Sunshine Recorder

Link: BBC's In Our Time: Weber's The Protestant Ethic

Podcast (43 minutes): Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Max Weber’s book the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Published in 1905, Weber’s essay proposed that Protestantism had been a significant factor in the emergence of capitalism, making an explicit connection between religious ideas and economic systems. Weber suggested that Calvinism, with its emphasis on personal asceticism and the merits of hard work, had created an ethic which had enabled the success of capitalism in Protestant countries. Weber’s essay has come in for some criticism since he published the work, but is still seen as one of the seminal texts of twentieth-century sociology.

Link: BBC's In Our Time: Icelandic Sagas

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Icelandic Sagas. First written down in the 13th century, the sagas tell the stories of the Norse settlers of Iceland, who began to arrive on the island in the late 9th century. They contain some of the richest and most extraordinary writing of the Middle Ages, and often depict events known to have happened in the early years of Icelandic history, although there is much debate as to how much of their content is factual and how much imaginative. Full of heroes, feuds and outlaws, with a smattering of ghosts and trolls, the sagas inspired later writers including Sir Walter Scott, William Morris and WH Auden.

With:Carolyne Larrington, Fellow and Tutor in Medieval English Literature at St John’s College, Oxford; Elizabeth Ashman Rowe, University Lecturer in Scandinavian History at the University of Cambridge; Emily Lethbridge, Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Árni Magnússon Manuscripts Institute in Reykjavík.

Link: BBC's In Our Time: Epicureanism

Angie Hobbs, David Sedley and James Warren join Melvyn Bragg to discuss Epicureanism, the system of philosophy based on the teachings of Epicurus and founded in Athens in the fourth century BC. Epicurus outlined a comprehensive philosophical system based on the idea that everything in the Universe is constructed from two phenomena: atoms and void. At the centre of his philosophy is the idea that the goal of human life is pleasure, by which he meant not luxury but the avoidance of pain. His followers were suspicious of marriage and politics but placed great emphasis on friendship. Epicureanism became influential in the Roman world, particularly through Lucretius’s great poem De Rerum Natura, which was rediscovered and widely admired in the Renaissance.

Link: BBC's In Our Time: Ibn Khaldun

Melvyn Bragg and guests Robert Hoyland, Robert Irwin and Hugh Kennedy discuss the life and ideas of the 14th-century Arab philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun.

Ibn Khaldun was a North African statesman who retreated into the desert in 1375. He emerged having written one of the most important ever studies of the workings of history.

Khaldun was born in Tunis in 1332. He received a supremely good education, but at 16 lost many of his family to the Black Death. His adult life was similarly characterised by sharp turns of fortune. He built a career as a political operator in cities from Fez to Granada. But he often fared badly in court intrigues, was imprisoned and failed to prevent the murder of a fellow statesman.

In 1375, he withdrew into the Sahara to work out why the Muslim world had degenerated into division and decline. Four years later, he had completed not only a history of North African politics but also, in the book’s long introduction, one of the great studies of history.

Drawing on both regional history and personal experience, he set out a bleak analysis of the rise and fall of dynasties. He argued that group solidarity was vital to success in power. Within five generations, though, this always decayed. Tired urban dynasties inevitably became vulnerable to overthrow by rural insurgents.

Later in life, Ibn Khaldun worked as a judge in Egypt, and in 1401 he met the terrifying Mongol conqueror Tamburlaine, whose triumphs, Ibn Khaldun felt, bore out his pessimistic theories.

Over the last three centuries Ibn Khaldun has been rediscovered as a profoundly prescient political scientist, philosopher of history and forerunner of sociology - one of the great thinkers of the Muslim world.

Robert Hoyland is Professor of Islamic History at the University of Oxford; Robert Irwin is Senior Research Associate of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London; Hugh Kennedy is Professor of Arabic in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.





BBC’s In Our Time: Bertrand Russell
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the influential British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Born in 1872 into an aristocratic family, Russell is widely regarded as one of the founders of Analytic philosophy, which is today the dominant philosophical tradition in the English-speaking world. In his important book The Principles of Mathematics, he sought to reduce mathematics to logic. Its revolutionary ideas include Russell’s Paradox, a problem which inspired Ludwig Wittgenstein to pursue philosophy. Russell’s most significant and famous idea, the theory of descriptions, had profound consequences for the discipline. In addition to his academic work, Russell played an active role in many social and political campaigns. He supported women’s suffrage, was imprisoned for his pacifism during World War I and was a founder of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He wrote a number of books aimed at the general public, including The History of Western Philosophy which became enormously popular, and in 1950 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Russell’s many appearances on the BBC also helped to promote the public understanding of ideas.

