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Arts & Humanities

The History of Philosophy without any gaps

In March of last year, Professor Peter Adamson received a comment through his website from a long-time admirer of his work. ‘Thanks for the podcast,’ the message read. ‘Your work has rekindled my love of thinking.’

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Two years earlier, Professor Adamson had launched The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, an extraordinarily ambitious and comprehensive series of free and accessible podcasts that now attracts listeners from all walks of life in their thousands. Listeners have written in and commented from Canada, Australia, Russia and beyond, while others have expressed an interest in translating the podcast, which has already, covered some 1,500 years of thinking, into Korean and Brazilian Portuguese.

Professor Adamson's aim was to share his passion for philosophy with as many people as possible, and to open up a subject perceived by many as dense and dusty to an audience beyond academia without over-simplifying concepts. Feedback from listeners suggests he has been successful in achieving this ambitious goal.

‘At age 72 I have “suddenly” discovered Philosophy and am quite taken by Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas', wrote one fan in California. Another listener said that they enjoyed listening while driving their UPS truck.

But filling in the gaps that traditional books and courses on Western philosophy are forced to leave out presents an enormous challenge. After all, the history of the subject spans more than two and a half millennia.

‘A lot of courses end up skipping from highlight to highlight, jumping from say Aristotle to Descartes, leaving out a couple of thousand years in between', says Professor Adamson. ‘I want to tell a continuous story and show how each thinker builds on those who came earlier, but also strikes out in new directions’.

As well as highlighting his own original research, the podcast also draws on the rich resources of the Department of Philosophy’s teaching staff, who frequently appear as guests and provide insight into their own particular areas of expertise. A list of further reading is provided for each episode, allowing listeners to access the research which informs it.

It’s hard to quantify just how much of a runaway success the podcast has become, but the statistics are staggering. More than 400,000 people have visited the podcast website to date, and each new episode is downloaded an average of 10,000 times within its first two weeks. Most remarkably, in 2012 the podcast surpassed three million downloads!

But despite its impact so far, there’s one question that nags at Professor Adamson: how, and when, will his history of philosophy end? 

‘In the first episode, I speculated about stopping with Kant. But now I doubt I would stop with him; that would mean missing out Hegel, Nietzsche, Frege... To be honest, I have a hard time imagining ever stopping now.’

 

To find out more, visit the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps website or subscribe via iTunes.

 

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