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BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg

In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

In Our Time

  • Free Will (Summer Repeat)
    In the 500th edition of the programme, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophical idea of free will. Free will - the extent to which we are free to choose our own actions - is one of the most absorbing philosophical problems, debated by almost every great thinker of the last two thousand years. In a universe apparently governed by physical laws, is it possible for individuals to be responsible for their own actions? Or are our lives simply proceeding along preordained paths? Determinism - the doctrine that every event is the inevitable consequence of what goes before - seems to suggest so. Many intellectuals have concluded that free will is logically impossible. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza regarded it as a delusion. Albert Einstein wrote: "Human beings, in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free agents but are as causally bound as the stars in their motion." But in the Enlightenment, philosophers including David Hume found ways in which free will and determinism could be reconciled. Recent scientific developments mean that this debate remains as lively today as it was in the ancient world. With: Simon Blackburn Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge Helen Beebee Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham Galen Strawson Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading Producer: Thomas Morris

  • Picasso's Guernica (Summer Repeat)
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the context and impact of Pablo Picasso's iconic work, created soon after the bombing on 26th April 1937 that obliterated much of the Basque town of Guernica, and its people. The attack was carried out by warplanes of the German Condor Legion, joined by the Italian air force, on behalf of Franco's Nationalists. At first the Nationalists denied responsibility, blaming their opponents for creating the destruction themselves for propaganda purposes, but the accounts of journalists such as George Steer, and the prominence of Picasso's work, kept the events of that day under close scrutiny. Picasso's painting has gone on to become a symbol warning against the devastation of war. With Mary Vincent Professor of Modern European History at the University of Sheffield Gijs van Hensbergen Historian of Spanish Art and Fellow of the LSE Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies and Dacia Viejo Rose Lecturer in Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge Fellow of Selwyn College Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Augustine's Confessions (Summer Repeat)
    Augustine's Confessions In Our Time Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss St Augustine of Hippo's account of his conversion to Christianity and his life up to that point. Written c397AD, it has many elements of autobiography with his scrutiny of his earlier life, his long relationship with a concubine, his theft of pears as a child, his work as an orator and his embrace of other philosophies and Manichaeism. Significantly for the development of Christianity, he explores the idea of original sin in the context of his own experience. The work is often seen as an argument for his Roman Catholicism, a less powerful force where he was living in North Africa where another form of Christianity was dominant, Donatism. While Augustine retells many episodes from his own life, the greater strength of his Confessions has come to be seen as his examination of his own emotional development, and the growth of his soul. With Kate Cooper Professor of History at the University of London and Head of History at Royal Holloway Morwenna Ludlow Professor of Christian History and Theology at the University of Exeter and Martin Palmer Visiting Professor in Religion, History and Nature at the University of Winchester Producer: Simon Tillotson.

  • Emmy Noether (Summer Repeat)
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas and life of one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, Emmy Noether. Noether’s Theorem is regarded as one of the most important mathematical theorems, influencing the evolution of modern physics. Born in 1882 in Bavaria, Noether studied mathematics at a time when women were generally denied the chance to pursue academic careers and, to get round objections, she spent four years lecturing under a male colleague’s name. In the 1930s she faced further objections to her teaching, as she was Jewish, and she left for the USA when the Nazis came to power. Her innovative ideas were to become widely recognised and she is now considered to be one of the founders of modern algebra. With Colva Roney Dougal Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews David Berman Professor in Theoretical Physics at Queen Mary, University of London Elizabeth Mansfield Professor of Mathematics at the University of Kent Producer: Simon Tillotson

  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Summer Repeat)
    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the jewels of medieval English poetry. It was written c1400 by an unknown poet and then was left hidden in private collections until the C19th when it emerged. It tells the story of a giant green knight who disrupts Christmas at Camelot, daring Gawain to cut off his head with an axe if he can do the same to Gawain the following year. Much to the surprise of Arthur's court, who were kicking the green head around, the decapitated body reaches for his head and rides off, leaving Gawain to face his promise and his apparently inevitable death the following Christmas. The illustration above is ©British Library Board Cotton MS Nero A.x, article 3, ff.94v95 With Laura Ashe Professor of English Literature at Worcester College, University of Oxford Ad Putter Professor of Medieval English Literature at the University of Bristol And Simon Armitage Poet Laureate and Professor of Poetry at the Universities of Leeds and Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson