Professors Enlighten Radio Audiences With Philosophy Talk

Does the mention of philosophy professors conjure up images of esoteric eggheads?

If so, you might think again.

Two California philosophy professors have mused and opined on the radio airwaves for six years. Their growing audience illustrates the receptiveness among the public to set aside time for quiet reflection.

Welcome to “Philosophy Talk,” a nationally syndicated call-in public radio show that bills itself as a “program that questions everything, except your intelligence,” and closes by thanking listeners — for thinking.

The weekly, one-hour broadcast is the brainchild of Dr. John Perry, a University of California, Riverside philosophy professor. His co-host is Dr. Ken Taylor, the Henry Waldgrave Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University. They recently taped their 200th episode.

The program began with seed money from Stanford in a tiny broadcast booth in San Francisco. Media observers doubted it would survive more than a few months, but its improbable theme became a magnet for audiences. The show was picked up in states such as Louisiana, New York and Oregon and now airs on several stations.

Hosts Perry and Taylor chat with notable guests and entertain calls from listeners on topics as wide-ranging as terrorism and suicide, to happiness and beauty to the seemingly arcane. The professors banter like a well-traveled comedy duo and often find themselves with more callers than time during the course of each episode. Their ponderings frequently result in cerebral questions such as, “If truth is so valuable, why is there so much B.S.?”

But the professors also offer ethical advice to callers struggling with conundrums of more practical consequence. For instance, should a worker continue taking a child to the company day care despite having quit his job?

In a recent San Francisco Chronicle interview, Taylor said, “Our culture is debased because there is not enough deep reflection. You can philosophize on just about anything.”

Discussions from weekly shows often migrate to the “Philosophy Talk” blog or Facebook page. Past shows are downloadable at philosophytalk.org.