BBC’s In Our Time: Bertrand Russell

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the influential British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Born in 1872 into an aristocratic family, Russell is widely regarded as one of the founders of Analytic philosophy, which is today the dominant philosophical tradition in the English-speaking world. In his important book The Principles of Mathematics, he sought to reduce mathematics to logic. Its revolutionary ideas include Russell’s Paradox, a problem which inspired Ludwig Wittgenstein to pursue philosophy. Russell’s most significant and famous idea, the theory of descriptions, had profound consequences for the discipline. In addition to his academic work, Russell played an active role in many social and political campaigns. He supported women’s suffrage, was imprisoned for his pacifism during World War I and was a founder of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He wrote a number of books aimed at the general public, including The History of Western Philosophy which became enormously popular, and in 1950 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Russell’s many appearances on the BBC also helped to promote the public understanding of ideas.

Link: BBC's In Our Time: Simone Weil

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the French philosopher and social activist Simone Weil. Born in Paris in 1909 into a wealthy, agnostic Jewish family, Weil was a precocious child and attended the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, achieving the top marks in her class (Simone de Beauvoir came second). Weil rejected her comfortable background and chose to work in fields and factories to experience the life of the working classes at first hand. She was acutely sensitive to human suffering and devoted her life to helping those less fortunate than herself. Despite her belief in pacifism she volunteered on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War and later joined the French Resistance movement in England. Her philosophy was both complex and intense. She argued that the presence of evil and suffering in the world was evidence of God’s love and that Man has no right to ask anything of God or of anyone whom they love. Love which expects reward was not love at all in Weil’s eyes. Weil died of TB in Kent at the age of only 34. Her strict lifestyle and self-denial may have contributed to her early death. T.S Eliot said “she was not just a woman of genius, but was a genius akin to that of a saint”; Albert Camus believed she was “the only great spirit of our time.”

Link: Fr. Copleston vs. Bertrand Russell: The Famous 1948 BBC Radio Debate on the Existence of God

This debate with Father Frederick C. Copleston (Jesuit Catholic priest) and Bertrand Russell (agnostic philosopher) was a Third Programmme broadcast of the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1948. Reprinted in several sources, the following is from Bertrand Russell On God and Religion edited by Al Seckel (Prometheus Books).

A DEBATE ON THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

Bertrand Russell [hereafter R:] and F.C. Copleston [hereafter C:]

C: As we are going to discuss the existence of God, it might perhaps be as well to come to some provisional agreement as to what we understand by the term “God.” I presume that we mean a supreme personal Being — distinct from the world and Creator of the world. Would you agree — provisionally at least — to accept this statement as the meaning of the term “God”?

R: Yes, I accept this definition.

C: Well, my position is the affirmative position that such a Being actually exists, and that His existence can be proved philosophically. Perhaps you would tell me if your position is that of agnosticism or of atheism. I mean, would you say that the non-existence of God can be proved?

R: No, I should not say that: my position is agnostic.

C: Would you agree with me that the problem of God is a problem of great importance? For example, would you agree that if God does not exist, human beings and human history can have no other purpose than the purpose they choose to give themselves, which — in practice — is likely to mean the purpose which those impose who have the power to impose it?

R: Roughly speaking, yes, though I should have to place some limitation on your last clause.

C: Would you agree that if there is no God — no absolute Being — there can be no absolute values? I mean, would you agree that if there is no absolute good that the relativity of values results?

R: No, I think these questions are logically distinct. Take, for instance, G. E. Moore’s Principia Ethica, where he maintains that there is a distinction of good and evil, that both of these are definite concepts. But he does not bring in the idea of God to support that contention.

C: Well, suppose we leave the question of good till later, till we come to the moral argument, and I give first a metaphysical argument. I’d like to put the main weight on the metaphysical argument based on Leibniz’s argument from “Contingency” and then later we might discuss the moral argument. Suppose I give a brief statement on the metaphysical argument and that then we go on to discuss it?

R: That seems to me to be a very good plan.

