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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

Forget morality | Aeon
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Ethics

Forget morality

Moral philosophy is bogus, a mere substitute for God that licenses ugly emotions. Here are five reasons to reject it

Ronnie de Sousa

A non-Standard model | Aeon
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Cosmology

A non-Standard model

Most cosmologists say dark matter must exist. So far, it’s nowhere to be found. A widely scorned rival theory explains why

David Merritt

Riches in space | Aeon
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Space exploration

Riches in space

Asteroids could pay for so much space exploration. We just need to mine those valuable resources – and duck a direct hit

Martin Elvis

Ideas that work | Aeon
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History of ideas

Ideas that work

Truth, knowledge, justice – to understand how our loftiest abstractions earn their keep, trace them to their practical origins

Matthieu Queloz

Africa writes back | Aeon
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Language and linguistics

Africa writes back

European ideas of African illiteracy are persistent, prejudiced and, as the story of Libyc script shows, entirely wrong

D Vance Smith

How equality slipped away | Aeon
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Anthropology

How equality slipped away

For 97 per cent of human history, all people had about the same power and access to goods. How did inequality ratchet up?

Kim Sterelny

What Renaissance? | Aeon
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History of ideas

What Renaissance?

Humanism did not replace Scholasticism, nor is it clear that ideas like the Renaissance help us understand history at all

Henrik Lagerlund

You are a network | Aeon
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Philosophy of mind

You are a network

You cannot be reduced to a body, a mind or a particular social role. An emerging theory of selfhood gets this complexity

Kathleen Wallace

The clothing revolution | Aeon
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Archaeology

The clothing revolution

What if the need for fabric, not food, in the face of a changing climate is what first tipped humanity towards agriculture?

Ian Gilligan



Recent Comments

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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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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Boldly go!

Sam Dresser

My most dangerous experience while abroad was my fault. I simply shouldn’t have put myself in the silly situation that I did. On the way back from a pub in Prague, surely at some debauched hour, I got into what’s meanly called a ‘gypsy cab’. ‘Gypsy cabs’, for those that don’t know, are unlicensed taxis – that is, some guy in his car giving rides for whatever price he pleases. I was, ashamedly, not entirely aware of what I was getting myself into. When the car finally pulled up to my place, the price rather shocked and a gentlemanly disagreement ensued, which is a euphemism for him pulling a gun on me. At that point, it seemed to me he had a point. Any price was more or less acceptable, so...

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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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Dissolving the ego

Sam Dresser

In lieu of whatever transcendent experiences I may have had, here’s Vaclav Haval’s description of his. Have always enjoyed this:

Again, I call to mind that distant moment in [the prison at] Hermanice when on a hot, cloudless summer day, I sat on a pile of rusty iron and gazed into the crown of an enormous tree that stretched, with dignified repose, up and over all the fences, wires, bars and watchtowers that separated me from it. As I watched the imperceptible trembling of its leaves against an endless sky, I was overcome by a sensation that is difficult to describe: all at once, I seemed to rise above all the coordinates of my momentary existence in the world into a k...
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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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How people with sports addiction are like drug addicts

Sam Dresser

Yes, it seems to me that it should be. Addiction can manifest itself in a range of ways – if one of these is often associated with health and vigor, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t still be diagnosed and treated as an addiction. As the piece suggests toward the end, the biggest hurdle toward treating sport addiction, it seems to me, isn’t the treatment itself, but the diagnosis: when does one cross the line from being spritely and active and energetic to diseased? That’s a much less obvious boundary to cross than when the addiction is to a substance.

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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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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

The hunt for human nature

Sam Dresser

Fascinating essay and an excellent reminder of the truism that science doesn’t happen in a vacuum: there are always political and cultural forces at play, no matter how disinterested the author affects to be. Obviously this is especially so when talking about what may be ‘essential’ or ‘universal’ to humanity.

Regarding the Mead bit, for instance, she was a relativist in the sense that there was no real essential, absolute, Archimedean point of humanity beyond our biology, loosely understood - hence we have to be ‘taught’ to be human. The political implication is straightforward: we can always be better, we can always change our ways, no one group or invidual is beyond the pale; th...

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Better babies

Sam Dresser

A loose thought: I wonder how it would affect your life if you were the highly edited, intentionally defined ‘designer baby’? When I think of my physical attributes, at least, I chalk it up to chance within the somewhat limited range implied by my parents. Existence was chosen by them, but the kind of existence wasn’t. If I was rather born in some distant future and everything - or, at least, everything genetic - about me was a conscious choice, made by people I would end up knowing very well, I think that would change how I see myself in some serious ways. Life as lived wouldn’t feel so inflected by chance.

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Datagasm

Sam Dresser

I’m someone that grew up almost contemporaneously with the popular Internet, perhaps my years marching a little ahead of the Internet’s. That’s to say that I have almost no memory of life-before-the-Internet, and certainly no sexual memory before the Internet – none whatsoever. I wonder how that will affect my generation in the long run?

Pornography has always been amazingly accessible to my cohort – and not just the vanilla stuff of course. I suppose the major danger of such a porn-saturated ‘net is that the chances of young person happening upon some ‘extra-creative’ kind of porn is enormous now, as is all the troubling surprise this could cause. Beyond that though, I wonder what...

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