Meet Our Hosts

Jack Russell Weinstein

Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Dakota. For the last fifteen years, Jack has been the host of Prairie Public’s Why? Philosophical Discussions About Everyday Life. Originally from New York City, he is the author of three books, and is an amateur triathlete and a hobbyist baker.

Ashley Thornberg

Producer and host for Prairie Public’s Main Street. Ashley is an Edward R. Murrow regional award winner. Her interview passion and good humor comes through in all of her discussions. She started her career teaching and writing outside of Paris. Now based in North Dakota, Ashley practices and teaches yoga.

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Previous Episodes

Philosophical Currents is recorded as a segment of the Prairie Public radio news magazine Main Street.

Episode 25:

“What is Woke?”

March 28, 2023: The word “woke” is being used as a weapon, yet many people who wield it can’t come up with a definition. In this episode, Ashley and Jack discuss the meaning, history, and power of being woke, as well as the related argument that drag shows should be banned. {Note: Jack misspeaks in this episode, using the term “Southern solution” when he means “Southern Strategy.“]

Episode 24:

“Philosophy in the Classroom”

March 8, 2023: Inspired by the Why? Radio episode, “What’s it like being a philosophy student?”, Jack and Ashley talks about his students and teaching style, and how instructors teach ideas they don’t agree with.

Episode 23:

“What is the Metaverse?”

February 27, 2023: There is a lot of hype around the metaverse, but what exactly is it, and is it a force for good? In this discussion, Dr. Jack Russell Weinstein talks with Craig Blumenshine about new technology and its social impact. They also address the recent Atlantic magazine article, “We Are Already Living in the Metaverse,” with Jack expressing much more skepticism than Craig.

Episode 23:

“Academic Freedom”

January 25, 2023: Last month, a Hamline University art-history professor was fired for showing a painting of the prophet Muhammad, leading to protest from both academic and Islamic groups. This month Dr. Jack Russell Weinstein talks with Main Street’s Ashley Thornberg about this case and use it as a jumping-off point to explore academic freedom, tenure, and how much liberty professors should have in their research and teaching.

Episode 22:

“Antisemitic rhetoric and violence on the rise”

December 28, 2022: Anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise. In this episode, Ashley and Jack discuss the origin of antisemitism and the ways it effects Jews in America and around the world.

Episode 21:

Affirmative Action and Higher Education

November 28, 2022: Monday, November 28, 2022 – Jack and Ashley discuss the current Supreme Court case on affirmative action and explain why universities support the policies.

Episode 20:

The Philosophy of Halloween

October 31, 2022: Jack and Ashley reflects on Halloween and the curious behavior people exhibit as they adopt alternative personas behind their masks.

Episode 19:

Political Pawns

September 28, 2022: Jack and Ashley discuss the Venezuelan migrant crisis and a recent death of a teenager in North Dakota. How are those two events tied? In both, politicians gain from someone else’s personal tragedy.

Episode 18:

Equal Justice Under the Law

August 29, 2022: As former President Trump’s residence is searched by the FBI, Ashley and Jack explore what it means for all Americans to be considered equal under the law, even elected officials.

Episode 17:

“What Are Human Rights?”

July 25, 2022: Ashley and Jack explore the Supreme Court’s recent abortion decision and its impact on individual rights. Do human rights exist and where do they come from? Is a legal right different than a moral right?

Episode 16:

“What Does it Mean to be a Conservative or to be a Liberal?”

June 27, 2022: We all use the terms ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ regularly. We refer to politicians being on the right and the left. But what do these really mean and why might someone argue that the American right is actually reactionary, not conservative at all? In this episode, Alicia Hegland-Thorpe interviews Jack about the history of these terms, why the term ‘offensive’ is misused, and suggestions as to how people might argue across political lines.

Episode 15:

“Changing Other People’s Minds”

May 24, 2022: Is it ever possible to change someone else’s mind and can people change their own? In this episode, Ashley and Jack discuss persuasion, emotion, and the way people’ opinions change over time.

Episode 14:

“Male Emotions and Friendships”

April 28, 2022: Do you know that most married men have very few friends? That both men and women alike, tend to punish men for expressing their emotions? In this episode Ashley and Jack explore the internal lives of men. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, this is a conversation that will help you know the men in your lives (or yourself) much better. To watch the SNL parody “The Man Park,” click here.