C: Well, for clarity’s sake, I’ll divide the argument into distinct stages. First of all, I should say, we know that there are at least some beings in the world which do not contain in themselves the reason for their existence. For example, I depend on my parents, and now on the air, and on food, and so on. Now, secondly, the world is simply the real or imagined totality or aggregate of individual objects, none of which contain in themselves alone the reason of their existence. There isn’t any world distinct from the objects which form it, any more than the human race is something apart from the members. Therefore, I should say, since objects or events exist, and since no object of experience contains within itself the reason of its existence, this reason, the totality of objects, must have a reason external to itself. And that reason must be an existent being.

Well, this being is either itself the reason for its own existence, or it is not. If it is, well and good. If not, then we must proceed further. But if we proceed to infinity in that sense, then there’s no explanation of existence at all. So, I should say, in order to explain existence, we must come to a Being which contains within itself the reason for its own existence, that is to say, which cannot not exist.

R: This raises a great many points and it’s not altogether easy to know where to begin, but I think that, perhaps, in answering your argument, the best point with which to begin is the question of a Necessary Being. The word “necessary” I should maintain, can only be applied significantly to propositions. And, in fact, only to such as are analytic — that is to say — such as it is self-contradictory to deny. I could only admit a Necessary Being if there were a being whose existence it is self-contradictory to deny. I should like to know whether you would accept Leibniz’s division of propositions into truths of reason and truths of fact. The former — the truths of reason — being necessary.

C: Well, I certainly should not subscribe to what seems to be Leibniz’s idea of truths of reason and truths of fact, since it would appear that, for him, there are in the long run only analytic propositions. [ It would seem that for Leibniz truths of fact are ultimately reducible to truths of reason. That is to say, to analytic propositions, at least for an omniscient mind. Well, I couldn’t agree with that. For one thing it would fail to meet the requirements of the experience of freedom. ] I don’t want to uphold the whole philosophy of Leibniz. I have made use of his argument from contingent to Necessary Being, basing the argument on the principle of sufficient reason, simply because it seems to me a brief and clear formulation of what is, in my opinion, the fundamental metaphysical argument for God’s existence.

R: But, to my mind, a “necessary proposition” has got to be analytic. I don’t see what else it can mean. And analytic propositions are always complex and logically somewhat late. “Irrational animals are animals” is an analytic proposition; but a proposition such as “This is an animal” can never be analytic. In fact, all the propositions that can be analytic are somewhat late in the build-up of propositions.

C: Take the proposition “if there is a contingent being then there is a Necessary Being.” I consider that that proposition hypothetically expressed is a necessary proposition. If you are going to call every necessary proposition an analytic proposition, then — in order to avoid a dispute in terminology — I would agree to call it analytic, though I don’t consider it a tautological proposition. But the proposition is a necessary proposition only on the supposition that there is a contingent being. That there is a contingent being actually existing has to be discovered by experience, and the proposition that there is a contingent being is certainly not an analytic proposition, though once you know, I should maintain, that there is a contingent being, it follows of necessity that there is a Necessary Being.

R: The difficulty of this argument is that I don’t admit the idea of a Necessary Being and I don’t admit that there is any particular meaning in calling other beings “contingent.” These phrases don’t for me have a significance except within a logic that I reject. 

In Camera: Harold Pinter Stars in a BBC Adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit (1964)

Each time I see a reference to Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit (Huis Clos), I think of the nightclub scene in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, which is fitting since that novel is, in a sense, about a group of people who hate each other. No Exit conjures Sartre’s famous phrase “Hell is other people,” but in the play, hell is, more accurately, oneself—or the inability to leave oneself, to “take a little break,” by sleeping, turning off the lights, or even blinking. Hell, in Sartre’s play, means being endlessly confronted with the sordid trivialities of one’s self through the eyes of other people. Trapped in a room with them, to be exact, forever. It’s a chilling concept. In this BBC adaptation of Sartre’s play, called In Camera, certain details have changed. Instead of the “Second Empire furniture” from Sartre’s descriptions of the hellish room, we have a brightly-lit modernist gallery space. The bronze objet d’art in Sartre’s play has been replaced by massive abstract painting and sculpture, a commentary, perhaps, on the way the bourgeois space of art galleries imposes artificial decorum on everyone inside. It’s as incongruous with the situation as the haughty drawing room of the original. Aside from the mise en sceneIn Camera is largely faithful to the dialogue and characterization of Sartre’s play. Featuring absurdist playwright Harold Pinter as the insufferable writer and journalist Garcin, Jane Arden as Inez, Katherine Woodville as Estelle, and Jonathan Hansen as the valet, In Camera was part of the BBC series “The Wednesday Play,”which ran from 1964 to 1970 and presented original work and the occasional adaptation. Only the second episode in the series, In Camera ran on November 4th, 1964 and was adapted and directed from Sartre’s original by Philip Saville.

