Philosophy? Interesting? It is now! Okay, so some of us didn’t do so hot in that one philosophy class we took in college, but we know we could have crushed that course if only we’d been listening to “Philosophize This!” Stephen West has been revolutionizing podcasting and philosophical teachings for the past nine years with his show, and he’s been making his listeners smarter while he’s at it.
Since it began in 2013, “Philosophize This!” has released over 160 episodes, bringing listeners on a chronological journey through the lives and lasting legacies of the greatest thinkers and their ideas. This may sound like a lot, but episodes are just 30 minutes long and are released once a month.
West has been praised for his meticulous research and masterfully narrated history of philosophy since he began this podcast. He brilliantly breaks down one of the most difficult fields to both teach and understand into simple, bite-sized episodes. As he wrote in the description of “Philosophize This!,” you don’t need to be a graduate-level philosopher to understand this philosophy. After listening, even we feel confident writing about this podcast and the philosophical teachings it covers! So, that’s impressive.
This series is totally beginner-friendly when listened to in order, but it’s not completely necessary to listen like that, especially if you are familiar with the subject. While philosophy is a derivative discipline, as exemplified by the fact that all 160 episodes of this podcast lean on each other in order to be most easily understood, we can’t force you to start from the top if you don’t want to!
The first two episodes of “Philosophize This” actually don’t revolve around just one philosopher or school of thought like all other episodes do. Instead, they are about everything pre-Socrates and ask the unanswerable question that all philosophers ask: what is philosophy? West basically tells us that for centuries, philosophers’ duty has essentially been to pick an arbitrary thing that nobody cares about and try to get to the bottom of it. While it seems pretentious and therefore completely inaccessible, West explains to us the important role philosophy has played in shaping our world.
While asking weird questions like “how do I know the back of my head exists if I can’t see it without external aid?” may seem extraordinarily nonsensical, many of humanity’s greatest breakthroughs can be attributed to philosophy. West tells us that much of the world has been shaped by the thoughts and doctrines of previous philosophers, but people don’t always see it that way. And it’s because of the fact that the thousands of times philosophers have had huge breakthroughs, those breakthroughs have been attributed to the fields that they benefited. Like when Aristotle organized all living things into different filings and groups, this way of classifying animals was seen as a triumph of the natural sciences. Which makes so much sense! Seriously, why weren’t we listening to “Philosophize This!” before?
West brings us through pre-Socratic times, introducing us to early humanity with the Out of Africa theory, the first philosopher Thales, the crazed cult leader of ancient Greek philosophy, Pythagoras, the dark cloud of deductive reasoning, Parmenides, and Empedocles. Once he is done with all of that, which he somehow manages to cover in just two, 50-minute episodes (early episodes skew longer), we finally move on to Socrates. And the rest is history, literally.
“Philosophize This!” has been a mainstay in the podcast charts, the series racking up nearly 13,000 reviews on Apple Podcasts over nearly a decade. West has brought audiences on an epic odyssey through Aristotle, Plato, Daoism, and the Hellenistic Age to Rousseau, Kant, and the questioning of the morality of killing animals for food, all the way up to Nietzsche and Karl Popper. And the journey isn’t anywhere near over. He’s only in the second half of the 19th century!
Philosophy can be so inaccessible, but West makes the field understandable, engaging, and smarter. Like they say, breaking down complex topics into simple terms is the sign of true intellect. “Philosophize This!” is so very good because it’s kind of an act of love: West made it only with the desire to have brightened someone’s day, to have notifications pop up on your phone that actually get you excited. And he has done just that.