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Sam Dresser

Senior Editor, Aeon+Psyche

Sam has been with Aeon since its launch in 2012. He’s most interested in how to do philosophy and in the continental/analytic divide. History and politics are also amusing to him. He considers Evelyn Waugh to be a very funny writer and enjoys pubs more than he should.

Written by Sam Dresser

Edited by Sam Dresser

Cracking the Cretan code | Aeon
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The ancient world

Cracking the Cretan code

Linear B has yielded its secrets, but Linear A remains elusive. Can linguistic analysis unlock the meaning of Minoan script?

Ester Salgarella

The smile: a history | Aeon
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History

The smile: a history

How our toothy modern smile was invented by a confluence of French dentistry and Parisian portrait-painting in the 1780s

Colin Jones

A fairly fed world | Aeon
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Poverty and development

A fairly fed world

Last year, 200 million children did not get enough to eat, yet it would be cheap and easy for the world to feed them all

Sharman Apt Russell

Look on the dark side | Aeon
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Virtues and vices

Look on the dark side

We must keep the flame of pessimism burning: it is a virtue for our deeply troubled times, when crude optimism is a vice

Mara van der Lugt

Primitive communism | Aeon
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Anthropology

Primitive communism

Marx’s idea that societies were naturally egalitarian and communal before farming is widely influential and quite wrong

Manvir Singh

Truth is real | Aeon
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Knowledge

Truth is real

For a century, the idea of truth has been deflated, becoming terrain from which philosophers fled. They must return – urgently

Crispin Sartwell

Blackness in antiquity | Aeon
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History of ideas

Blackness in antiquity

To truly see black people in ancient art we need to look beyond the historically recent trope of ‘Blackness = inferiority’

Sarah Derbew

What is a law of nature? | Aeon
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Philosophy of science

What is a law of nature?

Laws of nature are impossible to break, and nearly as difficult to define. Just what kind of necessity do they possess?

Marc Lange

Views from everywhere | Aeon
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History of ideas

Views from everywhere

Academic philosophy can indeed make sense of our interdependent world. But only if it transforms by becoming truly diverse

Monika Kirloskar-Steinbach & Leah Kalmanson

High crimes and cabals | Aeon
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Politics and government

High crimes and cabals

The official definition of corruption – the abuse of public office for private gain – does little to capture the reality

Sudhir Chella Rajan

Nefertiti’s bust | Aeon
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Archaeology

Nefertiti’s bust

How did this ancient and enigmatic sculpture of a beautiful Egyptian queen end up as fortune’s hostage in Germany?

Joyce Tyldesley

A softer economics | Aeon
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Economics

A softer economics

Financial markets are entangled and uncertain. When will economists let go of physics envy to embrace the quantum revolution?

David Orrell



Recent Comments

Bookish fools

Sam Dresser

I think it certainly still is – what’s that John Waters quote? – but the quality of that distinction has changed in the digital age. Personal libraries used to announce the owner’s status as a person of learning, large libraries indicating refinement, worldliness and so on. That remains true, but since the advent of the digital age I think something else has been added to what book ownership signifies: a more self-conscious connection to the past. This really only applies to young people who have only ever known the digital age and have no memory of life before it. Books need not be physical and bound and displayed anymore – indeed it’s often more convenient to own them in their digital f...

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The history of ugliness shows that there is no such thing

Sam Dresser

Alright, well this is a bit of a tangent from the article, but it is strange how the simple passage of time can instill upon an object qualities that it didn’t originally have - and that these qualities make the object more beautiful. Imagine the trouser pocket of a field hand on December 14th, 1772, northern New York. Inside are a handful of coins, a note, a couple small tools. Nothing terribly important to him, for the most part, and certainly nothing that would be of interest to anyone he met that day. But now those same objects have been dropped on the table in front of you. By nothing more effortful than continuing to exist, they have taken on the strange beauty of historic value. A ...

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My spotless mind

Sam Dresser

I think it would, yes. But lets not forget that identity is itself a morphing, plastic thing, as our shifting memories suggest. My identity is informed by painful memories, of course, but not really by the painful memories themselves. What’s more important is not so much the pain of painful memories, but the striving to understand them, to put them in the picture, to make them make sense in terms of myself (as the tree image at the end of the essay so beautifully suggests). Obliterating a painful memory would make me a different me, but identity shifts over time regardless. Yes, perhaps not as dramatic a shift as an edit like wholesale deletion could cause. But identity is not a conclusio...

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We must stop worshipping the false god of the strong leader

Sam Dresser

Politics, especially in the United States, is emotional. The person that can speak stirringly to the electorate’s heartstrings, that can move voters by force of personality and words, that can make people feel as if they themselves are taking charge at a dramatic turning point of history - this is the person that will be imbued with power. It matters less that a would-be leader knows the policy details or grasps the niceties of economic theory than to connect emotionally. When political decisions were made by ostentatiously disinterested aristocrats, the emotional factor mattered less (Jefferson made all of two public speeches during his eight years in office). But now that the everyman i...