Link: BBC's In Our Time: Nihilism

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of Nihilism. The nineteenth-century philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote, “There can be no doubt that morality will gradually perish: this is the great spectacle in a hundred acts reserved for the next two centuries in Europe”. And, with chilling predictions like these, ‘Nihilism’ was born. The hard view that morals are pointless, loyalty is a weakness and ‘truths’ are illusory, has excited, confused and appalled western thinkers ever since.

But what happened to Nietzsche’s revolutionary ideas about truth, morality and a life without meaning? Existentialism can claim lineage to Nietzsche, as can Post Modernism, but then so can Nazism. With so many interpretations, and claims of ownership from the left and the right, has anything positive come out of the great philosopher of ‘nothing’?

With Rob Hopkins, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Birmingham; Professor Raymond Tallis, Doctor and Philosopher; Professor Catherine Belsey, University of Cardiff.

Link: BBC's In Our Time: Free Will

In the 500th edition of the programme, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophical idea of free will. Free will - the extent to which we are free to choose our own actions - is one of the most absorbing philosophical problems, debated by almost every great thinker of the last two thousand years. In a universe apparently governed by physical laws, is it possible for individuals to be responsible for their own actions? Or are our lives simply proceeding along preordained paths? Determinism - the doctrine that every event is the inevitable consequence of what goes before - seems to suggest so. Many intellectuals have concluded that free will is logically impossible. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza regarded it as a delusion. Albert Einstein wrote: “Human beings, in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free agents but are as causally bound as the stars in their motion.” But in the Enlightenment, philosophers including David Hume found ways in which free will and determinism could be reconciled. Recent scientific developments mean that this debate remains as lively today as it was in the ancient world. With: Simon Blackburn Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, Helen Beebee Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, and Galen Strawson Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading.

Link: BBC's In Our Time: The Building of St Petersburg

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the building of St Petersburg, Peter the Great’s showcase city for a modern, European Russia. It is a city of ideas. of progress and the Baroque, of Russian identity and Tsarist power. The building of St Petersburg is a testament to Tsarist power but it is also a city of ideas; of progress, of the Baroque and Russian identity. Beset by fire and flood, the city was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 to symbolise a new Russia, one that faced away from the Slavic East and towards the European West.

To this end Peter and his heirs imported European architects, craftsmen and merchants to fashion his new capital. The result is a grandiose European city set amidst the freezing swamps of the Baltic coast; a Venice or Rome of the North. Indeed, the Venetian art connoisseur, Francesco Algarotti called St Petersburg ‘a window through which Russia looks on Europe’. It is a city of beauty built upon the cruelty of a tyrant and to this day encapsulates many of the contradictions of Russia.

With Simon Dixon, Sir Bernard Pares Professor of Russian History at University College London; Janet Hartley, Professor of International History at the London School of Economics; Anthony Cross, Emeritus Professor of Slavonic Studies at the University of Cambridge

(Source: sunrec)

Boards of Canada - XYZ (from Peel Session TX 21/07/1998)

Peel Session TX 21/07/1998 is an EP by Boards of Canada of their 21 July 1998 Peel Session broadcast on BBC Radio 1. It was released on 11 January 1999 as 12” or CD by Warp Records as catalogue numbers WAP114 and WAP114CD. The radio broadcast contained an additional track, “XYZ”, which was originally included on the EP, but soon removed due to sample licensing issues, meaning that copies of the CD with “XYZ” on it are very rare.


