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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

Blue-eyed Buddhist | Aeon
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Religion

Blue-eyed Buddhist

The story of a working-class radical from Ireland who became a celebrated monk and challenged the British Empire in Asia

Laurence Cox

Exhuming the truth | Aeon
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Human rights and justice

Exhuming the truth

Thousands of victims of political executions lie in anonymous graves. Forensics offers hope for the ‘forgotten’ ones

Nicole Iturriaga

Democracy or apocalypse | Aeon
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Thinkers and theories

Democracy or apocalypse

Eric Voegelin and Hans Kelsen fled the Nazis. In the US, they clashed over the nature of modernity and government

David Dyzenhaus

Freedom from liquor | Aeon
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History

Freedom from liquor

Ken Burns’s account of prohibition tells a popular story of booze in America. The historical record is far more sobering

Mark Lawrence Schrad

Abolish life sentences | Aeon
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Human rights and justice

Abolish life sentences

It is unjust, cruel and profoundly wasteful to consign a person to prison for life. A decent society must not do it

Judith Lichtenberg

What lies beneath government | Aeon
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Politics and government

What lies beneath government

Buka Town in Bougainville shows how bureaucratic states could be reimagined, not as concrete buildings but as living gardens

Gordon Peake & Miranda Forsyth

The meaning of Purgatory | Aeon
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Religion

The meaning of Purgatory

Think less of a holding pen for Heaven and more as a flow of love from the living, and the weirdness starts making sense

Magnus Course

You’re astonishing! | Aeon
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Meaning and the good life

You’re astonishing!

Life can be better appreciated when you remember how wonderfully and frighteningly unlikely it is that you exist at all

Timm Triplett

Keeping our options open | Aeon
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Anthropology

Keeping our options open

Frantic human activity has reduced both cultural and biological diversity. Now we must protect the dwindling alternatives

Thomas Hylland Eriksen

Our trip to Antioch | Aeon
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The ancient world

Our trip to Antioch

Ancient Romans bought mementos to commemorate their travels. These speak eloquently of their world, if we care to listen

Maggie Popkin

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



Recent Comments

Future reading

Sam Dresser

Typewriters, iceboxes, cassette tapes, and telegraphs are all obsolete. New devices were invented that did much the same job better, cheaper and quicker. Of course it’s not just the new technology that makes the old obsolete. The new must be adopted by a convincing majority, at which point the old will appear antiquated, clumsy, slow. The numbers are one thing, but the feel of a piece of technology can be equally as telling. The typewriter is not just technologically outmatched and rare - it also looks and feels fundamentally antique. You can just tell that it’s time has come and gone. Can the same be said of the printed book?

Lets look at the numbers. Well, actua...

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Books are dangerous

Sam Dresser

This isn’t a joke: I enjoy Martin Heidegger’s philosophy. Or some of it. His later work is a bit too mystical, too hand-wavy and theoretical. I can’t follow it, even with guidance. Perhaps I simply didn’t give it the time of day it requires. But I did dig into Being and Time, very slowly over the course of half a year, and found it extraordinary.

Of course it’s not at all the kind of book I’m capable of understanding without several patient helping hands. Even then, I doubt I got much of it. I felt the same as Gilbert Ryle, the book’s first and surprisingly sympathetic reviewer, did upon completing it: “I am well aware how far I have fallen short of understanding this diffic...

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Suspended animation

Sam Dresser

There are two things I wouldn’t like about being immortal. The first is that I would lose a defining part of what it is to be human, which is my mortality. Now, I may not relish my mortality as a matter of course. But it is a feature of life that binds all people together because none of us - not one - is excused from it. If I could banish my mortality, I would lose that quality of my humanity - and that’s not something I’m interested in doing. I don’t want this to be taken as an argument against any sort of scientific solution that might relieve me of my ‘natural state,’ if you see what I mean, but I do want to say that mortality is so fundamental to humanness that jettisoning it makes o...

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Why does contemporary art make for wildly popular blockbusters?

Sam Dresser

This dynamic has been seen before, one could argue, during the invasion of Impressionism in America at the end of the 19th century.

Regardless, I think that the intense focus on contemporary art at the expense of ‘historic’ or, worse, ‘pre-contemporary,’ art is well accounted for in this piece. There’s also the argument that this seems to me to be part and parcel of the democratization of the art world, as oddly as that dynamic may sit with its extraordinary market value and fluctuations.

I prefer the ‘historics’ to the ‘contemporaries’, for sure, and it may very well be more a mark of my own pessimism, but I’m mostly just glad that people still care about art at all regardl...

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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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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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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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‘Here we are all the same’

Sam Dresser

Contrary to several of the commenters here, it’s obvious to me that religious equality is something that does indeed need to be practiced. It’s not simple non-interefence, the government standing back and the people magically deciding to live the values of the enlightenment (if only!). No, religious equality is something that needs to be enforced and fought for; it’s something that is won. Many religious believers, if given the opportunity, will attempt to impose their beliefs upon non-believers – which I always thought made a certain amount of sense if you really believe you know what God wants. That common, almost natural instinct needs to be actively defended against. Religiou...

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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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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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Speak to the shoemaker

Sam Dresser

Fascinating and timely article, an excellent addition to the soul-searching philosophy as been undergoing as it finds new ways to engage with the public.

A few different strands I’d like to unwind. Everyone does philosophy, even if they don’t know it. Philosophy itself can be reasonably demarcated between philosophy that is for the public and philosophy that is for the academy - and this demarcation is made according to the kind of knowledge the reader is assumed to have (professional philosophers will assume their colleagues have the requisite technical understanding). Totally agree.

Then there is the (moral?) imperative for professional philosophers to wr...

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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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