Episode 13:

“The Slap Heard ‘Round the World”

March 30, 2022: Ashley and Jack discuss how a philosopher responds to Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars. The world’s attention may be elsewhere already, but the philosophical issues involved are timeless.

Episode 12:

“The Invasion of Ukraine”

February 25, 2022: On the cusp of the invasion, Ashley and Jack discuss what an invasion of Ukraine might mean, and some ways to think about war in general. This conversation still stands as an important analysis even as the war escalates beyond the world’s original predictions.

Episode 11:

“Reflections on MLK Day, 2022”

Monday, January 17, 2022: What is the purpose of making Martin Luther King Day a federal holiday? Why does Dr. King have a holiday and Malcolm X does not? How should we talk about the advancement of civil rights and do we include other ethnic minorities into this discussion? In this extended episode, Jack and Ashley explore these questions and more, in honor of MLK Day and Black History Month.

Episode 10:

“Self Care & the Holidays”

December 28, 2021 – Jack and Ashley discuss the stress that accompanies the holiday season and suggests ways that caregivers can care for themselves.

Episode 9:

“A Philosophical Look at Holidays”

November 22, 2021: What is the philosophical significance of holidays? Why create a new one like Juneteenth? In this episode, Ashley and Jack discuss the controversies over holidays, including asking what their very purpose may be..

Episode 8:

“Comedy’s Role in the Pursuit of Social Justice”

November 1, 2021: Much has been said about Dave Chapelle’s comedy special “The Closer.” His comments about the transgender community and cancel culture have offended and enraged some, and emboldened others. Should Netflix stop broadcasting his program? Do shocking and boundary-pushing jokes like his no longer have a place in today’s society? Should we treat comedy like art or just identify it as mean-spirited bullying? Join Jack and Ashley for a calm and thoughtful discussion about one of the most divisive comedic performances in recent memory.

Episode 7:


September 27, 2021: Single-payer universal health care? A more robust welfare system? The argument against implementing these in the United States is always the same: they are socialist and socialism is bad. But are they really socialist ideas and is socialism really something to fear? In this discussion, Jack and Ashley explore the original meaning of the term and how it is now currently understood. In the process, they outlines the core philosophical questions one needs to ask to determine if socialism is a bad or good thing.

Episode 6:

Are Safety and Freedom at Odds?

Monday, August 30, 2021: Mask mandates have intensified a debate America has been having since the attacks September 11th: which is more important, safety or freedom? In this discussion, Jack and Ashley examine why the two are not at odds with each other at all, that safety is an essential part of freedom.

Episode 5:

“Critical Race Theory”

July 26, 2021. What is Critical Race Theory and why is everyone talking about it? Is it something we should be scared of? On this episode of Philosophical Currents, Jack answers Ashley questions about CRT and explains why it’s an approach everyone should value.

Episode 4:

“Apologizing for Past Injustice”

June 28, 2021: Does apologizing make you lose face? Do you have a responsibility to apologize for something your country did before you were born? What makes an apology meaningful? In recognition of Canadian acknowledgment of the harm caused by forced schooling of indigenous children, this episode finds Jack sitting down with Ashley to examine the role of apologies in recognizing past wrongs.

Episode 3:

“Vaccine Hesitancy and Skepticism”

May 24, 2021: As the Covid-19 pandemic starts to ebb, the debate over vaccination rages on. Is it rational to resist being vaccinated? Is there reason to doubt the science? In this episode Jack and Ashley explore the good and bad reasons to resist vaccination. Along the way they address the role of religious belief, political party, and preventative medicine in attitudes about the pandemic.

Episode 2:

“Our Perceptions of Racially Charged Events”

April 26, 2021: The country, if not the world, has been transfixed by the death of George Floyd, the subsequent trial of Derek Chauvin, police violence, and Black Lives Matter protests in general. But watching on the internet is not the same thing as being there, just as sharing your thoughts online is not the same as protesting. In this discussion, Jack and Ashley explore the way online experiences differ from in-person ones and helps us understand when our posts are about the topic, and when they are really just about ourselves.

Episode 1:

“Asian Hate”

March 29, 2021: In America, in 2020, hate crimes against Asiana increased by 150%. Join philosopher Jack Russell Weinstein and his interviewer Doug Hamilton, as they explore what hate crimes are,, why that designation is important, and the ways in which Asiana, in particular, have been victimized.

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