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Return of the grotesque

Sam Dresser

A July 4th-themed observation…

For the better historically-informed than me, I wonder if the upper and noble classes of Britons viewed America, particularly around the time of the Revolution, as itself being something of a grotesque carnival. I’ve found British descriptions of America (I’m thinking mostly 19th C, but maybe it goes further than that) as being “riotous”, “ill-bred”, with a tendency towards “rowdyism” – presumably a result of there being no king or nobility? America the great carnival…

And regarding Trump, this is a boring comment, but it has always surprised me that Trump hardly ever talks about American values and their history. (Okay, maybe it doesn’t surpri...

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How video games unwittingly train the brain to justify killing

Sam Dresser

Games that are truly in bad taste, that go beyond the pale as this Hatred game seems to do (I watched some videos of the gameplay and, not to sound Puritan, I was not in favor), seem to be genuinely shunned, if not by hardcore gamers than by the middling majority on which a lot of sales depend. Games that can be morally questionable, like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, are successful because they’re fun to play and they’re fun to play because they push the envelope in terms of authenticity and immersion. There are tasteless things about these games, but the games aren’t founded upon moral nihilism – it’s more that these games are attempting to construct a version and vision of ‘real l...

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Horace’s lyrics of friendship offer hope to our troubled world

Sam Dresser

What a lovely, memorable piece! I was moved by the line from the Odes: “we’re ready/to trek the final journey as companions.” Oftentimes the ancients can seem so remote and austere, but Horace’s poetry in particular has a way of illuminating the human in them, and suddenly they’re not so distant anymore.

I wonder about a comparison with Lucian’s view on friendship and I’d be curious to hear what people think. I might be getting this wrong, but it seems for Horace friendship is found in repose: guys hanging out after work or a war with a bottle of wine and some good jokes. For Lucian, in his dialogue Toxaris, friendship is much more martial and involves big, heavy things like loyalt...

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Imagine there’s no jealousy

Sam Dresser

Fascinating piece! Another front in the ancient war between reason and emotion rages on, for the better. Couple stray thoughts.

Setting aside the (dis)utility of jealousy - which is, like most things, probably more a question of context and subject than anything inherent in the emotion itself - the difficult act of using reason to step back and see jealousy in its proper proportions is a worthwhile one. Analysis gives you breathing room by breaking down an emotion’s stranglehold. It allows you, in the best case, to see if it is an emotion to indulge in.

With compersion, a word I learned 10 minutes ago, the situation seems somewhat different. Can reason be used to summon an e...

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American genesis

Sam Dresser

Americans take what they like from the Founding Fathers. It’s sort of like reading the Bible. If you’ve already got an idea of how things should be, it isn’t difficult to find some biblical support. You just have to dig deep enough. The Founding Fathers wrote so much, lived so long, and embodied so many contradictions that Americans of every political stripe, throughout our history, could call on them for buttressing and ammunition (“Yeah? Well Jefferson supported slavery, so....”)

The influence of the Founding Fathers remains strong, of course. They’re everywhere and, like another commenter said, often appear as a monolithic block, a clutch of cloned wigs and gen...

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Midnight at the oasis

Sam Dresser

Preferably with a friend, though if there are none around I’ll go alone. It’s important that I find a corner, or at least something towards the edge of the bar. If I’m central, too much noise can be directed at me, but that’s not the worst danger. No, the real fear of going to a bar solo style is that my fellow patrons may attempt conversation. About what? I never really know. By the time most people put away their iPads to see what conversational prey abounds, they’re drunk, or at least buzzed. This makes them speak in a halting, questioning way, questions for which they never seem to have a follow-up for. So invariably we’re left in a sort of stunned silence, and I’m surely not going to...

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The neurofix

Sam Dresser

It seems that to answer this question we have to apply the apparatus of disinterested reason to the formlessness of feeling. What should we fear? We should only fear something when it is ‘reasonable’ to do so. And what is ‘reasonable’? That’s a philosophical black hole I have no wish to dive into, but perhaps we can say that a reasonable fear is one for which there are clear and identifiable harms that one would be subjected to if the object of fear came to pass. There should also be a clauses about the immediacy of what is feared, and the proportion of fear to its object. You see what I’m getting at.

As Mark has written, the fear of death and the fear of dementia will var...

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Burke was no conservative

Sam Dresser

They can be useful, but only when qualified. Unadorned, they create an illusion of monolithic political persuasions, not much different from the Dark/Light Sides of the Force (so sorry…). The fluidity of the terms over time makes them hard to understand historically, as Richard Bourke says, but they’re especially pernicious now that they’ve become identified (in the US) with matte political parties and primary colors.

When we speak politically, we make politics. We need to be able to see the range of possibilities open to us and to more easily allow for differences within each side of the political spectrum. And yet we’ve also got to get on with it. Most people can only dedicate a ...

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