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Professor Kicks Off Second Season of NHPR's 'Socrates Exchange'

By Lori Wright, Media Relations
October 13, 2010

Nick Smith, associate professor of philosophy, will kick of the second season of New Hampshire Public Radio’s “Socrates Exchange” Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, with the show “Do we have too much information?”

“Socrates Exchange is unlike any other radio program in that we ask listeners—often very opinionated listeners—to publically examine their presuppositions. Instead of the usual ‘hit and run’ comments from listeners, we ask them to stay on the air and explore the underlying beliefs that typically go unquestioned,” Smith says.

“In an age where everything can seem too fast and shallower, we slow down and follow questions down to our bedrock beliefs,” he says.

This season, Smith joins Max Latona and Ed McGushin for the year-long series. Latona and McGushin are associate professors of philosophy at St. Anselm College.

“The philosophers hosting the program are not here to provide answers but rather to ask the questions that lead us think harder about what we believe and value,” Smith says. “These questions often lead us to rather incredible exchanges, like the woman who argued that her child’s preference for a peanut butter sandwich is more important than the right to life of a child with a nut allergy.”

The series, which airs at 9 a.m., is as follows.

Oct. 19, 2010: “Do we have too much information?” with Nick Smith. We often hear of people suffering from “information overload.” To what exactly are we referring? Is it just that our brains are too slow to process the information now available? Does more information necessarily lead to more truth? Does more truth necessarily lead to a better world? What are the existential ramifications of living in a world where all information is always immediately available? This is a University Dialogue event.

Nov. 18, 2010: “What is gratitude?” with Nick Smith. Experiencing gratitude and appreciating various things seems essential to happiness and a good life. Why is this? What exactly is gratitude? Is it an emotion that we cannot control or is it a cognitive realization that I should express gratitude? If I do not “feel grateful” when someone gives me a gift I do not care for, should I expressed gratitude anyway?

Dec. 10, 2010: “Why do we give gifts?” with Ed McGushin. Every year during the holidays we spend our time, energy, and money in the search for the perfect gifts for friends and family. But sometimes it feels like we are going through the motions or worse that we are just doing what is expected of us, not something that comes from the heart. Why do we go through this? Is it possible to give in a more genuine way?

January 2011: “Are human beings violent by nature?” with Ed McGushin. When we look at the nightly news or study history we might easily come to this conclusion. We have armies and police forces, lawyers and judges, in order to protect us from each other. Is all of this violence a result of something inherent in human nature or the human condition? Or is violence exacerbated by society, for example through violent entertainment or by encouraging competition in all aspects of life? Is it possible to imagine a world without violence? But, is violence always a bad thing?

February 2011: “Can one Person be better than another?” with Max Latona. Throughout American history we have underlined the ideals of ‘equality’ The Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech have all declared that all men are created equal, but are they really?

March 2011: “Why do we punish?” with Nick Smith. Why should we punish? To “balance the scales of justice”? To exact revenge? To deter crime? To remove the offender from free society? To reform the offender? Is punishment a moral act, or is it simply a form of social control? 

April 2011: “Is Friendship Overvalued?” with Ed McGushin. What makes someone a true friend? Why is it important to have friends? We use the term friend in so many different ways to refer to so many different kinds of relationships and people: we friend hundreds of people on Facebook; spouses, children, parents are all supposed to be our friends now; we have bffs, friends with benefits, and frenemies. On the one hand, when we use the term so widely we risk emptying it of all meaning. On the other hand, we use it so widely because we value friendship so highly. How can we cut through all the confusion and find our real friends?

May 2011: ”Does beauty matter?” with Nick Smith. On the one hand we teach our children not to “judge a book by its cover,” but on the other we seek out beauty as one of life’s most profound experiences. What do we mean when we describe something as beautiful?

June 2011: “Is life ultimately meaningless?” with Nick Smith. Nietzsche famously claimed in the 19th century that “God is Dead” and many people have struggled to find meaning in life without relying on a higher power to provide it. Without god, humans begin to look like cosmologically insignificant creatures: just masses of carbon and electricity that will pass away and be forgotten, little more than ants on a ball of rock hurtling through indifferent space. From this perspective, all of the things we do—or work, our loves, our values, our greatest human accomplishments—will eventually be wiped from the universe. Do we lack ultimate meaning? Is there any purpose to human existence? Is it all, in the end, pointless?

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