Three of the Best Podcasts About Ethics

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Anyone can start a podcast, so you can run into everything from the conspiracist muttering into his cousin’s microphone to Barack Obama’s speechwriter talking about politics. The topics are endless, and the quality is variable, but there’s something for everyone.

If you’re looking for podcasts that seriously grapple with ideas in ethics and morality, then here are three of the best ones out there.

  • Very Bad Wizards

    This one is brought to you by Tamler Sommers, a philosopher at the University of Houston, and Dave Pizarro, a social psychologist at Cornell who studies morality. Of the three podcasts listed here, this one is the most entertaining, and maybe even the most informative. Tamler and Dave are funny, and irreverent at times, but they also have nuanced conversations. Each episode revolves around an article or two in moral philosophy or moral psychology. There’s an occasional guest, but typically it’s just the two of them disagreeing with each other.

  • Waking Up

    If you like longform interviews with scholarly people, then you’ll like Waking Up, a podcast by the neuroscientist and independent scholar Sam Harris. While the topics aren’t confined to ethics, there is almost always an ethical component to the discussion. It’s clear that Sam likes examining ethical issues. He even wrote a book called The Moral Landscape, where he argues that the is-ought gap and the naturalistic fallacy need not worry anyone because science can answer questions about morality. I’m not convinced, but Sam’s book is still worth reading, and his podcast is worth listening to. He’s thoughtful and systematic when approaching ideas, and you can learn a lot from him and his guests.

  • The Partially Examined Life

    The Partially Examined Life is a podcast “by some guys who were at one point set on doing philosophy for a living but then thought better of it.” Mark Linsenmayer, Seth Paskin, and Wes Alwan all went to graduate school in philosophy but called it quits before finishing their PhDs. Now they, along with Mark’s brother-in-law Dylan Casey, philosophize on their podcast. The show covers philosophy broadly, but a good bit of the episodes are devoted to moral philosophy. In each episode, the guys have an informal but serious discussion of a philosophical text, sometimes with a guest. You can follow along and learn without reading the text, but you’ll get much more out of the episodes if you do the reading, which they link to in the show notes, beforehand.

These podcasters aren’t unknown to each other. Tamler appeared on The Partially Examined Life to discuss free will and moral responsibility, and he frequently jokes about needing to surpass them in the iTunes rankings. Dave announced that he’ll be joining them soon. Sam has thrice been on Very Bad Wizards, and Tamler and Dave were very recently Sam’s guest on Waking Up.

All three of the podcasts have been running for several years, so there are plenty of places to jump in. Take a break from Radiolab and This American Life and check them out.

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