker and father of sociology Max Weber.

In his most famous book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber set out his idea that the roots of our beliefs about the value of hard work and material success are to be found in the religious thinking of Protestantism, the Puritans especially and Calvin in particular. For them finding a vocation, working hard and achieving material success were evidence that they were one of the elect: the people God had saved from eternal damnation.

Those religious ideas have resonance today, albeit translated into a secular setting: Justin talks to Steve Finn, a former armed robber now involved in running, Blue Sky, a social enterprise that offers employment to ex-offenders so they can turn their lives around. He also hears from the entrepreneur Sara Murray for whom work and life are happily intermingled and whose sense of mission around the success of her company, Buddi, drives her.

Justin also looks at the darker side. With the writer Madeleine Bunting, he explores how our culture's obsession with the "work ethic" can leave people unable to participate feeling deficient and judged.

Producer: Natalie Steed.

Justin Champion looks at the roots of our culture's belief in the moral power of hard work

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

35Naomi Appleton on the Buddha's Four Noble Truths2015040220180913 (R4)

Naomi Appleton explores the Buddha's Four Noble Truths in a week of programmes asking how do I live a good life. She speaks to a buddhist nun in Edinburgh who used to be a model, and investigates the link between mindfulness and the Four Noble Truths. With contributions from Ani Rinchen Khandro and Professor Willem Kuyken.

Naomi Appleton is the Chancellor's fellow in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh.
The producer is Miles Warde.

Naomi Appleton explores the Buddha's Four Noble Truths.

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

36Ayn Rand and Selfishness2015040320180914 (R4)

The Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand believed that behaving rationally meant putting your own interests first: you actually have a moral duty to be selfish. Altruism or self-sacrifice are immoral, she claimed, as is asking for help from others. Clearly this goes against most traditional views of ethics, but Rand's views have become influential, particularly in some corners of American politics.

Rand's protege, Nathaniel Branden, developed her ideas to stress the importance of self-esteem - the route to personal fulfilment was feeling good about yourself. Many people, even those who would reject Ayn Rand's core philosophy, have subsequently believed that low self-esteem is at the root of social problems such as crime and educational underachievement, and that we should aim to boost it.

But is self-esteem really such a good thing? As Paul Broks discovers, the research suggests that some people have too much self-esteem, not too little. Maybe the route to a good life is not through feeling good about yourself, but being resilient to knocks that fate deals you.

Neuropsychologist Paul Broks looks at the idea of leading a good life by being selfish.

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

37What Is Justice?2015040620180827 (R4)

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

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

Helping him answer it are barrister Harry Potter, criminologist David Wilson, philosopher Angie Hobbs and historian Alice Taylor.

For the rest of the week Harry, David, Angie and Alice will take us further into the history of ideas about justice with programmes of their own. Between them they will examine civil disobedience, Kant's theory of Justice, Habeas Corpus and philosopher John Rawls' ideas on how to create a just society.

Producer: Melvin Rickarby.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss ideas about justice.

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

38Barrister Harry Potter on Deterrence2015040720180828 (R4)

All this week Melvyn Bragg and guests are discussing ideas of Justice. Today lawyer Harry Potter uses the ideas of the philosopher Kant to ask whether deterrent prison sentences are just.

He takes us back to the 1700s, when hundreds of petty offences carried the death penalty. And Gordon Finlayson from the University of Sussex explains how Kant's idea that you should never treat people as a means to an end would put him at odds with our justice system today, where people can receive heavy sentences in order to put others off committing the same crime.

To see whether Kant's ideas and our justice system can be reconciled, Harry visits Lord Judge who was Lord Chief Justice at the time of the London riots of 2011, when deterrent sentences were handed down. He explains how sentences are determined.

Producer: Melvin Rickarby.

In this edition of a series of programmes on justice, Harry Potter examines deterrence.

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

39Philosopher Angie Hobbs on the Veil of Ignorance2015040820180829 (R4)

Angie Hobbs with Leif Wenar and David Runciman debate and explore one of the most searching ideas of twentieth century legal thought: John Rawls' assertion of the value of a veil of ignorance.

John Rawls was a prolific American philosopher and one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century. His magnum opus, A Theory of Justice defines the principles of Justice as those that "everyone would accept and agree to from a fair position". He proposed that in order to build a truly 'just' system of law, the law-makers should be kept unaware of their eventual position within that system - they should determine what is best for society from a position outside of society. This famous thought experiment is known as the 'veil of ignorance'.

Rawls served as a soldier in the Second World War and was promoted to Sergeant. After he refused to discipline a fellow soldier, who he thought had done nothing wrong, he was demoted back to Private.

Producer: Tim Dee.

Angie Hobbs, Leif Wenar and David Runciman debate and explore the ideas of John Rawls.

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

40Thomas Hobbes and Civil Disobedience2015040920180830 (R4)

Criminologist David Wilson looks at 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes and his "social contract" theory. Hobbes argued that the only way to secure peace was for everyone to give up their personal freedom and agree to be ruled by a "sovereign". Otherwise, he said, life was liable to be "nasty, brutish and short", with everyone at war with everyone else.

In fact, none of us has actually signed a contract to give up our freedom, so what if we disagree with what the state wants to do? David looks at the case of the "naked rambler", Stephen Gough, who is currently in Winchester prison because he refuses to wear clothes in public. Gough benefits from the protection of the state, so is he obliged to stick to social norms as his part of the bargain?

David also looks at "bitcoins" - the digital currency that operates outside the control of any government. Is bitcoin world a libertarian utopia, or a reminder of what Hobbes was talking about: that without someone to lay down the law, you end up with violence and rampant criminality?

Presenter: David Wilson
Producer: Jolyon Jenkins.

Criminologist David Wilson looks at Thomas Hobbes and his 'social contract' theory.

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

41Historian Alice Taylor on Habeas Corpus2015041020180831 (R4)

Historian Alice Taylor explores the idea of justice through history, through the lens of power. Who holds the power? Who SHOULD hold the power? Who does that power serve? And who should it protect?

One way in which the justice system can remove the power of a citizen is by locking them up, but there are strict laws about how and when that can be done. The writ of Habeas Corpus, part of our legal system almost since the time of Magna Carta, is designed to protect subjects from being imprisoned unlawfully. But who this writ really serves is a more complicated question. Alice follows the legal and historical trail to find out who really decides what justice is.

Producer: Emily Knight.

Historian Alice Taylor on the slippery justice of extrajudicial detention.

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