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Kant’s axe

2 minutes

Hoplites! Greeks at war

8 minutes

Street photography, 1838-2019: a photo for every year

20 minutes

Are you sure? Truth, certainty and politics

6 minutes

Do spoilers actually ruin stories?

4 minutes

Aeon for Friends

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Can a lie ever be noble? Why Kant believed even a life-saving fib was immoral

To the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, the ethics of honesty were clear-cut: telling the truth, no matter the consequences, was a ‘categorical imperative’ – a moral duty. Taking chilling (and chilly) inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining (1980), this brief animated snippet details Kant’s inflexible perspective on truth-telling, and its contrast with utilitarianism, which emphasises good outcomes over actions that are always right or wrong.

Video by BBC Radio 4

Script: Nigel Warburton

Animation: Andrew Park

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Frozen for millennia, an ancient Greek soldier is freed to charge into battle once again

The artifacts that underlie so much of our understanding of the ancient world can often feel like brittle remnants of a dim and dusty past that’s hard to access without context and extensive knowledge. But sometimes just a little kineticism can transform a bit of pottery into a living story. Such is the effect of this animation produced for an exhibition at the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology at the University of Reading in the UK, which breathes life into war scenes from a vase found on the island of Euboea and thought to date to roughly 550 BCE. The story follows a spear-wielding hoplite (citizen-soldier in the infantry) as he moves through several stages of the wartime experience. After witnessing a ceremonial animal sacrifice performed by a priest, he departs for battle alongside his fellow soldiers, fights the enemy and creates a trophy from their discarded equipment to mark his side’s victory. Learn more about the video at the Panoply Vase Animation Project website.

Art director: Sonya Nevin

Animator: Steve K Simons

Website: Panoply Vase Animation Project

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Historic street view: an image for each of the 181 years since the dawn of photography

Just a decade after the first surviving photograph was taken, photography became widespread enough that, today, the Canadian film archivist and YouTuber Guy Jones could assemble this parade of streets worldwide – one photograph for each year from 1838 to 2019. The resulting montage offers a scattershot urban history of modernity, chronicling seismic shifts in transportation methods and fashions, as well as the more subtle evolutions of storefront signage and roadway surfaces. The video also provides a meaningful window into the history of the medium itself. At the dawn of photography, the black-and-white images are deliberately framed, with the camera often drawing the attention of its subjects. In recent photos, as the camera has become more ubiquitous, it’s often less artfully employed, and its presence goes mostly unnoticed by the people whose lives it freezes in discrete moments. 

Editor: Guy Jones

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What wrapping a rope around the Earth reveals about the limits of human intuition

If you tied a rope tight around the Earth’s equator and then added a single yard of slack, would the extra material make any noticeable difference to someone standing on the ground? Yes, actually. The answer comes as a surprise to most people, but the additional bit of rope raises it high enough off the ground for our eyes to easily discern it, and our feet to easily trip over. That fact might seem trivial, but the early 20th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein believed that this chasm between human intuition and physical reality revealed something important about the fallibility of our thinking. After all, if something that seems obvious to almost everyone can be totally false, what else might we be wrong about? This video from the Center for Public Philosophy at the University of California, Santa Cruz breaks down the mathematics behind Wittgenstein’s knotty example, and asks whether it should make us all feel a bit less certain about even our most deeply held beliefs.

Producers: Gregor Clark, Jon Ellis

Animator: Adam Ansorge

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Spoiler alert: does knowing how it ends make fiction more fun?

‘It’s not the journey, it’s the destination’ might seem like trite advice, but when it comes to storytelling, the worn adage actually seems to hold up to scrutiny. Just ask Nicholas Christenfeld, professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego: in a 2013 study, he put our cultural obsession with so-called ‘spoilers’ to the test. After sneakily revealing the end of short stories when describing them to test subjects, he found that their enjoyment of the fictional narratives actually increased – a conclusion that perhaps isn’t so surprising if you think about how many times you’ve watched your favourite movie or read your favourite book. However, Christenfeld still found that there was a forceful knee-jerk aversion to the idea of having a story spoiled, so you might still want to restrain yourself before blurting out the latest Game of Thrones twist to friends and insisting it’s for their own good.

Video by Fig. 1

Aeon for Friends

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Can a lie ever be noble? Why Kant believed even a life-saving fib was immoral

To the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, the ethics of honesty were clear-cut: telling the truth, no matter the consequences, was a ‘categorical imperative’ – a moral duty. Taking chilling (and chilly) inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining (1980), this brief animated snippet details Kant’s inflexible perspective on truth-telling, and its contrast with utilitarianism, which emphasises good outcomes over actions that are always right or wrong.

Video by BBC Radio 4

Script: Nigel Warburton

Animation: Andrew Park

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Essay/
Thinkers and theories
Susan Sontag was a monster

She took things too seriously. She was difficult and unyielding. That’s why Susan Sontag’s work matters so much even now

Lauren Elkin

Essay/
History of science
Natural philosophy redux

The great split between science and philosophy must be repaired. Only then can we answer the urgent, fundamental problems

Nicholas Maxwell