Essays

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The Madness of Joanna of Castile (1866) by Lorenzo Vallés. Courtesy of the Museo del Prado, Madrid

Essay/
Meaning and the good life
Final thoughts

Do deathbed regrets give us a special insight into what really matters in life? There are good reasons to be sceptical

Neil Levy

An almost deserted village square at Hilibotodane on southern Nias c1906. Anonymous. Photo courtesy Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden, Netherlands

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Anthropology
Longhouse lockdown

On a regular cycle, the Nias islanders of Indonesia would retreat into enforced seclusion. What can we learn from them?

Andrew Beatty

At the Maison Blanche psychiatric hospital in Paris, 1954. Photo by Jean-Philippe Charbonnier/Gamma-Rapho/Getty

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History of science
Shocked

It damages memory and cognition, and brings no lasting relief. Why is ‘electroshock’ therapy still a mainstay of psychiatry?

John Read

Hexensabbat in Trier (‘witches’ sabbath’, 1593), by Pastor H H Lauen, Germany. Courtesy the Witchcraft Collection, Cornell University.

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History
Rich witches

How a flawed logic of economic scarcity and social climbing spurred witch hunts in early modern Germany

Johannes Dillinger

Sehnsucht (‘Longing’) by the Nederlands Dans Theater at Sadler’s Wells, London, in 2014. Photo by Leo Mason/Popperfoto/Getty

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Dance and theatre
To the core

A devastating loss can shatter the façade we put up for others, exposing our deepest, rawest self. A work of art can do the same

Julia F Christensen

Bessie. Holstein cow, aged 20, from the Allowed to Grow Old project and book by the photographer Isa Leshko. All photos © Isa Leshko

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Ethics
Philosophers and other animals

Christine Korsgaard argues that we can extend a Kantian moral framework to include other animals. But her argument fails

Peter Godfrey-Smith

U Pyinyathee of the All Burma Monks Alliance, a group of exiled monks who fled the protests of the Saffron Revolution of 2007, outside the makeshift monastery he shares in Utica, upstate New York, 27 April 2010. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

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Demography and migration
Exiles on Main Street

To respect exiles as real and important political actors, we should get over casting them as saints, threats or victims

Ashwini Vasanthakumar

A British soldier near the Pimon military camp in Nad-e Ali district of Helmand province, Afghanistan, 25 March 2010. Photo by Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty

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War and peace
Reading John Gray in war

As a soldier, I was hard-wired to seek meaning and purpose. Gray’s philosophy helped me unhook from utopia and find peace

Andy Owen

An American soldier with British war orphans adopted by his unit; London, early 1943. Photo by Robert Capa, International Centre for Photography/Magnum

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Ethics
The right right thing to do

The ethical life means being good to ourselves, to others, and to the world. But how do you choose if these demands compete?

Irene McMullin

New Delhi, 6 June 1994. Photo by Sunil Malhotra/Reuters

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Nations and empires
Brand India

How a country used myth and mystique to tempt global investors – and seeded a toxic Hindu nationalism in the process

Ravinder Kaur

Kirsten Thompson, the lead scientist on the Arctic Sunrise, takes water samples for eDNA sampling near Paulet Island at the entrance to the Weddell Sea. Photo by A Trayler-Smith/Greenpeace/Panos

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Thinkers and theories
The abuses of Popper

A powerful cadre of scientists and economists sold Karl Popper’s ‘falsification’ idea to the world. They have much to answer for

Charlotte Sleigh

A monument to the glories of Soviet-era military aviation. Tiraspol, Transdniester, 2004. Photo by Jonas Bendikson/Magnum

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Future of technology
How vulnerable is the world?

Sooner or later a technology capable of wiping out human civilisation might be invented. How far would we go to stop it?

