Are you a reader who can socialize with dead people? One who engages in the form of reading that enables interaction with people who have been dead a long time? In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts and philosopher Agnes Callard consider the state of humanities education, the lifelong benefits of the study of philosophy, and how college can be where some (many?) young people are inducted into intellectual culture and truly learn the art of reading and discourse.

Callard’s enthusiasm emanates, and might make you reach for a dusty copy of Plato’s Dialogues. She would want you to invite some friends to join in a shared experience. Let us know what you think about the power of philosophy and its relevance to how we think about the great questions of our human experience.



1- How does Callard differentiate the field of philosophy from science in regard to external standards for progress?  Are there other fields for which the consensus standard is a questionable way to measure the “established truths”?


2- Roberts and Callard view changes in humanity over the past centuries differently. While Roberts believes we have progressed little in coping with the complexity of our consciousness and becoming virtuous, Callard suggests that the idea of human rights first articulated by Immanuel Kant as the idea of human dignity is the ultimate philosophical human achievement. With whom do you side, and why?


3- Roberts voices concern over the philosophy of utilitarianism and our tendency toward the idea of a calculus of societal well-being.  What evidence does Callard give that “wanting the most good happenings” is an area of philosophy that is currently being worked on? What are other examples of such principled decision-making?


4- Roberts calls the description below by Callard both poignant and tragic. Is it also hopeful? Explain.

“So, maybe you tell yourself a different story, like a story about how it’s all about the search and the searching, ‘Live the search and that’s actually valuable.’ And, that–that story, that pretense–that you told yourself is how you get yourself to do this impossible thing, which is searching for something that you maybe can’t get within your lifetime.”


5- University education is desired by more people and universities are becoming more integrated into society. What do you think of the description of college as a “finishing school” or “starting school”, and how do you imagine universities in 200 years?