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Frederick Copleston and Bryan Magee on Schopenhauer

44 minutes

The beauty of gefilte fish

11 minutes

Timelapse of the future

29 minutes

White fright

30 minutes

Devenir

2 minutes

Aeon for Friends

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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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Delicious? Gross? The great fish dish that divides – and unites – families on Passover

Celebrated annually in early spring, Passover commemorates the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus. The holiday is generally marked by a large gathering of family and friends known as a Seder, and includes a reading of the Haggadah, a text that recounts the exodus from Egypt, and provides a guide to the traditional Passover meal, which includes matzoh (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs. This short documentary from the US director Rachel Fleit focuses on the tradition as celebrated by the Hermelin family of Detroit, in particular their relationship with a Passover dinner staple – gefilte fish. Though it plays no part in the Exodus story (it originated with Ashkenazi Jewish communities in eastern Europe), this dish of ground whitefish – with a flavour ranging from savoury to sweet, depending on the recipe – is nonetheless the most discussed culinary offering at the table. But despite its deeply polarising taste and texture, the annual gefilte fish is embraced by generations of Hermelins as a symbol of cultural tradition and familial bonds, imbued with ‘the joy of Judaism’.

Director: Rachel Fleit

Producers: Shiny Pictures, Union Entertainment

Website: The Gefilte Film

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Deep time and beyond: the great nothingness at the end of the Universe

‘The Universe becomes a cosmic boneyard, strewn with remnants of dead stars.’

This is the way the Universe ends, not with a bang, but with an unfathomably profound and gradual chill. Or, at least that’s one guess held by many scientists – but we don’t really know, and it’s entirely possible that we never will. This video from the US filmmaker and musician John Boswell starts in 2019 and plays out one theory of how everything – truly everything – will end. With the speed of the passage of time doubling every five seconds, inventive visual interpretations of cosmological phenomena, and narrated by science luminaries such as Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees and Janna Levin, the video guides us deep into a possible evolution of the Universe. Impressively translating theoretical physics and astronomically vast scales of time and space into 29 breathtaking minutes, Timelapse of the Future takes us all the way into the sublime of the unimaginable, with all the wonder and terror that might provoke.

Via Kottke

Video by John Boswell

Website: melodysheep

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When does US news ignore a terror plot? When the target is called Islamberg

Islamberg is a small hamlet of roughly two dozen families in upstate New York that has come to represent some of the most pernicious contradictions of political culture in the United States. Situated 130 miles north of New York City on the Pennsylvania border, the town was formed in the early 1980s by members of an African-American Muslim community in Brooklyn looking to escape the fraught conditions in the city at the time, including the crack epidemic. As such, Islamberg is an almost archetypal example of those ostensibly ‘American’ ideals of religious freedom and the pursuit of a better life. Since its founding, however, the community has contended with rumours of connections to radical Islamic terrorism despite repeated assurances from local law-enforcement that no such threat exists. On the contrary, the rumours have put the community itself in danger.

The US director David Felix Sutcliffe’s film White Fright explores Islamberg in the context of a foiled 2015 attack on the community, which was planned by a white Christian minister and ultimately intercepted by the FBI. Splicing together FBI documents, news footage and interviews with Islamberg residents, the documentary probes how deceptive and inflammatory Right-wing news coverage helped to inspire the plan for a massacre at a mosque and school in the town, while other national news outlets barely covered the plot upon its unravelling. Since the film’s release in 2018, Islamberg was subject to yet another plot to murder its residents that was foiled by law enforcement in January 2019.

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From ‘The Second Sex’ to ‘Gender Trouble’ – Butler’s hat tip to de Beauvoir

The American philosopher Judith Butler is one of the preeminent contemporary thinkers on issues at the intersection of gender and identity. A professor at the University of California, Berkeley and at the European Graduate School, she’s perhaps best-known for her book Gender Trouble (1990), which argues that gender, sex and sexuality are continuous and highly mutable cultural performances, and not predetermined by human biology. This brisk and energetic video from the French filmmaker Géraldine Charpentier-Basille animates cutouts of diverse human forms to accompany an extract from a 2006 interview with Butler in which she cites Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) as inspiration. Although brief, the piece is an excellent conversation-starter on the question of what ‘becoming’ might mean, both in the context of gender and more broadly in the pursuit of the ‘authentic’ self. It’s also a pleasing reminder of the many ways that ideas spread and transmute over time.

Director: Géraldine Charpentier-Basille

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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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Essay/
Physics
Time to update the Nobels

Science today is an intricate, collaborative, global enterprise. Nobel prizes for individual scientists are an anachronism

Brian Keating

Essay/
Physics
In defence of disorder

Humans love laws and seek predictability. But like our Universe, which thrives on entropy, we need disorder to flourish

Alan Lightman