Nick Bostrom & Matthew van der Merwe

Reading on a park bench, London, July 1941. Photo by William Vandivert/Life/Getty

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Thinkers and theories
Pause. Reflect. Think

Susan Stebbing’s little Pelican book on philosophy had a big aim: giving everybody tools to think clearly for themselves

Peter West

Vehicles on the Streets of Tokyo (1870) by Utagawa Yoshitori. Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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Nations and empires
The myth of Westernisation

Americans liked to believe that Japan was Westernising through the 20th century but Japan was vigorously doing the opposite

Jon Davidann

An origin myth. A goatherd in the central Kalahari, Botswana in 1995. Photograph by Paul Weinberg/Panos

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Anthropology
Beyond the !Kung

A grand research project created our origin myth that early human societies were all egalitarian, mobile and small-scale

Manvir Singh

A figure with dials around it, representing the oppression of the artist by other children. Detail of a watercolour (undated) by M Bishop. © The Adamson Collection/Wellcome Library

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Psychiatry and psychotherapy
The play cure

In a clinical setting, playful activities are not distractions; they take patients deep into trauma – and out the other side

Susanna Crossman

An Orca called Morgan in the Dolphinarium in Harderwijk, the Netherlands, September 2011. Morgan was subsequently transferred to the Loro Parque zoo in Tenerife, Spain. Photo by Marten Van Dijl/AFP/Getty

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Oceans and water
They are prisoners

Captive orcas are tormented by boredom and family separation, but they cannot be simply released. What’s the solution?

Lori Marino

A young family listening to a radio broadcast in Spandau, Germany in 1927. The writer and theorist Walter Benjamin hoped that the radio would be as much a medium for the production of knowledge among listeners as for its dissemination. Photo by AKG

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History of science
Scientists for the people

Why the finest minds in 1930s Europe believed that scientists must engage with citizens or risk losing their moral compass

Deborah R Coen

Inside the United Nations Human Rights Council building in Geneva. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

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Political philosophy
The inflation of concepts

Human rights, health, the rule of law – why are these concepts inflated to the status of totalising, secular religions?

John Tasioulas

Field workers harvest cantaloupes on the outskirts of Maricopa County near Aguila, Arizona, on 29 July 2020. Photo by Ed Kashi/Vii/Headpress

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Work
The tyranny of work

Jobs have become, for so many, a relentless, unsatisfying toil. Why then does the work ethic still hold so much sway?

Jamie McCallum

Elizabeth I of England (c1588), artist unknown. One of three known as the Armada portraits and on display in Woburn Abbey. Courtesy Wikipedia

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Cognition and intelligence
How to be a genius

I travelled the world and trawled the archive to unearth the hidden lessons from history’s most brilliant people

Craig Wright

Emerging towards 241 18th Street (centre), home to Amazon’s new HQ2 in Crystal City, Virginia. Photo by Dermot Tatlow/Panos Pictures

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Technology and the self
The problem with prediction

Cognitive scientists and corporations alike see human minds as predictive machines. Right or wrong, they will change how we think

Joseph Fridman

Migrant construction workers sleep on the floor in Dubai in 2012. Photo by Jonas Bendickson/Magnum

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Human rights and justice
Gulf slave society

The glittering city-states of the Persian Gulf fit the classicist Moses Finley’s criteria of genuine slave societies

Bernard Freamon

From Amours Difficiles by Adriana Lestido. Photo courtesy of Adriana Lestido/Agence VU

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Gender and identity
What makes a woman’s body

A pang of hunger, a stab of pain, a sense of dread – these experiences emerge on the shore where biology and culture meet

Mallory Feldman & Kristen Lindquist

Ginseng root. Photo by Sina Schuldt/picture alliance via Getty

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Illness and disease
Natural and unnatural

‘Natural’ remedies are metaphysically inconsistent and unscientific. Yet they offer something that modern medicine cannot

Alan Jay Levinovitz

Samuel Beckett on the set of Film in New York during his only visit to the United States in 1964. Photo by I C Rappaport/Getty

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Stories and literature
The wisdom of surrender

Samuel Beckett turned an obscure 17th-century Christian heresy into an artistic vision and an unusual personal philosophy

Andy Wimbush

Charles Boyer plays opposite Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 film adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s novel Gaslight. Photo by Getty

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Mental health
Turn off the gaslight

The skilled manipulator casts a shadow of doubt over everything that you feel or think. Therapy can bring the daylight in

Ramani Durvasula

Districts like the largely Latino Mission District in San Francisco have experienced the effects of gentrification with fast-rising housing costs and the eviction of longtime tenants. 9 May 2015. Photo by Preston Gannaway/New York Times

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Cities
The harms of gentrification

The exclusion of poorer people from their own neighbourhoods is not just a social problem but a philosophical one

Daniel Putnam