Frederick Copleston and Bryan Magee on Schopenhauer

44 minutes

Bayes’s theorem, and making probability intuitive

16 minutes

In the absence

29 minutes

EXCLUSIVE

Symphonie diagonale

7 minutes

The big push

4 minutes

The intellectual legacy of philosophy’s greatest pessimist: life is suffering, art is supreme

‘Life,’ Arthur Schopenhauer wrote in a typical mood in 1818, ‘is deeply steeped in suffering, and cannot escape from it; our entrance into it takes place amid tears, at bottom its course is always tragic, and its end is even more so.’ He is popularly known as the world’s greatest downer: whenever you think you might’ve found a smidgen of happiness, there’s Schopenhauer to prove it’s nothing more than a moment’s relief in the permanent misery of human existence. The problem is that he’s such a good writer you’re liable to start agreeing with him: happiness is just a temporary stay on the constant want of satisfaction after all! He is philosophy’s pessimist par excellence – but he is also one of the greatest thinkers to have ever lived.

Born just before the French Revolution and dying in mild obscurity at age 72, Schopenhauer’s posthumous influence is unrivalled – perhaps an ironic fate for one who thought that the future is nothing but the anticipation of suffering. His most famous disciple is Friedrich Nietzsche, but others who owe him a serious debt of gratitude amount to a list of intellectual summits: Richard Wagner, particularly for Tristan und Isolde; Ludwig Wittgenstein, who claimed Schopenhauer was the one philosopher he studied before upending the philosophical world with his Tractatus; Sigmund Freud, who was an absolutely miserable jerk for not giving Schopenhauer more credit for his explorations of the unconscious; and many others, such as Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges and Jacob Burckhardt. But beyond Schopenhauer’s relentless pessimism, what did he actually believe?

In 1987 Bryan Magee, a philosopher, MP and radio broadcaster, presented The Great Philosophers on the BBC. The idea was simple: invite an eminent thinker to sit on the couch and talk casually about the beliefs of some important historical philosophers. In the episode presented here, Magee is joined by Fr. Frederick Copleston to discuss the foundational ideas of Schopenhauer’s system of thought. As Magee is keen to announce at the beginning of the programme, he himself is the most respected expounder of Schopenhauer’s philosophy in the Anglophone world – nevertheless, Copleston, a brilliant historian of philosophy, is the perfect match for their discussion. Over the next 44 minutes, relax as two aggressively English philosophers explain Schopenhauer’s metaphysics and ethics, his search for the limits of thought, and even how he anticipated modern day physics by, in Magee’s words, the mere ‘reasoning out of it’.

What is it to be Bayesian? The (pretty simple) math modelling behind a Big Data buzzword

If you’ve ever tripped up over the term ‘Bayesian’ while reading up on data or tech, fear not. Strip away the jargon and notation, and even the mathematics-averse can make sense of the simple yet revolutionary concept at the core of both machine learning and behavioural economics. As this video from the YouTube channel 3Blue1Brown skilfully explains, at its most basic, Bayes’s theorem is a tool for assessing degrees of probability based on prior conditions. And there are ways to make it altogether more intuitive than the statistical formulas might suggest. Although the theorem dates back to its 18th-century namesake, the English statistician and philosopher Thomas Bayes, it has gained increasing relevance in the Big Data revolution.

Video by 3Blue1Brown

‘They told us to stay put’: the South Korean ferry disaster that sank lives and trust

On 16 April 2014, the ferry MV Sewol sunk off the coast of South Korea, killing 304 people – the vast majority of them high-school students on a field trip. Like many other tragedies, the event made headlines around the world before quickly fading from the international news cycle. In South Korea, however, facts about the incompetence, government failures and lapses in responsibility that led to the Sewol’s sinking emerged slowly over the course of several years, prolonging pain and stoking anger to the present day. The documentary In the Absence by the South Korean director Yi Seung-Jun is a devastating account of the sinking and its aftermath – from the first signs of trouble at sea to the years-long struggle by bereaved families demanding accountability and justice. Combining original material with real-time audio and video of the tragedy, the film offers an extraordinary, chilling account of the consequences of following instructions from inept authorities – and the profound breakdown of public trust that follows such a disaster.

