An Index of my Medium Articles

I’ve indexed my posts by topic below so readers new to me can dive into my writing without endlessly scrolling on my profile page. Each article includes its sub-header or an explainer.

You can also read my most substantial posts on The Sophist, my publication.

I believe that the wisdom that comes with the study of philosophy, culture and history can help you live a better life. If I can help you, or if you can help me help others, drop me a line: stevengambardella@gmail.com

Philosophy

I’ve written lots on philosophy. This subject is my number one passion. Since I’ve written so many articles on philosophy, I have divided them into subcategories. …


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Photo by Hassan Pasha on Unsplash

Imagine standing on a chessboard, the game is in mid-play. You are surrounded by pieces, both black and white. You are to move next, that much you know, but you don’t know if you are a black or a white piece and there’s no way of telling.

That’s how I’d describe the feeling of anxiety.

We all feel it to some degree.* It’s a feeling of not knowing what is expected of us: what our obligations are, how we should behave, what we should possess, where we should be at some future point. …


Finding a “smooth course of life” in an Age of Excess

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Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

We can be turned off by complicated ideas. We want it easy.

Philosophers are damned like the mythical Cassandra, who could see the future and warn people of the dangers before them but never be believed. They have advice for us that can save us plenty of trouble, but the advice rests on complicated ideas.

Epicurus (b. 341 B.C.E.) was seen by a multitude as a saviour. His followers preached that his philosophy brought sustained tranquillity. But his style of writing was wilfully boring.

The spartan-living philosopher believed that poetic or flowery writing does important ideas a disservice. …


We’re on the Verge of Something Extraordinary

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Plato’s allegory of the Ship of State painted a dark picture of a ship manned by foolish sailors who ply the ship’s owner with drink and dismiss the navigator (a philosopher?) for being a “worthless stargazer”. The original point was that we need “philosopher kings” to rule the ship of state (and keep the ship in good condition and on course). In our modern and less socially-stratified world, philosophy can enlighten us to know our place in the universe and give us purpose. Stoicism is a philosophy of duty and collaboration, it can convey the ideas necessary for a well-run society. Image: The Ship of Fools, Volume 1, 1874 edition. Sebastian Brandt, translated by Alexander Barclay (Public Domain. Source: Project Guttenberg).

At its best Modern Stoicism could be the antidote to the endemic division and cultural antipathy we’re experiencing, as well as helping stem a growing mental health crisis. It could be a whole new way of looking at morality, a guide for society as well as individuals.

Stoicism is now widely popular. We haven’t seen this level of enthusiasm for philosophy since a political philosophy boom hit nineteenth century Europe, which I will come back to.

Modern Stoicism currently only helps society in so much that it helps individuals, but there is scope within this philosophy to lay the foundations of a new approach to law, economy, healthcare and so on. …


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A second sun rises in the desert of Nevada: the Redwing Apache nuclear test in July 1956. (Public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Hidden around the world are weapons that can end civilization.

These weapons are in deep sea submarines, remote airbases, desert silos and even driven around vast forests to prevent potential enemies from knowing their whereabouts.

A single ICBM — “inter-continental ballistic missile”— can rain down several nuclear warheads whose destructive power dwarfs that of the bomb that annihilated the city of Hiroshima in 1945. There are hundreds of these missiles, ready for the trigger, waiting to go.

In the western world, we have been living in what Steven Pinker called “the long peace” — the cessation of violence between the major powers since 1945. …


Opera is an Amazing Art Form, Here’s How Beginners Can Get Started

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Photo by Vlah Dumitru on Unsplash

It’s that sound that does it for me — the orchestra tuning up.

It sparks that first fizz of pleasure. The lights dim, people in the audience take their last chance to cough or clear their throats, the curtains go up and you’re suddenly immersed in a world of somebody else’s making.

Opera is perhaps the most exquisite art form around. It combines grand live music with drama and sumptuous stage sets.

Like whiskey, cigars, oysters and other complex delicacies, opera is a taste that needs to be acquired with some effort. …


An Ancient Joke About Crucifixion Reveals its Supreme Cruelty

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Detail from The Entombment of Christ by Michelangelo Caravaggio, 1603. (Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Imagine waking up in a far-flung future where people literally pray to models of the electric chair. The veneration of the crucifix by millions of Christians would be as puzzling to the Romans as electric chair veneration would be to you.

Crucifixion is one of the nastiest forms of execution devised, and yet, it’s one of the most ubiquitous symbols of spiritual “comfort” in the modern world. In the Roman world, the crucifix was a sight that would send a chill down your spine.

The public punishment was so humiliating and excruciating that Roman citizens were spared from the horror (beheading was the preferred punishment for citizens). Crucifixion was reserved for the people who mattered the least to Romans: slaves and the conquered mobs of the empire. …


We Should Rethink Our Idea of Freedom to Find a Better Life

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Jan Davidszoon de Heem, Vase of Flowers, 1660 (National Gallery of Art. Public Domain. Source: Wikipedia)

The western world has an obsession with freedom, a concept it struggles to understand.

Our commonly held idea of freedom was forged in the 1960s by a wealthy baby boom generation struggling with the shackles of post-war social conservatism.

In The Wild Angels, a 1966 biker movie starring Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra, we can find a definition that’s silly, and yet it’s a worryingly accurate reflection of how we think of freedom in today’s society.

A wayward biker gang leader — “Heavenly Blues”, played by Fonda — is asked by a stern church minister, “Just what is it that you want to do?” …


The Story of an Orphan who Upended the Roman Empire

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The emperor Julian modelled himself on Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. The young philosopher made an idealistic attempt to return the Roman Empire to older, philosophically-guided values but died in battle after only 20 months in power. (Image: Julian II in Paris City Museum. Photo by Ωméga * on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

In June 363 a demoralised and tired Roman army was marching deep in the territory of the enemy Sassanid Empire in what is now modern Iraq.

The retreating army was dangerously low on supplies in the sweltering heat of a Mesopotamian summer. Soldiers burdened by a slow-moving baggage train were under constant harassment from mounted Sassanian raiders, picking them off with missiles.

The column was heading north along the bank of the Tigris to the safety of Roman territory, having given up besieging the Sassanian capital Ctesiphon and losing their campaign objective.

The Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus, better known to us as Julian, leading the column, was told of another attack on the rear guard. …


The Enlightenment Philosopher’s Rational Revolution

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Image: Ernst Haeckel, Prosobranchia from Forms of Nature. (Public domain. Source: Wikipedia Commons) How we know the world in all its variety and beauty, according to Kant, is through the way our mind processes the data from our senses. Our experience is a fusion of mind and world and as such we cannot “know” what things are like independent of our experience.

In 1783 writers in Europe were starting to use a new word. “Enlightened.”

The Reverend Johann Friedrich Zöllner, an official of the Prussian Government, took issue with the use of the word. Attacking a pro-Enlightenment article in the pages of the Berlinische Monatsschrift, he goaded its liberal readers with a rhetorical question:

“What is enlightenment? This question, which is almost as important as what is truth, should indeed be answered before one begins to enlighten! And still I have never found it answered!”

Several readers responded. Among them was Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), whose essay began with the now-famous definition: “Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred immaturity.” …

About

Steven Gambardella

The lessons of philosophy and history, their practical benefits for your life and work. Say hello: stevengambardella@gmail.com

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