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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

This paradoxical life | Aeon
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Logic and probability

This paradoxical life

When logic fails to make sense of a world noisy with inconsistency, paraconsistent logics hold out (im)possible solutions

Zach Weber

Uncovering Sparta | Aeon
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The ancient world

Uncovering Sparta

Mythological home of Helen, war-making polis of Leonidas and now a modest municipality: the city is a palimpsest

Daphne D. Martin

How to pray to a dead God | Aeon
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Philosophy of religion

How to pray to a dead God

The modern world is disenchanted. God remains dead. But our need for transcendence lives on. How should we fulfil it?

Ed Simon

The art of the plot twist | Aeon
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Stories and literature

The art of the plot twist

Some twists infuriate; others are brilliant. But they both use the surprise story as a self-exploding confidence game

Vera Tobin

How we became weekly | Aeon
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Economic history

How we became weekly

The week is the most artificial and recent of our time counts yet it’s impossible to imagine our shared lives without it

David Henkin

Why philosophy needs myth | Aeon
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Thinkers and theories

Why philosophy needs myth

Some see Plato as a pure rationalist, others as a fantastical mythmaker. His deft use of stories tells a more complex tale

Tae-Yeoun Keum

How do you know? | Aeon
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Knowledge

How do you know?

Correct information doesn’t always come with its own bright halo of truth. What makes something worth believing?

Nate Sheff

Hegel today | Aeon
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Thinkers and theories

Hegel today

Too dense, too abstract, too suspect, Hegel was outside the Anglophone canon for a century. Why is his star rising again?

Willem deVries

Against longtermism | Aeon
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Thinkers and theories

Against longtermism

It started as a fringe philosophical theory about humanity’s future. It’s now richly funded and increasingly dangerous

Phil Torres

Music and sex | Aeon
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Music

Music and sex

A song can take you on a journey of ecstatic arousal. Is music imitating sex, inviting it, or something else altogether?

Michael Spitzer

Healthcare workers of yore | Aeon
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History of science

Healthcare workers of yore

Looking past conventional histories of medicine we see that women delivered much of medieval healthcare. Just as today

Sara Ritchey

Sex on the curriculum | Aeon
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Education

Sex on the curriculum

Sex education is a battlefield over morals and young bodies, and has exposed fractures in American life for over a century

Kristy Slominski



Recent Comments

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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Reducing the US prison population is but a small step

Sam Dresser

Solitary confinement is clearly cruel and unusual. The evidence shows that it is physically and psychologically devastating to the point that rehabilitation becomes impossible. It is and has been used as torture - and called by that name too. It is meant to annihilate a person. The argument for this is settled.

But that hasn’t kept it from being used. Why? The reason is that there is a fundamental disagreement about what the purpose of prison is. As the Scandinavians - and particularly the Norwegians - well-attest, prison can be made to rehabilitate inmates so that they can once again become functioning members of society. Meanwhile in America, and many other parts of the world, th...

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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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Can talking about music add to our understanding of it?

Sam Dresser

Yes, I agree with Peter, specifically that language - words - can enhance my understanding of music while never really capturing what it means to me. For instance, understanding, however partially, what complexity is involved in the fashioning of a fugue can make that of music far more beautiful because you can hear the voices interact in a new and deeper way. Perhaps this is akin to knowing the context of a work: Contrapunctus XIV may be moving in its own right, but it becomes all the more so when you know that Bach died writing it.

This all raises a more general question o...

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Love in a time of migrants: on rethinking arranged marriages

Sam Dresser

Very interesting, provocative piece!

In non-arranged marriages partners can choose not only who they like (given that affections are reciprocated) but they can choose *how* they go about choosing. This seems to me a crucial point. The dating app industry is supremely weird in a variety of (often hilarious) ways, and I’ve got some excellent first hand data to back up the assertion. But it is first and foremost a choice to engage in it - plenty of people get on just fine without Tinder, of course, and do find love in Badiou’s sense of necessary spotanaity (if that isn’t too much of a contradiction). I just fail to see a qualitative difference, from a retrospective point of view, in w...

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Should we rename institutions that honour dead racists?

Sam Dresser

As a practical matter, I quite agree with Corey Robin’s solution to the Princeton conflict, which ties in nicely here. Rename the school - he suggests WEB Du Bois - and post a sign in front of the building that simply says “In 2015 the students and faculty voted to name this the WEB Du Bois School of Public and International Affairs. Until then it was named the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in honor of the 28th President.” Then it’s not so much that history is being ‘whitewashed’ as it is history being history. Our ‘moving on’ from Wilson is an acknowledgement of Wilson’s racism, yes, but more importantly renaming the building enshrines this historical moment f...

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Extinction is forever: de-extinction can’t save what we had

Sam Dresser

Obviously, this one is a no-brainer: the giant lemur. Being able to bring back slovenly lemurs the size of gorillas seems to me like a win-win.

Here’s how one French colonial governor described it:

An animal as big as a two-year-old calf, with a round head and a human face: the front feet are monkeylike, and the rear ones as well. It has frizzy hair, a short tail, and humanlike ears. … One has been seen near Lake Lipomami, around which it lives. It is a very solitary animal; the local people fear it greatly and flee from it as it does from them.

Who wouldn’t want to look outside and see READ MORE→ See comment

Scents and sensibility

Sam Dresser

Like the seasons, I’ve long found scent to be a good way of indexing my memories. I have no clue what my earliest olfactory memory is (perhaps because of Neil’s excellent observation), but the segments of my past can be well-organzied according to smell. My high school, for instance, had a curiously sweet odor (perhaps due to a little overzealousness on the perfume?), while each apartment I’ve lived in over the years had some sort of predominent scent such that when I inadvertantly come across it today I can almost pinpoint the year: Oh, strange, it smells like… 2011.

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ISIS is a revolution

Sam Dresser

Political revolutions of the sort sought by anyone from the sans culottes to the Bolsheviks to the Jihadists of the Islamic State are intended to start the world anew. Old orders must be destroyed, decimated - made to seem as if they had never existed in the first place. The right/true/pure New can only be built upon a scorched earth. Revolutionary violence is a root-and-branch sort: not just killing, but a societal damnatio memoriae. Very much enjoyed the cross historical/cultural connections Scott Atran made here.

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To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

Sam Dresser

Some very interesting thoughts here! The narrative view of the self (well chellenged in these pages) has always held a natural appeal to me, partly because it’s alternative seems to suggest a kind of chaos. Regardless, the therapeutic benefit of narrative strikes me as convincing. Meaning as such can only emerge in context, so it makes intuitive sense that ordering one’s memories into a story will yield a sense of control, maybe even of inevitability in some way.

The idea that the mood or style of the story one tells oneself is intriguing too, especially because it brings out the recursive quality of all this. I’m angry, I write down my story in a mean-spirited and gratuitous way, ...

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Material intelligence

Sam Dresser

Beautiful essay, really enjoyed it.

The idea of material intelligence raised for me some thoughts about know-how and know-that (propositional knowledge). I suppose it’s somewhat obvious, but I’d never thought about how those types of knowledge can roughly break down on a class basis - the lower classes having more ‘know-how’ than the upper, which is predominently ‘know-that’. Love that observation in the piece. Has anybody done any philosophical work on this epistemological/class division of late? (I’m sure Marx and co had something to say on it.) The second is that material intelligence as such seems to be an intriguing combination of know-how (the ‘feel’ of material, the lived ex...

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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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