Podcast Recommendation

Understanding Moral Disagreements

Almost exactly a year ago, I went from commuting 45 minutes each way to work to working from home. While we opened back up in August, the increased ability to conduct meetings remotely has me going in less frequently than I once did.

Among the many impacts of this has been that I devote less time listening to podcasts and started falling behind. I soon realized that most of the discussions of current events and sports that I was listening to became stale very quickly. Which led to an epiphany: why not concentrate on more timeless topics?

One that I’ve discovered recently is Julia Galef’s “Rationally Speaking,” in which she and her guests “explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense, likely and unlikely, science and pseudoscience.” While that sounds pretentious, she’s a good interviewer and interlocutor and, at least in the handful of episodes I’ve listened to (there have been 253!) it’s the sort of discussion OTB readers will be attracted to: people seem genuinely interested in understanding one another and concede points well made by the other.

Running errands yesterday afternoon, I listened to the February 13 episode, “Understanding moral disagreements,” featuring social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. I’ll likely post on the specifics of that discussion as it relates to some broader discussions here at OTB over the weekend. She brought on Haidt to “solicit [his] help in understanding her disagreement with philosopher Michael Sandel, in episode 247, over the morality of consensual cannibalism.” (And, no, this episode isn’t about cannibalism but why she and Sandel were talking past each other despite being in basic agreement on the particulars.)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    Thanks, I’ll check it out. FWIW, I just downloaded the first two episodes of “The Unexplained” which is about the big mysteries in science. I’m halfway through the first one about dark matter and so far, so good.

  2. Mike in Arlington says:

    If you haven’t tried out Revolutions by Mike Duncan, give it a try.

    He explores a bunch of revolutions throughout history, starting with the English revolution and in this season, he’s explaining the Russian Revolution. It’s interesting and he has an incredibly dry sense of humor that really appeals to me.

    He also did a podcast of the Roman Empire that is next on my list of podcasts to listen to.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Mike in Arlington:

    If you haven’t tried out Revolutions by Mike Duncan, give it a try.

    I got through the English and American Revolutions a few years back but finally gave up around 1000 episodes into the French and never picked it back up.

  4. Jim Brown 32 says:

    I’ll give her a whirl!

    Lately I have really been into ‘Akimbo’ w/ Seth Godin. Really good ideas presented to understand the process by which culture changes and innovation takes place–amongst a gumbo of other topics.

  5. Andy says:

    I’ve been remote working for years now, so don’t commute. I tend to listen to podcasts while doing chores and other things that don’t require a ton of mental concentration.

    It sounds like that podcast might be up my alley, I’ll check it out.

    @Mike in Arlington:

    I listed to Duncan’s original series on the History of Rome many years ago and enjoyed it. He seemed like a natural for the medium and it’s good to hear he’s still making them.

  6. Mike in Arlington says:

    @James Joyner: Did you get to the episode about the Flight of Emperor Palpatine? What happened is that he uploaded the wrong file to the podcast platform and someone in the comments wrote a narrative about the flight of Palpatine mashing together star wars (obviously), the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy, babylon 5 (I think) and Dune (among others). It’s entertaining and short.

    On a slightly more serious note, I have been having trouble keeping all of the players straight in the french revolution, and that has caused me to be close to dropping the podcast myself. That said, I hadn’t really studied it for decades, so it’s a nice refresher course of sorts.

  7. Erik says:

    Thanks James, added to my playlist.

    I’ll throw in a plug for my favorite podcast, Mindscape by Sean Carroll. He’s a working theoretical physicist who also writes popular level books. He also has a background in philosophy and wide ranging interests. He actually started the podcast so he would have an excuse to talk with experts from other fields. Only about 1 in 5 or 6 is actually physics related, and he is an excellent interviewer.

  8. Paine says:

    Not a podcast, but I can recommend Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets:

    Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Should we put a price on human life to decide how much pollution to allow? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? What about hiring mercenaries to fight our wars, outsourcing inmates to for-profit prisons, auctioning admission to elite universities, or selling citizenship to immigrants willing to pay?

    In his New York Times bestseller What Money Can’t Buy, Michael J. Sandel takes up one of the biggest ethical questions of our time: Isn’t there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? If so, how can we prevent market values from reaching into spheres of life where they don’t belong? What are the moral limits of markets?

  9. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    The long French Revolution took me back to junior high school, and my best ever history teacher. That whole third year was about 75% about France.

    The good thing of Duncan’s format, is you can skip a Revolution and then take it back up in the next one.

    I nearly did that myself with the Bolivarian revolutions in south America.

    Btw the Russian revolution will take a long time

  10. DrDaveT says:

    I have also lost all of my podcast time to COVID, but prior to that my favorite “timeless topics” podcast was Robert Lawrence Kuhn’s series Closer to Truth, which covers a range of topics in philosophy of science, religion, cosmology, philosophy of mind, and related subjects.

  11. Mimai says:

    +1 on rationally speaking. I particularly recommend the ones where Julia is solo host. Her sometimes co-host Massimo talks too much and listens too little.

    Here are a few others that might tickle the fancies of OTB denizens, in no particular order:
    -conversations with tyler
    -99 percent invisible
    -stuff you should know
    -2 psychologists 4 beers
    -everything is alive
    -you are not so smart
    -hidden brain
    -stuff to blow your mind
    -hardcore history

    And atlas obscura has just started a new podcast. I haven’t sampled it yet, but their usual content is fantastic.

    Of course, with all the above, YMMV.