Director: Yi Seung-Jun

Producers: Gary Byung-Seok Kam, Park Bong-Nam

Website: Field of Vision

Dadaism ridiculed the meaninglessness of modern life – with captivating results

Dadaism was an avant-garde artistic movement born amid the wreckage of the First World War in Europe and formed in reaction to the perceived meaninglessness of modern life – in particular, of capitalism and its violence. The Swedish artist Viking Eggeling’s stop-motion animation Symphonie diagonale is considered both a Dadaist masterpiece and an early example of experimental animation. Basing the imagery on drawings he created alongside the influential German artist and fellow Dadaist Hans Richter, Eggeling revised and screened several versions of the short from 1922 up until his death in 1925. Shown as a silent film upon its release, this version of Symphonie diagonale features an original score, exclusive to Aeon. The contemporary Illinois-based composer William Pearson intends his music to react to Eggeling’s original vision in both style and composition, with playful, occasionally mechanical organ sounds, and melodies forming in sequence with the visuals emerging on screen.

Director: Viking Eggeling

Composer: William Pearson

Researcher: Tamur Qutab

The eerie serenity of a summer’s day by water, before one of history’s bloodiest battles

‘We laugh and for one heartbeat forget to be afraid…’

The Battle of the Somme, fought by French and British forces against the German army in northern France in 1916, was one of the bloodiest in history. It lasted 140 days and resulted in more than 1.5 million casualties. The Scottish artist Herbert James Gunn (1893-1964) served as a rifleman, and painted The Eve of the Battle of the Somme in the field, just hours before the attack on ‘the Boche’ began on 1 July 1916. He depicts a scene of eerie serenity: young men relaxing by water on an idyllic day, watched by a menacing line of army tents, a foreshadow of the unfathomable bloodshed that followed. Commissioned by the UK charity The Poetry Society, the short film The Big Push reinterprets Gunn’s painting through impressionistic paint-on-glass animation. It is set to an eponymous poem written and read by the contemporary Scottish poet John Glenday, inspired by Gunn’s painting.

Directors: Laurie Harris, Xin Li

Website: Mosaic Films

The intellectual legacy of philosophy’s greatest pessimist: life is suffering, art is supreme

‘Life,’ Arthur Schopenhauer wrote in a typical mood in 1818, ‘is deeply steeped in suffering, and cannot escape from it; our entrance into it takes place amid tears, at bottom its course is always tragic, and its end is even more so.’ He is popularly known as the world’s greatest downer: whenever you think you might’ve found a smidgen of happiness, there’s Schopenhauer to prove it’s nothing more than a moment’s relief in the permanent misery of human existence. The problem is that he’s such a good writer you’re liable to start agreeing with him: happiness is just a temporary stay on the constant want of satisfaction after all! He is philosophy’s pessimist par excellence – but he is also one of the greatest thinkers to have ever lived.

Born just before the French Revolution and dying in mild obscurity at age 72, Schopenhauer’s posthumous influence is unrivalled – perhaps an ironic fate for one who thought that the future is nothing but the anticipation of suffering. His most famous disciple is Friedrich Nietzsche, but others who owe him a serious debt of gratitude amount to a list of intellectual summits: Richard Wagner, particularly for Tristan und Isolde; Ludwig Wittgenstein, who claimed Schopenhauer was the one philosopher he studied before upending the philosophical world with his Tractatus; Sigmund Freud, who was an absolutely miserable jerk for not giving Schopenhauer more credit for his explorations of the unconscious; and many others, such as Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges and Jacob Burckhardt. But beyond Schopenhauer’s relentless pessimism, what did he actually believe?

In 1987 Bryan Magee, a philosopher, MP and radio broadcaster, presented The Great Philosophers on the BBC. The idea was simple: invite an eminent thinker to sit on the couch and talk casually about the beliefs of some important historical philosophers. In the episode presented here, Magee is joined by Fr. Frederick Copleston to discuss the foundational ideas of Schopenhauer’s system of thought. As Magee is keen to announce at the beginning of the programme, he himself is the most respected expounder of Schopenhauer’s philosophy in the Anglophone world – nevertheless, Copleston, a brilliant historian of philosophy, is the perfect match for their discussion. Over the next 44 minutes, relax as two aggressively English philosophers explain Schopenhauer’s metaphysics and ethics, his search for the limits of thought, and even how he anticipated modern day physics by, in Magee’s words, the mere ‘reasoning out of it’.

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