Peel Sessions
"I’m the one who comes on Radio 1 late at nights and plays records made by sulky Belgian art students dying of tuberculosis." — John Peel
This was how John Peel introduced himself to a family audience, on one of his occasional forays into British television. He can’t always have been graying, or bearded, or balding, but this is how most people continue to visualize him. He seemed, to those of us who listened to him, to have been born avuncular. For nearly four decades, until his death in 2004, Peel shared his musical enthusiasms with the ever-changing audience of his late-night show on BBC Radio 1 and made his personal collection into a truly representative historical document, like a latter-day Alan Lomax. Except that in this case, the field came to him: homemade cassette recordings sent from across Britain, and beyond, to Peel’s door. This didn’t mean that no hard work was involved. Peel listened to them all, working through an avalanche of audio slush, with a heroic commitment to the aesthetically new.
Now, though not for long, we can experience the chaotic variety of Peel’s taste. Over the course of the next four months, the first hundred records for each letter of Peel’s alphabetized and rigorously ordered collection of 26,000 are to be presented online, replete with their owner’s personally devised catalogue number and, occasionally, remarks. The John Peel Archive has been supported by the Arts Council and curated with the assistance of Sheila Ravenscroft, Peel’s wife. For each letter, Ravenscroft has selected an artist of special significance to Peel, such as Dick Dale or Fairport Convention, and hosted a short corresponding film. There are links to Spotify as well as to short films, video footage, and audio files from the famous sessions recorded for his show, including an early performance by David Bowie.
Peel resisted fashions, even as he shaped them. While looking out for world-music records—things like David Lewiston’s Balinese gamelan anthology, Music from the Morning of the World—I found a surprising number of albums from some geezer called J.S. Bach. There were no apparent rules governing the content of the show. Actually, there was one rule, but it could never be mentioned. In Suffolk Comforts, a fiftieth-birthday tribute film, Peel squirms while trying to describe his taste: “At the heart of anything good there should be a kernel of something undefinable, and if you can define it, or claim to be able to define it, then, in a sense, you’ve missed the point.” Undeterred by the Pavlovian associations that make country, punk, rockabilly, reggae, prog, folk, rave, hip-hop, indie pop, dubstep, grime and grunge all mutually unacceptable subcultural experiences, he prepared playlists that were guaranteed to offend, enlighten, and satisfy in drunken disproportion.

Peel Sessions

"I’m the one who comes on Radio 1 late at nights and plays records made by sulky Belgian art students dying of tuberculosis." — John Peel

This was how John Peel introduced himself to a family audience, on one of his occasional forays into British television. He can’t always have been graying, or bearded, or balding, but this is how most people continue to visualize him. He seemed, to those of us who listened to him, to have been born avuncular. For nearly four decades, until his death in 2004, Peel shared his musical enthusiasms with the ever-changing audience of his late-night show on BBC Radio 1 and made his personal collection into a truly representative historical document, like a latter-day Alan Lomax. Except that in this case, the field came to him: homemade cassette recordings sent from across Britain, and beyond, to Peel’s door. This didn’t mean that no hard work was involved. Peel listened to them all, working through an avalanche of audio slush, with a heroic commitment to the aesthetically new.

Now, though not for long, we can experience the chaotic variety of Peel’s taste. Over the course of the next four months, the first hundred records for each letter of Peel’s alphabetized and rigorously ordered collection of 26,000 are to be presented online, replete with their owner’s personally devised catalogue number and, occasionally, remarks. The John Peel Archive has been supported by the Arts Council and curated with the assistance of Sheila Ravenscroft, Peel’s wife. For each letter, Ravenscroft has selected an artist of special significance to Peel, such as Dick Dale or Fairport Convention, and hosted a short corresponding film. There are links to Spotify as well as to short films, video footage, and audio files from the famous sessions recorded for his show, including an early performance by David Bowie.

Peel resisted fashions, even as he shaped them. While looking out for world-music records—things like David Lewiston’s Balinese gamelan anthology, Music from the Morning of the World—I found a surprising number of albums from some geezer called J.S. Bach. There were no apparent rules governing the content of the show. Actually, there was one rule, but it could never be mentioned. In Suffolk Comforts, a fiftieth-birthday tribute film, Peel squirms while trying to describe his taste: “At the heart of anything good there should be a kernel of something undefinable, and if you can define it, or claim to be able to define it, then, in a sense, you’ve missed the point.” Undeterred by the Pavlovian associations that make country, punk, rockabilly, reggae, prog, folk, rave, hip-hop, indie pop, dubstep, grime and grunge all mutually unacceptable subcultural experiences, he prepared playlists that were guaranteed to offend, enlighten, and satisfy in drunken disproportion.

Link: BBC's In Our Time: James Joyce's Ulysses

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. First published ninety years ago in Paris, Joyce’s masterpiece is a sprawling and startlingly original work charting a single day in the life of the Dubliner Leopold Bloom. Some early readers were outraged by its sexual content and daringly scatalogical humour, and the novel was banned in most English-speaking countries for a decade after it first appeared. But it was soon recognised as a genuinely innovative work: overturning the ban on its publication, an American judge described Ulysses as “a sincere and serious attempt to devise a new literary method for the observation and description of mankind.” Today Ulysses is widely regarded as the greatest example of literary modernism, and a work that changed literature forever. It remains one of the most discussed novels ever written.